The late Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers (UFW) rocked the national conscience when they led the great Delano grape strike of 1965. For a brief historical moment the lives of those who put food on our table slowly and measurably improved.
But forty years later -- as I document in my latest L.A. Weekly feature report -- that movement is little more than an historical asterisk. Working conditions for California farm workers have been in steady decline for two decades. The UFW is but a shadow of what it was in Chavez' prime. More than half of California's 700,000 field workers are undocumented. Almost none earn more than $10,000 a year. Last month, three workers died of heat exposure in the fields with little notice.
A cycle of "ethnic replacement" has brought in one wave after another of ever poor, ever more marginal Mexican immigrants to do the heavy work of picking and packing our produce. The growers -- many of them large corporate enterprises-- elude all moral and legal responsibilities by hiring these workers through unscrupulous middle-man labor contractors who are quick to exploit the docile, undocumented work force.
Call it the New Grapes of Wrath, the Appalachia of the West, a Modern Harvest of Shame. All cliches. But all of them unfortunately accurate.
Spend some time as I did among these workers and find a new perspective on American politics. Neither Republicans nor Democrats mean very much, if anything at all, to these workers whose lives of toil repeat themselves every morning at dawn regardless of whose hands are on the levers in Sacramento or Washington.
Take a moment to read my full report and let me know what you think.