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Al Ransom, San Antonio Rev. James Navarro, Father Antonio Gonzales, and Eugene Nelson head the March to Austin SEPT. 2, 1966 The Texas Observer A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c On Being a Labor Organizer Austin First I’d like to say that I believe everyone is basically selfish, so this piece won’t deal with the moral aspects of the decision to become a labor organizer. When I was in my teens and first heard about unions and labor organizers it all seemed to me a drab and unromantic and unexciting business. Later, after I had worked at various low-paying jobs and learned some of the facts of life, I discovered that there were other things much less exciting: working all day for such low wages that you couldn’t even afford to take a girl to a dance or a movie, eat adequately, or buy new clothes when you were beginning to look ragged. On the other hand, there is the negative and often fatal kind of excitement that extremely low wages and poverty sometimes make necessary: violent revolution. I feel certain that the greatest single deterrent to that sort of excitement in the United States has been the American labor movement, which has attained decent and just wages for at least part of the American work force. I -came to the labor movement somewhat late in life, at the age of 35. Since I was 15 I have wanted to be a writer. I told myself that after I had succeeded as a writer, I would use some of my leisure time to study and try to help solve the social and economic problems of the world. I never have made enough money as a writer to buy that much leisure, but I got involved in social and economic problems and the labor movement anyway, and now I realize that my original approach was wrong. I should have devoted part of my time to trying to help solve the world’s problems all along; anyone who doesn’t isn’t pulling his share of the load. After working in the labor movement and thus helping the poor, I have come to believe that most people are happiest when they are living partly for themselves and partly for others. Also, I discovered that performing some extravaluable service such as working in the labor movement is good therapy; when you help others solve their problems your own tend to disappear. The way I got into the labor movement is this: I was compiling a book of inter Eugene Nelson, the leader of the farm workers’ strike in Starr County and coordinator of the farm workers’ march to Austin, wrote this for the Observer during a few quiet periods while he was in Austin raising funds. Eugene Nelson views with former braceros and wetbacks, and someone told me that Cesar Chavez, director of the National Farm Workers Association, knew some people who could give me good stories. I went to him and immediately he impressed me as the most humane man I had ever met. He offered me a job as editor of a union newspaper he hoped to start publishing. I told him that when I finished my book I might take him up on it. By the time I finished my book he had hired someone else, a brilliant fellow named Bill Esher who has made the N.F.W.A. paper, El Malcriado, a resounding success. Because of my poor employment record working a year to save money, then going to Mexico for a year to write, etc.I couldn’t get a “respectable” job. I tried to get a job as a social worker but was turned down. The only other job open to me at the time was working for Cesar at $30 a week. Also it seemed like fascinating work and would give me a chance to use my Spanish, and it seemed to me it would be satisfying to help the poor, so rather than look further for work, I took the job. That was a year ago. My first assignment was sweeping the floor of the union headquarters in Delano, California. Later the same day I wrote a leaflet attacking a scab labor contractor bringing strikebreakers to a small vineyard we were striking. We distributed the leaflet all over the neighborhood where the scabs were recruited, and it worked. A month later the big Delano grape strike began and I became one of four picket captains, in charge of a group of roving pickets that swept through the vineyards looking for scabs, trying to persuade them to leave the fields and join us. Often we were successful. It was a great thrill when the strikebreakers decided to come over to our side and came streaming out of the fields to join us. It was the most exciting period of my life, working from dawn to dusk on the picket line, writing and distributing leaflets in the evenings, working and talking with many warm and wonderful workers, Mexicans, Filipinos, Negroes, Anglos, and with the many ministers, priests, students, and civil rights workers who came to help the farm workers in their struggle for justice. I discovered the labor movement wasn’t so drab after all. As most people know by now, the Delano strike resulted in a great breakthrough for farm workers when the giant Schenley Corporation signed a contract granting its 450