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  • Edición impresa de Mayo 15, 2018.

HOW FILIPINO MIGRANTS GAVE THE GRAPE STRIKE ITS RADICAL POLITICS

California’s politics have changed profoundly in the 52 years since then, in large part because of that strike. Delano’s mayor today is a Filipino. That would have been unthinkable in 1965, when growers treated the town as a plantation. Children of farm worker families have become members of the state legislature. Last year they spearheaded passage of a law that requires the same overtime pay for farm workers as for all other workers-the second state, after Hawai’i, to pass such a law.

The United Farm Workers, created in that strike, was the product of a social movement. The strategic ideas the union used to fight for its survival evolved as the responses of thousands of people to problems faced by farm worker unions for a century-strikebreaking, geographic isolation, poverty, and grower violence. The tools they chose, the strike and the boycott, have been used by farm workers ever since.

Today, President Trump’s talk about ending “chain migration” is coded language for trying to do away with family reunification, an achievement of the civil rights movement. Both Trump and growers want to return to a more overt labor supply system in agriculture, based on the H-2A guest worker visa program, much like the old bracero program.

The government uses raids and deportations against undocumented workers, much as it did during the bracero era of the 1950s, to provide a pretext for importing contract labor. ICE audits the records of growers, finds the names of undocumented people, and demands they be fired, while conducting deportation raids in farm worker communities. At the same time, the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security certify grower applications to import a mushrooming number of H-2A contract workers-160,000 in 2016, 200,000 last year, and more predicted for this year.

“ICE uses audits and raids to create fear and anxiety,” according to Armando Elenes, vice-president of the United Farm Workers. “People get afraid to demand their rights, or even just to come to work. Then growers demand changes to make H-2A workers even cheaper by eliminating wage requirements, or the requirement that they provide housing.”

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