Lettuce Picking & Labor Organizing: A Bottom up View of Cesar Chavez’s UFW
by Steve Early
Posted: 03/24/2014 10:52 am EDT Updated: 03/24/2014 10:59 am EDT
In recent years, two college-educated writers, Gabriel Thompson and Tracie McMillan, have followed in the footsteps of Barbara Ehrenreich, producing their own versions of Nickel and Dimed. Both went undercover to blow the whistle on worker abuse in low-wage jobs. Unlike Ehrenreich, the much younger authors of Working in The Shadows and The American Way of Eating each tried their hand at farm labor.
It was an arduous experience that left them battered, bruised, and exhausted, but also deeply appreciative of the help and support they received from more experienced co-workers. Among the latter were undocumented workers, many of whom may still be toiling in non-union agricultural jobs. After checking out vegetable picking, Thompson and McMillan quickly moved on to other employment further up the food chain.
In contrast, Bruce Neuburger spent much of the 1970s as a picker of lettuce and other California agricultural products, during the heyday of the United Farm Workers (UFW). As recounted in Lettuce Wars: Ten Years of Work and Struggle in The Fields of California (Monthly Review Press), Neuberger’s experience was very different than Thompson and McMillan’s — and not just because the union has virtually disappeared from the scene during the intervening decades…