April 25, 2014
A writer who covered a recent water rally in Fresno expressed surprise that farm workers and farmers were in accord and expressing similar thoughts about the need for water.
Some of the placards displayed by workers were in Spanish, while those appearing to be farmers used English to say “No water, no food.” The writer’s surprise seemed to come from a basic misbelief that farmers and farm workers disagree no matter what the issue.
Of course, the supposed disagreement is a perception promoted for the past 60 years or more by the United Farmworkers union (UFW). It has projected the image forcefully and repeatedly through its noisy militants, dusty marches, contrived fasts and its really big “convincer”: boycotting of various food products, notably grapes, lettuce and wine.
While all or some of that might have convinced the writer covering the water rally, it has not changed the basic relationship between farm workers and their employers. Both have a deep understanding that producing food crops supports them both, and that they can both enjoy doing it. To use a bad example in a drought year you might say they know they are both in the same boat.
In an age where two or three generations of young Americans are living out a life style belief that many elements and structures of society must be changed, opposition seems to be a given. To them it is only natural that employers and their employees should be permanently and bitterly opposed. To them the opposition laced with vehemence provides the fuel to keep the flame of change burning.
The writer covering the water rally probably grew to maturity, or at least adulthood, believing that all American industries must operate with a full understanding that employers and employees view issues, especially workplace nuts and bolts, differently.
Well, that has never been the case in agriculture, especially in California, where the industry received so much help from the federal bracero program that introduced thousands of Mexican workers to farm employment and to the farmers who provided it. It was a major social catalyst that led to the understanding that both employers and employees were supporting the same goal, with both benefitting.
The union movement in America seems to depend on a combative, even pugnacious, attitude by its leaders and members as a basic element of success. It works to widen, rather than eliminate, whatever gap there may be between business owners and their employees. It takes the position that disagreement between the two is natural and necessary.
That’s a little like going into marriage believing that disagreement between the two parties will eventually prevail, and that parting will be the result. Divorce statistics seem to confirm that members of recent generations operate on this premise more than older generations did. Perhaps it is natural that such an attitude is transferred to the world beyond marriage, to the workplace and perceptions about it.
Whatever the reason, the water rally reporter’s assumption about farm worker and farmer viewpoints was wrong. Workers need a healthy, water dependent agriculture just as much as farmers do. It goes without saying that consumers need the same balance.
Setting the world or nation straight on the union-management equation is not the purpose of this column, today or in subsequent editions. But it doesn’t take a special social planner to see that a constant arbitrary attitude between major factors of the economy and social fabric will graduate to a permanent sour and unproductive spirit. Maybe it has already done so.
It didn’t take this column to recognize it. The writer for public radio who covered the water rally probably grew up with it. His further growth as a cooperative and contributing member of society might be stymied by it.
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