It is 90 years since Cesar Chavez was born. In observance of his birthday, we present an excerpt from Frank Bardacke's Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of United Farm Workers, examing Chavez's earliest years as an organizer, working under the influence of Father Donald McDonnell.
Chavez and other members of the Community Service Organization. Courtesy of the César E. Chávez Foundation.
Cesar Chavez left the North Gila Valley with two other treasures besides his memories. Although he had not liked school, he had become a good, quick learner out of the classroom. One uncle taught him to read Spanish; another read him the Mexican newspapers. A classic autodidact, throughout his life he would suck up one subject after another, move from one enthusiasm to the next: the art of shooting pool, Catholic Social Action, the theory and practice of Saul Alinsky, the life of Gandhi, the history of unionism in the fields, the varieties of religious experience, the intricacies of labor law, printing, faith healing, the Synanon Game, theories of scientific management. His biographer Jacques Levy, who was also a dog trainer and helped Chavez train his two dogs, told me that Cesar was the most absorbed, committed student of dog training he had ever met. Chavez read, he questioned, he listened, he learned.
"The political clout that Chavez managed to mobilize for farm workers came from linking up the farm worker movement...with the national boycott movement." Before that time, the farm workers had really been "without allies in the United States," says Bardacke.Visit The Take Away to hear the interview in full.
"The guest worker program, which had been in place for 25 years — a whole generation of people — brought contracted Mexican farm workers — to California and Texas primarily — to work on farms, and was designed to prevent them from building unions, and to keep wages artificially low." When the program ended in 1964, there was a new space to build a union for farm workers.
John Womack Jr., writing in the newest installment of the Monthly Review, identified Trampling Out the Vintage as a "great piece of U.S. history," and a "brilliantly composed study" of Cesar Chaves and the United Farm Workers. Verso will publish the title in paperback this fall.
The review details author Frank Bardacke's unique trajectory as a historian. As an activist in and around Southern California through the '60s, Bardacke organized G.I.s against the Vietnam war and founded the Bay Area Revolutionary Union. Later, it was his work for six seasons with the UFW in the fields of the Salinas Vallery that solidified his interest in further researching the union.
"The author's critical and analytical powers are remarkable," writes Womack, "undoctored by any academic department."
The May/June issue of New Left Review is out now, featuring the following essays:
Susan Watkins: Another Turn of the Screw?
Beneath the rolling surface of the Euro-crisis, a further chapter of the EU integration project is underway. Susan Watkins on the institutional machinery Berlin is imposing across the Union, and the political stakes – and hypocrisies – laid bare by the struggle.
Global economic turmoil has exposed the structural flaws in the single currency. Amid deepening divergences between industrial north and debt-laden south, Michel Aglietta assesses the Eurozone’s chances of recovery, and the impact of its continued travails on the world economy.
Michel Aglietta is author of A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: The US Experience.
Tribute to the author of Blood of Spain, locating the impulse behind his oeuvre in a commitment to explore lived experience. Reconstructions of work, war, politics and subjectivity, from Napoleonic era to post-Fordist present.
Amongst others, Perry Anderson is the author of The New Old World and Spectrum.
How are collective mobilizations refracted through the prism of personal experience – and in what conditions can individual histories be constituted as history? Ronald Fraser reflects on memory, method and militancy.
Ronald Fraser is author of In Hiding, In Search of a Past and Napoleon's Cursed War: Popular Resistance in the Spanish Peninsular War, 1808-1814.
Alèssi Dell’Umbria: The Sinking of Marseille
The recent fate of France’s second city – post-war decline followed by modish resurgence – seen in the longe durée by its radical historian. A social and political archaeology of Marseille, amid the steady dismantling of its urban worlds.
Brazil’s foremost literary critic engages with the autobiography of Caetano Veloso, its best-known musician. The dense wave of relations between 60s counter-culture and left movements, and its rending by years of dictatorship and capitalist triumph.
Roberto Schwarz is the author of forthcoming Verso book, Two Girls
The issue also features the following book reviews:
Fredric Jameson on Francis Spufford, Red Plenty. A documentary-cum-fable reconstructs the lost future of the Khrushchev era.
Visit NLR to read the review.
Amongst others, Fredric Jameson is the author of Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One.
Tom Hazeldine on D. R. Thorpe, Supermac. Lengthy apologia for Harold Macmillan from a serial Tory biographer.
Visit NLR to read the review.
Paul Buhle on Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage. Chronicle of the United Farm Workers and their mercurial leader, Cesar Chavez.
Visit NLR to read the review.
Paul Buhle is author of It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest.
Visit the New Left Review to access the new issue or subscribe.
Frank Bardacke attended the Sidney Hillman Foundation awards ceremony to accept the Hillman Prize in Book Journalism for his epic book Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers. The event was held on May 1, 2012 in New York City and Frank's acceptance speech can be viewed here.
Frank met fellow award winner Tom Morello at the ceremony. The activist, songwriter, and musician was given a special Officers' Award for his commitment to workers' rights. Frank and Tom discussed the history of "This Land is Your Land", which Tom had performed earlier in the evening.
The Sidney Hillman Foundation's Hillman Prizes for Excellence in Reporting in Service of the Common Good are given to journalists whose work identifies important social and economic issues and helps bring about change for the better.