UFW Tries to Silence Boycott Driscoll’s Activists at Cesar Chavez March

What is UFW (United Farm Workers) doing to support farmworkers fighting for justice in San Quintín, México and Washington state? Nothing.

[ FUJ member Lázaro Matamoros and Chelsea Thaw of FUJ’s boycott coordination team carry a Boycott Driscoll’s banner in the annual Cesar Chavez March in Salinas, California. April 3, 2016. Photo by Michal Garcia. ]

On Sunday, April 3, Michael Garcia and fellow Watsonville Brown Berets traveled a short distance to Salinas, California to attend the annual Cesar Chavez March and Rally presented by United Farm Workers (UFW). The Watsonville Brown Berets were joined by members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), an independent farmworker union in Burlington, Washington fighting for a union contract, and initiators of the boycott against Driscoll’s.

The Watsonville Brown Berets (WBB) and FUJ activists spoke with people assembled at Cesar Chavez Community Park and handed out flyers about the growing movement to boycott Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry distributor. FUJ, along with tens of thousands of farmworkers in San Quintín, México, are fighting to end wage theft and poverty wages, inhumane production standards, and retaliation from protected union activity.

Although advocating for farmworkers’ rights seems like it would be warmly welcomed by UFW, that was unfortunately not the experience for WBB and FUJ members. Garcia, born and raised in Watsonville, noticed that his friend was working the stage and asked if his group could have some time later to speak about the Driscoll’s boycott. Garcia’s friend, who was both the owner of the stage and a mariachi musician performing at the event, agreed to provide Garcia time. The stage owner, however, was then reportedly approached by UFW representatives and specifically told that UFW does not want WBB or FUJ speaking from the stage.

Prior to parading through the streets of Salinas, Garcia enthusiastically approached UFW Regional Director Lauro Barajas and asked if it was OK if they carried their “Boycott Driscoll’s” banner towards the front of the march. Garcia was denied and then told that UFW did not want him to carry the banner at all during the march.

In an interview the next day at a cafe in Watsonville, Garcia, feeling disenchanted by UFW and their annual event, observed that, “In Salinas people were just worshipping and romanticizing the past and Cesar Chavez. There was nothing going on in the march speaking to contemporary issues, other than our signs calling for the Driscoll’s boycott. It just seemed like one big UFW advertisement. The only thing they were advocating for was overtime in the fields.” Garcia respects the community members of Salinas, but says UFW representatives are, “A bunch of sellouts making money by romanticizing off the past.”

Familias Unidas por la Justicia boycott coordinator Andrew Eckels holds a Boycott Driscoll's sign in the annual Cesar Chavez March in Salinas, California. April 3, 2016. Photo by Michal Garcia.
Familias Unidas por la Justicia boycott coordinator Andrew Eckels holds a Boycott Driscoll’s sign in the annual Cesar Chavez March in Salinas, California. April 3, 2016. Photo by Michal Garcia.

When FUJ boycott coordinator Andrew Eckels approached a UFW representative to ask permission to speak from the stage about the FUJ, Eckels was given the cold shoulder and completely ignored. Garcia reiterates, “The whole time we were there, we were treated like unwelcome guests.”

While dialoging with Barajas after the march, Garcia asked, “What is the UFW doing right now for the San Quintín and Washington state farmworkers?”

Garcia says that Barajas, the UFW’s Regional Director, stuck his hand right in Garcia’s face and replied, “We’re doing a lot more than you think.”

To which Garcia interjected, “Yes, but specifically what are you doing for the Driscoll’s boycott?”

“Nothing.” Barajas replied with a proud smirk.

The annual Cesar Chavez March in Salinas, California. April 3, 2016. Photo by Michal Garcia.
The annual Cesar Chavez March in Salinas, California. April 3, 2016. Photo by Michal Garcia.

The rally in the park continued after the march, and despite UFW’s wishes, the stage owner granted advocates of the Driscoll’s boycott a few minutes to address the crowd. FUJ member Lázaro Matamoros primarily spoke followed by closing words from FUJ boycott coordinator Andrew Eckels. This came after all the other organizational representatives had already spoken, and following a performance by the mariachi band. Still, UFW wanted nothing to do with farmworkers fighting for dignity and justice against Driscoll’s. Garcia recalls, “As soon as we started talking, the main UFW representative [Lauro Barajas, UFW Regional Director] started pulling out UFW flags from around the stage.”

Which Side Are You On?

Lázaro Matamoros, Familias Unidas por la Justicia

Lázaro Matamoros en Salinas

Buenas tardes compañeros. Mi nombre es Lázaro Matamoros. Vengo del estado de Washington. Estaba trabajando para una compañía que se llama Sakuma Bros. Pues la compañía está tratando mal a la gente allá en el estado de Washington.

Allá entramos a las 5 de la mañana y trabajamos hasta las 4:30 de la tarde. No dan breaks, no dan lonche. La gente esta trabajando sin breaks, sin lonche. Con estómagos vacíos está trabajando allá en el estado de Washington, pero nosotros venimos p´aca. Necesito la ayuda de ustedes para estar boicoteando la fruta de las compañías de Sakuma y Driscoll’s.

Es lo mismo con los jornaleros trabajando en el Valle de San Quintín en Baja California México. Están sufriendo como nosotros en el estado de Washington.

No dan breaks, no dan lonche tampoco allá en el Valle de San Quintín. Es la misma compañía — Driscoll’s. La compania Driscoll’s es el más grande distribuidor (de fresas y moras) del mundo.

Pero necesito ayuda en hacer boicot a esa compañía.

Doy gracias a todo ustedes. Muchas gracias.

Translation: Lázaro Matamoros in Salinas

Good afternoon friends. My name is Lázaro Matamoros. I come from the state of Washington. I was working at a company called Sakuma Bros. Well the company is treating people badly there in Washington state.

There we enter at five o’clock in the morning until four thirty in the afternoon. They do not give breaks or lunch. The people are working without breaks, without lunch. Empty stomachs are working there in the state of Washington, but we came here. I need your help, to be boycotting the fruit of Sakuma and Driscoll’s.

The same thing is happening with the workers in the San Quintín Valley of Baja California, Mexico. It is the same there. They are suffering like us in the state of Washington.

They do not give breaks or lunch either in the San Quintín Valley. The same company Driscoll’s. The Driscoll’s company is the largest (berry distributor) in the world.

But I need help. Boycott this company.

I thank all of you. Thank you very much.

Garcia states that overall, “The thing that made me feel most disconnected was to learn that the UFW representative specifically pointed our group out to the stage owner and said he did not want us on the stage.”

While many people have heard heroic tales about Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers, less is known about the negative aspects of the organization. UFW’s record includes lying about Cesar Chavez being the founder of United Farm Workers.

UFW has left Larry Itliong and other Filipinos out of public narratives about the historic farmworkers’ movement.

“It’s very important getting him recognized for what he did,” Johnny Itliong, Larry’s son, told NBC News. “He didn’t do it himself, but he initiated it all…How did Cesar Chavez become the founder of a union he was asked to join? That’s on him for creating the fallacy, doesn’t mean he didn’t do any good. Just a matter of setting the record straight.”

To this day, the UFW website’s ‘About Us’ section continues to perpetuate the founder myth by stating, “As president of the United Farm Workers of America, Arturo S. Rodriguez is continuing to build the union Cesar Chavez founded …”

California State Assembly member Luis Alejo, Assembly candidate Karina Cervantez Alejo, and UFW President Arturo Rodriguez at the front of the annual Cesar Chavez March in Salinas, California. April 3, 2016. Photo via UFW.
California State Assembly member Luis Alejo, Assembly candidate Karina Cervantez Alejo, and UFW President Arturo Rodriguez at the front of the annual Cesar Chavez March in Salinas, California. April 3, 2016. Photo via UFW.

UFW accepts sponsorship from corporations such as Chevron, Budweiser, Southern California Gas Co., AT&T, and Southwest Airlines.

In addition to corporate sponsorships, the UFW has a history of silencing community members fighting for justice. During a grassroots protest called March Against Salinas Police Brutality on May 25, 2014, UFW organizers suppressed anti-police messages.

Image from a video on YouTube published by Budweiser. The caption on YouTube reads: Watch as Budweiser hosts a field screening of the "Cesar Chavez" film in Delano for farm workers that were instrumental in the movement. Courtesy of www.budlight.com
Image from a video on YouTube published by Budweiser. The caption on YouTube reads: Watch as Budweiser hosts a field screening of the “Cesar Chavez” film in Delano for farm workers that were instrumental in the movement. Courtesy of www.budlight.com

In a scathing critique published on May 19, 2014 exposing experiences working as an organizer for United Farm Workers, La Stephanie, an “Indigenous badass” writes:

“Ultimately, I cut my time at the union short because I couldn’t take it anymore. Being in the UFW was reminiscent of being back in an abusive home. As a child survivor of domestic violence, I make no qualms about calling abusive behavior out and my supervisor was ill-equipped to handle strong women. If you didn’t play the docile, well-behaved woman, it was as if you were speaking a language he didn’t understand. As a defense (because he felt threatened), my supervisor made me feel irrational for continuously bringing up the lack of women in the Union. He was also manipulative and sometimes controlling, at times asking where I was during my off time.”

In conclusion, Garcia concedes, “I’ve known these things about the UFW for a while now, but it was upsetting to actually see it and experience it myself. The UFW has gone a long way since it’s beginning, but unfortunately not for the better of the farmworkers they’re supposed to be fighting for.”

UFW and Reiter Affiliated Companies

May 1, 2013, International Workers Day. Oxnard, California. UFW gives pride of place to Reiter Affiliated Companies banner and company representative at Comprehensive Immigration Reform rally. Miles Reiter is the Chairman of Driscoll’s. Driscoll’s is the sole customer of Reiter Affiliated Companies (RAC).
May 1, 2013, International Workers Day. Oxnard, California. UFW gives pride of place to Reiter Affiliated Companies banner and company representative at Comprehensive Immigration Reform rally. Miles Reiter is the Chairman of Driscoll’s. Driscoll’s is the sole customer of Reiter Affiliated Companies (RAC).

Previous coverage of the boycott Driscoll’s movement:

Michael Garcia of the Watsonville Brown Berets, standing on the median of Main Street in Watsonville, California, displays a sign advocating, “Boycott Driscoll's In Solidarity with San Qunitín Farmworkers.” April 2, 2016. Photo by Bradley Allen.
Michael Garcia of the Watsonville Brown Berets, standing on the median of Main Street in Watsonville, California, displays a sign advocating, “Boycott Driscoll’s In Solidarity with San Qunitín Farmworkers.” April 2, 2016. Photo by Bradley Allen.

** On April 7, the following additions were made to this article: Reiter and Budweiser images, an excerpt from La Stephanie, video of Lauro Barajas removing a UFW flag, and video of Lázaro Matamoros speaking in Salinas.

Author: Bradley Allen

Bradley Allen is a reporter and photographer in the Monterey Bay Area, and a collective member of the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay). Follow him on social media: @BradleySA.

4 thoughts on “UFW Tries to Silence Boycott Driscoll’s Activists at Cesar Chavez March”

  1. This is an important article, especially when compared to what we’ve seen in print. the lines were clearly drawn where you placed your “page turn”:
    “The stage owner, however, was then reportedly approached by UFW representatives and specifically told that UFW does not want WBB or FUJ speaking from the stage.”
    Quite a show of solidarity there, but it’s clear many farmerworker know who’s who and the rest need to be informed.

  2. Is it possible for Bradley Allen and his adherents to be more disrespectful of the 3,500 farm workers who marched in Salinas, Calif. last Sunday to observe Cesar Chavez’s birthday and highlight the contemporary issues they identified as important in their lives? Thousands more farm workers also marched that day in Santa Rosa in the Wine Country and Merced in the Central Valley. Workers from each area met in the prior weeks to plan their marches and select their themes. In the Salinas-Watsonville area, thousands of farm workers are protected by union contracts in strawberries, vegetables and mushrooms. Their elected leaders decided to focus on opposing Donald Trump, supporting immigration reform and backing a key UFW-sponsored bill at the state Capitol that would provide farm workers with the same overtime pay nearly all other workers enjoy.

    “The only thing they were advocating for was overtime in the fields,” said a Brown Beret member from Watsonville (apparently not a farm worker) who Allen quoted and fashioned his story around, dismissing the importance of an issue that would give 400,000 California farm workers a badly needed pay increase—and end the 78-year-old racist exclusion of brown-skinned workers. If you’re a worker in California and you labor more than eight hours a day, you get overtime, unless you’re a farm worker. Every other worker in the food chain who touches that fruit or vegetable receives overtime after eight hours—the packer, the truck driver who transports the produce, the grocery clerk in the supermarket and the chef in the restaurant. Farm workers are excluded because that was the price President Franklin D. Roosevelt paid to southern Dixiecrat lawmakers in Congress since farm workers were then mostly African Americans; today they’re Latinos.

    UFW organizers have been aiding the workers in San Quintin; we know some of their leaders because they were UFW activists when they worked in the United States. But that’s not the point, which is respecting the Salinas workers’ right to make their own decisions, not having their decisions dictated by outsiders, no matter where they come from, and certainly not belittling the workers for the decisions they make, as Allen does. When the UFW joins other progressive organizations by participating in their actions or campaigns, we only come to stand with the people we are supporting; we never come in and try to tell them what they should do.

    Allen compounds his contempt for the Salinas workers by rehashing dishonest narratives about the UFW.

    It is all a matter of basic respect for the self-determination of farm workers, which is conspicuously lacking in Allen.

  3. What we see above is the work of a well paid shill, from an organization that, like so many during the past 2 decades, has been stolen from the People it is supposed to represent. It saddens me to see what is done in the name of Cesar Chavez, who was an important figure in the struggle of the workers, regardless of his official role.
    Bradley is polite about the practices of the modern day UFW:
    “UFW accepts sponsorship from corporations such as Chevron, Budweiser, Southern California Gas Co., AT&T, and Southwest Airlines.”

    The real exploitation is in the office of “United Farm Workers”. Rather than extend solidarity to workers who have organized themselves effectively, like Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), UFW competes with them, and works against their struggle, ensuring that they remain well funded, regardless whether their actions benefit the workers. Corporations, since Karl; Marx, have presented a united front while criminalizing organization by the workers.

    Solidarity among all workers is essential.

    The question we must ask today of those who claim to represent us is the old favorite song by Pete Seeger “Which Side Are You On?”

    Unlike those who are paid with dues collected from the working poor, I only had a minute to dash this off, so excuse the lack of elegance, but I assure you, my heart is with the pickers in the field.

  4. Is UFW representing Driscoll’s or other workers and has a contract with them so they legally cannot advocate a boycott? That is really the only possible answer to this behavior we saw at the March. Being a union man from a union family, I know that sometimes happens and legal matters can keep people silent – sometimes it is bullshit, but usually there is a good reason (like risking a contract for thousands of workers or something). Can anyone explain to me, since it wasn’t said in the article, why was UFW so against these protesters and boy-cotters from sharing a very important message? Why not endorse it? Why not speak to the issue in the way you are working on it?

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