Touching documentary on Farm Workers Movement USA

Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement

Artist: Cesar Chavez

Created: Sun, 10 Sep 2006

Category: Documentary

Documentary on grape workers movement – one of the biggest social movements in the history of USA

I recently met someone who was involved in the Farm Workers Movement. I was told that it was one of the largest movements in the United States and Cesar Chavez, its charismatic leader was as popular as Martin Luther King at its time. I had to hear that with a certain sense of shame since I had not even heard about the movement till then. I decided to fall back on movies and documentaries to inform me. I started with the brilliant movie – Grapes of Wrath and for an account of the movement, I turned to Chicano.

Chicano is a nicely told story about the grape workers struggle for minimum wages and safe working conditions. Filipino farm workers decide to go on a strike in the harvest season and seek the solidarity of Mexican workers. Without their support the strike would have no impact whatsoever. Within a couple of days Mexican workers were on a strike that was to last many years. Chicano covers the story of how the workers kept their struggle for many years and won the hearts of American public. The workers were unable to pressurize the farm owners to a great extant since they were able to get workers from other places with their money power. Laws and various suites considerable reduced their picketing powers, making it necessary to put pressure from elsewhere. Chavez and co turned to the consumers.

Pickets were organized in front of stores in major cities across USA. They got support from Europe and other places as well. On one occasion Trade Unions in some places in Europe refused to unload California grapes until better terms were given to the workers. Slowly people in various American cities responded forcing chain stores to stop buying grapes from California. The solidarity network built by the workers with the public at large finally got the companies to the negotiating table.

The documentary does a good job of covering what the movement did to the aspirations of Chicanos at large. But it could have done much more to cover the tactics of the movement, how people managed to hold on for so many years and other aspects of the struggle. On the whole, this documentary is a wonderful education experience and a good introduction to the grape workers movement in USA.

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About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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