This week's feature on Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders quoted briefly from some columns he wrote as a young man for the University of Washington Daily. On Friday, in the interest of sharing source documents, we brought you his full 1968 column on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "suicide." Saturday we brought you his 1968 column on the 14th Amendment, and yesterday we brought you his 1968 column on affirmative action. Below is another representative Richard B. Sanders column from the time period, this one originally published in the Daily on January 16, 1969. It was transcribed (original bolds included) by Stranger intern Ernie Piper.
Last week the Young Republicans played host to three Southern California grape growers. Superficially, nothing seems to be further from the political arena than the business of growing grapes (or eating or drinking them); however, since the beginning of the “grape boycott” increasing attention has been given this time-honored practice.
The meetings in which these men participated serves to demonstrate more than a little the form which the “boycott” has taken. The room was crowded with perhaps 300 students. Occupying the position of prominence near the front of the room were about 50 proponents of the boycott. Some wore their political philosophy on their sleeves in the form of armbands, others contented themselves by palming bongo drums. Just before the meeting commenced, one of these public spirited individuals took it upon himself to tear down posters affixed to the wall and replaced them with his own. While most of the students in the room strained to hear what the growers had to say, some of these same individuals interrupted the speakers with their own brand of winsome—mainly consisting of ridiculing laughter, grunts or wisecracks. Shortly before the meeting adjourned, these 50-odd seekers-of-truth stood up with modest fanfare and stamped out. All in all (as reported by the DAILY) “order was maintained by the boycotters throughout the meeting(!)”
Unfortunately, the tactics of this sector of the University community do no stop at disrupting meetings and intimidating speakers. Perhaps realizing that the average student or man on the street cannot be intellectually convinced that a grape boycott is a good thing, various measures have been undertaken to make that decision for them.
One of the prime movers behind the forced boycott is the YMCA-YWCA. In their position paper they state that “each student (should) make a conscious decision for himself concerning how he will respond to the issue.” While that position seems to make pretty good sense, it was followed by a demand that “University food service refrain from serving grapes.” In other words, the YMCA proposes to help “each student” make his “conscious decision” not to eat grapes by making sure that there are no grapes around to tempt him.
Mr. A. J. Pringle, director of student residences, responded to the demands by saying that “I question that the University food services should take this action because it would pre-empt the student’s opportunity to make the choice of whether or not he wishes to eat grapes.” Clearly, issues of individual liberty were involved and Pringle knew it. So what happened? The residence halls (after an election) stopped serving grapes.
Obviously more was at stake than the merits of the boycott. Even in a free election, are the rights of the minority to be run over roughshod when the perfectly sensible alternative is freedom of choice? Apparently so. President Odegaard recently observed that some students have a totalitarian bent. If so, it seems to me that this official act of intolerance does little to straighten it out.
But intolerance is not limited to the University of Washington. One of the growers obse5rved the treatment his faithful employees were given when they refused to join Cesar Chavez’ union. Midnight phone calls and abusive language were not uncommon in the lives of farm workers who were satisfied with their jobs and refused to be intimidated into leaving them.
In point of fact, the attempt to organize the fields of Southern California (particularly near Delano) has been a complete failure. To be sure, there have been pickets; however bty and large they are paid professionals or radicals from other sectors of society who know (or care) little about the economics of the farm worker.
It is really no wonder that those who actually harvest the crop shun the Chavez union. According to the US department of Agriculture, California pays its farm workers more than any other state in the union. While the California farm worker averages 1.69 per hour (a national higyh), the grape pickers in the Delano area earns between $2 and $2.50 per hour. In 1968 the pickers were paid $1.50 per hour base wage plus an additional 15 and 25 cents per box.
Not only do the grape workers receive compensation far above that required by congress ($1.15 per hour), but California provides more protective legislation than ahjny other state. Laws covering California grape workers include: Workman’s compensation, Disability insurance, Farm Labor Camp Regulation, Farm Labor Contractor Regulations, Wage Collection Law, Child Labor Law, Transportation Republitions, Wage Payment Law, and Minimum Wages for Women and Minorities. (In addition to all this, the growers have been lobbying for a national unemployment compensation law.)
While one might fault California for making life too tough on the growers—who must compete with states that lack such protective legislation—it is not difficult to realize why the workers are not uninterested in upsetting the “grape basket.”
In this last harvest period, only a handful of the workers failed to show up for work. It is indisputable that on the farms which had not signed with Chavez’s union all the grapes were harvested on time. The workers have made their choice; however this apparently doesn’t concern the boycotters (or University officials) who would apparently rather see every grower bankrupt and every job lost than their cause falters.
So now comes the question of why. If the workers are happy, why the fuss? I’m really not convinced that the boycotters know the answer to this question either. (And they won’t learn it by heckling and walking out of educational meetings.)
The real reason for the boycott is this: to force the workers to accept a union they don’t want. With several million agricultural workers paying $3.50 union dues every month, Cesar Chavez and friends will be on easy street. For the “left” this is just the issue they have been waiting for to flex their muscles—for bigger things to come.
Delano was picked on for several good reasons. The grape pickers are among the highest paid in the U.S. and can well afford the union dues. Also, 90 per cent of them live permanently in the immediate area (no Virginia, they aren’t “migrants”) and thus lessen the problems or organization. Hopefully,—when the facts get out—the grape pickers of Delano will be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labor without the interference of outside meddlers.