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UFW 50th Anniversary Convention

The United Farm Workers celebrated a half-century of successes last month at the UFW 50th Anniversary Convention, held at the Rabobank Convention Center in Bakersfield, California from May 18th to the 20th. The convention was a meeting of farm worker and union delegates who came together to celebrate and honor those who have fought for farm worker justice for the past 50 years.

Over 2,000 farm workers were in attendance, as well as representatives from many solidarity organizations like the National Farm Worker Ministry and YAYA. Speakers included current UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, UFW co-founder Delores Huerta, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and United Auto Workers President Bob King. There was also a special performance of songs and skits by Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino. Between speeches and performances, convention delegates heard and voted on resolutions to the UFW constitution.

The convention was set up so that UFW leaders sat on a stage facing the delegate tables. Three microphone stands were placed with the delegates, who could address the room as representatives from their various regions or unions. After everyone was given a chance to be heard, the convention would vote on resolutions. Many comments were made by delegates regarding the necessity that the UFW’s work should strive to benefit all farm workers, not only those who live in California or the Southwest. These moments meant a lot to me, as they stressed the importance of working in solidarity for the justice of all.

Marches took place throughout the event to honor participants in the farm worker movement. One procession was made up of Filipino farm workers who began the Delano walkouts in 1965. We were privileged to be a part of one procession honoring the NFWM’s participation in the 1965 Delano grape strikes.

YAYA and the NFWM attended the convention both as honorees and volunteers helping to coordinate the event. I, along with Nico Gumbs, represented Orlando YAYA as event volunteers. I spent my first day helping with childcare and the rest of the time Nico and I uploaded all of the photos from the event, sorted through them, and posted them to the UFW’s website and Facebook page.

The majority of the convention was held in Spanish, however interpreters were present and individuals were given headsets to hear a Spanish-to-English translation or vice versa.

Much was said on farm worker protection rights, as the vote on AB2346, a farm worker protection bill allowing workers to sue employers if water and shade are not in close enough proximity to workers, was upcoming in the California legislature. It was exciting for me to learn about actions being taken to protect workers in the fields of California just a month after Orlando YAYA’s trip to North Carolina, where we saw what the Farm Labor Organizing Committee is doing to combat similar issues.

It is very interesting to see how similar issues like field heat can be addressed using different tactics, from direct action organizing to bills passed through state legislature. Farm worker issues transcend political borders, and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to learn about various methods of tackling these issues in different areas, as these methods can transcend boundaries as well. YAYA is teaching me to learn anywhere and everywhere, and to bring this knowledge to share wherever I go. Many thanks are extended to the UFW and NFWM, who made YAYA’s participation in the 50th Anniversary Convention possible.

Emily Helm
Orlando YAYA

Photos Courtesy of Jocelyn Sherman, Tommy Monreal, and Tanya Leonzo

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