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CHALLENGE FOR NEW UFW PRESIDENT

 DELANO, Calif., May 6 /PRNewswire/ -- The following is a suggested op-ed piece issued by the Grape Workers & Farmers Coalition and written by Carmen Garza. Garza is a former member of the UFW and is currently active with the Grape Workers & Farmers Coalition. She lives and works in Delano:
 When Cesar Chavez died on April 23, he passed on the torch of his beloved United Farm Workers union to a new generation. UFW co- founder Dolores Huerta recently spoke with vision telling a reporter in Fresno, Calif.: "If I took over as president we don't gain anything ... it would be very symbolic, but in terms of moving forward, these guys have to do it." The new president of the UFW is Chavez's son-in-law, Arturo Rodriguez. In his early statements Rodriguez betrays Huerta's optimism that the union will indeed move forward.
 For Rodriguez the question is between taking the torch and moving forward, or, using the torch to finish burning down what is left of the UFW. His choices stem from what proved to be his predecessors' finest and lowest moments. When Chavez worked to organize farm workers from the grass roots level during the 1960s and 1970s, he won unprecedented improvements in working and living conditions. From the elimination of the short-handled hoe in California row crops, to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act which gave farm workers the right to join unions and compelled growers to recognize those unions.
 In 1984, Chavez and the UFW launched their third grape boycott -- an effort which has been largely ignored in the recent tributes after his death. In this case the UFW tried to compel union contracts from top to bottom. The intention was to use the boycott to force growers into signing UFW contracts without having to go through the farm workers for a vote. As a strategy the UFW made pesticide allegations about grapes throughout the United States and Canada which were discredited by government agencies and environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council. Reviving the boycott also gave the UFW a public fundraising base they have grown increasingly dependent upon. As a result, during the past nine years the UFW lost more than 80,000 farm worker members drawing critical questions from the news media, as well as from the union's urban, religious, and political allies.
 During his final years, Chavez saw his last grape boycott rejected by his own friends including national conferences of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the United Methodist Church, the California Council of Catholic Bishops. Progressive politicians such as New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, and California senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, among others, also rejected the grape boycott. Even Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Cardinal Mahoney who recently delivered the eulogy at Chavez's funeral, in 1985 refused to support the UFW grape "boycott strategy."
 Former UFW San Francisco boycott organizer Daniel Suldron told the San Francisco Chronicle, after Chavez's death, "Finally, he (Chavez) virtually abandoned the actual organizing of farm workers. As a consequence, the United Farm Workers is today but a shadow of its former self."
 For Rodriguez the challenge is to do the hard work of organizing farm workers, but upon his assumption of the union's leadership he has declared that continuing the UFW's failed boycott strategy is the top priority. One must acknowledge that Rodriguez came to the union in 1978, after the union stopped most of its grass roots organizing. His tenure as a UFW director and vice president has been spent promoting various boycotts in New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and Boston, not in California's agricultural fields.
 There are also financial realities which need consideration. The UFW now raises most of its revenues from boycott solicitations, not from farm worker membership dues. In the face of multimillion dollar lawsuits against the union, the UFW has also ventured into risky businesses such as land development. The UFW lost $180,000 on a specialty advertising business, according to the union's 1991 disclosure statement to the U.S. Department of Labor. In reality, if a union wants a stable financial base it must have members who pay dues, and it must organize while providing members with real benefits.
 The loss of Chavez left a void in the farm worker movement. Chavez made up for his mistakes with his charisma and the union's past accomplishments. As Huerta stated, the future rests on moving forward in doing those things which gave the UFW its highest moments and for farm workers the fondest memories of Chavez -- organizing. In the words of former UFW organizer Marshall Ganz which were printed in the Los Angeles Times in 1985, the current grape boycott is characterized by "smoke and mirrors, words, not substance." For Rodriguez, the boycott is the torch now burning down the UFW.
 -0- 5/6/93 R
 /CONTACT: Adan Ortega of Representative Grape Workers & Farmers Coalition, 310-474-7959/


CO: United Farm Workers; Grape Workers & Farmers Coalition ST: California IN: AGR SU:

MS-JL -- LA004 -- 5787 05/07/93 08:18 EDT
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Date:May 7, 1993
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