Uno Veintecinco: the Lettuce Strike of 1962

1962, 15 minutes, black and white

A Pivotal Strike in Farm Worker History

Rent or Buy smallUno Veintecinco tells the story of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), AFL-CIO, strike in 1962 for $1.25/hour for lettuce pickers in California. The strike was centered in the Imperial Valley of California along the border with Mexico. The strike was called by resident farm workers allied with the United Packinghouse Workers Union (UPWA) and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) of the AFL-CIO. The UPWA had contracts in packing houses in the state where wages and working conditions were better than for field workers. Growers were increasingly moving packing operations into the fields, thus undercutting the UPWA contracts.  UPWA suppport for the strike was both in defense of packing house workers and to help raise the wages of the industry generally.

The strikers faced many obstacles.  Growers kept wages low by employing bracero contract labor from Mexico and immigrant workers who crossed the border each day to find work.  The bracero program was supported by the federal and state governments and allowed growers to use a captive labor force instead of resident workers.  Farm workers did not share the protection of the National Labor Relations Board nor did they qualify for unemployment or other protections offered non farm workers in the state at that time.  They called the strike to gain union recognition and a living wage.

Strikers power in the industry derived from several factors.  Lettuce picking is a skilled job.  The most productive workers were resident workers who formed teams in the fields and shared the piece rates equally within the team.  Replacing these skilled workers with unskilled workers was less efficient and often did not work.  Also, the strikers knew that lettuce had to be harvested during a short period of time when it ripened.  If harvesting did not happen during this narrow window of time, the crop could be lost entirely.  Growers were under pressure to settle quickly in these conditions.  And lastly, by allying with AWOC and the UPWA, strikers had experienced organizers and limited strike support funds on their side. Organized labor also brought greater publicity and helped the strikers gain public support, putting pressure on state and local authorities not to intervene and arrest strikers. Although the strike was not completely successful, it was a milestone in the history of California farm labor in the years before the founding of the United Farm Workers Union.

The film interviews organizers and workers and reviews the 20th century history of labor organizing in California’s fields. It contains footage of spontaneous strike actions in which farm workers are seen leaving the fields to join the strikers.

 

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