Once a year we all have an opportunity to recognize the contributions of the country's nearly 2 million farmworkers, and support their efforts to gain the dignity and rights they so deserve. Next Monday, March 27 marks the beginning of National Farmworker Awareness Week, a series of events and activities organized by Student Action with Farmworkers to spotlight these issues and honor the work of legendary labor rights activist Cesar Chavez.
These activities are close to my heart, as it was as a graduate student in the early 1980s that I was politicized by the farmworker movement. I remember fondly the days of surreptitiously putting “Boycott Campbell’s Soup” stickers on Kroger shelves in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That national boycott resulted in the precedent-setting, three-way contract with the farmworkers, the growers, and the Campbell's Soup Company — a huge victory won by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.
Leading up to next week's activities is this week's celebration of United Farm Workers of America victories, with the ceremonial recognition of the ranch and longtime UFW headquarters known as "40 Acres" as a national historic landmark. It is there in Delano, California that Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta led the UFW through its first several decades of strike rallies and contract negotiations. It was through 40 Acres that hundreds of farmworkers would stream daily in the 1970s for health care and to learn about their rights.
It was also there that Cesar held his first (1966) and last (1988) fasts, bringing widespread public attention to the union's efforts to improve conditions and win political and economic rights for farmworkers.
Throughout its tenure, UFW's focus on worker health and safety has regularly addressed the hazards of exposure to pesticides. For example, it was a UFW contract in the late 1960s (then called the United Farm Workers Organizing committe) that led to the ban of DDT in the U.S.
In 2002, the union co-produced with PAN and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation the report Fields of Poison: California Farmworkers and Pesticides, documenting pesticide exposure among California farmworkers, the prevalence of under-reporting of pesticide-related illnesses, and the woefully inadequate enforcement of worker safety laws and regulations. More recently the union joined PAN in calling for rejection of the new fumigant pesticide methyl iodide in California.
We invite and encourage our supporters to find activities in your area. Also, check out the YouTube video of U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar honoring Cesar and 40 Acres in Delano as he calls for real and substantial immigration reform. Then spread the word by sending the link to your friends and family.