Grape Boycott

The Lokashakti Encyclopedia of Nonviolence, Peace, & Social Justice


Grape Boycott

Hungry people cannot sustain a long walkout, as growers and workers knew from previous agricultural strikes. Early in its history, the United Farm Workers found the tactic that was to break this stalemate: the boycott. The first boycott, that of Schenley in 1966, was little more than a propaganda tactic, but the lnternational Grape Boycott mounted in 1968 brought disciplined organizers to over 100 cities across the U.S. and Canada. The loss of sales from the boycott, together with strong public pressure, led the growers in 1970 to sign the first wide scale union contracts in California.

Almost immediately, the UFW found itself in new battles. To undercut the militant new union, lettuce growers in Salinas signed "sweetheart" contracts for their workers with the Teamsters' Union. In September 1970, 10,000 United Farm Workers struck against the phony pacts. A new boycott of head lettuce began. In 1972, the UFW proved its potential strength across the nation by signing a contract with Coca-Cola's Minute Maid subsidiary in Florida which covered the mostly black orange pickers. In 1973, in a desperate effort to destroy the UFW, wine and table grape growers refused to renegotiate their contracts and instead delivered their workers to the Teamsters. Two striking farm workers were killed and over 10,000 workers and supporters were arrested in the wave of protest strikes which swept California that summer. The boycott extended to take in wine and table grapes again.

In June 1975, for the first time in America, the California legislature guaranteed the right of agricultural workers to vote for the union of their choice. Whether the new law will prove a major victory for America's poorest workers, or merely another chapter in the history of collusion between legal authorities and employers, remains to be seen. But already, the dynamic use of nonviolence in the farm workers' struggle has changed the agricultural scene - and the workers and growers themselves - drastically from what they were less than ten years ago.

Robert Cooney and Helen Michalowski, reprinted with permission, from The Power of the People: Active Nonviolence in the United States.  Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1987.
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