Photo: Cesar Chavez No Saint New Book Reveals
Retired teacher Frank Bardacke, who in his youth was a member of the United Farm Workers union, says that it’s a “mistake to idolize union leaders like Cesar Chavez,” a founder of the UFW.
“Cesar Chavez was no saint. I knew him and he made big mistakes within the union that wound up weakening that great movement of the (19)70s,” Bardacke told Efe.
“Cesar Chavez should be remembered as the spiritual father of the Chicanos, the first Mexican-American who played politics on the national level; but also as the leader who interested himself most in recruiting followers who supported him and therefore he lost the support of the people in the fields,” he said.
Bardacke’s 848-page history of the union, “Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers,” was published in November by Verso.
Chavez (1927-1993) and other activists in 1962 founded the National Farm Workers Association, which in 1966 joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to create the UFW, with which they organized a series of boycotts against grape producers to demand reforms in working conditions.
“The reason why the great union movement became diluted was because there were no internal elections. The leaders were people put in place by Chavez,” Bardacke said.
He said that one factor that contributed to the falloff in UFW membership was that there existed a division between members in Mexico and the U.S.-born Chicanos who monopolized the leadership posts in the union.
“It was an autocratic organization that was directed from above, with Chavez at the head, and so the unions did not keep themselves strong,” according to Bardacke, who spent six years as a farmworker in California’s Salinas Valley.
“My book is not a biography to discredit Cesar Chavez. My work tells a lot about Cesar Chavez, but it’s more a history of the UFW,” Bardacke said.
“The problem with the idea that everyone has of Chavez is that in his biographies they treat him as a saint. So, when I don’t express agreement with that, what I write in the book is perceived as a harsh criticism, and it’s not like that. I simply add an angle that many believe,” the writer said.
Bardacke remarked that his narrative covers the development of the UFW up until 1984, the years during which the union came to have more than 60,000 members; although nowadays it has only around 3,000.
“To write the book, I interviewed many people who were part of the UFW, (learned) the reasons why they stopped being members, what they thought at that time and what they’re doing now,” Bardacke said.
“Cesar Chavez never saw himself as a saint. One time he told me that a lesson for living is never to take oneself very seriously,” UFW spokesman Marc Grossman told Efe when asked for comment on Bardacke’s book.