August 28 Filipino Lettuce Workers Strike

August 28, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1934. 

That was the day 7,000 white and Filipino lettuce workers in California’s Salinas Valley walked out on strike. 

Salinas was the lettuce capital of the world. 

The division of labor in the Valley was largely ethnically based. 

Filipinos did much of the field labor, while whites worked in the packing sheds. 

At the time, Filipinos made up 40% of the total agricultural workforce in the Salinas Valley. 

They had founded the Filipino Labor Union a year earlier.

White packing shed workers had organized into the AFL’s Vegetable Packers Association.

While the VPA had been reluctant to work with the FLU, they now sought to join forces in strike action. 

Both unions agreed neither would return to work until both had achieved victory. 

Together, they demanded wage increases, union recognition and better working conditions. 

Losing $100,000 a day, the growers soon imported scabs of all races. 

They enlisted California Highway Patrols to arrest striking Filipinos on incitement and vagrancy charges. 

Soon the VPA agreed to arbitration, leaving the FLU to continue the strike alone. 

Some speculated the members were threatened with the loss of their charter if they refused to return to work. 

The striking Filipino workers continued to organize job actions and experienced increased retaliation as a result. 

VPA leaders publicly distanced themselves from the Filipino strikers and racially charged vigilante violence intensified. 

It culminated in the burning down of the labor camp where hundreds of Filipino workers lived a month after the strike began. 

Vigilantes then drove as many as 800 Filipinos from the Valley at gunpoint. 

The strike was officially called off and those that remained returned to work.

By October, both unions had won wage increases.

 

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