farm workers union

At 87, Dolores Huerta is a living civil rights icon. She has spent most of her life as a political activist, fighting for better working conditions for farmworkers and the rights of the downtrodden, a firm believer in the power of political organizing to effect change.

And yet, her role in the farmworkers movement has long been overshadowed by that of Cesar Chavez, her longtime collaborator and co-founder of what became the United Farm Workers of America union. That’s true even when it comes to credit for coining the movement’s famous slogan, Sí se puede — Spanish for “Yes, we can” — which inspired President Obama’s own campaign battle cry and has often wrongly been attributed to Chavez. (Obama acknowledged Huerta as the source of that phrase when he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. She talks about its origins below.)

Dolores, a new documentary from director Peter Bratt, aims to finally set the record straight.

Dolores Huerta: The Civil Rights Icon Who Showed Farmworkers ‘Sí Se Puede’

Photo: George Ballis//George Ballis/Take Stock/The Image Work

Children of farm workers! Please don’t let your parents struggles go unnoticed! The hardest thing for undocumented workers is to speak out; whether it be from fear or embarrassment, which is why their children, our youth, need to demand justicia. Especially for our our hermanas who have been sexually harassed out in the fields. Survey says 90% of the farm working women in California have listed sexual harassment as a major problem. These women are exploited and traumatized. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawyer in Fresno, CA said that hundreds and thousands of women had to have sex with supervisors to get or keep jobs and/or put up with grabbing and touching and propositions for sex by supervisors. Undocumented female farm workers are often times too scared to speak up for fear of getting deported. We have to be the voice, we have to speak up for them and let their stories be heard. Give them a chance to demand rights and let them be heard. Use your platforms. These are not just some immigrants picking your food, these are real people.

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A steady rain falls on velvet green terraces, releasing a powerful scent of newly harvested tea. A ripple of voices tumbles down the hillside as a man barks orders.

The tea pickers, all women, many in bare feet, expertly navigate the leech-infested slopes. Balancing hampers on their backs loaded with freshly plucked tea leaves, they descend for their morning tea break.

It could be a scene out of the 19th century, when the estates of the southern Indian state of Kerala were first cultivated on the mist-shrouded highlands of Munnar. Today, the manicured tea terraces sprawl across the landscape.

The verdant bushes grow year round, spilling down the hills to meet the curving roads. The beauty of these gardens belies the hardships of workers, who produce nearly 50 million pounds of tea a year here at the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company.

For all the timelessness of the place, there’s a very modern twist — the tea pickers have defied the male hierarchy of trade unions who represent tea workers and stood up for their rights.

Indeed, life on tea estates reflects the economic and social challenges facing women across India.

Female Tea Workers In One Indian State Fight For Their Rights

Photos: Julie McCarthy/NPR

Today in labor history, September 4, 2013: Labor organizer and civil rights activist Jessie Lopez de la Cruz dies at the age of 93. Born in 1919 in Anaheim, California, de la Cruz worked as a migrant farm worker from a young age. She joined the United Farm Workers in 1965, became the union’s first female organizer, was involved in numerous strikes, and helped ban the crippling short-handle how. De la Cruz remained a political activist until her death.

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Recent Dolores Huerta interview