Farmworkers vow big vote vs. recall

DELANO, Calif. – Hundreds of farm workers and their families gathered at “Forty Acres,” the United Farm Worker’s (UFW) most hallowed ground, Aug. 30, and cheered as UFW President Arturo Rodriguez denounced the ultra-right attempt to recall California Gov. Gray Davis.

“The Republicans were not satisfied with what the voters decided last November,” he said. “They are taking a cheap shot at it for the second time. They are trying to rob us of what we already decided. … Shame on Arnold Schwarzenegger for making himself a part of it.”

Rodriguez praised Davis for signing a bill that provides for binding mediation when growers and farmworkers reach an impasse in bargaining.

One of Schwarzenegger’s economic advisors, Rodriguez added, is David Murdock, chairman and CEO of Dole Food Company, one of California’s largest agribusiness corporations.

Schwarzenegger’s team “is made up of key aides to former Gov. Pete Wilson,” Rodriguez added. “Under Gov. Wilson, enforcement of the laws protecting farm workers was effectively shut down.” The Agricultural Labor Relations Act guaranteeing farm workers union rights was decimated. Tens of thousands of farm workers, Rodriguez continued, “lost the union contracts that had dramatically improved their lives. Because of the Republicans, thousands of farm workers were fired or blacklisted for supporting the UFW. … A 19-year-old farm worker, Rene Lopez, was shot to death when he was voting in a state-conducted union election at a dairy farm in Fresno County.”

Flanking Rodriguez as he spoke were Mexican American mayors, city council members and school board members from up and down the San Joaquin valley, testifying to the growing clout of the Latino vote. He vowed a strong UFW get-out-the-vote campaign to defeat the recall. Beside him stood Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Democratic candidate for governor, son of Mexican immigrant farm workers, born and raised in Dinuba just north of here.

“Today the farm workers endorse ‘No’ on recall and ‘Yes’ on Bustamante because Cruz is on the right side and Arnold is not,” Rodriguez said. He praised Bustamante for joining the UFW march on Sacramento last spring demanding enactment of the binding arbitration law and for helping block enforcement of Proposition 187 that would have denied public assistance to undocumented workers. Davis, he pointed out, has promised to sign a bill permitting these workers to obtain driver’s licenses. Bustamante supports that legislation as well, but Schwarzenegger said he would veto the driver’s license bill if he were governor.

Bustamante said, “I’m proud to be standing with the farm workers who feed the nation, here where the United Farm Workers was born.” He vowed to fight for living wages and benefits, including health care for farm worker families who add $30 billion in value annually to California agriculture, the largest sector of the state’s economy.

Asked when he would come out for Davis’ recall, Bustamante replied, “There is a principle involved. Someone is trying to hijack democracy. When I go into that voting booth Oct. 7, I will vote ‘No’ on recall.” The crowd cheered and chanted, “Recall, No! Bustamante, Si!”

“Forty Acres,” about one mile west of Delano, hacienda-style buildings surrounded by towering date palms, is the first UFW headquarters. UFW founder Cesar Chavez staged a 25-day fast here in support of a farm workers’ strike in March 1968. Robert F. Kennedy came to visit Chavez and to endorse farm worker union rights just before his assassination. The first UFW contract was signed with table grape growers here July 29, 1970, ending a five-year strike and boycott. It is now the regional headquarters for the UFW in the San Joaquin valley, the most productive farmland in the nation but also among the poorest for working families.

Gustavo Aguirre, UFW vice president in charge of the San Joaquin valley, told this reporter that blocking the Republican power grab “is a matter of life and death for farm workers. We are going to work hard in getting out the vote in the valley to keep Davis in office or put Bustamante in. The only way farm workers and working families can move forward is to have someone in the governor’s office who is enforcing the law.”

Maribel Olvera, 16, held a placard with a photo of Schwarzenegger embracing Wilson and the words, “No RePete.” In Spanish, it added, “Tell me who you are walking with and I will tell you who you are.” She told the World, “I’m a junior in high school. I want to go to college. But Wilson raised the tuition rate and I’m afraid Schwarzenegger will too.”

Strolling through the crowd with his guitar and singing “De Colores” was Carlos Moraza. “It’s the song of the movement,” he told this reporter. “Cesar loved it. It says the colors of the rainbow bring us together. If these Republicans steal back the governorship, it would set us back. They don’t know how to represent workers.”

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