When I was 15 my best friend became a supporter of the UFW (1973-74). She then told me about the plight of the farm workers in California, Cesar Chavez and the history of organizing workers in a very unfriendly environment. I promptly told my parents to stop buying non union grapes and lettuce and joined whatever picket line I could. I lived in NJ but was able to tell the story of the people who picked our food in California. I soon learned that we also had migrant workers in NJ and they were treated just as poorly.
This fueled my activism and soon became one of two-three people picketing the grocery story in my hometown that sold non-union lettuce and grapes. The story I’d like to share is how I learned that not all unions believe in solidarity. At Foodtown, Margie and I were marching in front of the grocery story asking people not to shop there because they sold non union grapes and lettuce. An older gentleman stopped and asked why we had a picket line. I told him about the plight of the workers in the fields - no bathrooms, the company store debt and no benefits. He said, well my union doesn’t support this boycott so I’m crossing the picket line. I asked him what his union was - he said Teamsters. I said well that’s cause the Teamsters tried to introduce contracts for workers to sign which benefited the farm owners and the UFW interceded. We all knew about those sweetheart deals.
He shopped and I learned. I didn’t touch a grape or Gallo wine until about 20 years ago. I am now a shop steward for my union and still have a deep resentment for unions who cross each other’s picket lines.