Commentary: Honoring Farm Workers 50 Years After Historic Strike

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Texas UFW Strike in 1966. Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic United Farm Worker Rio Grande City Strike and March to Austin, Texas, an event that sparked the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in Texas.

The Texas United Farm Workers organization is petitioning the Texas Historical Commission to approve markers that memorialize the “undertold” story of the strike that began in Starr County and the march to Austin, Texas that ended on Labor Day in 1966.

Click here to read more about the Texas UFW in 2016.

Commemorative events in Rio Grande City, San Antonio and Austin and in other major cities along the march route are being organized to honor the strikers and their fight for fair wages. Several of the strike survivors will tell their story. The names of those men, women and children will be recited and photos taken during that period will be displayed.

Photo Courtesy of Texas UFW, 1966.

Photo Courtesy of Texas UFW, 1966.

On June 1, 1966, hundreds of men, women and children went on a strike for higher wages in Starr County, Texas.  At that time, workers in the Rio Grande City area were being paid 40 cents an hour to harvest cantaloupes.  They organized themselves into the Independent Workers Association and then voted to become part of the National Farm Workers Association (the predecessor to the United Farm Workers).  They struck and picketed the farms the produce sheds of five major agricultural producers in that county: La Casita Farms, Sun Tex, Los Puertos Plantation, Elmore & Stahl and Griffin & Brand.  To break the strike, the Texas Rangers and the local County Sheriff deputies beat them and arrested them.  Violence pushed the strikers to march from Rio Grande City to Austin, and ask for a state minimum wage law of $1.25. On July 4, 1966, they began the historic march from Rio Grande City to Austin, Texas.

The strikers marched through south Texas to gain support for raising wages, and held rallies to speak to the citizens of each town.  They traveled an average of 12 miles a day along a route, beginning with more than 100 people in Rio Grande City, to McAllen, to Edinburg, to San Juan for a mass by Bishop Medeiros.  From San Juan they headed to Elsa and on to Raymondville, then to Rachal up Hwy 281 through Falfurrias, where they had a rally at the KC hall. Strikers then traveled to Kingsville where students at Texas A&M met them at St. Martin’s Catholic Church with 300 to 400 supporters.  One of the marchers, a 13 year-old girl, reported that while resting near the King Ranch main gates, the cowboys invited them into the Ranch, where they were served a delicious meal under some huge tents.

From Kingsville they marched to Robstown and Corpus Christi, where Bishop Drury celebrated a mass for the strikers at the Cathedral. From there they headed to Mathis and then to Floresville, where a rally with 400 people was held at the County Courthouse. The strikers traveled to San Antonio where Archbishop Lucey had a special mass for them, and a rally was held at the Alamo.  In New Braunfels, they were met by then-Texas Gov. John Connally, State Attorney General Waggoner Carr, and Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes who told them they would not meet with the strikers at the Capitol in Austin. Connally said that even if he were at the Capitol he would not meet with them, and that he would not call a special session for the minimum wage bill.  The marchers arrived in Austin on Labor Day–September, 5, 1966– where they were met with 10,000 supporters who walked the last four miles to the Capitol.

The strike and march resulted in the passage of a $1.40 minimum wage law in 1970. In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Texas Rangers, the Starr County Sheriff’s Department and a Starr County Justice of the Peace conspired to deprive farm workers of their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, by unlawfully arresting them without due process and physically assaulting them to prevent their exercise of the rights of free speech and assembly.

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Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

In honor of the 50th anniversary, there are several events and ceremonies being developed throughout Texas in 2016.

Rio Grande City| Wednesday or Thursday, April 27 or 28: A ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the County Courthouse Kiosk. From there, the group will march about three blocks to the City Hall museum, where organizers expect to host a photo exhibit followed by a catered lunch.

San Antonio| Saturday, September 24, starting at 9:30 a.m. March from Main Plaza to El Zacate Plaza (aka Milam Plaza).

Austin| Saturday, September 10: March from St. Edward’s University to the State Capitol. Workshops start on campus at 10 a.m., the march to the Capitol starts at 1 p.m. Barrientos MACC will host a Pachanga at 6 p.m.

There will also be a marker ceremony in Edinburg, Hidalgo County, but no dates have surfaced to get this done. An an additional ceremony and celebration will be held at the Union Hall in San Juan, Texas, details pending.

 

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 

*Top Image: Texas UFW Strike in 1966. Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

 

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