MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 3

20 February 1937

San Diego Farm Strike Is Crushed

“Popular Front” Engineers Fatal Truce
Which Smashes Celery Strike

Written: 1937
Source: Prometheus Research Library, New York.
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: John Heckman Prometheus Research Library
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006/Prometheus Research Library. You can freely copy, display and otherwise distribute this work. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive & Prometheus Research Library as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & editors above.

From California Labor Action, 20 February 1937. Edited by James P. Cannon, Labor Action was an agitational organ of the Trotskyists in California during the 1936-37 entry into the Socialist Party. Dick Fraser was active in the Southern California Trotskyist movement from 1934 to 1938.

The pathetic end of the San Diego celery strike is another picture of betrayal and deception reminiscent of Orange County. It is a picture of a Mexican Consul, some local politicians and their stooges and a couple of incompetent labor leaders who helped these agents of the employers to maneuver the striking unions into calling a two day “truce” in picketing just as the Shipper-Growers were beginning to feel the pressure of the strike, thus breaking the backbone of the workers’ offensive.

The picture was painted by the Farmers’ Protective Association, framed by its agents within the unions, and nicely glassed in by a clique of Stalinites.

The unions of San Diego County up until a week ago were the pride of the state, the shining light of unionism in agriculture; today they are nothing but another menacing blot, marking the spot where another strike was broken, and this one without a struggle. Six months ago the San Diego unions boasted of good contractual relations with the growers; their leadership was clear and their perspectives sound; their ranks were filled with militant union men; they have given to the labor movement such men as Jose Espinoza.

But such events as the Orange County citrus strike, Los Angeles, Salinas, etc., had long ago planted a firm determination in the Shipper-Grower Associations to wipe out the existing unions in agriculture and the unions in San Diego in particular.

Attack Leaders

The first and most important line of strategy followed by the growers’ agents in the unions was to undermine the authentic leadership of the Mexican union with a vicious campaign of lies and slanders so that by the time of the strike all of the stable and militant leaders of the union were either discredited or entirely out of the ranks of the union.

One principal reason for the former stability of the union was the fact that its leadership never permitted the Communist Party to get a foothold. This time the Stalinists took the cue from the employers’ attacks upon the union and started one of their famous “build-ups” around a second-rate demagogic politician. He turned out to be an ideal stooge for either the bosses or the Stalinists, being absolutely ignorant of the meaning of the labor movement in any of its forms except perhaps as a sublimation of religious experience.

At the same time a vile campaign against Jose Espinoza was initiated, and to make it sure, just before the strike was to begin Jose was thrown in jail in Orange County on his old vagrancy charge along with Velarde of the CUCOM. The united front of the bosses and the Commies (is this the People’s Front in action?) then forced out Lillian Monroe and Castillo, leaders of last year’s successful strike along with Espinoza.

Thus the unions entered the strike with the membership considerably demoralized by the recent turn-over of militants and little confidence in the leadership. Nevertheless, after a very fair walkout on January 27th a militant picket-line succeeded in tying up considerable of the celery crop.

The idea that under the best conditions these unions might have been able to deal with the Celery Growers’ Association as a whole (tributary to the Farmers’ Protective Association) is at best overly optimistic. A good chance for partial victory lay, however, in concentration of the workers’ forces in such a way as to enable the unions to break off one after another several Shipper-Growers from the Association.

The sixth day of the strike found the Association in the agony of a sure split as a result of well concentrated workers’ forces. The powerful apparatus of the bosses, both inside and outside the unions, sprang into immediate action. The County Supervisors threatened to pass an anti- picketing law effective in “all unincorporated districts” (the agricultural areas) of the county. Without consultation with the Central Strike Committee a meeting was hastily prepared wherein a supervisor was to present a “plan” for “settling” the strike.

So the puppet-stage was set and the puppets under the puppet mastership of Chet Moore jerked on their strings, and the strike was in the hands of the bosses.

The politician, Bellon, smiled and ogled and told how workers must use “strategy” in order to win. This strategy, said the politician, consists in removing your picket line for two days in order to save us poor politicians the embarrassment of passing an anti-picketing law at the insistence of the Farmers’ Protective Association. No one was taken in at first, some of the workers actually laughed in his face, but the stage was well set. At Bellon’s right sat our two-bit, build-up leader and his trusty Stalinite builder-upper, also two local nitwits, stooging for the politician, and a representative of the San Diego County Building Trades Council. They were all pleading for the agricultural workers to help them fight the anti-picketing law, directed at the celery strike—by removing the pickets from the celery fields. At Bellon’s right sat the crafty Mexican Consul giving silent but effective support.

“Discussion” started and the Stalinists yelled “charge” while beating a hasty retreat to the protective shelter of impotence. Stalinite Roscoe (AIWUA) yelled that “we are not afraid to make a sacrifice.” Delgado called upon his fellow workers to show that agricultural workers can “discipline” themselves, and urged them on to break their own strike!

The Mexican Consul (Castro) blandly said that he was glad that the workers were “doing the right thing.” The politician and the boys had a few uncomfortable moments when the present writer spoke but the stage was too well set and the militants were caught unawares, going home heavy hearted and with a choking feeling in their throats, knowing that their strike had been sold out.

Three days later the men began to feel the fruits of militant struggle gradually melting away and the strike slipping through their fingers. In a last great reflex the pickets attempted to return to life and sweep like a hurricane through the county, clearing fields from which the green gold was being taken. Disorganized and frantic the picketing finally petered out, its leaders were arrested and that was all. The fields filled up as quickly as they were cleared. Another flare-up occurred the next day but by this time the leadership had lost sight of everything but saving its own face. The picket lines dwindled away and died.

However, the overwhelming majority of the striking men stayed out of the fields faithfully awaiting the decision of the union although all realized that to carry on further would be folly.

The question then took perspective: here had been a good strike situation, a militant picket-line and a healthy spirit in the unions,—but the strike is lost. All at once it occurs to the leaders of the fiasco, to the politicians, to the Stalinites and stoolpigeons, to the Mexican Consul, to everyone who had a hand in the sell-out: where to dump the responsibility? So on the night when the strike was formally to be called off another frame-up was staged.

The Stalinite-boss combination went to elaborate pains in order to shift responsibility to one individual against whom all the anti-labor forces in and out of the unions could unite. They had a well-drilled cheering section supplemented by some misguided workers plied with liquor until they were rolling drunk and quite irresponsible. The best Stalinite provocateurs were available. One member of the cheering section was unfortunately placed near me and admitted that he did not know who, nor where the “traitor” was nor what he had done. After attacking him as a “microbe” with all weapons, doing everything in their power to create a good witch-burning spirit among the workers, those who originally sold out the strike were able to muster only 27 votes out of 300 strikers present for expulsion of the present writer from the meeting. This alone is a final condemnation of their entire course and an indication that the victory of the forces of reaction within the union will be short lived.

The path of the California agricultural workers in the state has constantly been beset by betrayals of this same character. The local American union is small and young and could not be expected to stand up alone under heavy pressure, but it will take more than the nonsensical yapping of the Stalinists to explain how the proud Independent (Mexican) Union of Laborers and Field Workers of San Diego County could, with one small puff of a politician’s sugary breath, fold up like a tent in a gale and permit itself completely and utterly to be seduced by its own leaders into selling its own strike.

In the first place it must be recognized that these unions were fighting a statewide organization, whereas every tendency to attempt to localize the problem was played up by the employers, the Stalinites and the politicians, so that the membership and the leadership of the unions was kept from a correct understanding of the nature of the enemy. The bosses had an intelligent machine working in and about the union that time after time succeeded in blocking a correct position. The Communist Party clique dovetailed exactly into the machine of the employers. This vicious combination succeeded in isolating the workers from their legitimate leaders and projecting them into a strike helpless as a ship without a rudder.

These unions are isolated from the main body of organized labor in the state and must depend upon their own resources in any situation. These resources are very meager. Local politicians and labor fakers find in these independent unions easy prey, in that they stand and fall alone and cannot rally to their support their legitimate allies in the ranks of organized labor.

The salvation of these unions rests on a State organization for agriculture in the A.F. of L., and it is with hope that these workers receive from the State Federation of Labor a conference call sent to all agricultural unions for the purpose of beginning the unification of unionism in agriculture on a sound basis.