Support of the Coachella Strikes

Answering the call

“A call came from the UFW that they needed our support. The teamsters were powerful and they were in cahoots with the growers. They had come into Coachella Valley to take over and expel the UFW. We had a heated discussion: ‘let’s take an offering and send money to them,’ some said. But some of us said ‘they are not asking for money, they need a presence.’ The end result was to collect money to hire a plane and send 95 people to Coachella. My husband went. They went to Coachella to stand with the workers on the field. It was one of the most powerful things that happened [at the time],” remembers Olgha Sierra Sandman.

Olgha is referring to a call from Cesar Chavez asking for a small delegation of representatives to witness the violence against farm workers in the Coachella Valley during the second wave of grape strikes in 1973. The workers had negotiated 3 year deals with many of the growers in the region, but when the deals expired, the growers entered into sweetheart deals with the Teamsters. According to records from the 1973 United Church of Christ Synod meeting,  delegate Jim Beilly reported that the Teamsters “unleashed a campaign of violence against the farm workers on strike in Coachella and Arvin.” 

Ninety-five members of the United Church of Christ answered the call, collecting money to charter a private plane to fly them from their General Synod in St. Louis to California for the 24 hour trip. They left behind the meeting they had flown to St. Louis to attend, recognizing the greater need to support the workers.

“That wasn’t the kind of thing churches did in the 1970s,” said Pat Hoffman who worked for the National Farm Worker Ministry at the time and wrote about the experience in her book, Ministry of the Dispossessed: Learning From the Farm Worker Movement. “They heard what was happening and they said ‘we can’t sit here and have this meeting in St. Louis. They need us so we should go.’ 95 passengers came out to Coachella. The UCC were amazing.”

Skip to content