Frank Bardacke was active in the student and anti-war movements in Berkeley in the 1960's. He moved to California's Central Coast in 1970, worked for six seasons in the Salinas Valley fields, and taught at Watsonville Adult School for twenty-five years. He is the author of Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers, Good Liberals and Great Blue Herons: Land, Labor and Politics in the Pajaro Valley, and a translator of Shadows of Tender Fury: The Letters and Communiqués of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
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."