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Farm Workers in Washington State

Timeline: Farm Worker Organizing in Washington State

by Oscar Rosales Castañeda and Maria Quintana
Washington State National
1870- 1880 Hops becomes the Puget Sound region's first major cash crop.
1886 Northern Pacific Railroad connects Washington to the rest of the U.S.
1890 Big farming operations spread across Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon
1900-1919 1902: U.S. reclamation service begins irrigation projects in Washington's Yakima, Wenatchee, and Okanogan Valleys. 1903: More than one 1200 Japanese and Mexican laborers organize the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association (JMLA) in Oxnard, CA. The event marks the formation of the first farm worker union of its kind in the United States.
1930-1939 Aug. 24 1933: 100 strikers picketing in Yakima clash with 250 armed farmers in what would be commonly referred to as the ‘"Battle at Congdon Orchards.’" While tensions between workers and farmers continued, all public meetings of workers were outlawed within the city. 1929-1937: Approximately 500,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans are repatriated to Mexico by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This largely forced migration included many U.S. Citizens who were ‘encouraged’ to voluntarily leave the U.S.
1940-1949 Aug. 4, 1942: The governments of the United States and Mexico initiate the ‘Bracero Program’ to address the lack of farm labor in the U.S. during WWII. The agreement brings Mexican Nationals to the United States to do agricultural work. The program remained until it was removed in 1964.
1950-1959 1950: Ernesto Galarza leads a strike of farmworkers in the tomato fields in Tracy, California. Galarza, who had previously resigned from the Pan-American Union (a group in Washington D.C. formed by the Latin American Republics which sought to promote peace and understanding) in protest over the group’s acquiescence in the exploitation of Latin American workers by U.S. interests.
1960-1964 1962: the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) is formalized at a convention in Fresno, California. Cesar Chavez is elected director and Dolores Huerta, Julio Hernandez and Gilberto Padilla are elected vice-presidents.
1965 1965: The Yakima Valley Council for Community Action (YVCCA) is organized to coordinate the War on Poverty efforts in the Valley. 1965: the FBI starts surveillance of the farm workers’ movement upon the invitation of irate townsfolk in Delano. With the farm workers initially unaware of this activity, the FBI investigates Cesar Chavez’s background and opens a file entitled, “COMINFIL: Communist Infiltration of the National Farm Workers Association.”
1966 1966: Two students from Yakima Valley College, Tomas Villanueva and Guadalupe Gamboa travel to California to  meet Cesar Chavez. The meeting serves to spawn organizational efforts to unionize farm workers in Central Washington. 1966: The NFWA and the AWOC merge to become the United Farm Workers and soon affiliate with the AFL-CIO. Striking workers with the DiGiorgio Fruit Corp. elect the UFW to represent them.
1967 1967: The Cursillo Movement within the Catholic Church emerges in the Yakima Valley. The purpose is to engage in social action and encourage participation in church life. 1967: The Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) is formed on college campuses in Texas after the first chapter is born at St. Mary's College in San Antonio.
1968 1968: La Sociedad Mutualista is founded in Granger, Washington. The group focuses on self-help for its members and sponsorship of social and cultural events.  Feb. 15, 1968: Response to violent repression on Farm workers leads Cesar Chavez to begin a 25-day fast to keep the farm worker movement non-violent.
1969 1969: Active Mexicano is established in Seattle. The organization works toward providing individuals social services including job placement and legal assistance.  1969: Chicano Artists in Sacramento, CA, form the ‘Rebel Chicano Art Front’ as a means of using visual art in educating people on the goals of the Chicano Movement, to provide a space for the creation of culturally-relevant education, as well as to provide support for the United Farm Workers Union in their struggle in the agricultural fields. As a play on words, the art collective changes its name to the ‘Royal Chicano Air Force,’ as a reference to the ‘RCAF’ acronym they shared with the ‘Royal Canadian Air Force.’ Throughout its existence, the group would have great reach throughout the west coast, producing murals as far south as San Diego’s Chicano Park and as far north as Seattle’s El Centro de La Raza.
1970 Spring 1970: El Teatro del Piojo is formed at the University of Washington. This group is modeled after El Teatro Campesino in California and is the first activist theatre group of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.  Apr. 1970: La Raza Unida Party emerges out of Texas and dominates the local elections in Crystal City, TX.
1971 1971: YVCC MASA changes its name to MEChA 1971: The FBI Counter Intelligence Program infiltrates and provokes Chicano Organizations. COINTELPRO is unveiled as files are retreived from an FBI office. 
1972 1972: The Ethnic Cultural Center and Theatre opens its doors at the University of Washington. When it opens, the ECC/T is the first center of its kind in the nation, making it the first building owned by a university to serve primarily people of color and one of the first to be a hub for cross-cultural exchange.
1973 January 1973: Chicanos in the Yakima Valley initiate a new phase in the “Boycott Safeway” campaign that had seen sporadic action since 1969. 1973: CASA's ideology takes a turn farther toward the left in the early 1970's, making it the first Marxist-Leninist Organization based inside the Chicano Community. 
1974 Jun 1974: A group of students from Los Angeles and Orange County form El Comite Estudiantil del Pueblo. The group, made up primarily of Chicano Marxists, seeks "anti-imperialist solidarity with national and international student struggles, university reform, self-determination against the 'imperial system,' and student-worker unity." The group later merges with CASA.
1975 1975: The Concilio for the Spanish Speaking is established in Seattle. The purpose is in uniting organizations and groups that serve Spanish speaking communities and are organized for charitable, health and welfare purposes. 
1977 1977: A Chicano group is established at Eastern Washington University. It later aligns itself with other MEChA chapters and changes its name in 1978. 1977: Jose Angel Gutierrez and the Raza Unida Party hold a conference in San Antonio attracting over 2000 activists. The gathering is in response to Jimmy Carter's immigration reform legislation which ignores labor and human rights violations at the hands of employers and the INS.
1978-1979 1978: SEA MAR Community Health Center is founded by Chicano community leaders and health activists in the Southpark neighborhood south of downtown Seattle. Jun 28, 1978: The Supreme Court upholds the decision in favor of Bakke v. the UC Board of Regents by a vote of 5-4.
1980-1984 1980s: In response to INS raids in the Yakima Valley, the staff of Radio KDNA, out of its concern for the well-being of farm workers and their families, devises a subtle yet effective way of alerting workers of INS roundups. This is done by airing a song about ‘la migra’ upon hearing of INS presence and dedicating it to the town that was being raided. 1980: The Reagan Administration comes to power, accelerating the dismantling of most social programs initiated in the 1960's.
1985-1986 1985: About eighty farm workers form ‘Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste’ (PCUN) or Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, establishing its headquarters in the city of Woodburn in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the agricultural hub of the state. The organization would soon become the main entity organizing around farm workers’ rights in Oregon with over 5000 members, ninety-eight percent of which were of Mexican or Central American descent.
1987-1988 February 10, 1987: The first strike of the Washington State UFW occurs at Pyramid Orchards in the Yakima Valley. Overwhelming support for the strike makes it a success.
1993 April 23, 1993: Cesar Chavez dies in San Luis, Arizona while organizing against a multi-million lawsuit filed by a large grower against the union. Over 40,000 mourners marched behind Chavez’s casket during the funeral service held in Delano, CA.
1994 Jan 1, 1994: On the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, is to take effect, an indigenous, Libertarian-Marxist revolutionary organization known as the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, or "EZLN"), based out of the State of Chiapas in Mexico, takes up arms and declares war against the Mexican Government, siezing towns and municipalities in Chiapas. Though confronted by a massive Mexican military, the group uses new technology to shift the terrain of struggle from the military battlefield, to the hearts and minds of people all over the world by releasing the "First declaration of the Lacandon Jungle," making what the New York Times called the "first post-modern revolution in the world." The EZLN uprising and subsequent work was articulated as a call to consciousness, with indigenous Mexicans declaring "ya basta" as a way to adress five centuries of opression and denial of basic human rights.
1995 Dec. 5, 1995: The UFW secures an agreement and signs a contract to unionize the workers at the Chataeu Ste. Michelle Winery in the Yakima Valley, the first such victory in farmworker organizing in Washington State.
1997 May, 1997: Washington State Governor, Gary Locke, vetoes a bill that is passed by the state legislature that would have provided state sanctioning of substandard housing for farm workers. The veto, pushed by various Latino groups was considered ‘courageous,’ while disapproval from State Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-Renton) as well as the state’s growers whom were backed by a strong agribusiness interest was voiced throughout the process. According to a Seattle Times article, the agribusiness lobby contended that “housing without electricity, running water, toilet facilities, or insulation ‘was better than nothing.’”
1998 May 27, 1998: A Coalition of five Mexican unions, with the aid of the Washington D.C.-based International Labor Rights Fund, files a complaint in Mexico City against the Washington State Apple Industry, alleging that the industry had failed to protect the right of workers to organize, in addition to failing to protect the health and safety of laborers, leaving them at risk of exposure to pesticides and other carcinogenic chemicals
1999 November 1999: The UFW participates in the World Trade Organization (WTO) demonstrations in Seattle. The UFW’s new focus on global justice for workers was essential during the union’s participation in the WTO demonstrations.
2000 April 2000: El Comite is formalized as an official organization. The group will further ally itself with faith-based organizations, organized labor, and civil rights groups to give a marginalized Latino immigrant community a voice in organizing for social justice.
2001 Spring-Summer 2001: Daniel DeSiga paints the mural “El Sarape” in Toppenish. Upon completion, the mural is the first of the Toppenish Mural Society’s works that references the Latino community. It also becomes one of the first to depict the Latino presence in Washington State’s labor history by way of depiction of braceros in the Yakima Valley.
2003 Sept 20, 2003: Immigrant Rights activists depart from Seattle and make stops in Yakima, Pasco, and Walla Walla on their way to Washington D.C. and Liberty State Park in New Jersey. The larger "Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride" sought social justice for immigrant workers throughout the country. Sept 20-Oct 4, 2003: Drawing on inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement, thousands of workers, activists, and community members initiate the "Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride of 2003," with participants starting out on the west coast and riding cross-country to converge on Washington D.C. and then rally at Liberty State Park, overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New Jersey. The trip ends with a day-long celebration that draws over 125,000 participants who join the 1000 riders at the last stop.
2005 Oct 2005: The Minutemen Project initiates patrols along the northern border with Canada. Soon after, the group shifts tactics and begins a campaign against day laborers in the urban centers, including Seattle and Yakima. April 2005: The Minutemen Project starts patrolling the U.S.-Mexican Border along Arizona. The project, supported by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Conservative Radio Personalities Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, as well as the ultra-right-wing Council of Conservative Citizens, drew criticisms from many sectors, including former President George W. Bush. Though having a "moderate" central core, the project is notorious for having individual chapters listed as "extreme nativist" groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, including the chapters in San Diego, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Conneticut, Seattle and Yakima, among others.
2006 March 18, 2006: El Comite helps organize a march from White Center to the South Park Neighborhood in Seattle. Despite attracting nearly 3000 participants, the event would go largely unnoticed until after the mass march in Los Angeles. March-April 2006: Immigrant Rights Movement leads to a wave of activist demonstrations in Washington State. The UFW continues to upheld that labor rights are inspeperable from immigrant rights. The Movement begins with a massive march with 300,000 participants in Chicago on March 10, 2006, followed by an even larger demonstration of 500-750,000 in the streets of Los Angeles on March 25, 2006. Soon after, cities across the country organized massive work stoppages on April 10th (National Day of Action). In addition, there are rolling student strikes and walkouts throughout the country, surpassing activity in the 1960s as the largest student demonstrations in U.S. History.