ustxtxb_obs_2004_12_03_50_00042-00000_000.pdf

Page 2

by

m,vthers’ Sit= Cm-Atoi 50TH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE From La Casita to LUPE BY JAMES C. HARRINGTON rf he Observer was barely into its teens when the farm worker movement in Texas came alive in the mid-1960s, and it has been the movement’s most consistent chronicler since then. There had been earlier agricultural organizing effortsmost notably, the several thousand pecan shellers in San Antonio, chiefly women, who struck for six months in 1938, under the leadership of Emma Tenayuca. And Manuela Solis Sager tried to organize farm laborers in the lower Rio Grande Valley in that same period under the aegis of the South Texas Agricultural Workers’ Union. But the big push that eventually took hold came with the 1966-1967 melon strike at La Casita Farms in Rio Grande City, led by the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, which later became a full-fledged union, the United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO. The strike was the first major civil rights event in Texas during the late 1960s. The Rio Grande Valley is one of the poorest regions of the nation, so poor that it often is called Texas’ Third World. The poverty bleeds over into all facets of life: terrible medical care, inferior education opportunities, hunger, substandard housing, economic exploitation, and political powerlessnessall built on a history of racism, segregation, and discrimination, and reinforced by the state’s police power, most notably the Texas Rangers. The La Casita strike in a sense was more than a labor dispute; it was the poor of the Valley finally raising up their voices to protest a hundred years of oppression… iYa basta! A few months after the strike began, the workers and their supporters marched on Austin to raise the minimum wage from $.85/hour to $1.25/hour. Governor John Connally intercepted the marchers in New Braunfels in his limousine, and said he would not meet them in Austin, urging them to end the march. The marchers spurned Connally’s plea, which they considered insulting, and rallied at the Capitol with 6,500 people on Labor Day 1966. Ultimately, Capt. A. Y. Allee, his Texas Rangers, and local gendarmes brutally smashed the strike. Seven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stinging rebuke of Allee and his henchmen and came down squarely on the side of the farm workers and UFWOC organizers [Allee v. Medrano, 416 U.S. That, in turn, gave Hispanic legislators, newly increasing in numbers, a rallying point, and broke down the Rangers’ gunslinging, super macho “one riot, one Ranger” modus operandi \(which came firstthe riot or the Rangerwas always a matthe Department of Public Safety. The Tex s Observer SEPT. le. 190 A Journal of Fret Voietts A Windt3W to The South 2S-c Allee also energized the farm worker movement, and in May 1975 a series of wildcat strikes broke out in Hidalgo and Starr Counties, and at La Casita. The growers met these strikes with violence and retaliation, and a few workers responded accordingly. The local courts intervened, allowed peaceful striking, and matters cooled with a march from Hidalgo to McAllen. The growers hiked wages as a way of undercutting organizing efforts. At the end of the season in June, other strikes flared up in Presidio and Pecos. The growers had workers arrested by compliant sheriffs \(one of whom was later arrested for drug when a West Texas judge ordered a union representation election. The growers retreated from litigation. At this point, a small group of strike organizers broke from the UFW and formed the Texas Farm Workers Union, which marched to Austin and then to Washington, D.C., unsuccessfully seeking collective bargaining rights. Within a couple of years, that group had splintered into three, and all three have 42 THE TEXAS OBSERVER-12/3/04