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Labor Rights Are Civil Rights: Mexican American Workers in Twentieth-Century America

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Overview

In 1937, Mexican workers were among the strikers and supporters beaten, arrested, and murdered by Chicago policemen in the now infamous Republic Steel Mill Strike. Using this event as a springboard, Zaragosa Vargas embarks on the first full-scale history of the Mexican-American labor movement in twentieth-century America. Absorbing and meticulously researched, Labor Rights Are Civil Rightspaints a multifaceted portrait of the complexities and contours of the Mexican American struggle for equality from the 1930s to the postwar era.

Drawing on extensive archival research, Vargas focuses on the large Mexican American communities in Texas, Colorado, and California. As he explains, the Great Depression heightened the struggles of Spanish speaking blue-collar workers, and employers began to define citizenship to exclude Mexicans from political rights and erect barriers to resistance. Mexican Americans faced hostility and repatriation.

The mounting strife resulted in strikes by Mexican fruit and vegetable farmers. This collective action, combined with involvement in the Communist party, led Mexican workers to unionize. Vargas carefully illustrates how union mobilization in agriculture, tobacco, garment, and other industries became an important vehicle for achieving Mexican American labor and civil rights.

He details how interracial unionism proved successful in cross-border alliances, in fighting discriminatory hiring practices, in building local unions, in mobilizing against fascism and in fighting brutal racism. No longer willing to accept their inferior status, a rising Mexican American grassroots movement would utilize direct action to achieve equality.

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Editorial Reviews

Reviews in American History - Roberto R. Trevino
Important books are provocative—they teach us new things, open new conversations, and point the way to new research. Labor Rights Are Civil Rights does all of this.
Labor History - Robert H. Zieger
Vargas does much to chronicle the role of Mexican American workers in the turbulent decades of the 1930s and 1940s and to document their important role in the labor struggles and political controversies of those years.
Western Historical Quarterly - Matt Garcia
Vargas has produced a synthesis of Mexican American labor history worthy of the attention of every labor, Chicano, and civil rights historian.
Business History Review - Clete Daniel
Vargas's analysis is at once informative and illuminating.
Reviews in American History - Roberto R. Treviño
Important books are provocative—they teach us new things, open new conversations, and point the way to new research. Labor Rights Are Civil Rights does all of this.
From the Publisher

"Important books are provocative--they teach us new things, open new conversations, and point the way to new research. Labor Rights Are Civil Rights does all of this."--Roberto R. Treviño, Reviews in American History

"Vargas does much to chronicle the role of Mexican American workers in the turbulent decades of the 1930s and 1940s and to document their important role in the labor struggles and political controversies of those years."--Robert H. Zieger, Labor History

"Vargas has produced a synthesis of Mexican American labor history worthy of the attention of every labor, Chicano, and civil rights historian."--Matt Garcia, Western Historical Quarterly

"Vargas's analysis is at once informative and illuminating."--Clete Daniel, Business History Review

Reviews in American History
Important books are provocative—they teach us new things, open new conversations, and point the way to new research. Labor Rights Are Civil Rights does all of this.
— Roberto R. Treviño
Labor History
Vargas does much to chronicle the role of Mexican American workers in the turbulent decades of the 1930s and 1940s and to document their important role in the labor struggles and political controversies of those years.
— Robert H. Zieger
Western Historical Quarterly
Vargas has produced a synthesis of Mexican American labor history worthy of the attention of every labor, Chicano, and civil rights historian.
— Matt Garcia
Business History Review
Vargas's analysis is at once informative and illuminating.
— Clete Daniel
Reviews in American History
Important books are provocative—they teach us new things, open new conversations, and point the way to new research. Labor Rights Are Civil Rights does all of this.
— Roberto R. Trevino
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Zaragosa Vargas is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of "Proletarians of the North: A History of Mexican Industrial Workers in Detroit and the Midwest, 1917-1933".

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments xiii
Abbreviations xv
INTRODUCTION 1
CHAPTER ONE: We Are the Salt of the Earth: Conditions among Mexican Workers in the Early Great Depression Years 16
The "Big Swing": The Peregrinations and Tribulations of Tejano Cotton Harvesters 18
"In the Land of Bondage": Colorado's Mexican Sugar Beet Workers 27
Summer in the Country: California's Mexican Farm Workers 34
The Great Depression Hits the Mexicans of Texas and the Western States 39
Work, Leave, or Starve: Limiting Relief to Mexicans 43
"Send Them Back to Where They Came From": The Repatriation Campaign Unfolds 46
Causes and Consequences of Mexican Repatriation and Deportation 55
CHAPTER TWO: Gaining Strength through the Union: Mexican Labor Upheavals in the Era of the NRA 62
Revolt in the Cotton Fields: Tejano Pickers Strike the El Paso Cotton District 67
Radical Labor Unrest in the Colorado Beet Fields 70
In Unity There Is Strength: Strikes by Tejana Domestic, Cigar, and Garment Workers 76
Learning the Lessons of Rank-and-File Trade Unionism: The Los Angeles Garment Workers' Strike 83
For the Union: Los Angeles Furniture Workers Organize 89
"Are You A Bolshey?": The 1933 Gallup, New Mexico, Coal Strike 90
The Red Menace: The National Miners Union Enters Gallup 94
Guns, Bayonets, and Clubs: Martial Law Descends on Gallup 97
Revolutionary Unionism at Work 99
Class against Class: The Gallup Coal Strike Escalates 103
APyrrhic Victory: The Gallup Coal Strike Ends 105
The Big Payback: The Crusade against Foreigners and Subversives 108
CHAPTER THREE: "Do You See the Light?": Mexican American Workers and CIO Organizing 114
The Labor Offensive in South Texas and Cross-Border Organizing 117
A Power to Be Reckoned With: Emma Tenayuca, La Pasionaria 123
"She's Nothing but a Damned Communist": Emma Tenayuca's Work in the Unemployed Councils and the Workers' Alliance of America 126
"The CIO Doesn't Exist Here": The 1938 Pecan Shellers' Strike 134
Educating the Party: Emma Tenayuca Pens "The Mexican Question in the Southwest" 143
"Pushing Back the Red Tide": The Downfall of Emma Tenayuca 146
Left Behind: UCAPAWA and Colorado's Mexican Sugar Beet Workers 148
Shifting Gears: UCAPAWA Organizes Cannery and Food Processing Workers in California 150
Collective Action: Mexican American CIO Unionists Organize Los Angeles 154
CHAPTER FOUR: Advocates of Racial Democracy: Mexican American Workers Fight for Labor and Civil Rights in the Early World War II Years 158
Inclusive Unionism: The Case of Mine-Mill and Mexican American Miners and Smelter Workers 162
"A Society without Classes": Mine-Mill and CTM Undertake an Organizing Drive in El Paso 164
Texas Showdown: The CIO on Trial in El Paso 168
The Push by Mexican American CIO Unionists for Labor and Civil Rights Continues 170
Getting a Foot in the Door: Mexican American CIO Unionists Enter Los Angeles War Defense Industries 175
Allies of Labor: The Popular Front of the Congress of Spanish-Speaking Peoples 179
Suppressing Fascism: Mexican Americans Battle the Sinarquistas 188
Labor, the Left, and Sleepy Lagoon 192
Mexican American Unionists Press On to End Discrimination 198
CHAPTER FIVE: The Lie of "America's Greatest Generation": Mexican Americans Fight against Prejudice, Intolerance, and Hatred during World War II 203
Eternal Victims of Race Hatred: The Predicament of Tejanos 206
"Working Overtime on the Riveting Machine": Mexican American Women War Workers 212
Fleeing Poverty: The Case of the Spanish-Speaking of New Mexico 214
Remaining Separate and Unequal: Colorado's Mexican Americans 217
"Stolid and Stunned, Brother to the Ox": The Mexican Copper Miners of Arizona 220
"Dirty, Noisy, and Lawless": The Further Segregation of Mexican Americans in Wartime Los Angeles 224
"It's the American Way": The Racial Assault against Mexicans in Los Angeles 227
Getting the Union Involved against Discrimination in Los Angeles 232
Focusing Government Efforts on Racial Inequality 235
The Beginnings of the Mexican Contract Labor Program 238
No Freedom from Fear: The Federal Government, Race Relations, and Mexican Americans 243
"They Just Don't Get It": Fighting Racism within Labor's Ranks 246
CHAPTER SIX: Labor Rights Are Civil Rights: The Emergence of the Mexican American Civil Rights Struggle 252
Expressions of the Mexican American Union Movement and Its Repression 254
Mexican Americans Fight for an FEPC Bill 258
"Nothing --We Shot a Mexican": Mexican Americans Fight Racism 260
Last Hired, First Fired: Mexican American Job Loss after the War 265
The Right-Wing Backlash against the Mexican American Struggle for Labor and Civil Rights 270
Achieving Mexican American Civil Rights through the Ballot Box 273
Mexican American Workers Confront Braceros and the Wetback Tide 277
CONCLUSION 281
Notes 291
Index 361
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