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Chavez and Farm Workers Union

October 12, 1989

The facts about the remarkable decade of the '60s now seem to shake down into a sort of innocent distortion, especially as writers who came of age back then try to balance the idealism of the day with today's cynicism. Jones' piece on Chavez and his dream deferred falls into this category.

It sounded as though Chavez's recent failures and the UFW's current problems are a result of Chavez never really wanting to organize a union in the first place. This is a colorful theory, but it is a specious one.

From the start, Chavez wanted to build a union of, and by, farm workers, and about the only thing he did not want was that first grape strike in 1965. It propelled him into history, but he didn't want it, and not for the reasons Jones cites. Chavez did not believe that his fledgling organization was prepared for a grueling strike, but even more than that, he knew that they could not honor the Filipino walkout. Chavez knew that the only way to win justice for farm workers was through a union, and he was an organizational wizard.

As the victories grew, so did Chavez's notoriety and power. To now call him a "Mexican Godfather" may not be entirely flattering, but it is relatively accurate, and for him, it has to be intoxicating. Keep in mind, also, that for the longest time it was the UFW against the world. Because there was little else, he depended on his faith, his staff and his remarkable resolve. Now, if there is a paranoia to his personality, at least it may have had its roots in reality. There have been death threats and there have been betrayals, and recent behavior and action suggest that he has lost his once indefatigable sense of direction.

My father worked closely with Chavez since 1961, and what I know is this: Chavez is a lot of things, and in the past year or two he has hurt a number of people he had no business hurting. Without knowing the whole story Jones has written a piece full of speculation, one that missed the boat. But it is more complicated than what his brief musing suggests, and it deserves a more thorough treatment.

JOHN HARTMIRE

Manhattan Beach

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