The passing of Arizona’s sb1070 has made it clear to many, both Black and Brown, that the issue of racial profiling and immigrant rights are inextricably connected. The outrage and shift in sympathy among many Blacks towards the issue of immigrant rights gives new hope to the cause of unity between the two peoples. Often, the strained relationship between Blacks and Latinos is made worse by the perception of very little credit given to the struggle of Blacks in the United States as the springboard by which other ethnicities could advance.
In light of this, I thought I would share an article that appeared in the August 4th, 1972 issue of Muhammad Speaks that featured an in-depth interview with Cesar Chavez, conducted by the legendary Askia Muhammad (then Charles 20X), in which Chavez expressed his admiration for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.
It was a Mexican follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Benjamin X Perez (later known as Imam Benjamin Perez Mahoma) whose ties to the migrant farm worker leader introduced him to the program and teachings of the Nation of Islam. -David J. Muhammad, May 4, 2010
Movement Maturity- Farm Workers’ Chavez speaks of future goals
August 4 1972, By Charles 20 X
Keene Cal.---The headquarters of internationally famous farmworkers leader, Cesar Chavez, cradles in the fertile rocky hills east of Bakersfield is like a mountain fortress Emiliano Zapata, the great Mexican peasant – farm leader of the early twentieth century, might have occupied with his guerilla army.
And like the great hero of the common man, Zapata, Chavez is calling on his great following of common men to join in the struggle to aid the helpless farm laborers by once again boycotting non-union lettuce.
Chaves is still recovering from a near fatal 24 day fast which left him sick, weak, exhausted, but full of desire to uplift his downtrodden people.
The Muhammad Speaks Newspapers party was guided and directed to an exclusive interview by Muslim Brother Benjamin X Perez, a long time friend of Chavez and his family, and a brother who has stood as one of the few Mexican-Indian descendants in the Brotherhood of Islam who follow the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Chavez, organizer and leader of the AFL-CIO affiliated United Workers Union, is normally a healthy looking brown-faced short man with a quick smile and a friendly handshake. His modest security and even his large black dog seemed to relax when he entered the room for the historic MS interview, prior to his fast.
Chavez is a humble man. And while he is proud of all the Farmworkers’ Union has done, he is quick to give credit and praise to others, where it is due.
“We’re doing our paper now,” he said, beaming over the first two issues of the Farm Workers’ newspaper, El Malcriado. The first issue is in English and the second issue is a complete Spanish translation of the first.
DO IT LIKE THE MUSLIMS
We told our people, ‘It’s got to be done like the Muslims do it.’ It’s got to be done person to person,” he stressed, his admiration for the courteous Muhammad Speaks salesman was apparent from his broad and eager smile.
“Of all the movements we know of, we have a lot of respect for you because you have a lot of people doing things.” he said, referring to the constructive Program of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and its effect on his energetic followers.
“I tell my organizers to get prejudice off your mind. Organizing is hard, it’s like mowing a lawn. It’s not easy like digging a whole where you see how much you’ve dug.”
Blocked by official rulings, edicts and court orders which continually hold monopoly “agri-business” blameless against the just demands of the meager farm laborers, Chavez, however has amassed an “army” of sympathizers and followers who would rather pass up their customary salad, than continue to support the greed and exploitation of large growers.
Farmworker’s officials estimate that more than 100,000 people have united with lettuce boycott, signing pledges not to eat or buy iceberg lettuce or “head” lettuce until the Farm workers and growers settle their long standing feud. In Chicago, according to Illinois boycott chairman Chester Ruiz, from 8-9,000 pledges have been received. In New York City, Ruiz said lettuce has been removed from public hospital and school menus.
Farm Worker’s organizers estimate that the average person consumes nearly $15 worth of lettuce per year, “Our goal is millions of pledges,” Ruiz said, A few million pledges not to eat lettuce would mean tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue to monopolistic growers. The iceberg lettuce industry is estimated to gross more than $270 million per year.
Last January the Farm workers decided to renew their lettuce boycott, although some growers had valid contracts in force, with the union. The workers who stayed in the fields and did not strike because of valid contracts, agreed, however, to support the boycott so that all their brother farm workers might have the same betterment in their working conditions that they had received.
In addition the growers with valid contracts for laborers joined forces with the non-union growers to finance and help sponsor repressive legislation and to seek repressive court injunctions and labor rulings.
The National Labor Relation Board, (NLRB) refuses to consider farm laborers eligible for protection of national labor laws. The NLRB reversed itself however and mad an important ruling on farm labor against the farm workers.
Since 1947, when the original Taft-Hartley labor relations act was made law, farm workers have been exempt from protection granted other laborers.
Farm workers are ineligible for minimum wage guidelines, working condition restrictions, rights to negotiate and arbitrate, and most health laws and child labor restrictions seem unforced when it comes to the fields.
As a result, farm workers average $1,300 per year. The average income for a migrant farm family is only $2,700 per year, and the maternal and infant mortality rates are 125 per cent higher than the American average.
LIFE MISERABLE ‘DOWN ON FARM’
The bleak picture of life “down on the farm” seems to grow dimmer by the day for the “stoop” laborers, most of whom are Mexican-American, many of whom are Black and Filipino. The farm worker’s life expectancy is a brief 49 years, and he is further humiliated in the fields by the presence of more than 800,000 children under 16 years, of whom 80 per cent never reach high school.
If protection was ever available under the law for any group of non-whites, the farm laborers certainly received none of it. If there were a law of justice in the fields it would seem that it would have to outlaw the sub-human treatment inflicted upon the farm workers.
The law of justice would have to declare a criminal of any man who housed more that 90 per cent of his workers in dwellings without a sink, flush toilet, tub or shower.
That same law of justice would have to condemn a man who employed workers at a wage even below the pitiful minimum wage and then subjected them to a chance of contracting deadly tuberculosis 260 per cent higher than the average man who at least receives that minimum wage. Where that same employee’s chance of accidental death are 300 per cent higher than the nation average, the employer would certainly have to be a tyrant.
And Chavez, has struggled with the farm labor movement since 1952. He escaped from the hopeless Chicano “barrio” (ghetto) of San Jose, California which even wore the nickname “sal si puedes,” (meaning “escape if you can.”).
Chavez is primarily responsible for much of the progress of the farm workers in their efforts to organize and unite for power and justice.
Chavez is pleased that the United Farm Workers Union is comprised of many nationalities and ethnic “minorities.” The large majority of the members and the migrant farm workers are of Mexican descent, but many like UFW Vice-president Vera-Cruz are Filipino, and many more, especially in the southern states, are black.
And while the UFW picks up much support from liberal and concerned whites, man o f whom endorse the philosophy of non-violence at every cost, for non-whites; the union is gain strength daily, in the minds and hearts of the young as well as the old Chicanos as the consciousness of all non-white peoples in North America seems to rise with the times.
Among the Chicano people who see their success very concretely associated with the land they have toiled over for centuries, the talk now can even be heard calling for a nation, a Brown nation.