As a high school student, I began volunteering for the New York boycott campaigns. I graduated high school six months early in January of 1971, in order to work full time for the boycott, getting $5 a week just like everyone else. Besides organizing picket lines and trekking up to the Bronx Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, I did a lot of public speaking at Long Island high schools. We were recruiting students for a fund raising hunger march for the UFWOC. Over a eleven hundred students walked on a Sunday to raise more than sixty thousand dollars.
That fall, I started college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The closest boycott office was in Atlanta so I visited them to get materials and direction to create a Nashville boycott. In the spring of 1972, the Atlanta director contacted me with an urgent need. Peter Nash, Richard Nixon’s General Counsel to the National Labor Relations Board was going to speak in a couple of days at Vanderbilt’s Law School on a Friday afternoon. Despite farm workers being historically excluded from the 1936 National Labor Relations Act, Nash was spearheading an effort to take away farm workers’ right to a boycott and secondary picket lines (e.g. liquor stores) which would have crushed the Union. I was charged with organizing a picket line for Mr. Nash to send a very direct message. Even in the deep south, farm workers had grass roots support and meant business.
Various women’s group and Christian Association leaders had been very supportive and helped mobilize quite a motley crew from all throughout the campus and city. Over fifty chanting picketers surrounded the entrance to the law school to follow Mr. Nash into the lecture hall. The school had no idea this was happening and the security officers did not deter us. Our message was “Get Nash Out of Nashville” for the injustice he was attempting to lead. We were very quiet during his address but when it came time for questions, I can only say, God was in the room.
The first question was “do you have any idea what is the average life expectancy for a farm worker?” to which Nash replied “no.” When the questioner continued “May I tell you what it is? It’s 49.” This created a long heavy pause followed by dead silence throughout the auditorium. The questioner followed by then asking “Do you think only living on average to 49 is due to working conditions?” At that point Nash went “ashen” and could barely continue. “Isn’t the National Labor Relations Board responsible for remedying unfair labor practices?” “Do you think not having toilet facilities in the fields or working around pesticides has an impact on life expectancy” “Could you raise your family under such conditions?” The audience continued with question after question directed to Mr. Nash who could only at best respond “I’ll have to look into that.”
The following Monday afternoon I received from the Atlanta director. “What did you do? Nash is dropping the whole thing. He really did want to get out of Nashville. Here are some links which shed further light on the NLRB situation and how the Union successfully mobilized widespread support.
March 1972 El Macriado: http://www.farmworkermovement.us/ufwarchives/elmalcriado/1972/March 20, 1972 No 1_PDF.pdf
June 1972 El Macriado: http://www.farmworkermovement.org/ufwarchives/elmalcriado/1972/June 9, 1972 No 3_PDF.pdf