Salinas on Sunday, May 25.  
In Closter Park in the heart of the farmworker community – there I was introduced to the brother of Carlos Mejia who was shot down like an animal May 20.   The brother was quiet, hardly spoke, seemed in shock to me. I and others hugged him. “I should have worn black”, he said quietly, and he bit his lip. 

On the park gazebo a woman read a statement off her cell phone from the family of Angel Ruiz who was shot dead on March 20 just steps from where he worked.  She choked up as she read of the pain of a family that has lost a husband, a father, a son.


The hundreds who left Closter Park grew to a thousand or more as the march reached Sanborne and Del Monte where Carlos was gunned down by the two cops who had been following him, in sight of a resident with a cell phone camera. The stain from Carlos’ blood was still there where it had run like a small stream for yards down the street. A small memorial stood nearby, as neighborhood people passing through on foot or by car, stopped to look and grab leaflets that read in part “Murdering Salinas Cops Must Be Put on Trial and Face Justice! The Whole Damn System Is Guilty!”  from Luz who came with me to this spot, herself a former farmworker from Soledad.




At the parking lot of Mi Pueblo people sat on picnic benches outside the market as the noise of scores of honking cars and chanting marches announced the approaching protest.  People pointed to the spot where Osman Hernandez was shot dead on Friday evening, May 9.  I thought back to all those payday nights when, with a paycheck in pocket, the fatigue of a long week of work drew one like a magnet to a liquor store or bar for a few beers to relax and forget.  Osman, a 26 year old from El Salvador working to send funds to his family back home, had a few drinks that night and felt good, maybe even happy.  Osman still had his lettuce knife in his back pocket where lettuce workers carry them when he left a bar.  He danced to his own rhythm, knife in hand, that much a video shows -- until a cop, according to one person, pushed him brutally to the ground, and there, still in the shock of the moment, was shot repeatedly in the head! 

And there I thought about an interview a few years before with several Salvadoran lettuce workers Osman’s age, a few yards away outside Christy’s Donuts. I recalled how they asked me about overtime, and speed up and what they considered cheating by their contractor of piece rate pay – their voices were edged with anger. 

And there, at that moment in front of Mi Pueblo, an older woman came up to greet me. It was Silvia, a veteran farmworker who told me at a farmworker event in Greenfield that “overtime is just an unsubstantiated rumor in the fields”.  I reminded her of that. She asked, didn’t you write a book?  Yes.  I want to write one too, she said – of all the injustices I’ve seen – I’ve seen so much!  I’ll help you, I said, in whatever way I can. And we agreed to keep in touch.

People came from Oxnard, Oakland, Stockton, Fresno, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, Santa Rosa and Sacramento to stand with the people of Salinas.

Some organizers did their best to control the message of the march – like those   “pledges of non-violence” back in the day – why is it always the victims of violence, of brutal, vicious, malicious violence, that have to “prove themselves” “non-violent”. Why don’t the police, and the ruling forces that command them – why don’t they have to pledge non-violence?  Why do the people who are victims of injustice have to prove they are “responsible”, while their exploiters and oppressors are above scrutiny?  The thought police were out to keep expressions of justified contempt for the institutions of oppression from being openly expressed.  They met with resistance and their success was limited but they will have the cooperation of a compliant (corporate) media in their work.

One of the speakers gave a glimpse of some deeper truth in the rally, so I’ll quote here from a transcription of his speech that I recorded.  The speaker is Hector Perla Jr., a professor of international relations at UC Santa Cruz:  “Many of us from El Salvador, Central América and México are here because our communities have been expelled, displaced by policies of the U.S. government, by ‘free trade’ policies by “free trade agreements” that displace farmers and destroy the agriculture of our countries.  It is not the ‘violence of the narcos’ that is at fault but the structural violence imposed on us . . . And when we come here seeking a better future for our families to find honorable work, what happens? We are discriminated against, deported and criminalized.  It’s time to say enough.”   Such are the policies of a system of exploitation.








Interview with Ann Lopez -- Center for Farmworker Families -- and Bruce Neuburger on April 10, 2014 on farmworkers, NAFTA, the border, horrendous border waits and other issues.  

On the borderline

January 7, 2014:
On the borderline: 
Farmworkers at the Mexicali - Calexico border in the early morning. 
A little background.  I worked in the 1970s in the fields and spent 4 winters in the Imperial Valley area where I’d come following the crop cycle.  During the months of December, January, and February I crossed the border almost daily to work on lettuce ground crews in the Imperial Valley and Yuma.  There were a lot of inconveniences, a lot of uncomfortable conditions and injustices that workers had to endure.  Often company foremen and labor contractors would have workers crossing the border early, at 4:00 AM, only to wait for hours on a bus while the company considered its options or inspected the conditions in the fields.  There were times when we traveled to the field on cold mornings only to have to wait for hours while the lettuce warmed enough to be cut.  There were times when we traveled, even long distances, to a field, only to turn back because of rain.  Most often these lost hours went unpaid, although there were some concessions by some growers for waiting and traveling time at the height of the union movement era.   Most often in those winter months we’d cross the border to work in the dark and return in the dark.  Living in cheap hotels near the border in those days, returning after dark meant returning to a place with no hot water, it meant a cold shower in a cold room.  But one thing I never had to endure in those years was waiting to cross the border on foot in the mornings from Mexicali to Calexico.  While crossing in cars was usually slow, the crossing on foot never took more than a few minutes.  That was back in the late 1970s.

Today, crossing the Mexicali / Calexico border on foot to work is something akin to torture and humiliation.  I’d heard from workers about long waits in the mornings to cross, but until this past Monday, I hadn’t experienced it first hand.  Here I’ll give an account of the morning (Monday, January 6) and I’ll fill in the picture with some notes from discussions with various people in the Mexicali-Calexico-Yuma area.
The 1979 lettuce strike and the virtual end of the UFW in the fields of Salinas and Watsonville -- an excerpt from Lettuce Wars in Social Policy Magazine, Summer, 2013:

http://www.socialpolicy.org/index.php/summer-2013/615-behind-the-farmworkers-lettuce-wars-victory-from-defeat-defeat-from-victory

A Talk on Lettuce Wars



Send Comments to   lettucewars@gmail.com

(Slightly edited from a presentation to the Marxist School, Sacramento, Ca. April 18, 2013)

I'm frequently asked, "Why did you work in the fields, and why so long!"   The question speaks volumes about our oppressive system   of food production.   Should I have darker skin and a different native language, such a question would never be asked.  

Introduction:  Slavery and Modern Agriculture

   “Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery you have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that has given the colonies their value; it is the colonies that have created world trade, and it is world trade that is the pre-condition of large-scale industry.
 Thus slavery is an economic category of the greatest importance.”   Karl Marx, 1840.
    
 “There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery.”  Bob Avakian, 2011
     While both these communist theoreticians and activists were speaking of Chattel slavery in the U.S. South, there is much here that’s relevant to the history and current reality of agriculture in California and other areas.
     When the U.S. seized Mexico’s northern territories in 1848 there was growing contention between Southern slave system and the rising industrial capitalism of the north.
     An entrepreneurial spirit emerged strong from California’s goldfields, enough to fight off the slavers who’d come with their expansionist ambitions, and in some cases, with their slaves. Advocates of “free”, ie. capitalist labor prevailed, but the contending sides found consensus in one respect -- California was to be a territory for the white race. 
     The grab for gold foreshadowed the grab for land.  In both cases, the sign in the window said, non-whites need not apply.  Mexican land grants “guaranteed” to their Mexican owners under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were swept aside as pitilessly as the native peoples had been ethnically cleansed.  California became a state dominated economically and politically by Europeans and their descendants.  
     As I wrote in Lettuce Wars, “California was envisioned as a white man’s paradise.  But it wasn’t clear how such a society would eat.” How would land with its potential be turned into wealth?  Who would do the work?

California Farm Workers of the 1970s: A Story Told from the Fields

 Much has been written over the years about Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union, how it began, the struggles of the early union movement, the positive advances and more recently, about the internal repression in the latter part of the 1970’s and early 1980’s that choked off democratic life and processes.*  Little has been written about the working conditions in the vegetable fields in those years (where the union movement had its base), and about the struggles that took place on the ground, in the crews – what they looked and felt like – those struggles that, for a time, changed conditions, aroused a broader public and put the growers and the apartheid-like system in California agriculture on the defensive.  Nor has much been written about the radical movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s (including in Mexico) and how it both manifested itself among California farm workers and became a source of tension and struggle in the union.