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  • In 1973 farm workers, physicians, and growers testified before the California Industrial Safety Board about the short-handled hoe. Five doctors  talked about how it caused severe pain and permanent back injury. One study found that farm workers who used the hoe were more than four times as likely to suffer permanently disabling back injuries as those who did not. In this interview, Dr. Jerome A. Lackner describes the hoe as a "barbaric instrument . . . is designed to increase the accuracy of hoeing and weeding at the expense of human health."

    "This instrument of Torture:" a Doctor Testifies

  • Can you tell us about the campaign to ban the short-handled hoe?

  • During the Delano grape strike, the leaders of the United Farm Workers realized that public support was key to their chances of successfully pressuring the growers into more just wages.  Through a national network of support groups and boycott committees, the union made the struggle for unionization part of the larger civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  Supporters often displayed buttons or bumper stickers, such as this one with a bunch of grapes in the form of a skull, to show their allegiance with the cause of the agricultural workers.  This burst of public attention did not last long, and pay and working conditions for agricultural laborers remained poor.

    Don't Eat Grapes: Public Support for the Boycott

  • Cesar Estrada Chavez spent most of his early life in agricultural, first in Arizona and then California.  Dedicated to helping the largely powerless farm workers, Chavez helped organize the United Farm Workers union to fight for agricultural labor reform. In the 1960s, he gained national attention for his use of non-violent tactics—leading a national boycott of California grapes, hunger fasts, and peaceful marches, all seeking  support for the union.  Shortly after his death in 1993, his wife, Helen Chavez, donated his black nylon union jacket to the National Museum of American History in honor of her late husband. On the left side of the jacket is the eagle emblem, the logo of the United Farm Workers, and Chavez's name is embroidered on the other side. This jacket was one of several made for officers and high-ranking members of the union. The symbol of the UFW eagle has come to represent the solidarity of some of this country's poorest, least powerful workers who stood together to demand better conditions.

    Cesar Chavez's Union Jacket

  • In 1965, Filipino and Mexican farm workers went on strike against the grape growers of Delano, California.  Their cause was helped by the fact that the end of the Bracero Program in 1964 eliminated the possibility of growers using contract labor strike breakers.  Organized by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the National Farm Workers Association, which later combined to form the United Farm Workers Union, the farm laborers demanded improvements in their conditions. After a protracted strike of almost 5 years, the union succeeded in winning better pay and contracts from the growers.   El Teatro Campesino supported the efforts of the Union through music and theater.  This flyer advertises a production that tells the story of the grape strike.

    La Huelga: El Teatro Campesino Flyer

  • Luis Valdez and Agustin Lira created the El Teatro Campesino in 1965 as a group to produce music and theater in support of the United Farm Workers. Farm workers gathered  on Friday nights for music, performances, and stories with political flavor. The artists and musicians took their material directly from experiences in the fields and improvised their materials. This "corrido," a song with lyrics accompanied by a guitar, tells the story of Cesar Chavez leading the march from Delano to Sacramento protesting labor conditions for farmworkers.

    El Corrido de Cesar Chavez, or "The Ballad of Cesar Chavez"

  • Cesar Estrada Chavez was born into a farming family on March 31, 1927 near Yuma, Arizona. In 1938, the family lost their small farm and they moved to California, where Chavez worked in the fields.  Outraged by inappropriate labor and living conditions, Chavez devoted his life to reform and activism. His successes include the creation of the first powerful union for farm workers (the United Farm Workers), the signing of the first agricultural worker agreements, and passage of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.

    Portrait of a farmworker leader

  • As this 1956 photograph by Leonard Nadel illustrates, Braceros often lived in crowded barracks. Such substandard housing, which farmers provided, bred respiratory illness. Many Braceros feared reporting infections because they might be sent home.

    Bracero Housing

  • On arrival, the United States officials took Braceros to processing centers, searched them for, weapons, marijuana or other contraband, and sprayed them with DDT, a dangerous insecticide that is now banned. The photographer, Leonard Nadel, captioned this photograph: "Much in the same manner and feeling used in handling livestock, upon crossing over the bridge from Mexico at Hidalgo, Texas, the men are herded into groups of 100 through a makeshift booth sprayed with DDT."

    Fumigating Braceros

  • <p>This work contract for twenty-two year old Juan Lozano Gonzalez  details his labor arrangement with Anton Producers in Anton, TX.  He was to be employed as a farm hand in Hockley-Lubbock, TX.  These standard contract extensions stipulated the duration of the work, the wages Braceros would earn for their labor, and the daily rate that the employer would pay the worker for meals.  Many Braceros noted discrepancies in their paychecks but formal complaints were unusual as they often resulted in the worker being sent back to Mexico.</p>
<p>American farm laborers complained that the low wages paid to Braceros depressed their own wages and the growers threat to use more Braceros made strikes impossible.</p>

    Continuation of Standard Work Contract

  • The Bracero Program, which began in  1942 and ended in 1964, allowed Mexican nationals to take temporary agricultural work in the United States. Over the program's 22-year life, more than 4.5 million contracts were issued to Mexican nationals for work in the United States (some individuals returned several times on different contracts).  The result was that close to 2 million Mexicans served as temporary guestworkers in the U.S. mostly in the Southwest and West.  The initial agreement between the Mexican Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the American Embassy in Mexico City protected Mexican workers by providing for transportation from the border to the work site and back, paying prevailing wages, and providing decent living conditions. Despite these protections, Braceros generally wound up with low wages and poor working and living conditions. The existence of the large supply of bracero workers that resulted from this agreement made it difficult for unions to organize non-bracero farm laborers.

    Bracero Agreement of August 4, 1942

  • Can you tell us about the Bracero Program?

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