Pesticides and the United Farm Workers: An Extension of the Struggle for Social Justice

Tiffany Dyer
History 400
Fall 2004

In March of the year 1969, a 45-year old farm worker who worked in the grape vineyards of San Joaquin Valley in California told the Kern County Superior Court his story. The New York Times printed his words:

'Every summer when I"m involved in the harvest, I get sick due to the pesticides," Francisco Mendoza stated. 'I get pains in my stomach, I throw up, and I get headaches. Sometimes I get chills and have itching sensations over my entire body. My eyesight has been getting steadily worse, but when I work in the field my vision gets very bad."[1]

Francisco Mendoza was not alone in his suffering. He was one of thousands who experienced such pesticide poisoning. In June of 1970, The Nation reported the pervasiveness of this problem. The article stated that, 'This year 1,400 Californians will be poisoned, or injured, by pesticides. Nearly half will be disabled for a time; most will recover, nine or ten will die, half the casualties are farm workers."[2] In the 1960s and early 1970s, such dangerous exposure to pesticides was the reality for many farm workers. It was also a reality for consumers.

The articles in the New York Times and The Nation were part of the new coverage of pesticides and their negative side effects that began during the last year and a half of the 1960s. Prior to this period, partly due to the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's controversial book The Silent Spring, which exposed the hazards of the pesticide DDT, there had been public acknowledgement of the potential risks of pesticides. But much of this concern had considered risks to the environment, not necessarily the risks to people. During this new period, connections began to be made publicly between such ill health effects as described by Francisco Mendoza and the pesticides and herbicides used in agricultural fields. It was not until people like Mendoza began to tell their stories that farm workers realized that they were not alone in their suffering and that they needed medical care and protection from such dangers in their workplace. Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of California were instrumental in initiating this increase in awareness as well as actual legislation to prevent such problems. Additionally, the UFWOC was greatly concerned about the health risks involved with pesticides and their pesticide campaigns were truly an extension of the struggle for social justice not just for farm workers, but consumers as well. This campaign was not, as historians such as A. Garcia and Ronald B. Taylor have claimed, simply a means by which to gain greater public attention for the grape strike and boycott. The tireless efforts of the UFWOC to increase awareness among both farm workers and consumers about the dangers of pesticides and to enact actual legislation and protective measures regarding the use of pesticides, are proof of their true concern.

Background-Rise of the United Farm Workers of California
Farm worker movements and agrarian reforms have been present in the United States since the colonial period, but the most considerable movement in the recent period has been centered in California. The United Farm Workers Union (UFW) has been the dominant player in this movement since its creation in 1962 and is 'the largest agricultural labor union in California."[3]

The UFW was founded by Cesar Chavez and began as more of a social program than an activist labor union. In fact, in the early 1960s the name of the organization was the National Farm Workers Association, a name which demonstrated the group"s modest beginnings as it excludes the word 'union." That term was avoided because it carried negative and radical connotations for both workers and growers.[4] The NFWA was centered in Delano, a small town in Central California that basically consisted of acres and acres of vineyards. Such produce requires a year-long labor force. This was provided by thousands of primarily Filipino and Mexican immigrants. The NFWA was started by Cesar Chavez, who quickly recruited Dolores Huerta, Jim Drake and few other motivated individuals to provide leadership for the group. Many of them were farm workers themselves.[5] The goal of Chavez was to start a union, but at first he sought to gain the trust and dedication of the workers in the area. Chavez set up a credit union and the members could 'participate in the benefits of a cooperative food store, drug store, and service station, their own newspaper and burial insurance program."[6] Additionally, 'the NFWA bails people out of jail, provides legal help, helps bring relatives to the United States, and files income tax returns for families earning about $2,000 annually."[7] Chavez, Huerta and the others wandered around the small town of Delano, where the NFWA had its primary headquarters, and handed out flyers for town meetings. The idea behind the meetings was to give the farm laborers a place to gather, state their grievances and exercise their voice.[8]

At first, the workers were hesitant to participate in the organization. They feared a backlash from the powerful growers and job loss if they joined the union. But slowly, the base of members grew. At this stage, the members merely described their working conditions and the wages that they earned. Eventually, the union would fight to improve these conditions, but the first step was to organize and determine what issues were most important to the members.[9]

The first strike that the NFWA endorsed was more or less brought upon the group almost unwillingly. Local rose workers were disgruntled because they had not received an increase in wages for many years and working conditions had consistently gotten worse. When they contacted the NFWA, Chavez told them that the NFWA did not have the resources to sustain a strike. But the rose workers would not give up their cry for change and so finally they decided together that the workers would merely not show up for work. There would be no public displays, no picket lines; the workers would just not go to the fields. This strike proved unsuccessful as the workers were forced to either return to work or new workers would be brought in to take their places. In this case, the growers were completely unwilling to compromise and it became clear that the growers had a supply of laborers to fall back on. Although unsuccessful, this initial action laid the foundation for NFWA activism.[10]

The real beginning of NFWA activism came in September, 1965, when the famous Delano grape strike began. The background of this strike is comprised of legislation of the US government during World War II. During this war, the government set up a system of labor in which foreign laborers, known as braceros, could be brought into the country for agricultural work for the duration of a season. The braceros had to stay on the job in order to remain in the country legally. This system was used during the war in order to compensate for the decrease in a domestic labor force, and was scheduled to be ended once the war ended. Bracero programs were helpful for growers 'both in terms of keeping labor costs at a minimum and eliminating the possibility of reforms."[11] Through the creation of a series of later legislation, the bracero program was continued up until December 1964, when Public Law 78, the law that allowed for the extension of the use of braceros, was terminated. In response to the termination of Public Law 78, growers in California continued to use bracero labor under the provision of Public Law 414 of the McCarran Act, which allowed growers to import labor if there was a domestic labor shortage. Early in 1965, the US Department of Labor set the wage for braceros at $1.40 an hour. At the same period, Filipino migrants on vineyards in Delano were paid only $1.20 an hour. When the Filipino workers under the leadership of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), which was affiliated with the AFL-CIO, asked for the same wage that the braceros were guaranteed, their requests were denied by grape growers in Delano. In response, the Filipinos workers went on strike.[12] On Monday, September 20, 1965, the NFWA joined the AWOC workers and the Delano grape strike.[13] Soon after this strike began, 'the AWOC and the NFWA merged to create the United Farm Workers" Organizing Committee (UFWOC)."[14] This strike would eventually escalate to include a nationwide boycott of table grapes from the targeted growers, would last for six years and would place the UFWOC on the national radar.

Prior to late 1968, pesticides were not an issue that the NFWA had acknowledged. Until this period, the primary concerns for NFWA were more material and ideological. When the strike first began in September of 1965, the demands specifically made by the National Farm Workers Association were an increase in wages from $1.20 per hour and $.02 per box to $1.40 per hour and $.25 per box.[15] A month later, when asked during an interview what the FWA hoped to gain from the grape strike, Chavez replied, 'We want to set up the machinery for joint wage negotiations, grower-wide, in this area. There must be a system to wages and working conditions, not just up to every grower."[16] This statement reflected the primary goals of the Farm Workers Association at this stage. These goals included: the right to unionize and the growers" acknowledgment of the NFWA as the union that would represent farm workers in Delano and other regions of California; improved wages; and improved working conditions, with pesticide safety not as a part of such improved conditions. By 1966, the NFWA proclaimed that the current working conditions for farm workers in Delano consisted of 'ten to twelve hour days, no overtime pay, no unemployment compensation, no federal or state minimum wage, no social security."[17] These were the issues that the NFWA rallied behind; the strike was about social and economic justice, it was about guaranteeing the farm workers the right to live a life of dignity and economic stability. These issues would remain as the foundation and demands of the NFWA platform throughout its existence as a union for the farm workers. However, as time progressed, the NFWA expanded its concerns to include more specifically health related issues and worker safety, which included the use of pesticides.

Many agricultural workers had recognized the ill effects of the pesticides that they regularly applied to crops such as skin and eye irritation. However, few had made the connection between these substances and more long term health effects that they experienced. In an interview with Steven V. Roberts of the New York Times, Cesar Chavez explained the lack of knowledge regarding pesticides and their dangers: 'The real problem is that the workers don't even know how dangerous this stuff is. They call it dust or spray, but we call it poison. It's a subtle death--You don't know what's happening until it's too late."[18] In addition to a lack of clear understanding of the dangers of pesticides on the part of many farm workers, before the UFWOC had initiated discussion about this issue, many workers had also just assumed that there was little that they could to do to resist the use of pesticides. Instead, they seemed to believe that they just had to suffer in silence because the growers would not listen to their concerns.[19] The growers were in fact very powerful economically and had much clout within the governmental and judicial sphere. What further complicated the problem was that due the low economic status of the majority of the farm workers, many did not have access to a regular health care provider and hence were unable to seek an actual diagnosis of the extent of the pesticide poisoning. The UFWOC acknowledged this lack of health care as a critical issue for farm workers and a key element to be discussed in the contract negotiations. But at the same time, health care could not always wait to be supplied until a contract was signed. For this reason, Chavez, Huerta, and the UFWOC set up a clinic for the farm workers. Through medical exams of farm workers at this clinic, it became painfully clear how pervasive pesticide poisoning was and the extent of the health problems associated with it.[20]

By 1967, the UFWOC had decided that they wanted to include worker health and safety in the contracts that they hoped to sign with growers, but lacked a substantial amount of information regarding health and safety issues and actual health reports of workers. Partly due to the urging of Marion Moses, a volunteer nurse for the UFWOC, in late 1967, the Health and Safety Committee was established to serve as advisors to the UFWOC and their endeavors regarding health safety for workers. The committee consisted of 'a physician, a dentist, and an occupational health and safety specialist."[21] In January of 1968, the UFWOC held a meeting with California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), a group that provided legal services to poor people in rural areas and became a regular part of the UFWOC mission to obtain social justice for farm workers. Lawsuits and legal reform would become an important part of the UFWOC"s activism. At this point, pesticides became a more important part of the union"s efforts and focus of not just legal reforms, but of the strike and the boycott as a whole.[22]

Agriculture and Pesticides
Since the development of agriculture, farmers have used some sort of pest control on their crops, but after World War II pest control changed significantly. Around that period, more intense chemical pesticides came into use, beginning with the patenting in the US of DDT in 1943, a chlorinated hydrocarbon that proved very effective against many types of insects. Pesticides quickly became widely used by farmers and by the 1960s were an ingrained part of agricultural production.[23] According to Laura Pulido, 'Between 1950 and 1969 farmers" expenditures on pesticides increased 15 percent annually, from $87 million to over $1 billion. Likewise, while farmers spent $.25 an acre on pesticides in 1950, that figure had risen to $3.65 an acre by 1968."[24] By the 1960s, growers had virtually become dependent on pesticides. With this widespread use came the development an entire industry focused on the production of better, more powerful pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Until the mid-1960s, DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons were the most widely used pesticides by growers in California and throughout the United States. Around the middle of the decade, however, DDT and other hydrocarbons became less popular when their effectiveness decreased because 'many species of insects developed immunities," to these types of pesticides.[25] In response, a different type of pesticide called organophosphates came into use. Organophosphates were originally developed to be used as biological weapons, nerve gas to be precise, during World War II.[26] This type of pesticide was well liked by growers 'because of their high levels of toxicity and short life spans," which meant that the pesticides caused less long-term environmental damage and left less residue on foods.[27] Organophosphates were, however, significantly more dangerous for farm workers due to the increased toxicity of these chemicals and they 'dramatically increased the risk of pesticide poisoning among exposed farm workers."[28] Although DDT was also targeted by the UFWOC during their campaign against pesticides, it was the newer, more dangerous pesticides, the organophosphates, which greatly fueled the already present spark of concern about pesticides. In his article, 'Poisons in the Fields: The United Farm Workers, Pesticides, and Environmental Politics," Robert Gordon tells the story about one particular incident involving such organophosphates that contributed to the rising alarm. Gordon writes:

Concern about pesticide exposure first peaked in the summer of 1968. In June an entire crew of workers became violently ill after being exposed to sprayed pesticides. The following month sixteen workers on a twenty-four person crew were hospitalized after entering a grape field that had been sprayed with parathion, a highly toxic pesticide, thirty-three days earlier.[29]

This tragedy proved to the UFW that the lack of protections for farm workers regarding pesticides was a pervasive problem that needed to be addressed. This incident helped bring the pesticide issue to the forefront of the UFWOC struggle and led to a greater nationwide campaign for more information about pesticides and increased regulations to protect farm workers and consumers as well.

Pesticide Regulations and UFWOC Involvement
In 1966, the Bureau of Occupational Health of the California Department of Public Health released a pamphlet titled 'Occupational Disease in California Attributed to Pesticides and Other Agricultural Chemicals." The pamphlet revealed some interesting statistics about the prevalence of the problem. The study showed that since 1951 there had been 'a total of 136 reported deaths caused by a variety of dangerous substances. In 1966, 1347 cases of reported occupational diseases, which arise from exposure to certain pesticides and insecticides, were recorded by doctors in California."[30] In spite of these findings, in the early 1960s when the UFWOC first became active, there was little regulation and oversight of pesticides and their application. There were no laws on the books to protect farm workers; the only laws that did exist protected growers from misrepresentation and false claims regarding pesticides. In fact, 'not until 1969 were hearings first held to consider federal regulation of worker exposure."[31] A few states, such as California, did have pesticide regulations, but the regulations were enforced on a local basis by local 'agricultural commissioners appointed by county supervisors." In practice, this meant that often there was little actual oversight. Furthermore, none of these regulations protected workers.[32]

In 1969, partly due to the actions of the UFWOC, the regulatory situation began to change. In 1969, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, led by Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota, began meeting in order to investigate the conditions of farm workers. Members of the UFWOC and various lawyers, chemists, doctors and other officials hired by the UFWOC testified consistently during these hearings.[33] Jerome Cohen, a lawyer for the UFWOC, testified extensively about the wide range of incidents of farm workers acquiring pesticide poisoning. The list of stories went on and on. Cohen also identified the wide range of negative health effects that various pesticides and herbicides can cause, but stated that these substances were still used regularly on crops, often without any regulation and often the actual records about the use of pesticides were kept inaccessible from the public. Jerome B. Gordon, the head of Delphia Systems and Research Corporation in New York also testified that 'the number of doctors" reports involving pesticides and other agricultural chemicals have doubled since 1951 and in California have ranged from 800 to 1,000 reports annually."[34] The only real reason why there were more reports filed in California than in other states was because California was 'one of the few states that required reports of occupational injuries."[35] The statements made by Cohen and Gordon were just a couple out of many similar testimonies given to reveal the true magnitude of the pesticide problem.

The UFWOC"s claims of unsuccessful regulation of pesticides were further confirmed when the California Public Health Department released the findings from a door to door survey of 774 farm workers in Tulare County, conducted in 1969. The survey 'found that 80% of workers investigated suffer from symptoms of pesticide poisoning, including rashes, loss of hair and fingernails, vision impairment and convulsions."[36] Cesar Chavez reported these findings in a testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor. In his testimony, Chavez also referred to a private study conducted by Dr. Lee Mizrahi of the Salud Clinic who 'tested 29 farm worker children and found a high percentage of them have serious pesticide poisoning problems, specifically high levels of DDT in their blood and low cholinesterase levels in their blood plasma."[37] These medical studies served as concrete evidence to the members of the Senate subcommittee and the public at large that unregulated use of pesticides posed serious health risks to farm workers.

Evidence was also presented to the Senate subcommittee that showed that unregulated pesticide use posed a risk for consumers as well. In the summer of 1969, a laboratory analysis was performed on table grapes being sold in supermarkets around the country and the results showed above average levels of residues of DDT, Aldrin, Parathion and other pesticides.[38] One specific analysis conducted on 'a sample of Thompson seedless grapes from the Coachella Valley" at the C. W. England Laboratories in Washington, D.C. after the urging of the UFWOC, 'showed residue of 18 parts per million of the chemical aldrin, nearly triple the dosage regarded as safe by law."[39] This analysis was communicated to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee and it showed that the FDA was not doing its job. The FDA was neglecting to regulate food sold to consumers. The UFWOC continued to act on this issue with speeches, newspaper articles and various public appearances by Chavez and other prominent UFWOC members. In late 1969, Marion Moses, a nurse for the UFWOC, visited 75 cities on a cross-country tour to increase awareness about pesticides on foods. She was essentially trying to encourage consumers to do that which the FDA had neglected to do in order to protect them. In her own words: 'I"m urging people to take grapes and other fruits and vegetables from their food stores to laboratories for testing."[40] Public appearances, testimonies and speeches were just a few of the tactics employed by the UFWOC to raise national awareness and encourage action regarding pesticides.

The UFWOC also filed numerous law suits in an attempt to establish accountability and seek justice for farm workers who had suffered pesticide poisoning. One court case involved charges of refusal to release county records of insecticides used in Kern and Riverside counties in the state of California. In this case, the court ruled that 'chemical mixtures and application methods are trade secrets and not open public records."[41] Law suits were just one of the many methods used by the UFWOC to protect farm workers from misuse of pesticides and the court"s response to the UFWOC was an example of the numerous efforts by the growers and other members of the agribusiness industry to keep pesticides in the fields.

The UFWOC was interested not only in raising public awareness, but also in passing legislation. The hearings of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee was one way in which the UFWOC hoped to enact such legislation federally, but state legislation was important as well. Their efforts proved successful. On March 25, 1969, two bills were introduced in the California legislature to provide safeguards in the application and sale of pesticides. One of the bills, AB 1210, required the licensing of pesticide dealers by the state and a registration of all buyers. The second bill, AB 1209, required commercial users of pesticides to have 'written recommendations on how the pesticide should be used."[42] This legislation was the first time that workers were considered in regulations regarding pesticide use and it shows that that the pressure put on by the UFWOC and consumers to protect workers and consumers from dangerous pesticides was successful.[43] A further sign of their success was the prohibition of the use of DDT in California in March of 1970.[44] Overall, the mobilization of consumers and farmer workers against pesticides proved successful in the establishment of favorable legislation.

The U.S. Senate Subcommittee hearings, the legislation, the law suits, and the public appearances all made national headlines. Hundreds of newspaper articles were published during the late 1960s and the early 1970s about the dangers of pesticides, serving as examples of the growing concern about pesticides and consumer and farm worker safety. Many of the newspaper articles cite the UFWOC and Cesar Chavez as active participants in the process to regulate the use of pesticides and also in helping to bring public awareness about this issue. For the UFWOC, the inclusion of worker protections against pesticides in contracts was a critical part of their pesticide campaigns, but the union was also a key player in the establishment of actual legislation to regulate pesticide use in the fields and acceptable residue levels on consumer goods.

The pesticide campaign and the propaganda
The grape strike that began in 1965 quickly became difficult for the workers to maintain. They encountered physical and verbal harassment and abuses from the growers, from scab workers brought by the growers to maintain the fields and even from police. Their strike was publicly declared illegal. There were court injunctions against the workers, which severely limited their abilities to picket and the numbers of people that could be on the picket lines. The growers even kept them at times from being able to say the word, 'Huelga," the Spanish word for strike which was a rallying cry for the workers.[45] Faced with these difficulties, in late 1965 and early 1966, the UFWOC focused on the idea of a boycott. A boycott was something that would not only place significant pressure on the growers, but could also successfully bring other members of the public to their cause. Chavez recognized that in order to win their struggle for an ideal contract, for union recognition and for social justice, they would need to get a lot of people involved. A boycott would bring the issue of the farm workers to the people in the cities, to the college kids and the other people who were already still riding on the wave of the civil rights movement and looking for other causes to join. In order to spread the message of the boycott to the national community, the UFWOC used media and 'college volunteers and a few farm workers were sent out as the "boycott staff"; they were assigned to all major cities from San Francisco to New York and told to work up boycott support committees."[46] Soon, there was a national boycott in effect against two primary targets: the DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation and Schenley Industries, the two largest growers in the area and the primary companies with whom the workers sought contracts.[47]

Support committees were established throughout the country to help gain support for the boycott and the workers. Key tactics that the UFWOC used included propaganda such as fliers and books, newspaper articles and interviews, and tabling outside of supermarkets to directly target consumers. The initial propaganda distributed by the UFWOC often appealed to emotion and aroused sympathy for the workers. One flyer from 1966 featured a picture of a farmer sitting on a piece of farm equipment. The text reads:

This worker does not have unemployment insurance, only partial social security, minimum wage, sick leave/vacation pay, rest periods, collective bargaining rights. Will the Farm Workers Union win? It is up to you! The Farm Workers" strike in Delano continues in spite of beatings, arrests and blacklisting. Strike and boycott are the only weapons Farm Workers have available as they are not covered under the NLRB.[48]

This flyer says nothing about pesticides and health related issues, but rather appeals to the issue of social justice and more general workers" rights. Much of the propaganda from the first few years of the boycott uses the same style. The focus is on the poverty of the farm workers and their poor living and working conditions, which was indeed the reality of the condition of workers and was the general purpose of the union in the first place. Still, it is clear that the UFWOC utilized these issues to appeal to the emotions of the public. During this period, the UFWOC and the boycott did have significant support nationally, especially from university students and even religious organizations.

In 1968, when pesticides became a major concern for the UFWOC, their propaganda campaign became even more provocative. For the UFWOC, the issue of pesticides was important primarily due to concerns regarding the health of the farm workers and regulations on the types of pesticides used, the amounts used and the access to safety equipment and guidelines for safe application. For the UFWOC, pesticides fit with their goal of social justice for the farm workers. But pesticides were not only a farm worker health issue; pesticides were a threat to consumers as well. Consumer safety and protection against the consumption of hazardous chemicals was something that people throughout the country could rally behind. The UFWOC quickly recognized the opportunity and used the pesticide issue as an important part of their boycott campaign. But this is not to say that the UFWOC cared about pesticides and consumer safety only because it was a successful strategy. After greater research and study about the dangers of pesticides, Chavez, Huerta, Marion Moses and the other members of the union did recognize the true scale of the menace and sought to inform as many people as possible about the risks involved with exposure to pesticides.

The propaganda used by the UFWOC during their earliest pesticide campaign and grape strike and boycott was centered upon the use of shocking language and evocation of fear. Firstly, the term poison was often used in place of the word pesticide. For example, one flyer states: 'This market sells poisoned grapes."[49] Another flyer provides a list with detailed descriptions of a wide variety of the most commonly used pesticides and the potential ill health effects caused by each. The title of the list is, 'Pesticide poisons used on grapes," and the terms pesticide and poison are used interchangeably throughout the rest of the descriptions.[50] Poison is a word that immediately evokes a strong reaction to anyone who reads it, especially when referring to poison and food in the same sentence. It was also common for the UFWOC to use the technique of providing thorough explanations of the potential side effects of pesticides. Perhaps the most provocative of all of the flyers distributed by the UFWOC during the grape boycott was double-sided and featured on the front side a drawing of a bushel of grapes that was made to look like a skull. It reads: 'ÁPeligro de Muerte! Danger! Deadly!" The other side of the flyer began with the following statement written in bold letters: 'California grape workers are killed and maimed every year by the pesticides you are eating." The flyer goes on to describe the harmful effects of two of the most commonly used pesticides during the time: DDT and Parathion. The flyer states:

Not long ago a chemist doing research on Parathion swallowed a tiny amount--approximately .00424 ounce. Paralysis followed so swiftly he could not reach the antidote and died. It has been proven that the cumulative effects of this poison can cause severe liver damage, convulsions, loss of memory, insomnia and even severe brain damage. It has been proven that tranquilizers and alcohol digested by someone with a high pesticide content in the body can activate the poisons and cause severe illness and death.[51]

These statements are probably based on actual occurrences and are scientific facts, but there is no true guarantee that the UFWOC has given the full picture in these descriptions. Regardless of the actual accuracy of this flyer, it was provocative and surely gained the attention, if not the support, of whoever read it. Another flyer from the same period also sought to scare consumers. The flyer pictures a small plane flying over a crop of grapes, dropping a cloud of pesticides on the crops. At the top, the flyer reads: 'WARNING: Eating Grapes May Be Hazardous to Your Health." Under the image, it says: 'POISON: NOT FOR INTERNAL USE. All California grapes are sprayed with poisonous pesticides. Neither washing nor cooking can completely destroy pesticide residuesÉ.Only a union contract can protect farm workers & consumers from dangers of poisonous pesticides. DON"T EAT GRAPES."[52] This flyer gives the reader the impression that there is absolutely no other way to protect themselves from pesticide poisoning except to not eat grapes. It basically gives people no other option but to support the grape boycott by making them terrified to do anything but join the farm workers and the boycott. The UFWOC consistently used such shock and scare tactics in its propaganda about pesticides and the grape boycott. Even conservative individuals, who had no interest in issues of social justice, might join the anti-pesticide struggle after learning more about what they were consuming from the flyers distributed by the UFWOC.

This propaganda often urged consumers to act and stand up against the government and the agencies that have allowed the use of dangerous pesticides on products. The UFWOC insisted that by boycotting Schenley and DiGiorgio products, consumers were not only taking action against an unjust system on behalf of the farm workers but also taking action to protect themselves and their own health. One flyer from November 1969 stated:

Consumers and farm workers must join together and demand:
(2) That the government ban the use of DDT as has been done in Sweden and the states of Michigan and Arizona;
(3) That the strike and grape boycott of the farm workers unionÉbe supported since it is the only force demanding strict controls over the use of all other pesticides. Also, the UFWOC would have the power to enforce strict controls in the fields.[53]

This flyer was distributed at a march in San Francisco for a moratorium on the use of DDT. The moratorium march and the flyer were methods used to encourage the public to stand up and take action, not only with their pocketbooks against the major agricultural companies, but against the government. By promoting action, the UFWOC became a leading agent in the growing national movement against pesticides.

In their book, Cesar Chavez: A Triumph of Spirit, when Castillo and Garcia discuss the pesticide informational campaign conducted by the UFW, they claim, 'CŽsar believed the most sensitive issue of appeal to consumers was that of pesticide-residues on fruit."[54] They continue to elaborate on this idea, presenting the claim that because pesticides were a sensitive issue for consumers, the use of this issue was an effective strategy for the UFWOC to gain wider support. Richard Griswold del Castillo and Richard Garcia are just a few of the many historians who have argued that the pesticide campaign was a desperate attempt on behalf of the UFWOC to gain public support for their cause and was a step away from their pursuit for farm workers" rights. This is, however, an unfair assessment of the situation. The great extent of the use of propaganda and appeals to consumers was definitely a way for the UFWOC to gain a wider network of support, but during the pesticide campaign, the UFWOC did not lose touch with their greater cause of social justice. The other issues involved in their struggle such as union recognition, higher wages, overtime pay, better working conditions, health care, etc. were still critical and were definitely also mentioned in their propaganda, their articles, and their interviews. For example, one flyer from 1968 is titled: 'Farm Workers Can"t Afford to Feed Themselves," begins with the statement: 'The average American family spends $1,600 a year on food but the average farm worker only earns $1,300 a year!" and continues with a list of statistics about the average wage of farm workers, the average life span, the rate of infant mortality, and other shocking details that reveal the tremendous inequality experienced by farm workers. The second part of the flyer discusses, in graphic detail, the dangers of pesticides for both consumers and farm workers.[55] As this flyer reveals, the issue of pesticides did not detract from the importance of the other grievances of farm workers. In fact, this flyer proves that the UFW saw the struggle for social and economic justice to be one and the same as the struggle for environmental justice. Since the initial pesticide campaign of the UFW, marginalized communities throughout the world have begun to realize that 'environmental problems reflect, and may intensify, larger existing inequalities and uneven power relations."[56] This increasingly popular theory recognizes that often lower class, oppressed peoples, such as migrant farm workers in California, have been those most exposed to environmental degradation and that the same systems of power that oppress them are the systems that are often responsible for vast environmental degradation. Essentially, the United Farm Workers had made the connection that social justice and environmental justice are one and the same struggle, and they made this connection long before marginalized people around the world had adopted this theory.

For the UFW, the regulation of pesticides was an inextricable part of their struggle for workers" rights and dignity. Yet, the appeal to the consumer and their safety was a way for the farm workers to gain attention and support from a faction of people that may not have otherwise supported the cause of the farm workers. The dangers of pesticides was something that everyone could relate to, it was a unifying issue and proved successful in bringing greater numbers of support to the boycott and the struggles of the farm workers. The UFWOC urged solidarity among consumers and the farm workers, while also educating and raising public awareness about the dangers of pesticides.

Public awareness and opinion about pesticides began to shift during the early 1960s. This shift is evidenced by the great number of newspaper articles about this issue, the moratorium on the use of DDT in California and even the Senate Subcommittee hearing on Migratory Labor. A causal link cannot be directly made between the actions of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee and this rise in awareness and actual legislation. Rachel Carson had brought public attention to this issue years prior with the publication of Silent Spring in 1962. However, it cannot be ignored that the UFWOC was a key player in the raising of awareness both publicly and within state and federal governmental bodies. With a widespread campaign including provocative propaganda, court cases, testimonies in Congress and other techniques, the UFWOC played an important role in the development of awareness and concern about pesticides. Today, pesticides remain an important issue in public eye. Although many pesticides are still used in agricultural production, the increased popularity of organic farming and the rise in trendy health food stores that sell such products are a sign of the continued public concern about the harmful effects of pesticides both on the natural environment and humans. The United Farm Workers can be credited with playing an influential role in developing and maintaining public awareness and concern about pesticides.

Primary Sources
Burnett, Leon. 'Government Researchers Probe How DDT Threatens Bird Life." The Fresno Bee. 27 May 1969, p. 18-A.

'California Ag. Department Approves Use. Herbicides Blamed for Birth Defects." El Malcriado vol. III, no. 21 (1970): 11.

Degnan, James P. 'Monopoly in the Vineyards: The "Grapes of Wrath" Strike." The Nation, 7 February 1966, 151-154.

'Farm Bureau Chiefs Urge DDT Clamp." The Fresno Bee. 27 May 1969, p. 18-A.

Flyer, 'Farm Workers Can"t Afford to Feed Themselves," 1968, Social Protest Collection, 1960-1982, BANC MSS 86/157c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

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'Rain of Death and Sickness." El Malcriado vol. III, no.21 (1970): 11.

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"Walking Death": Chavez Tells DDT Peril." Chicago Daily News. 18 October 1969, p. 5.

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Secondary Sources
Garcia, Richard A. 'Cesar Chavez, A Rebel of the Spirit: A Fighter for Human Dignity and Respect." In The Whole World"s Watching: Peace and Social Justice Movements of the 1960s and 1970s, 89-93. Berkeley: Berkeley Art Center Association, 2001.

Gordon, Robert. 'Poisons in the Fields: The United Farm Workers, Pesticides, and Environmental Politics." Pacific Historical Review 1999, 68(1): 51-77.

Griswold del Castillo, Richard and Richard A. Garcia. Cesar Chavez: A Triumph of Spirit. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Jenkins, J. Craig. The Politics of Insurgency: The Farm Worker Movement in the 1960s. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Mooney, Patrick H. and Theo J. Majka. Farmers" and Farm Workers" Movements: Social Protest in American Agriculture. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.

Pulido, Laura. Environmentalism and Economic Justice: Two Chicano Struggles in the Southwest. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996.

Taylor, Ronald B. Chavez and the Farm Workers. Boston: Beacon Press, 1975. 


[1] Steven V. Roberts, 'Charge of Peril in Pesticides Adds Fuels to Coast Grape Strike." New York Times, March 16, 1969, p. 46.
[2] Ronald B. Taylor, 'Nerve Gas in the Orchards." The Nation, 22 June 1970, 751.
[3] Patrick H. Mooney and Theo J. Majka. Farmers" and Farm Workers" Movements: Social Protest in American Agriculture (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995), 150.
[4] Ronald B. Taylor. Chavez and the Farm Workers (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975), 107.
[5] Taylor, Chavez, 107-108.
[6] James P. Degnan, 'Monopoly in the Vineyards: The ÔGrapes of Wrath" Strike." The Nation, 7 February 1966, 153.
[7] Degnan, 153.
[8] Taylor, Chavez, 109-112.
[9] Taylor, Chavez, 110-112.
[10] Taylor, Chavez, 119-120.
[11] Mooney, 154.
[12] Mooney, 154-155.
[13] Taylor, Chavez, 129.
[14] Laura Pulido. Environmentalism and Economic Justice: Two Chicano Struggles in the Southwest (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996), 71.
[15] Letter, 'The Delano Grape Strike," 1965, from the NFWA, printed in the 'Delano Newsletter," Paul Schuster Taylor Papers, BANC MSS 84/38c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
[16] 'Interview with Cesar Chavez of FWA." The Movement, October 1965, 5.
[17] Flyer, 'The Grapes of Wrath-1966," 1966, distributed by the Agricultural Labor Support Committee, Paul Schuster Taylor Papers, BANC MSS 84/38c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
[18] Roberts, 46.
[19] Pulido, 85.
[20]Richard Griswold Del Castillo and Richard A. Garcia. Cesar Chavez: A Triumph of Spirit (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), 135.
[21] Pulido, 85.
[22] Ibid, 85.
[23] Pulido, 72.
[24] Ibid, 73.
[25] Robert Gordon, 'Poisons in the Fields: The United Farm Workers, Pesticides, and Environmental Politics." Pacific Historical Review 1999, 68 (1): 57.
[26] Michael Green, 'Witness Says Store Grapes Retain Deadly Pesticides." The Sacramento Bee, August 1, 1969, p. 1.
[27] Pulido, 103.
[28] Gordon, 57.
[29] Ibid, 56.
[30] Flyer, 'Pesticide Fact Sheet," 1966, Social Protest Collection, 1960-1982, BANC MSS 86/157c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
[31] Pulido, 75.
[32] Ibid, 75.
[33] Green, 1.
[34] Green, 5.
[35] Ibid, 5.
[36] 'Pesticides: The Growing Menace: Unrestricted Use of Poisons Threatens Workers, Consumers, the Environment." El Malcriado III, no. 18 (1970): 5.
[37] Ron Taylor, 'Chavez Tells of Pesticide Toll; Data Release Angers Officials." The Fresno Bee, September 29, 1969, p. 4-A.
[38] 'Pesticides: The Growing Menace," 5.
[39] Green, 1.
[40] Lois Wille, '75-City Tour: Nurse Fights Pesticides." Chicago Daily News, 1969, p. 5.
[41] 'Needed: Pesticide Control Review." Editorial, Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1969, p. 6.
[42] 'Pesticide Safety Controls Are Sought by Solon." The Fresno Bee, March 26, 1969.
[43] Pulido, 75.
[44] 'Pesticides: The Growing Menace," 6.
[45] Castillo, 45.
[46] Taylor, Chavez, 174.
[47] Taylor, Chavez, 174.
[48] Flyer, 'This Worker Does Not HaveÉ," 1966, Paul Schuster Taylor Papers, BANC MSS 84/38c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
[49] Flyer, 'It Doesn"t Matter If You"re Man or Mouse," 15 November 1969, distributed by the United Farm Workers of California at the San Francisco Moratorium March, Social Protest Collection, 1960-1982, BANC MSS 86/157c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
[50] Flyer, 'Pesticides and Grapes," 1969, Social Protest Collection, 1960-1982, BANC MSS 86/157c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
[51] Flyer, 'Peligro de Muerte," 1969, Paul Schuster Taylor Papers, BANC MSS 84/38c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
[52] Flyer, 'Warning: Eating Grapes May be Hazardous to Your Health," 9 October 1969, distributed by the UFWOC at UC Berkeley, Social Protest Collection, 1960-1982, BANC MSS 86/157c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
[53] Flyer, 'It Doesn"t Matter If you"re Man or Mouse."
[54] Castillo, 135.
[55] Flyer, 'Farm Workers Can"t Afford to Feed Themselves," 1968, Social Protest Collection, 1960-1982, BANC MSS 86/157c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
[56] Pulido, xv.