Farm Workers in Washington State History Project

A History of Farm Labor Organizing, 1890-2009

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by Oscar Rosales-Castañeda, Maria Quintana, and James Gregory

Long before the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) began organizing in the 1960s, farm workers had been contesting the unique challenges of working in the fields. This report--in ten brief chapters--examines the long history of farm workers and their activism.

It starts with the first labor force, a mix of Native Puget Sound people, white men, and Chinese men, who in the 1870s harvested the state's first cash crop: hops. In the early 1900s, the Industrial Workers of the World launched a bold campaign to organize workers in Yakima Valley and the wheat fields of eastern Washington. Another campaign began in the 1930s and a Filipino-led union was at times successful. In the 1940s, the Bracero program began to change the composition of Washington's farm labor force, initiating Mexican migration to the Pacific Northwest.

The second half of this report details the origins of the UFW campaigns, starting when Tomas Villanueva and Guadelupe Gamboa opened the UFW Co-op in Toppenish in 1967. The 1971 Hop strikes in the Yakima Valley and the statewide grape boycott highlighted the early UFW effort. In the 1980s, the movement solidified and began a protracted campaign that ultimately yielded a contract for the workers at Chateau Ste. Michelle winery.

Learn about all of these events and more in the short chapters that follow. Oscar Rosales-Castañeda is the principal author, with contributions by Maria Quintana and James Gregory. Maria Quintana designed the pages and their illustrations. Begin here:

  1. Toward a History of Farm Workers in Washington State
  2. The IWW in the Fields,1905-1925
  3. The 1933 Battle at Congdon Orchards
  4. Asians and Latinos Enter the Fields
  5. Mexican-American Struggles to Organize, Post-WWII
  6. El Movimiento and Farm Labor Organizing in the 1960s
  7. UFW's Yakima Hop Strikes, 1971
  8. Radio KDNA: The Voice of the Farm Worker
  9. Resurgence of the UFW of WA State in the 1980s
  10. The Struggle Continues, 1997-2006
  11. Bibliography

Two additional essays examine key aspects of farm labor organizing in Washington State:

La Raza Comes to Campus: The New Chicano Contingent and the Grape Boycott at the University of Washington, 1968-69 by Jeremy Simer

Chicano students at the UW mobilized for the first time  in the fall of 1968.  They formed the United Mexican American Students (UMAS), which soon led a campaign to boycott of California table grapes in support of the United Farm Workers which had been on strike since 1965. The successful boycott made turned a small group of Chicano students into a force to be reckoned with.

Cannery Workers' and Farm Laborers' Union, 1933-39: Their Strength in Unity by Crystal Fresco

Seattle was home to the most important Filipino-American-led labor union, the Cannery Worker's and Farm Laborer's Union. Organized in 1933, the union represented "Alaskeros," the men who shipped out each spring to work in the Salmon canneries of Alaska. This essay narrates the dramatic early years of CWFLU. The union was still in its infancy when two of the founders, President Virgil Duyungan and secretary Aurelio Simon, were murdered.

Boycott Lettuce and Grapes Poster, Library of Congress.

Native American Hop Pickers, Washington, ca. 1903. Postcard Collection, University of Washington, Special Collections.

Wheat harvests in eastern Washington attracted thousands of workers like these, and also IWW organizers

 


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