LA HUELGA’S NEW LOOK Austin La Huelga has entered a new phase. A boycott has been organized this month and leaders of Starr County’s striking farm workers say that some 300 stores in three major Texas grocery chains have agreed so far not to handle the produce of La Casita Farms. La Huelga is now aimed solely at La Casita, the most prominent produce farm in Starr County. Grocery stores that have agreed to cooperate with the boycott, strike leaders tell the Observer, are Handy Andy Supermarkets of San Antonio and Austin, 148 Safeway Stores in Dallas and the Texas Panhandle, and stores in a third chain which is said to have been a prime outlet for La Casita. This unidentified chain is reported cooperating on the understanding that its identity not be revealed. Work continues on widening the boycott. The boycott is but one feature of the new aspect of the Starr County movement. The strike is now being directed more actively by California farm labor leaders and has taken on a more professional, more businesslike aura. This development was personified in the arrival in Texas of the Rev. Jim Drake, a Congregationalist minister from Porterville, Calif., and Gilbert Padilla of Delano, Calif., the first vice-president of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. Drake became involved in the farm workers movement of Cesar Chavez \(U.F.W.O.C. near Delano, Calif., for the California Council of Churches Migrant Ministry. He became active in the Delano strikes . Drake came to Texas in mid-January, evidently after Chavez and his co-leaders in California had decided to commit themselves more deeply to the Starr County strike, which, in their view, was begun with unwise suddeness. Chavez believes in preliminary steps before starting a farm workers’ strike. For one thing, community organization should be undertaken, Chavez believes, establishing such services as a credit union and insurance and other such programs for the workers and their families. Another necessary preliminary, in Chavez’ view, is developing data on the farms that will be the targets. Such a study should indicate the tactics of a strike. In Starr County’s case Chavez has found his union presented with an unwanted fait accompli the strike was begun in the farm worker union’s name, commiting the union to the strike’s success, before the union’s leaders in California could consider the question. “To be honest,” Drake says, “we at Delano have been somewhat lukewarm toward the movement in Texas, but [now] we’re placing greater emphasis on Texas. In effect we’re starting the strike all over again.” Drake and Padilla have been contacting grocery stores that handle La Cas ita produce. Five more U.F.W.O.C. staff members may be assigned to Texas soon, Drake says. PADILLA REPORTS that La Casita produce is known to be sold in Texas and Oklahoma and probably elsewhere; trucks bearing products of the Starr County farm are being tailed to see where the shipments go. “It is not our intent to destroy La Casita,” Padilla says, “but our experience has been that a fullscale boycott of a struck ranch’s produce . . . can give a label such a bad name that it takes a year for sales to recover. La Casita should use good sense. By refusing to negotiate, they could destroy themselves.” Ray Rochester, general manager of La Casita, says “They’ve got to have a symbol to go against and they’re choosing us because we are successful. They would destroy us without thinking once about what would happen to the many families we now provide jobs for, or about the town.” The union has printed a leaflet portraying the labels that La Casita produce bears Hi-Goal head lettuce, La Casita vegetables, and La Casita celery hearts. There was some talk among strike committee members that the farm may change its labels. Ralph Ross, assistant manager of La Casita, says that there is no brand name for shoppers to boycott; when La Casita’s produce is put on the market, it is “just another head of lettuce.” The strikers’ leaflet advises shoppers who are sympathetic to the strike to ask the produce managers of stores to show them the carton in which fresh produce is shipped. Stores that don’t cooperate in the boycott will be picketed, according to present plans. How long might the boycott last? Evidently it could be many months or even several years. Ross of La Casita says “We are prepared for a long one if it should last and we’ll counter it as it comes.” Roy Evans, seceretary-treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO, said the state labor organization will lend its support and is preparing for at least a two-year struggle with La Casita. The national AFL-CIO will also help, wherever needed, throughout the nation, Evans says. Part of the businesslike approach which Drake and Padilla are trying to establish in the Texas strike vas reflected in a piece of research that has just been turned out by U.F.W.O.C. about La Casita’s history, operations, and income. It was learned that La Casita is wholly owned by Harden Farms of Salinas, Calif. There is some doubt about the acreage which La Casita plants; press accounts have said both 1,400 and 1.600 acres. The U.F.W.O.C. study continues: “La Casita Farms, Inc., grows, packs, and ships melons, peppers, carrots, cabbage, celery, lettuce, and other vegetables approximately 300 days a year. Produce is sold on consigned and F.O.B. basis throughout the entire U.S. through brokers to large chain outlets. Some chains, such as H.E.B. [Food Stores], receive produce at the packing sheds in trucks owned by the chain itself. “La Casita produce is popular. Under the label “La Casita,” sales for the year ending April 30, 1964, were $1,243,771. April 30, 1965, sales were $1,094,553. April 30, 1966, sales \(shortly before the saw a jump to $1,843,530! The gross profit on sales in the 1966 years was $382,529. The net profit was $185,021 \(better than crease in sales stems from enlarged acreage under cultivation. “Of course profits are high due in part to the overabundance of cheap labor in the Rio Grande Valley. La Casita hires between 300 and 400 workers on almost a steady basis. These workers receive, on a piece rate basis, between 60c and $1 per hour. Workers on ranches with similar profiles in California receive between $1.40 and $2 per hour. This is true of Harden Farms of California in Salinas, Calif. The argument that La Casita is a struggling ‘small farm’ with limited assets operating on a basis of perpetual indebtedness is a bald-faced lie,” the report alleges. La. Casita’s profits, Drake contends, should be going into wages for Texans rather than the “bank accounts of California absentee landlords.” Drake, on arriving in Texas last month, toured the state, visiting Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and the Valley to assess La Huelga. After, he says, ten days’ travelling and 40 meetings, “to read the Texas situation,” he concluded that five things are needed: a boycott; to dramatize the Starr County situation; to call attention to the “green carders,” Mexican nationals who cross the border daily to work in the Texas Valley, depressing wages; improved communications to get news about the Starr County strike spread throughout Texas and the nation; and to encourage workers of the the strike. Five offices are to be set up to keep abreast of the boycott’s progress and to solicit funds for the strikers. The offices are planned in Austin, Houston, the Valley, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. Perhaps a sixth office will be opened in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Other offices will be established as needed. M EANWHILE THERE has been a shift of an uncertain nature in the commitment of the Catholic Church to the strike. Since the first day Catholic priests and laymen have been involved in the movement, evidently with the ardent February 17, 1967 3
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