• Steve Baldwin

Liberals have lied to you about Cesar Chavez

COMMENTARY

Render unto Cesar?

By WND Staff Published September 20, 2000 at 1:00am

The California State Legislature recently passed -- and the governor signed -- a bill declaring a new state holiday in honor of the late Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union. The proponents of this bill have argued that such a holiday is warranted since California does not have a holiday in honor of any Latino.


This is certainly strange given California's rich Latino heritage, but the choice of Cesar Chavez is one many strongly disagree with. A holiday honoree must be someone whose contributions to society are beyond dispute and whose achievements are clear to all. A person of distinct greatness.


While Chavez did accomplish some things of significance, much of what he did is of great contention. A good deal of his image and legacy has been shaped by Hollywood and a fawning media and, when his legacy is examined in any detail, a dark side emerges. Many growers and farm workers alike throughout California strongly dispute the extent of Chavez's alleged accomplishments, even challenging UFW's contention that Chavez improved the conditions of farm workers. There certainly is not a consensus that he is a great man worthy of a state holiday. Perhaps a better idea would have been a holiday in honor of California's Hispanic heritage.


To begin with, it's hard to reconcile the mythology that Chavez was the spokesperson for California's farm workers when, in fact, it is difficult to find farm workers who have anything good to say about him or the UFW. Indeed, the only lobbying on the holiday bill I'm aware of by actual farm workers was a petition signed by 400 Latino farm laborers who were urging a "no" vote. I also talked to people who lead non-UFW farm worker associations who hotly dispute the notion that Chavez or the UFW ever represented their views and challenge much of the Chavez mythology.


According to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board documents, the UFW has never represented the majority of farm workers in California. Even at its peak in the 1970s, most observers believe the UFW represented around 5 percent of the state's farm workforce. A study of UFW's membership by Rob Roy of the Ventura County Agriculture Association concluded that UFW's present membership is less than one half of one percent of California's 900,000 farm workers.


CALRB documents show an unprecedented 48 decertifications of the UFW since 1978 by farm workers voting to disassociate themselves from Chavez's union. That is why Chavez's much publicized marches and protests over the last two decades were always dominated by professional activists and liberal students from the cities, not farm workers.


Why the mass exodus from UFW? Simple. The UFW has a long history of intimidation of farm laborers, violence toward undocumented workers and a boycott strategy based upon a pesticide hoax that cost thousands of farm workers their jobs.


As Gloria Campos of the Strawberry Workers and Farmers Alliance stated, "They rely on college students and other unions to demonstrate and carry their message for them. We the workers from the strawberry fields tell our own story and reject their attack. The UFW is devious and deceitful. ... The UFW lies and encourages others to lie. The UFW promotes boycotts which could eliminate our jobs."


The petition sent to me by 400 farm workers made the same point: "We are farm workers. We are of Mexican heritage. We are now Americans and Californians. We are taxpayers. ... Cesar Chavez may have accomplished some good things for some people but he is no hero for us."

People seem to forget that Latino farm workers organized anti-Chavez rallies in the l960s that numbered in the thousands. They were protesting UFW's strategy of boycotting grapes based on the claim that the pesticides used were dangerous to the farm workers' health and caused cancer in their children. This was the issue which first brought Chavez to national prominence. However, while it was a clever media ploy, it was a hoax that cost many farm workers their jobs.


Interestingly, as soon as the targeted grape grower signed a UFW contract, the health concerns mysteriously disappeared. The UFW knew it was a lie all along. Indeed, the California Environmental Protection Agency conducted extensive tests and "found most table grapes from the fields have no chemical residues. Residues on the rest were well within allowable ranges. ..."


Studies by the University of California and the United States Department of Health and Human Services made similar conclusions. As to the UFW charge that such pesticides were causing cancer in children, that turned out to be a hoax as well. The California Department of Health Services, Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Branch, released a study that concluded, "the overall rate of childhood cancer for the time period 1980-1988 in the Four County Study area is not unusual compared to rates elsewhere in California or the United States …..rates for children living in agricultural areas are not elevated."


But the boycotts caught the fancy of a sympathetic Hollywood, and soon union activists nationwide were initiating pressure campaigns targeted at stores to stop carrying grapes. The real target, of course, was growers who refused to sign contracts with the UFW. Many growers lost business and laid off workers. Some eventually caved in under the pressure.

But UFW's tactics often went beyond pressure tactics. A search of major newspaper archives from the '60s and '70s involving the UFW make it clear that the UFW was a teamster type of union which did not hesitate to use thuggery to achieve its ends.


Even the declassified FBI files on Chavez -- a few thousand pages -- reveal numerous incidents of violence directed against both growers and farm workers reluctant to vote for a UFW contract. The FBI files and press accounts describe beatings, overturned cars, throwing Molotov cocktails, torching fields, and other such tactics.


More disturbing was how the UFW treated women and undocumented Mexican workers who threatened potential UFW farm jobs. In 1997, forty female UFW members filed a lawsuit against the union due to its apparent practice of urging female members to use sex as a recruiting tool.

However, by far the darkest side of the UFW is its treatment of undocumented workers. In the mid l980s, Chavez's brother, Manual, headed up an effort to attack illegal workers crossing the border in Arizona. As reported by the Village Voice, UFW thugs manned the border area -- UFW called it "the Wet Line" -- and as former Yuma County sheriff Travis Yancey stated, "they'd catch any 'wet' coming through and beat the hell out of them." Former UFW staff member Gus Gutierrez said that Manual's goons "just went apes--- they just went wild."


According to the Village Voice, "the UFW conducted a campaign of random terror against anyone hapless enough to fall into its net. Gutierrez later talked to officials on the Mexican side and had tales to turn his stomach: rapes and castration, broomsticks with nails shoved up people's anuses." Some workers ended up missing never to be found.


When alarmed UFW organizer Lupe Sanchez led a delegation to meet with Chavez to inform him about the violence, he told them, "Manual has my blessing." Despite the liberal mythology that Chavez and the UFW helped undocumented workers get their start, they not only beat them but even held rallies outside INS offices around the country demanding crackdowns on illegal aliens! And yet the liberals love Chavez. Go figure.


But this should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows Chavez well. Chavez's guru is not Gandhi, but rather Saul Alinsky, whose book, "Rules for Radicals," make it clear that violence is a tactic that can be used to achieve your purposes. Chavez worked for Alinsky from 1952 to 1962. In the 1970s Chavez became a follower of a group called Synanon, long thought by observers to be a cult that had on occasion used violence and intimidation to silence its enemies.


The Village Voice relates that when Synanon's leader, Charles Dederich, was convicted of conspiracy to murder an attorney by having a rattlesnake stuffed in his mailbox, Chavez publicly supported Dederich. When Chavez started to introduce some of Synanon's mind control techniques to the high command of UFW, scores of its brightest staff members resigned in protest.


There are other reasons why Chavez should not be honored with a holiday. It is forgotten that Chavez masterminded the bilking of hundreds of thousands in both federal and state tax dollars. He would apply for grants using warm and fuzzy language about helping workers but use the funds instead for other purposes. It became so blatant that the UFW was audited by the General Accounting Office in l980 and found to be in massive violation of Federal guidelines.


The question is, why would the Legislature honor a man with a history of cult involvement, misuse of government funds, and violence toward migrant workers and growers? Simple. It's political. The UFW was one of the biggest campaign contributors to the Democrats throughout the 1970s. Many of the California's leading Latino politicians got their start in politics with assistance from the UFW.


While that may be real sweet, that is not a reason to honor Chavez with a state holiday. One should also be worried about the second half of the bill which requires that the "curricula of every school ... include instruction on Cesar Chavez and the history of the farm labor movement in the United States. ..."


Such a curriculum has already been produced by the UFW for use in our schools and it is replete with fabrications, distortions and outright lies about pesticides, the farm industry, the condition of farm workers, the UFW and the life of Cesar Chavez. Our children already get enough misinformation in our schools as it is. Now they will get to learn how to hate farmers. I wonder if our recently passed "hate crimes" legislation can be applied to the UFW?


Assemblyman Steve Baldwin represents California's 77th Assembly District.


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