Collections of the United Farm Workers of America: Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, 1959-1966

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On September 8, 1965, the AWOC local in Delano, California struck the local grape growers and initiated one of the most important labor struggles in U.S. history. The mostly Filipino-American workers of AWOC were quickly joined by the Mexican American pickers of the National Farm Workers of America. Their joint campaign for justice reached across America via a national consumer boycott of grapes. Larry Itliong of AWOC and Cesar Chavez of the NFWA merged their organizations into the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee.

Chartered by the AFL-CIO in 1960, AWOC conducted many strikes and campaigns over its seven years of organizing. The papers include minutes and research papers, as well as communications with organizers, politicians, public health officials, Filipino community organizations, the Community Service Organization, and other unions. Found throughout are extraordinarily detailed affidavits from laborers about the conditions on the job, as well as rich exchanges with progressive trade unionists from around the country. Exposes from activist physicians punctuate the papers. Reports from field organizers document the extreme measures - spraying picket lines with pesticide and shooting picket signs out of strikers’ hands with rifles - which some growers took to prevent unionization.

AWOC also pioneered the fight against Public Law 78, the so-called Bracero Program, which brought Mexican nationals into the country to work the fields at very low cost to the growers. Specific instances of grower-government collaboration to break strikes with guest workers are described, as is Filipino community support for their brethren in the fields. The unification of AWOC with Chavez’s National Farm Workers Association has been of interest to scholars of both critical race theory and labor history.

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