45 Years, 45 Days: Cesar Chavez's Harvest of Power


For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.

In 1975, Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers union pushed through an unprecedented labor law in California. From Reason's September 1983 issue, Patty Newman explained how Chavez and his allies reaped the rewards in oppressive control over farming and farm workers.

Under every other piece of labor-relations legislation in the country, the role of the law is to remain neutral between competing interests, protecting the rights of both employees and employers. But California's Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) was undeniably tailor-made for a specific union-Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers. And the evidence is mounting that the state agency set up to administer the law has repeatedly used its power to promote that union- often at the expense of farm workers.

The law itself, in the words of several economists who have studied it, gives to farm labor unions "privileges that the most dictatorial government could only hope for." Add all this up, and the result is that the United Farm Workers union has been able to gain unprecedented, inordinate control over its members and over the business decisions of farmers.

These are serious charges about an organization and a law that have the proclaimed goals of bringing dignity and justice to farm workers and peace to labor relations. Many farm owners and growers' associations have been claiming bias in the law, unfair administration, and unjust control by the UFW ever since the ALRA was passed. I have spent some time investigating these issues, and I have found substantial indirect and direct evidence for the charges, evidence that can be evaluated independently of any growers' interests.