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"Every Worker is an Organizer: Farm Labor and the Resurgence of the United Farm Workers"
2001-03-30 until 2001-08-26
Oakland Museum of California
The rise of the farm labor movement in the 1960s and 1970s has been heavily documented, but since the death of Cesar Chavez in 1993 little attention has been paid to the continuing work of the movement. David Bacon, photographer and journalist, former factory worker and union organizer, continues to chronicle the state of farm labor and of the union as it exists today in California. Fifty-eight of his photographs are presented in this exhibition.
Bacon's black and white photographs provide an intimate look at field labor, union organizing activity and labor leaders during the United Farm Workers 1996 drive to organize the entire central California Coast strawberry industry, employing 25,000 workers. The exhibition also documents organizing efforts among other fruit and vegetable workers, including the palmeros who spend their days at the dangerous job of harvesting dates at the tops of date palms. The images capture the working lives of the people - from strawberry pickers bent doubled-over in the fields, engaged in the most painful labor imaginable, to the extreme youth of today's farm workers, where the average age has fallen to 20.
The photographs provide a glimpse of the culture of the recent immigrants, many of them indigenous peoples of southern Mexico, where Spanish is a second language to their own dialects. The culture of the union is revealed in the two images prominently carried in marches: the Virgen de Guadalupe, providing a link to the church and expressing the people‚s belief that they have a moral right to a better life, and the Mexican flag, a symbol of cultural pride. Photographs also include images of the growers‚ march, when the growers appropriated cultural icons of workers and turned them around to convince workers to join the company‚s union.
When César Chávez died in 1993, the UFW was at the nadir of its power. In 1994, under its new president Arturo Rodriguez, and with the continuing leadership of its cofounder, Dolores Huerta, the UFW began a push to rebuild its strength. Within two years, it had won 13 new contracts representing 6000 workers. In 1996, the UFW together with the Teamsters Union and the organizing and field services departments of the AFL-CIO began one of the most ambitious organizing drives in the country. It is this drive that is documented in the exhibition.
As a senior at Berkeley High School in 1965, David Bacon was the youngest person arrested in Free Speech Movement protests on the U.C. Berkeley campus. He spent 20 years as a factory worker and union organizer, including several years as an organizer for the United Farm Workers. Since the mid-1980s he has worked full time as a journalist and photographer, documenting farm labor, immigration and the impact of the global economy on workers. He has published numerous photo essays, and his photography has been exhibited widely throughout the United States. He is working on a book about farm labor and the UFW‚s organizing efforts in California.