Farm workers’ conditions have improved greatly thanks to the 50-year struggle of United Farm Workers (UFW) in defense of agricultural workers.
This weekend Bakersfield hosted the celebration of the half-century anniversary of an institution that, step by step and strike by strike, has established basic protections for those who work in one of our state’s most economically powerful industries.
Cesar Chávez, Dolores Huerta and other leaders created an organization that gave farm workers the right to negotiate, more humane working conditions, a credit union, a pension plan for retirees, and eliminated harmful pesticides and the use of dangerous tools, among many other achievements.
Fifty years of triumphs and defeats, advances and backsliding in a struggle that continues today on numerous fronts.
At the federal level, in April the Obama administration filed a series of regulations on the trafficking of children for agricultural labor to protect minors from hazardous work. The agricultural sector’s pressure was stronger.
Meanwhile in California, the battle continues to protect farm workers from the heat by providing them with water and shade. The law passed in 2005 has not stopped the deaths in the fields and state authorities have not sanctioned all the related violations. Now the UFW is behind the Farm Worker Safety Act (AB2346), which basically provides farm workers with the right to protect themselves by suing employers that violate the law.
The labor provided by these workers does not tend to be recognized for what it is: specialized work requiring skill, speed, endurance, and will. Farm workers have always been undervalued, except when they are in short supply, as is the case in Georgia and other southern states. State anti-immigrant measures have terrorized undocumented workers, creating problems for harvests and causing losses valued in the millions.
Farm workers are a vital part of a sector of California’s economy, representing revenues of $37.5 billion in 2010. They deserve the same protections that the state provides to all workers. This is the just struggle of the UFW.