and ordered the strikers to stand aside. They refused and walked just across the border, which bisects the bridge. Nye went to the Mexican side and summoned some help. Mexican police moved out onto the bridge, forcing the demonstrators back towards Texas. Nelson stood with one foot in Texas, the other in Mexico. A Mexican officer pushed him into Texas. Nelson went limp and was dragged away by officers to a waiting car. He refused to get in the car and was lifted into it by Pena and two other officers. Pena then reached across the border and grabbed Chandler, pulling him to the floor of the bridge, but the union leader jerked free and jumped back across the border. Finally, Chandler and ten others were arrested. By 11:15 a.m. traffic was again flowing freely. Early that afternoon some 40 farm workers marched around the courthouse where the bridge demonstrators were jailed, shouting “Viva la huelga!” to the prisoners. “Viva la huelga!” the 12 shouted back. Late Monday the group was bailed out. One week later, Oct. 31, Orendain and two others were arrested by Mexican authorities after the gate on the Roma bridge was closed and locked by somebody. The three were released eight hours later with no charges filed. Nov. 3 a group of farm workers lined up across a railroad track and blocked an engine; preventing its hauling five carloads of bell peppers. Chandler and Orendain spoke with the engineer of the train, convincing him that he should “honor the picket line.” Early this week the carloads of peppers still had not been moved out. Rangers were on the scene investigating the burning of a nearby railroad trestle. Even if the green carders were stopped from coming across the river; Nelson was asked, wouldn’t there still be more workers in Rio Grande City than jobs? What pressure would the exclusion of the Mexican nationals put on the growers to acknowledge the union? Nelson responded that even now, with most of the county’s workers back home but with many of them refusing to work, growers are having to rely on Mexican nationals as well as workers from other parts of the Valley to get their work done. He notes, also, that there is a steady gain in union membership, and there are many cases, he says, of individuals refusing to work in the county after being talked to by strikers. A QUESTION which seems to persist now in the minds of Nelson and Cesar Chavez and others is: did the march to Austin carry forward the aims of the strikers? Nelson says he’s not quite sure what the Rev. Antonio Gonzales and the Rev. James Novarro, who were coleaders of the march, are doing now. Novarro attended a meeting in Corpus Christi last month to organize the caravan from Austin to Starr County. Nelson’s not sure where Gonzales is. Chavez, en route to the Valley to see how the strike is doing, was in Austin last month for a fund-raising dance. He expressed doubt several times about the march’s value and was critical by implication of Nelson and the conduct of the Starr County strike and the handling of the march. Chavez said he is convinced that a strike should be called only after considerable community organization work is done. “We spent four years getting ready in California, doing community work among farm workers doing social service programs, whether related to their jobs or not. We tried to take care of these problems and show that it is beneficial to be organized. And we refused to accept money from outside sources at first to make the people feel that they had an investment in the deal. In this way we have been able to prove that we are able to sustain a long strike,” Chavez went on, “enabling our friends elsewhere to help; for all practical purposes in past strikes, it was all over in ten days,” when the money usually played out. In Starr County the strike was begun without this preliminary organizational work, ChaA’Tez said, so now this must be done concurrently with the strike. “I think they have made mistakes here in Texas, but I’m not going to come here and say that you can’t do that because you’ve been making mistakes,” he said, adding that he believes it’s very important for leaders in places such as Starr County to learn by doing. Another mistake in Texas, Chavez believes, was that the march to Austin was not controlled by the strikers. “Two days after the march began,” Chavez noted, “the marchers weren’t ‘strikers’ any more, Two days after the rally at the State Capitol the Starr County strikers, back in Rio Grande City, resumed picketing of La Casita, the largest of the farms. Chavez was there with Bill Kircher of Washington, D.C., and Nick Kurko, Fort Worth, national and regional directors, respectively, of organizing for the AFL-CIO. These three men conferred with Nelson about continuance of the strike. Later in September supporters began organizing Valley Workers Assistance Committees in towns throughout South and Central Texas. In October the strikers’ attention began to .turn towards the green carders. A truck driver who transported workers to Starr County from Alamo in neighboring Hidalgo County, as well as from Mexico, was picketed at his home by strikers. One sign read “A strikebreaker lives here. Farm workers want decent wages.” Some of the Mexicans were followed back across the Rio Grande after work by the strikers and other green carders were talked to about not breaking the strike. These tactics achieved some success in stemming the flow of labor northward across the border. In other developments last month, Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes told the but ‘the Valley farm workers seeking $1.25.’ ” The Starr County workers want a contract, not necessarily a state minimum wage, ‘Chavez indicated. The workers’ march in California was planned for eleven months and was used as a vehicle for signing up members for the union, and some 7,000 dues-paying members were signed, he said. “I think we could have won the strike with the march” in Texas, Chavez said implying that the enthusiasm of the Texas march has been permitted to dissipate. Not getting the message, a student asked Chavez: Is the $1.25 minimum wage measure a high priority objective of the Starr County strike? “How can it be,” Chavez responded with some feeling, “when we have people being beaten and incarcerated. . . . We’re going to get to the moon before we recognize that farm workers have the right to organize . . . that’s how bad it is. . . . But if the people dO anything.” A long siege still lies ahead for the Starr strikers, Chavez believes ,. He pointed out that after 14 months in California just four of 37 growers have settled with the union. The strike in Rio Grande City has been going on only five months so far, Chavez pointed out. A next step in the battle here may be a boycott. Chavez recounted the effectiveness of this tactic in California. He noted that two of the larger Starr County growers market their products in only one place, Chicago, whereas the Schenley Corporation in California had a nationwide distribution system for its products. 0 Edinburg Review that he would conduct a personal inquiry into the Valley farm labor situation. “I have no other way to get all the information on this without going there personally,” Barnes said. In San Antonio supporters of the strike met to draw up a suggested program to increase financial support and push a minimum wage bill in the next legislature. Starr County Judge M. P. Rodriguez, at Nelson’s request, called a meeting for Oct. 14 between growers and representatives of the strikers. “No one can question that our county administration is for a decent and living wage,” Rodriguez said, “and for the proposition that every laborer has the right to be paid what is just and fair.” However, two days before the scheduled meeting, Bill Chandler was arrested on a charge of disturbing the peace by using obscene language. Chandler denies that he was breaking the law. He believes that he was arrested “on a put-up charge between growers and county politicians” as a pretext for calling off the meeting. Rodriguez said that he postponed the meeting because of “action on the part of the strikers and the inability of certain growers to attend.” November 11, 1966 5 SINCE LABOR DAY: I
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