Monday, January 09, 2006

Boy, This Is Pretty Damning Isn't It

Farmworkers Reap Little as Union Strays From Its Roots - Los Angeles Times

And that's just the first part of a week-long series I'm betting doesn't end happily.


doughnut70 said...

I am extremely skeptical of the Los Angeles Times story although I don't have a lot of knowledge about the specifics.

I met Cesar Chavez in 1978 and was incredibly impressed. Since that time I have either done volunteer work or donated money to the Farmworkers union. During that time I have never questioned the good that the union has done.

I have also talked to numerous farmworkers (Including a 68 year old woman last month) who told me all sorts of stories about the direct help the union had given to them. Every single person I have ever talked to who has dealt with the union in that type of situation has praised it. Things could be different, but I have talked to enough people that I think I would have heard at least one complaint if it were so.

I hate to sound cynical again, but what I think is involved in the series is probably politics. Christina Chavez, Cesar Chavez's grandaughter is running for the State Assembly and right now is considered the heavy frontrunner because of the reputation of her grandfather. However, she does have opposition. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if this series wasn't something instigated by opponents of hers or of the union in general. I will read the series as it goes along, but I would encourage anyone with questions to call Marc Grossman (who has already announced he will take phone calls from anyone with questions about the series) before they take this series at face value.

cd said...

I don't doubt or question for a second that Cesar Chavez was an amazing man who saved a lot of lives with his work and who founded an organization that provided many necessary services to a class of people ignored and exploited.

However, having received many of the glossy fundraising requests myself - and knowing exactly how much that kind of things costs - I tend to credit the LAT story.

There are always some who are helped by the organization - I think the point of the series is to show that those people are the exception and no longer the rule.

And at some point, I think it's okay to believe a well-researched news series. Just because it attacks our side doesn't make it wrong, unfair, or a pack of lies.

And if I wanted to read the UFW's talking points and press releases, I would.

Jared said...

It's also possible this series is happening now because the Dept. of Labor recently changed the rules on union disclosure of spending, so now unions have to extensively disclose what they spend their money on.

In other parts of the blogosphere, there's been much notice of the various liberal causes supported by many unions, most of which appear to be unrelated to the purpose of the union itself. I have not seen that particular criticism leveled at the UFW, though it may be coming in the series later. However, I would expect that the new transparency standards allowed the LAT reporter to get more information on the actual spending and fundraising activities of the UFW, and that in turn allowed the LAT to put together this series.

doughnut70 said...

I can't comment on some parts of the story, because parts of it are new to me, but as I said before, I am very skeptical.

That skepticism was increased by today's story which touched on some things involving Chavez's dealings with his subordinates that I was very familiar with.

I first met Cesar Chavez in 1978 and spent some time over the next couple of years in different political activities where we spent some time together and I think I had a good sense of where he was coming from. He wasn't just an icon, he was a real person with real political views who made mistakes sometimes, but was trying to improve society.

Some people said even then that he had changed from how he was, but I was skeptical even then of those comments because I could see a consistency in his beliefs and how he arrived at decisions.

I definitely consider the Times version of what went on as being almost as fictional as a Children's fairy tale.

They talked a lot about arguments within the group without ever mentioning that Chavez was a person who not only tolerated, but encouraged argument and disagreement. He didn't want "Yes" men around him.

The "game" as it was called in the Times story was a popular tool in those days to encourage discussion about agenda's when too often people would reach their comfort zone after winning a few battles and not want to break out of it to fight the new fights as they came along.

For the farmworkers, the late 70's which was the time period discussed for most of the story were a critical time. Governor Jerry Brown had always been a bit eccentric, but he never wavered from being a strong supporter of the farmworkers and they made great strides in his first term as Governor and Big Agriculture was making moves to stop their growth.

In those days Ag was much stronger in the Democratic party than they are today (and Republicans were conversely much stronger on the coast) and they were a real threat to bottle up every piece of good legislation.

The farmworkers as a group had two problems politically which in some ways seem like polar opposites, but actually were very similar in their effect.

First, many people who worked for the Farmworkers went native and used the contacts they made to make themselves players in Sacramento and also to make themselves a lot of money. They would often go soft on important farm worker measures. Several bills that would have made major improvements in their lives failed by one or two votes and generally in those votes, Farmworkers lobbyist didn't push as hard as they might have for passage. That's monday morning quarterbacking, but it was also the consensus among UFW supporters.

Second, many of the liberals who worked for the Farmworkers believed so strongly in coalition politics that they used their position with the movement to attack union supporters for not following their liberal agenda in other issues. This included paid staffers.

Things like Abortion, Prop 13 and especially forced bussing, were huge issues in the Latino community and among Farmworker financial supporters.

Chavez generally tried to keep anyone on the Farmworkers payroll from attacking supporters who they disagreed with on other issues, but since these people were underpaid and primarily doing it for the love of the cause there wasn't as much leverage as some organizations have. It got so bad, that official spokemen for the Farmworkers started attacking legislators to the press on other issues using their union titles. Eventually things got so bitter and divisive for Farm Worker supporters that Agricultural interests passed Prop 14 which although the courts modified large parts of it, was still regarded as a major setback the UFW.

Worst of all, Prop 14 was supported by several big city Democratic legislators many of whom were pissed off for personal reasons and was one of the major factors that led to a rift in their caucus two years later.

Another non political factor that affected how Chavez looked at his staff was that the farmworkers had organized a company that was in trouble financially and when the company quickly went bankrupt it was a big selling point for Ag when they argued against any changes to help farmworkers.

Chavez decided that things had gotten so bad that he had to clean house. That was rough for him to do I am sure, since most of those people were hard working and underpaid, but he thought he needed new people in leadership positions. Some of the people pushed aside, including Marshall Ganz thought Chavez was looking for short term gains instead of thinking long term.

Those that stayed disagreed, considering the others dreamers. The bottom line is that I think he waited too long which is shown by the unions lack of progress to this day,(does anyone seriously want to argue that being a farmworker is a decent job?) much of which grew out of political defeats in the late 70's and early 80's.

Needless to say, I thought Chavez did what he had to do and so did most of the members of the Farmworkers board, but more importantly, for the Times to imply that these were some power play by a crazed out of control leader of the union is misleading at best, especially since Chavez is no longer here to defend himself.

Cesar Chavez was a funny person in a lot of ways. Although very quiet and soft spoken, he liked good arguments/discussions. I can remember him telling me how he tried to get Bobby Kennedy to run for President long before he jumped in the race. I can also remember him telling me in a statement that influenced my thinking on the subject that he hated it when Democratic leadership would discourage primary fights because he thought those kinds of fights were essentially organizing contests which were good in the long run for the people. In a non politcal memory, I remember that shortly before his death one of the people he wanted to talk to was a married ex priest named Charlie Ara because he wanted to continue some theological debate they had been having. He loved intellectual disagreement and I find it hard to believe he was ever any different than that.

Anyway, I have gotten way off track, but this one hit close to home on what to me is a real human being. As for reading the UFW talking points or press releases, everyone can make their own decisions on that, but if you have the time and essentially avoid it, that sounds like simply dodging an opposing viewpoint to me.

doughnut70 said...

On Jared's comments, there could be some truth to it, but again I am skeptical. Part of the problem is just plain personal opinion. When you deal with people in Sacramento, you get an awful lot of good liberals who take the expedient move whenever they can. To me the UFW has always been different. As I said in my overly long rant above, it was the starting point of a lot of the most conscientious (in my opinion) political people in the state of California. There could be some truth to what the Times is writing and this could conceivably be what the reporter thinks she is seeing after investigation, but it is so different from the commonly held view of the UFW (Even Conservative Republicans will tell you they consider the UFW well meaning but misguided) that I can't believe that this story just happened. The sequence doesn't fit, because to do the interviews that were done, the reporter had to talk to a lot of people and would have gotten a majority of different viewpoints and certainly would have gotten a different explanation for the events in this mornings story. I hate to sound paranoid, but I am still looking at this as a political hit engineered by people backing a different candidate for State Assembly.

doughnut70 said...

One other comment (and then I will shut up) The Times mentioned the small number of farmworkers currently represented by the union and if you don't know what is going on in the fields that can be very misleading. There are a combination of circumstances that make it hard to organize farmworkers. Things like the number of noncitizens, the transitory nature of the job and so on and so forth. Beyond that, big agriculture has hit on the method of getting other unions to compete with the UFW for member wherever they get too strong. These unions often have more members in other related fields (for example the Teamsters have unionized Truckers) that have already established a working relationship with growers and to put it bluntly are not as aggressive in pursuing complaints. Laws have also put more burdens on the UFW to organize than a union normally has. The UFW has been working hard at changing a lot of those laws (You may remember that no one thought they could pass the law two years ago that Gray Davis signed) and also at trying to deal with the structural problems that confront the farming community. They have looked into things like creating housing complexes with shuttle buses that are centrally located in large farming communities. They haven't done everything they wanted to, but they have done a lot and they are still very active in trying to organize farmworkers. They have a long way to go, but they are doing a lot and I say that as a regular financial contributor since 1980.

Jared said...

Doughnut70 obviously has more personal experience with the UFW and farmworkers than I do. But I doubt that he has more experience with conservative Republicans, especially here in the Central Valley of California. And in my experience, conservative Republicans generally and Central Valley conservative Republicans in particular are not friendly to the UFW. Doughnut70 may be right that in other parts of the state, the UFW is thought to be misguided and well-meaning by many conservatives. That is not true in the Central Valley, the heart of California's agricultural lands. If I mentioned the UFW to almost any Republican farmer I know, they would probably insist on telling me stories (the truth of which I cannot vouch for or against) about various dirty tricks and outright thuggery practiced by the UFW or people associated with the UFW in the past 30 years. While these same conservative farmers might see other unions as either liberal or just self-interested, their opinion on the UFW is probably more likely to be somewhere between a severe distrust and dislike to outright hatred. Because unlike other unions, the UFW has never really learned to work with the industry they are a part of, and the continuing hostility on both sides has led to a unrelenting conflict, instead of constructive dialogue.

cd said...

I suppose this could be directed at either of you:

evidence of specific acts is inadmissible to prove a disposition for a particular activity.

actually, i suppose that's more appropriately directed at DN70 because he offeres specific interactions with Cesar Chavez, while Jared could restructure his response to reflect opinion and reputation.

doughnut70 said...

A good comment by Jared and one I really don't know how to answer well, because I have heard some of the same comments.

My original remark was based on comments I hear from Republicans in Sacramento who are very caustic about the people up there who use progressive causes to feather their own nests. The UFW doesn't engage in that and I think overall they are respected on all sides except by the very large number of people (perhaps even a majority in Sacramento) who are more interested in self advancement than anything else.

The real problem is of course that there is no such thing as an organization being good or bad. It is only the values of the people who make up that organization. One Hundred and fifty years ago the Democratic party was supporting slavery, today it is something completely different.

I guess that instead of giving my take on the organization because of the people I had dealt with, I should have just limited myself to a reference to the UFW website, which I thought did a reasonable (not great) job of defending themselves.