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Subject: Longtime UFW (United Farm Workers) labor organizer Al Rojas, whose joined activism helped the movement to the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, dies. ...
He was 84.
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Date Posted:Sunday, April 04, 01:20:12pm Al Rojas helped build UFW, but jabbed union for straying from organizing farmworkers. ...
Vidaenelvalle.com / BY JUAN ESPARZA LOERA
MARCH 20, 2021
With his distinctive sombrero and unabashed questioning of those in power – including those within the United Farm Workers – Al Rojas cast a giant shadow on labor rights in the Central San Joaquín Valley where he was born and in Sacramento where he was sent in 1973 to help organize farmworkers.
Rojas, who joined César E. Chávez and others in forming the UFW in 1963, died Saturday (March 20) at the age of 84.
“The first time I had contact with Chávez, it was because a group of workers from the Oxnard area wanted the bosses to provide us with new equipment to work in the field. support from some organization,” said Rojas in a 2011 interview with Vida en el Valle. “He helped us since he was an organizer of the Community Service Organization (CSO), and that’s how we met.”
He was administrative assistant to Chávez from 1972-73, and left the union in 1979 to start a 25-year career with the California Industrial Relations Department.
“Al tirelessly devoted his life to the struggle of the most exploited and oppressed members of the working class, namely the campesinos,” said Elliott Gabriel, a longtime labor advocate and writer from Ecuador.
“Al never hesitated to clash with the opportunists and self-seeking bureaucrats who wanted to use and abuse the workers’ struggles as leverage toward enriching themselves through comfortable positions in national politics or union leadership,” Gabriel added in a Facebook tribute to Rojas.
Despite his lifelong support of the UFW, Rojas was never shy about taking issue with the future of the union.
In 2016, he penned a letter to then-UFW President Arturo S. Rodríguez as the union was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the grape boycott.
“No time to celebrate, agricultural workers in California and México are still unorganized!” he wrote.
...“The 50th anniversary of the Grape Strike and Boycott is important to address, but the reality is that the vast majority of farmworkers are still unorganized, more so today than before – and they continue to face tremendous exploitation and discrimination,” said Rojas. “Today there is an anti-labor offensive not only against farmworkers but against all workers – from postal workers who face privatization, to teachers who face charters and union-busting along with more segregation in the schools.”
Rojas was invited to the celebration at Forty Acres, just outside Delano, but was unable to attend. Instead, he asked that his letter be read. It wasn’t.
“The UFW needs to end its reliance on the Democratic Party and on officials like Jerry Brown, who has been supported by labor yet then help the “farm owners” prevent unionization,” he wrote.
“The UFW also needs to end its support of an indentured servitude ‘guest worker’ outsourcing program,” he continued.
“It is not enough to ‘commemorate’ the anniversary with talk. We need to support a mass organizing effort in the Central Valley and throughout.”
Rojas – who was born on July 31, 1938 in Visalia and graduated from Redwood High School – worked in the fields during his childhood. He formed the Citizens Against Poverty Organization in Oxnard to organize farmworkers in 1964.
The following year, Rojas helped found the United Farm Workers Independent Union in that region, and soon joined the Delano Grape Strike called by Chávez. Rojas was director of the UFW’s grape boycott effort in western Pennsylvania from 1968 to 1970.
Rojas led strikes throughout California and was the Director of the UFW’s Western Pennsylvania Grape Boycott from 1968-1970
After table grape growers signed contracts with the UFW, Rojas became field office director in the Terra Bella/Porterville area where he was in charge of 30 union contracts and more than 5,000 farmworkers.
In 1973, Rojas was assigned Northern California organizing director to administer grape contracts in Napa and Sonoma, and to organize tomato pickers in Sacramento.
After leaving the UFW, Rojas remained active.
He founded the North Americans for Democracy in México (1989-92) to send election observers to México.
In 1994, Rojas co-founded the Zapatista Solidarity Coalition in support of the Zapatista indigenous movement and its opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
He served on the board of the Sacramento Labor Council.