United Farm Workers' efforts continue
As the war in the gulf reaches a cease-fire, we must remind ourselves that there are other "wars" still being fought. On this, the 25th anniversary of the founding of the United Farm Workers of America, the battles for justice and fair treatment in the American workplace are far from ending.
The ongoing boycott against the California table-grape industry is still in its infancy despite seven years of consistent pressure from community-based organizations such as the UFW.
The majority of table-grape growers in California seasonally spray the vineyards with toxic pesticides that affect us on two levels. The farm workers, who are in constant contact with the grapes, have higher-than-average recorded levels of cancer and related diseases.
This inequity is evident even in the number of birth defects and the childhood cancer rates among farm working families; average infant cancer rates in Earlimart and McFarland, CA -- the densest grape-growing areas in the United States -- are 12 times the national levels. These alarming cases have medically been connected directly to the pesticides that workers inhale and absorb through the skin.
Secondly, these same grapes are then sold to, and eaten by, the unknowing American consumer despite the amount of toxins used to grow and preserve them. Because of threats to its members, the UFW has created an anti-grape campaign ranging from the area-wide targeting and picketing of California grape-selling stores and national education and awareness, to the life-threatening 36-day fast led by UFW founder and president, C'esar Ch'avez.
The table-grape campaign is the latest issue to be addressed by the UFW. Since 1965, the families of workers have targeted working conditions for grape and lettuce farm workers, and in both instances, have achieved great progress.
In 1970, Ch'avez succeeded in having ranchers sign contracts with the UFW, and in 1975, Congress passed the Agricultural Act which, although a great turning point for workers, still only assured medical and work benefits to one out of every five farm workers.
In these unsettling and divisive times, it is encouraging to have a leader as uplifting as C'esar Ch'avez, who has shown an unfaltering commitment to his beliefs while retaining the ability to unite peoples of different backgrounds and visions for one purpose.
Rosalie J. Gonz'alez '93->
Sonia E. Tena '92->
Carlos Eduardo Mart'in '92->
C'esar Ch'avez MIT->