‘Imperial Valley Fights’ by Frank Spector from Labor Defender. Vol. 5 No. 7. July, 1930.

Frank Spector tells the story of the multi-racial lettuce workers strike and defense led by T.U.U.L. affiliate, the Agricultural Workers Industrial League (which later became the Cannery and Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union) in California’s Imperial Valley during 1930. While a defeat, the strike was a milestone in farm worker organizing, particularly important to the Filipino workers’ movement.

‘Imperial Valley Fights’ by Frank Spector from Labor Defender. Vol. 5 No. 7. July, 1930.

(As we go to press outrageous sentences have already been imposed by Judge Johnson at El Centro. Sklar, Harruichi, Emery, Spector and Erickson were sentenced to from 3 to 42 years each; Roxas, 2 to 28 years; Alonzo deported to Argentina. Sentences have not yet been fixed for Herrera and Orosco. Bail has been denied pending the ILD appeal. Our comrades are now in Folsom State Prison and at San Quentin.)

VICIOUS, unbridled boss-terror is once more raging in the scorching fields of the Imperial Valley. The filthy jails of El Centro, Brawley, Calexico and other towns are crowded with workers. Hundreds of Mexicans, Filipino and American workers are arrested at the first display of militancy in the fight against miserable working conditions and unemployment in the fields and sheds owned by the “Growers and Shippers Association,” as vicious a pack of industrial wolves as only capitalism can produce.

On the night of April 14th a hall in which a mass meeting was held by the Agricultural Workers Industrial League (a section of the Trade Union Unity League) and attended by several hundred Mexican, Filipino and American workers, was surrounded by over a hundred heavily armed deputy sheriffs, police and “one hundred percenters” under the leadership of Sheriff Gillett, the notorious gunman of the valley. One hundred and five workers were seized- chained to each other- loaded into trucks furnished by the shippers and herded into El Centro jail.

For over a week the entire number of workers were held-crowded in the filthy dungeon. Three stools who wormed their way into the militant union (Sherman Barber, Oscar Chormickle and Charles Collum) had “fingered” the most active and militant among the imprisoned workers. Thirty-two of these workers were charged with Criminal Syndicalism and placed under $40,000 bail each.

The fight, begun by the I.L.D., reduced the number of indicted to nine, and the bail to $15,000 each. Further efforts to reduce this monstrous bail met with the stubborn resistance of the bosses’ higher courts.

On trial in El Centro now are: agricultural workers Eduardo Herrero (Colombian), Lawrence Emery (Californian), Emilio Alonzo (Argentinian), Braulio Orosco (Mexican), Tetsuji Hariuchi, secretary, Imperial Valley, T.U.U.L., Carl Sklar, section organizer, Communist Party, Los Angeles; Oscar Erickson, national secretary, Agricultural Workers’ Industrial League; Danny Roxas (Filipino), secretary, Imperial Valley, A.W.I.L.; and Frank Spector, district organizer of I.L.D.

A large number of workers, at times reaching over 10,000, are cultivating, picking and packing about 50,000 acres of either lettuce, cantaloupes, watermelons, tomatoes or other vegetables in their respective seasons. The largest number of workers are Mexicans, who walk across the border from Mexico. Next in number are Filipino and some Hindus. American workers almost exclusively man the packing sheds. For years the exploitation of the workers has grown worse. They work twelve, fourteen and sixteen hours in a bent position on in the fields under a scorching heat reaching at times 130° in shade, often with heavy sacks on their backs in which the picked fruit is gathered is almost inhuman.

Through the vicious contract system the field workers are reduced to virtual peonage. For lettuce picking they receive 35c per hour, cantaloupes 13c per crate. In time-work, the workers get paid for only actual time at picking, so that if the lettuce is mildew in the morning, the workers must wait in the field several hours before picking can be tarted or if the field runs out of crates he must waste his time waiting for their delivery.

Twenty-five per cent of their total wages are kept by the contractor who in turn has it withheld by the grower to guarantee the season’s pickings. It often happens that the contractor will abscond with the last payment received from the grower, leaving workers stranded without wages for their last week’s work and minus the 25 percent withheld from the season’s wages.

A number of sporadic strikes flared up in the past, notably in 1922 and in 1928. These were crushed by the bosses’ henchman, Sheriff Gillet, who was ably aided by the entire country apparatus and courts. Hundreds of workers were jailed or deported when they refused to work. Scabs were quickly moved in from Arizona and other points. A spontaneous strike broke out last January during lettuce picking. This walkout, despite the militancy of the workers, was betrayed by the leadership of the “Mexican Mutual Aid Association” which crawfished before the local Chambers of Commerce to enlist its aid in inducing the growers to negotiate. The growers ref used to concede to the demands of a few cents increase. The ensuing terror which the fake leaders were too cowardly to fight finished the struggle as in the past with def eat for the workers. In February the shed workers struck. The American workers-unorganized- were betrayed by fake leaders planted by the bosses, who warned them against picketing. After a few days scabs displaced the larger number of workers.

The T.U.U.L. entered the field during the January strike. Its militant policies soon gained stronghold among the valley workers. The A.W.I.L. was launched. The militant union exposed the fake leadership of both strikes. The Mexican misleaders soon passed out of existence. The planted leaders were likewise exposed before the American workers. The entrance of the T.U.U.L. marked the beginning of the crushing of the race prejudices instilled by the bosses among the workers. Among the major demands of the new union appeared the abolition of the contract system, 50c minimum for lettuce picking, $1.25 for melon picking, eight hour workday with double pay for overtime and Sundays, fifteen minute rest period after every two hours, free ice at growers’ expense, no child labor, equal pay for women, better housing, etc. Under the revolutionary leadership, real preparations were begun for a strike in the melon season (May). The bosses sensed real danger. A new, not to be corrupted force had come into the field.

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce came to their aid. This past openshop master lent its talents to the valley bosses. A special detective agency planted its stools among the workers. These wormed their way into the unions to work for its destruction. Almost on the eve of the conference scheduled for April 20th, of delegates from ranches and sheds to mobilize for the walk-out, the bosses struck, making wholesale arrests, destroying union headquarters, all in the time-worn fashion. Nine militants are now on trial. The three counts of the indictment under the Criminal Syndicalist law aim at driving underground the Communist Party, the T.U.U.L. and the A.W.I.L. They face 42 years in prison.

Only class justice can be expected from the court and jury of ranchers who depend soul and body upon the Growers and Shippers Ass’n, the absolute boss of the county ably aided by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. The federal government actively aids in the railroading of the workers by representatives imported for the trial. The notorious stool Hynes, chief of the Los Angeles intelligence buro, is the expert witness. Thus all the dark forces have combined for the big task of driving underground the hated and feared Communist Party their uncompromising enemy.

Only through the rousing of the wide masses of workers throughout the land can we defeat the bosses’ attempts at crushing the militant workers’ organizations and the railroading of the leaders to living death.

Labor Defender was published monthly from 1926 until 1937 by the International Labor Defense (ILD), a Workers Party of America, and later Communist Party-led, non-partisan defense organization founded by James Cannon and William Haywood while in Moscow, 1925 to support prisoners of the class war, victims of racism and imperialism, and the struggle against fascism. It included, poetry, letters from prisoners, and was heavily illustrated with photos, images, and cartoons. Labor Defender was the central organ of the Scottsboro and Sacco and Vanzetti defense campaigns. Editors included T. J. O’ Flaherty, Max Shactman, Karl Reeve, J. Louis Engdahl, William L. Patterson, Sasha Small, and Sender Garlin.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/labordefender/1930/v05n07-jul-1930-LD.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s