On February 16, the, United Farm Workers appeared before a rare public meeting of the University of California Board, of Regents to plead the case of thousands of farm workers who had been displaced by machines developed through research. Our union not oppose progress, we told the regents; I we do not even oppose mechanization. The university should be congratulated on its tremendous breakthroughs in mechanization technology. No one can deny that has had success in its research programs. They’ve done a very good half of the job.
But we believe the progress should be complete. The other half of the job is to use this wonderful technology to develop complementary programs for the workers who are losing their jobs. Research should benefit everyone, workers as well as growers.
It is no secret that there is a deep disagreement between the union and the university on the practical results of its research. UC claims to have had little, if any, impact on workers; we know mechanization affects workers because we see them unemployed and begging for welfare. we urged the regents to join with us in asking Governor Brown to appoint an independent blue-ribbon committee to conduct a thorough and impartial study on the effects of research, if any, on the farm workers, and to issue appropriate recommendations. Governor Brown received a telegram on February 16 from us urging him to name the blue-ribbon panel, and he has not yet responded.
What was the reaction to our initiatives? "The university is an agent of change," said vice president for agriculture, Kendrick Jr. "It does not decide public policy or compensate losers among conflicting societal interests."
It is difficult to understand how anyone can tag as losers men and women who have had no voice in a headlong rush into mechanization. The farm workers call the machines "los monstruos" — the monsters. They see them as mechanical behemoths that, threaten to decimate I the farm laborwork force and turn California into another Appalachia, with an underclass of unemployed workers as poor as any to be found in Kentucky or West Virginia.
Kendrick calls them losers in an impersonal process of change, but in the workers’ view it is a cruel that the rapid spread of machines — bringing hardship and suffering to countless thousands of displaced men and women — is spearheaded by one of the great institutions of public education in the nation.
In the harvest of thirteen crops alone, more than 120,000 farm worker will be lost to machines and most of the crops the university is developing farm equipment at an increasingly swift pace. Research projects already underway or nearing completion will mechanize the great majority of labor intensive crops as wine grapes, raisin grapes, lettuce, fresh tomatoes, peaches, apricots, cherries, melons and celery, to name only a few. Kendrick dismisses the workers as losers, but believe the university has a moral and social responsibility to the farm workers and to who are adversely affected by its programs.
History will judge societies and governments — and their institutions — not how big they are or how well they serve the rich and powerful but effectively they respond the needs of the poor and helpless.
In our boycotts, we always assumed that supermarkets and other corporations must take seriously the needs of society, and especially the needs of the poor, even though they are answerable only to their stockholders for the profits that they earn. We often asked, if individuals and organizations did not respond to poor people who are trying to bring about change by nonviolent means, then what kind of democratic society would we become? And some corporations did respond by joining with millions of Americans in honoring the farm workers’ boycotts.