Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters

Once upon a time, in the most hostile of organizing environments, Cesar Chavez and his farm workers movement successfully mobilized workers and their communities against a powerful array of unaccountable corporate forces in a historic fight for social justice. Chavez initially succeeded where others failed and forced the most powerful industry in California to negotiate with the state’s poorest workers. His life’s work in building the United Farm Workers union is now memorialized in American history. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan was inspired by Chavez’s rallying cries in the fields, while as President, Obama went on to proclaim March 31 as the national Cesar Chavez Day. Nevertheless, fame and dedication to a good cause are not enough to invoke immunity from criticism, so it is important to scrutinize Chavez’s serious shortcomings, as part of a broader attempt to understand why his decades of organising in the fields ultimately floundered.

Frank Bardacke’s book, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers (2011), provides an insightful reckoning of the conflicting pressures that eventually undermined Chavez’s union. One of the many external forces that simultaneously facilitated both union successes (in the short-term) and failures (in the long-term) was the ever-present pressures generated by the need for funding. Many financial lessons for how activists can sustain powerful movements for social change can be gleaned from the example of the United Farm Workers, but the significant interventions of elite philanthropists into Chavez’s organizing — alongside the cynical manipulations of conservative trade union bureaucrats — must be factored in to any such observations. This is why Erica Kohl-Arenas’ important contribution to this field of research, The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty (2015) should be considered a must-read for all trade unionists and social justice activists. Drawing primarily upon these two books, along with the biographical interrogations carried out by Miriam Pawel, this essay seeks to draw attention to the enduring problems of financing democratic movements for progressive change.

Drilling to the root of the divisions caused by elite financing of working-class activism, it is important to reflect upon the organizations and people which provided guidance to Chavez’s initial community organizing work. The key individual to be considered in this regard is Fred Ross, a founder of the Community Service Organization (CSO) – a project which had been set-up by Saul Alinksy’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in 1947. Ross was the first person to recognise Chávez’s potential as a fellow-organizer when their paths crossed in 1952, and Ross quickly recruited him to paid employment with his CSO — a position that Chávez maintained for the next decade. These formative years are integral to understanding Chavez’s later developments: Not everything that Alinksy and Ross taught Chavez in the years between his twenty-fifth and thirty-fifth birthday stuck, but understanding Alinskyism is one way of making sense of Cesar Chavez and the foundational architecture of the United Farm Workers.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.69) For a little informative background on the funding of this early activism, Kohl-Arenas’ writes:

“By the 1950s, Alinsky had become one of the premier thinkers and practitioners of neighborhood-based community organizing. Despite Alinsky’s popularity in the 1950s, he was refused funding by both the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations based on the “political nature” of his approach to building power among local residents to confront unequal opportunity structures. However, through Alinsky’s connections at the University of Chicago, the Emil Schwarzhaupt Foundation generously funded him and the CSO.”

During this period the Schwarzhaupt Foundation also provided much-needed funding to the Highlander Folk School, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Migrant Ministry, but the “main recipient [of their largesse] was Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation.”

“Starting in April 1953, the IAF received a direct grant of $150,000, which in the next ten years expanded to $608,486. More money went to other organizations and groups that had ties to Alinsky but were not directly funded by the IAF. Add it all up, and over a twelve-year period of intense giving nearly $3 million of Schwarzhaupt’s fortune went to fund Alinskyism.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.69)

Social movement philanthropy was certainly not commonplace in the early fifties (as it would become increasingly so following in the wake of sixties radicalism), as “liberal, corporate foundation money primarily went to institutional intellectuals or charity operations.” There was however a good reason why foundation money flowed to Alinsky and his numerous community-based projects, and this was because his work was seen as an alternative means of organizing for social justice in ways that bypassed the explicitly political class-based approaches to social change. The usefulness of such activism as a counter to socialist organizing is provided in Alinksy’s famous book Reveille for Radicals (1946) where his counsel for activists seeking to tackle the increasingly right-wing turn of trade unions leaders was simply to organise outside of them: “Another obvious alternative – for workers to fight within their unions for democratic unionism – is not even mentioned.” Thus, “Despite Alinksky’s rhetorical accent on democracy, this approach left Cesar Chavez ill-equipped to think about the actual dynamics of union democracy.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.72, p.73)[1]

chavez

Gabriel Thompson’s historical overview of Alinsky-styled activism, America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century (2016), actually puts concerns over both outside funding and the related middle-class orientation of the CSO as one of the key factors that led to Chavez’s resignation from Ross’s CSO in 1962. “It didn’t matter that, earlier in the day, the CSO had approved a plan to form a ‘Farm Labor Committee’ or that a wealthy private citizen, sympathetic to farmworkers, had agreed to donate fifty thousand dollars for the cause. Chavez wanted freedom. Money would come, if it came, later.” (p.144) Thompson then concludes that “the need to not be constrained by funders” as demonstrated by this split provides the clearest example of Alinsky’s influence upon Chavez. But this analysis is not really accurate, as Alinsky and Ross’s own activism was always constrained, despite their best efforts, by their funders. In fact in 1962, Ross’s own CSO work was hanging in the balance on the basis of continued funding from the Schwarzhaupt Foundation.

Of course this fundamental problem is not entirely sidestepped by Thompson who later drew attention to the perennial “problem of money. The CSO, like nearly every organizing group save labor unions,” Thompson wrote, “could never find a way to pay for itself.” Moreover, besides the CSO’s “money woes” Thompson highlights “a bigger issue, which is that by the early 1960s the CSO lacked an overarching mission – and it was this vacuum that the middle-class moderates filled.” (p.149) These problems, linked to outside funding, are precisely the reasons why socialists (like myself) maintain that it is critical that social change should be funded by concerned activists (be they trade unionists or otherwise) not philanthropic elites. Either way although Ross remained in the employ of Alinsky’s broad network for the next few years he attempted to get some cash diverted in Chavez’s direction, but Alinsky “didn’t believe farmworkers could be organized, and he rejected the request”. (p.145) Despite this opposition Ross would still attend the founding convention of Chavez’s Farm Worker Association (on September 30, 1962), and later in the sixties would become a key aide within Chavez’s movement.

Money was clearly always at the centre of debates with the farm workers movement, but contrary to Chavez’s ongoing claims about financial independence, during its early years vital support for his Farm Worker Association (FWA) was derived from the Californian Migrant Ministry (CMM), which itself was supported by the Schwarzhaupt Foundation.

“The support started slowly. In the early 1960s, the CMM had a budget of about $100,000 a year. It bought the FWA its first mimeograph machine and Cesar some meals and gas. When Migrant Minister were assigned to be trained by Chavez, they worked as his assistants. Although Chavez pointedly never took money from the CMM for his own salary, the Migrant Ministry would sometimes pay the salary of other FWA organizers. This began in late 1964…  At one time in the mid-sixties there were twenty-six of these worker priests, most of them with little religious background at all, working under the UFW’s directions.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.123)

To reiterate the developing contradictions within the farm workers movement: the early stated ethos of Chavez’s organizing ventures was clear:

“Having studied the failures of past attempts to organize migrant farm labor, Chavez believed that organizing workers in a traditional union would never work. Instead, in keeping with his CSO training and his Catholic upbringing, and inspired by his contemporaries Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez sought to organize farmworkers as a cultural and religious people, situated in their geographic communities, into a social movement. Central to the early philosophy of the movement was the spirit of volunteerism, community service, and collective ownership. According to Dolores Huerta, the main organizing principle emphasized the importance of an all-volunteer, dues-paying membership: ‘There was a strong belief in not taking money from the outside and in insisting that farmworkers pay and volunteer for the movement…’ ” (The SelfHelp Myth)

Through sheer hard work and persistence during their first two years Chavez, Huerta, and a small group of volunteer organizers travelled door to door, organizing endless house meetings, and in doing so were able to recruit membership-paying field workers. Early Farm Worker Association advocate Don Villarejo, recalled that the movement “would not take a dime of money from outside their own pockets—if there was any money or meaning in the movement it had to be based in workers.” (The SelfHelp Myth) Yet even at this early stage Chavez recognized the “benefits” that could be accrued to his organizing efforts if they accepted external funding. Thus, in late 1964:

“Chavez, the pragmatist, was willing to jettison one of his cardinal rules: don’t take outside money. The application submitted to OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity] asked for more than $200,000 to create seventy jobs, sixty-three for farmworkers who would work in the credit union, start a cooperative, and run a gas station. Chavez, as director, would receive a salary of $15,000.” — Miriam Pawel, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography (2014), p.97.[2]

During its initial years the Farm Worker Association attempted to build from the tradition of mutualistas, a community self-help model popular in the 1920s and 1930s in Mexico. This desire for self-help meshed well with Chavez’s desire to work outside of traditional methods of union organizing; but soon his Association had to evolve to keep up with other developments in the fields. In this manner the union model of organizing was “quickly thrust” on the Association in 1965…

“…when the mostly Filipino-American members of the AFL-CIO– supported Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), led by Larry Itliong, walked out on strike against grape growers in the Delano area. Under pressure from AWOC and their own members, Chavez’s mostly Latino NFWA decided to join AWOC and was unexpectedly thrown into a five-year grape strike. In the course of only a few months, the dogged door-to-door community organizing and mutual aid approach quickly transformed into the largest union movement of its time.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

External union cash soon came flowing in from Walter Reuther, the president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), which then progressed to direct support from the AFL-CIO: that is, after Chavez’s Association’s merger with AWOC led to the formation of the newly named United Farm Workers of America (which later changed name to become the United Farm Workers, UFW, in 1972). The money that now became available for grassroots organizing was growing by the day and far outstripped union dues. So considering the founding ideals of this still developing farmworkers movement, it is not surprising that some of their “key leaders” were wary of the political implications of external funding, especially that from outside the trade union movement. Illustrating the paradoxical nature of the centrality of financial issues, it is significant that this problem was also raised by groups that were wholly reliant on philanthropic benefactors themselves.

“Despite its own funding from the National Council of Churches and the Max L. Rosenberg Foundation, Migrant Ministry argued that publicly and privately funded self-help housing and infrastructure programs risked co-opting the advocacy and organizing potential of the movement. Regardless of the moral and political stance against outside funds, movement leaders changed their minds when they found out that multiple farmworker-serving organizations were receiving large grants from the OEO’s War on Poverty. According to lead organizer Gilbert Padilla in an interview with Marshall Ganz, Chavez feared that if ‘the NFWA did not get the OEO funds, others would who might not share the NFWA’s organizing agenda… and by reversing itself on rejection of outside money, the NFWA tried to preempt claims of others who might use funds in less productive ways.’ ”

“In 1965, only a year after claiming that public funds would corrupt a volunteer led farmworker movement, the NFWA applied for an OEO grant of $500,000. The NFWA was forced to return these funds amid protest among growers and mainstream stakeholders who were upset that the OEO was supporting strikes and unionization. However, by 1966, the movement was seeking support from private funders, resulting in a heated debate on the limits to farmworker self-help and the incorporation of the private, nonprofit movement institutions to which Chavez eventually retreated.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

The Ford Foundation-backed initiatives in California, of which the most visible was their “War on Poverty” Community Action Projects (CAPs), were at the time dominated by affiliates of the American Friends Service Committee.[3] Millions of dollars flooded into these CAPs from the government, while simultaneously the government’s ODO funders “began to reign in CAP staff eager to join the strikes and vetoed poverty funding that had anything to do with organizing farmworkers.” (The SelfHelp Myth) These efforts to control their activist staff did not always play out as planned, and the ODO-initiated California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) – whose employees included Jerry Cohen, who went on to become the farmworkers primary lawyer — maintained close working relationships with Chavez’s movement despite the best-efforts of their government paymasters. (This intimate link is not unsurprising as Chavez himself was included upon California Rural Legal Assistance’s board of directors when they had been set-up in 1966.)

With the increasing pressures of so many conflicting forces bearing down upon union organizing efforts, “Chavez and a small group of preacher activists from Migrant Ministry redirected decision-making away from workers toward a centralized leadership after the strike went public.” With the flow of money drying up for the more radical CAPs, new streams of funding would soon bolster farm worker activism from groups like the Citizens’ Crusade Against Poverty (CCAP). This CCAP had been initiated in late 1964 by soon-to-be allies of the farm workers which included Walter Reuther, Senator Robert Kennedy, and the former OEO director Richard Boone. The Ford Foundation had provided the grant to launch CCAP and movement leaders including Huerta, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bayard Rustin were quickly drawn in to reside on the organizations board of directors. With a $4 million four-year commitment from Ford, money now began to cascade more freely:

“A CCAP grant to the UFW in 1967 introduced the farmworker movement to program staff at both the Ford Foundation and the Field Foundation, both major funders from 1967 through the early 1970s. Headed up by Reuther, CCAP granted the UFW $200,000 to train emerging farmworker leaders in the Central Valley through the UFW’s then unincorporated National Farm Worker Service Center (NFWSC). The UFW hired Fred Ross (CSO founder and longtime ally) to develop and implement a training program in which farmworker leaders would learn how to organize and represent farmworkers to local agencies. Ross was also charged with establishing the NFWSC as a viable institution to serve the needs of local farmworkers. After only one year of the UFW/NFWSC/Fred Ross training program, the CCAP informed the UFW that the Ford Foundation was ending funding to CCAP. With additional funds from the Ford Foundation, a new organization called the Center for Community Change (CCC) was founded to absorb OEO- and CCAP-related projects.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

As part of ongoing efforts to channel external funds into the movement, in 1966 Chavez’s union set-up the National Farm Worker Service Center which received its “first large grant… through the Ford Foundation for the CCAP organizer-training program.” In 1969, the Centre was subsequently able to be directly funded by philanthropic foundations (like Ford) when it was formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization, but this change led to unforeseen problems that “limit[ed] the kind of farmworker self-help that was possible.” Hence, “Strict lines were quickly drawn between the social service work and economic justice organizing.” Here it should be noted, that the unions increasingly problematic “relationship with private funders, particularly the Field Foundation, paved the way for the retreat from organizing to a nonprofit institutional model—a space that became all too comfortable when crisis intensified within movement leadership and in the fields.” (The SelfHelp Myth)[4]

“After the 1969 incorporation as a 501(c)(3) organization, several private foundations, including the Ford Foundation, granted support to the service center for more farmworker service programming (for example, the creation of a community school and a clinic) and general administrative support. All of these programs fell within the acceptable logic of philanthropic self-help. Unlike the early mutual aid and cooperative associations, which were owned and led by farmworkers and poor migrant families, these programs depended on resources from outside stakeholders. They also focused primarily on how farmworkers could help themselves improve their own behaviors and conditions, without challenging individual growers or the structure of the agricultural industry. The revolutionary interpretation of mutual aid to foster self-determination and ownership, and the subsequent union approach, were both replaced by a more traditional charitable model.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

That the need to attract funding affected the political priorities of the union is obvious, which is why, over the years, members continually opposed Chavez and his Executive on such matters. In regular, democratic unions the majority, if not all, of the organizations funding is reliant upon membership dues, but prior to 1969, “dues were no more than 16 percent” of union income. (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.550) In particular, this delinking of the union leadership from its membership base meant that it was foundation money not the workers themselves who would play an important role in building farmworker leadership and institutions. But while Chavez had “initially assumed that private funding could also be used to support strikes, boycott, and union organizing,” it soon became clear that this was not the case. “Through highly charged debates documented in print mail correspondence, foundation program officers convinced Chavez that foundation grants to the movement could not include union organizing or confrontation with the agricultural industry.”[5] As a result of these barriers to action, Chavez channelled such external funds to less confrontational service work; changes which wrought a large effect on the political priorities of the union.

Foundation grants kept flowing during the 1970s for the National Farm Worker Service Center along with the seven additional nonprofit organizations that were eventually founded by the union leadership; and it is true that managing this money presented different challenges in the form of “bureaucratic inundation” for Chavez and his largely uncritical cadre of union activists. “Consumed with developing his new organizations, Chavez ultimately accepted a foundation-approved translation of farmworker self-help that featured poor field hands in need of philanthropic charity—but not a movement in struggle for self-determination, labor rights, and collective ownership among workers.”[6] Arguably it was exactly these additional unforeseen problems that “eventually distracted movement leadership from union organizing when the movement faced its most severe challenges.”

What makes these problems all the more vexing is that during his lifetime Chavez was never held accountable for his many mistakes. This was in large part because the entire farm workers’ movement rested upon Chavez’s own mythmaking. We should of course be realistic about the weighty political pressures that were brought to bear upon Chavez as his organization gradually became more dependent on external benefactors with ulterior motives. The remedy for such perennial problems, which face all organizations (big or small), would have been the promotion of internal democracy within his union. But we should recognize that from the start Chavez never really had much time for internal democracy.

Ongoing state surveillance from the FBI no doubt increased Chavez’s paranoia in the context of his long internal fight against union members of his union harbouring democratic inclinations; and on this score it is notable that the FBI never unearthed any evidence of Communist infiltration into the union. The lack of such a so-called Communist threat however did not quiet Chavez’s own desire to revive the worst elements of McCarthyism. “For Chavez, red-baiting became a convenient excuse to get rid of people who asked too many questions, grumbled about the drudgery of picket work, objected to the AFL-CIO alliance, broke up marriages, exhibited too much independence, or drew too much attention to themselves.” “As Fred Hirsch had pointed out as early as 1968, Chavez viewed almost everyone as expendable.” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, p.150, p.341) When Fred reluctantly parted company with the union in the wake of raising his democratic concerns, he left his teenage daughter, Liza, living with Chavez and his family. Liza then stuck it out with Chavez (her mentor) until 1978 when she was unceremoniously ejected from the union after attempting to stick up for a fellow activist whom Chavez had arranged to be arrested by the local police: “Chavez denounced Liza as a Communist and ordered her thrown out.” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, p.346)[7] This was just the latest in a long string of expulsions and resignations, and Chavez’s unaccountability continued to have a toxic effect as far as far as the future of the union was concerned.

In addition to his daily obsession with communist troublemakers, Chavez’s destabilizing paranoia asserted itself it other ways too, like when he accused the flood of undocumented workers from Mexico into the Californian fields as being part of a devious “CIA operation.” At this historical juncture of CIA ranting, in 1974, Chavez evidently had faith in Liza Hirsch’s obedience to his rule, and he set her the task of coordinating the unions controversial “Illegals Campaign,” which sought to report illegal immigrants to the authorities. Here it is interesting that in that same year, Fred Hirsch had published a short book entitled “The Foreign Policy of the AFL-CIO in Latin America: or Under the Covers with the C.IA. The release of this ground-breaking text is relevant here because it illustrated how, from 1962 onwards, the right-wing leadership of the AFL-CIO had colluded with the U.S. government and the CIA to create the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD): the goal of this Institute was to promote business unionism in opposition to radical democratic alternatives across the world. Fred’s volume focused particularly on “the part AIFLD took in the bloody termination of the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende in Chile.”

In 2011, Fred wrote a thoughtful essay reflecting upon this real-life conspiracy titled “Did Ties to CIA-Labor Penetration Abroad Blowback at Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union?” As he points out:

“One strong factor for the decline of the United Farm Workers Union may have derived from its celebrity among good liberals, the awesome allegiance of genuinely humane church people and its early-on dependence on the financial support and “guidance” of George Meany’s AFL-CIO. Chavez came to be dependent upon outside financing for the work of the Union. Without the generosity of progressive and religious groups, and regular checks from the AFL-CIO, the growth and power of the UFW would have had to depend upon the farm workers themselves in a democratic, self-sustaining, dues paying union.”

Although he didn’t realize its significance at the time, Fred recalled how during his time in the fields with the United Farm Workers a delegation of foreign trade unionists from the Vietnamese Confederation of Labor paid them a fleeting visit: “It was the official labor organization that operated at the pleasure of the CIA and in service to Presidents Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Cao Ky.” Although Fred is unclear of the exact date, in either 1974 or 1976, he subsequently met with Chavez to warn him of the vile practices that taken place in Chile, and were still being undertaken elsewhere, by the CIA and AFL-CIO leadership (without the knowledge of the AFLO-CIO’s membership).

“Cesar did not say whether or not he cooperated with such AIFLD visits. He was, however, uncharacteristically fidgety and stone-faced. He made no commitment to act on the information.  We would not expect so intelligent a leader, a man so publicly committed to non-violence, to allow his organization to be tied to the corporate friendly schemes of the Nixon administration through AIFLD. More than three thousand men and women many selected from an AIFLD list of “subversives.” Many or most of those who were killed following the overthrow of democracy in Chile by Pinochet were progressive trade unionists like many of us. They were made martyrs for their names being put on a list.”

Chavez took no heed of Fred’s warnings, and worse still, in 1977, Chavez visited the Philippines to endorse the right-wing dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his associated CIA-backed Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.[8] This disastrous trip was undertaken not without substantial opposition from other leaders and members of his union, all of whose warning were vehemently denied by Chavez. (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, pp.367-9) The serious nature of the problems raised by Chavez’s dalliance with a bloody dictator are also briefly touched upon in Trampling Out the Vintage, where particular attention is focused on some of the many reasons why the AFL-CIO benefited from diverting so much funding and energy towards Chavez’s ever-popular union of dreams.

“Chavez provided [George] Meany with progressive cover for his steadfast opposition to most rank-and-file organizing and his long-term betrayal of American liberals. Chavez came relatively cheap when compared with all that had to be ignored or forgotten: Meany’s failure to support an organizing drive in the South following the civil rights movement; his opposition to affirmative action in his federated unions; his support for the war in Vietnam; and his tacit support of Nixon against McGovern. Chavez’s need was more direct. Having lost about 80 percent of his membership to the Teamsters, he needed political and financial support to rebuild, and he had to win that help from a man who disagreed with the way Chavez did business. They negotiated intermittently. Chavez’s need was more profound, so Meany could extract favors: La Paz would be on the itinerary of various Latin American labor leaders who were being wooed by the AFL-CIO’s CIA-aided operation, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD); Chavez would refrain from criticizing Meany to West Coast reporters; the UFW would contribute to the AFL-CIO fund for Israel and issue a statement of support for Israel in the aftermath of the 1973 war.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, pp.460-1)[9]

Such untoward manoeuvrings on the part of conservative misleaders of the American trade union movement were also played out in the longstanding relationship between the United Farm Workers and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) (which “still had pretences as the standard bearer of ‘social unionism,’ as opposed to Meany’s ‘business unionism’”) – first under the influence of Walter Reuther and then by his successor Leonard Woodcock. Yet at the end of the day:

“The UAW’s reasons for supporting the UFW were not too different from those of its old rival, Meany. In a series of Detroit wildcat strikes in 1973, UAW officials had led the opposition to the strikers, hoping to secure their own position as junior partners of the Big Three auto manufacturers. In the last wildcat strike at Chrysler, endorsed by leaders of the UAW local at the struck plant, more than 1,000 UAW officials, many wielding baseball bats, attacked the picket line and broke up the strike. That finished off the rebellion within the UAW, and brought a symbolic end to the short era of U.S. rank-and-file militancy. At a UAW conventions nine months later, however, in an attempt to assure others (and themselves) that they were still progressive unionists, many of these same bat-swinging officials endorsed Woodcock’s decision to fund the UFW and gave their guest speaker, Chavez, a series of standing ovations.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, pp.461-2)

The democratic trade union myth that is Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers persists to this day, and that is all well and good if it can persuade more people to fight for a better world with the aid of the trade union movement. But what is clear is that the membership of Chavez’s union lies in tatters in no small part because of his failure to allow democracy to flourish,[10] and by his inability to resist being used as a tool by elite forces external to his union, whether they be the right-wing bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO or that of the liberal philanthropic community.

Michael Barker is the author of Under the Mask of Philanthropy (2017).

NOTES

[1] For further criticism of Saul Alinksy, see Robert Fisher, Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America (1984); Fisher, ‘‘Community Organizing in the Conservative ’80s and Beyond,’’ Social Policy, September 22, 1994; John McKnight and John Kretzmann, ‘‘Community Organizing in the 80’s: Toward a Post-Alinsky Agenda,’’ Social Policy, 1984; and for a detailed critique of Alinksy’s most famous organization, see John Hall Fish, Black Power/White Control: The Struggle of the Woodlawn Association in Chicago (1973).

[2] In 1966: “Almost all of the inner circle [of the union] were paid basic wages from the Migrant Ministry, the non-profit Service Center, or foundations. Supporters seeking to make tax-exempt donations were directed to foundations that funnelled the money to help the strike. [Chris] Hartmire chaired a non-profit called the Center for Change and Community Development (CCCD), one of several ways government and foundation grants were quietly directed to the union cause. A grant from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity supported a program run by the CCCD called the Self-Help Service Corps Project, chaired by Richard Chavez. The project trained volunteers to organize and essentially provided staff for the strike, until Governor Ronald Reagan vetoed the funding. At one point, Fred Ross was on the payroll at $1,250 a month and Manuel Chavez at $500 a month.” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, p.148)

[3] Erica Kohl-Arenas points out how numerous poverty scholars “have argued that the War on Poverty, like the Ford Foundation projects, sidetracked movements for justice by curtailing and defunding activities of CAPs when their definition of self-help was deemed too confrontational.” Here she lists three examples: such as Alyosha Goldstein, Poverty in Common: The Politics of Community Action during the American Century (Duke University Press, 2012); Michael Katz, The Undeserving Poor: America’s Enduring Confrontation with Poverty (Oxford University Press, 2013); and Alice O’Connor, “Swimming Against the Tide: A Brief History of Federal Policy in Poor Communities,” In: Ronald Ferguson and William Dickens (eds.), Urban Problems and Community Development (Brookings Institution, 1999). Kohl-Arenas, “The Self-Help Myth: Towards a Theory of Philanthropy as Consensus Broker,” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, September 2015, 74(4), p.805.

[4] “Between 1967 and 1969 the Field Foundation granted the [union service center] $85,000, and between 1972 and 1976, over $200,000—a great deal for a movement organization at this time.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

[5] Erica Kohl-Arenas, “The Presentation of Self in Philanthropic Life: The Political Negotiations of the Foundation Program Officer: The Presentation of Self in Philanthropic Life,” Antipode, 2017, pp.6-7.

[6] Kohl-Arenas, “The Self-Help Myth,” p.808. Later in the 70s, “As Chavez retreated further, suggesting that the future of the movement might be found in creating a model community at La Paz funded by grants, the sale of candles, and an organic garden, the farmworkers’ plight was promoted as a charitable cause but not as a movement based on the collective power of workers.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

[7] Before Fred and his wife Virginia left the farmworkers movement in 1968, Fred “wrote a ‘for your eyes only’ memo that he sent to every member of the Executive Board and to LeRoy Chatfield. The long rambling complaint made four main points, mincing no words: (1) [Chavez’s] fast had been a hypocritical misuse of religious symbolism; (2) white outsiders had been brought into the union and placed at key positions of power where they stood in the way of farm worker advancement inside UFWOC; (3) the organization was autocratic, as Chavez and his white advisers made all the important decisions; (4) inside UFWOC there was contempt for people’s labor, as volunteers were given make-work and moved from job to job willy-nilly.” (Trampling Out the Vintage)

Drawing upon official tape recording of a union meeting in mid-1977 Pawel provides a good illustration of how Chavez used his power illegitimately: “’If I stay [in the union],’ Chavez continued, ‘I have to stay on my own terms and I have to fuck the organization to the extent that I become a real dictator, if I’m not one right now. That’s just natural.’ He would only stay, he repeated, on one condition: ‘I got to be the fucking king, or I leave.’” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, p.378)

[8] For more details of the role of U.S. support for anti-democratic trade unions in the Philippines see Kim Scipes, KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994 (1996), and my own article “A Warning for Egyptian Revolutionaries: Courtesy of People-Power in the Philippines” (February 15, 2011).

[9] For more details on the misleadership of the AFL-CIO, Trampling Out the Vintage cites Paul Buhle,’s excellent book Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (1999).

[10] “By the early 2000s, UFW membership had shrunk to under 5,000, yet movement organizations were collectively receiving more than $1 million a year for service and educational programs, from funders including the California Endowment, the Packard Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Unfortunately, from the late 1970s to the present day, scandals of fraud, nepotism, and mismanagement have plagued the movement institutions.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

 

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