The Diary of Joaquín Magón Entry 12: UFW Celebrates 50 Years of Success
The United Farm Workers of America celebrated its 50th anniversary last week during its 19th national convention in Bakersfield, California. Members from California, Oregon and Washington came as well as supporters from across the country to be part of the union’s history.
The convention was a mix of Union business but also included keynote speakers such as Los Angeles Mayor Victor Villaraigosa, United Auto Workers President Bob King, news anchorwoman Maria Elena Salinas and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
The convention, which is held every four years, is where delegates representing the UFW in all contract companies come together to vote on any and all issues dealing with union business. They can make amendments to the UFW constitution, elect the members of the UFW Executive Board, as well as make decisions regarding major projects for the next four years.
An event this large, with this many people, is like walking through history. I got a small glimpse of what this Union has amassed in these past 50 years when I was able to walk onto that stage and look at the crowd, delegates, staff, farm workers, community, people. And through this small glimpse I was able to see how history, world history, U.S. history, UFW history, my history, converged on this stage as I looked out and looked in at the same time.
From the first strikes by the Filipinos in Coachella to the founding of the union in 1962 by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, through turbulent times, to today I can see that the United Farm Workers is still very much alive.
Looking at the crowd with so many supporters, I see that this is still a union that is very much loved and lives in the hearts of men and women out there. It is not only a cause that helps farm workers in their work place, or a social movement that is recognized by its great symbol – the black eagle – but also a great inspiration to all who fight for a just cause.
The convention, apart from being a celebration, is an empowering event where UFW members can see the value that they hold by being able to decide in a democratic way the course their union takes.
“It’s my turn to say thank you. Thank you for the hard work that you do. It is recognized all across the country,” said anchorwoman Salinas to the UFW delegates.
And it’s true, amazingly true. Farm workers across the country labor to bring us food. These delegates not only labor to harvest our food but also to bring the benefits of working under a union contract to farm workers that don’t have that benefit. It reminds me of what one member said a few months back, “The raw material of the union is the organized worker, not a contract.”
These words stuck with me like you wouldn’t imagine. Sine the beginning of the union’s history, since César Chávez began to have house meeting after house meeting, the same has always been true – the raw material of the union is the organized worker. In other words, the focus these past 50 years has been to give workers the tools and the training to become organized and to realize that they have value. From that, and only from that, can there be a contract.
This impact is indeed seen by many, including President Obama who made a video that was presented at the event and promised to “do everything I can to help in your efforts.” Which includes supporting the bipartisan bill AgJOBS that would assist farm workers in the country become U.S. citizens as well as “support immigration reform that is long overdue.”
As I reflect on these past 50 years and plan for the future, I hold those words that that worker said; as I looked at the people in this auditorium I see why this Union is so loved. It creates people out of laborers who understand the value of themselves. And in a world that is so against individuality, there are few things that can be more important than people knowing the value of themselves.
And it culminates in the very simple, very elegant phrase “¡Si Se Puede!”
“Joaquín Magón” is a reporter from Coachella living in Salinas and working for the United Farm Workers. He contributes blogs regularly for Coachella Unincorporated.