Support the Grape Boycott!

The following is an editorial which The Harvard Crimson refused to print in 1997. It is about the grape boycott debate held during Fall 1997 and why Harvard students should vote "NO GRAPES" in the vote conducted by the Harvard Dining Services (HDS) on whether or not it should lift its 5 year ban on grapes. Another editorial on this issue that was printed in The Crimson follows.
HDS took a vote on Friday, November 21st during lunch in the undergraduate dining halls. What resulted was the largest Harvard student participation in recent memory. Almost twice as many students voted on the grape issue than have voted for the UC elections! Unfortunately, to the great dismay of all who had worked so hard to support farmworker's rights, the ban on grapes lost by a narrow margin.


By Sergio Campos, scampos@fas.harvard.edu

Seldom are labor conflicts settled at the breakfast table, but the lives and welfare of many workers depend on the grapes we choose or do not choose to eat.

That is why Harvard's decision to re-serve grapes in undergraduate dining halls in spite of the United Farm Worker's grape boycott has taken the importance it deserves. Critics and advocates of Harvard's decision have both focused on everything from worker's conditions to economic factors to argue their points. But the many injustices surrounding the grape boycott are not just poor working conditions, but the violation of basic human rights. That is why we urge students to take a stand against these violations and vote no to grapes on November 21.

The United Farm Workers first initiated a grape boycott in 1965 to address the poor and inhumane conditions of farmworkers. It succeeded in many ways by bringing into the limelight the plight of the farm worker as well as introduce union representation to a very disadvantaged group. Many luminaries of the time, including Robert Kennedy, actively supported the boycott. The actual strides of the 1965 boycott, however, were meager, in that few actual labor contracts materialized. Cesar Chavez, founder of both the United Farm Workers and the first grape boycott, reissued the boycott in the late seventies to build on the meager strides of the first boycott, but since the seventies both public interest and support has waned.

The boycott that is effective today, the international table grape boycott, was issued by the UFW in 1984 to continue to fight for better and humane working conditions. Unfortunately, little has change since the first and second boycott. Thirty percent of the workforce is under 16 years old, with many of these workers paid less than minimum wage. In fact, a 1996 study conducted by the California Institute for Rural Studies compiled statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and found that real wages of farmworkers are 25 percent lower than they were in 1976. The U.S. Department of Agriculture itself estimates that the average income of a farm worker's family is less than $5,000 a year. Farmworkers are seldom supplied with toilets or even drinking water while working, and work essentials such as folding tables for packing grapes are seldom supplied.

The greatest threat to farmworkers, however, that the boycott in effect today addresses is the use of harmful pesticides on grapes. Table grapes use such cosmetic pesticides such as Captan, Methyl Bromide, and Parathion because of the grape^s thin and fragile skin. According to a report by the U.S. General Accounting office, many of these pesticides are oil-based or systemic and thus cannot be washed off and a third of these pesticides are considered carcinogenic. The effect of these pesticides on farmworkers have been startling. Pesticides have been known to cause birth defects, missing limbs in newborns, and cancer, and the EPA reports that 300,000 farmworkers every year receive pesticide poisoning. The EPA also estimates that 27,000 of these cases result in acute illness. Pesticides also pose a potential threat to consumers. FDA testing methods detect less than half of the seventy-five types of pesticides used on grapes, and both independent and government testing has shown that even with these inaccurate methods twenty to fifty percent of all grapes have pesticide residues. This has caused the National Academy of Sciences to list grapes as one of fifteen dangerous foods, especially for small children.

Many people argue that grape farms today must adhere to strict codes and regulations to insure a humane working environment. In fact, most of these regulations were a direct consequence of the earlier versions of the boycott. Many of these regulations, however, are easily maneuvered around or are just plain ineffective. For example, the law that states that growers must keep workers out of fields for a number of days during the application of pesticides does little to curtail pesticide poisoning. Most pesticides are administered by airplane to fields, and the drift caused by the wind carry these pesticides in the air for a prolonged period of time. In fact, in 1994 there were 155 possible cases of pesticide exposure from drift near farms, according to the California Department of Pesticide Regulations. Most of the exposure was on neighboring towns of grape fields, where most workers live. Similarly, claims of strict regulations for health insurance, sanitation, and better working conditions are juxtaposed with the fact that these regulations are seldom enforced. Despite lawsuits, complaints, and petitions by the United Farm Workers against these infractions, growers continue to disregard regulations, and have ensured a compliant labor force by actively avoiding union labor and using independent contractors to hire non-union, low-wage labor.

Others also argue that many farmworkers are vehemently against unionizing. This is also true. But those workers against unions are threatened everyday with their jobs by growers if they choose union representation. One worker, Miguel Hernandez, reported in a 1997 article in The Detroit News that he was hesitant to stand up against growers, especially since his two children depend on his paycheck everyday to live. His comments are a common fear among farmworkers who feel powerless in the hands of growers. Richard Freeman, in a lecture for Ec 10, stated that many non-union workers who are against unions usually change their mind once they are in a union. He cited the example of the newly formed Harvard Union of Clerical and Technicals, which voted to unionize by a small margin, but showed in a recent poll that ninety percent of its members would vote yes for the union if the same vote was conducted today. Freeman also stressed in his lecture that unions play an important voice role in addressing common grievances. Without union representation, workers would not have the forum nor the power to bring about needed change. But, as Miguel Hernandez himself knows, the cost for this empowerment can be high.

Workers should not be forced to make the kind of decision the thousands like Miguel Hernandez have to make. Yet critics continue to make light of the United Farm Workers' cause, calling the grape boycott pure showmanship and a feeble attempt to boost membership. But the United Farm Workers actively fight not for any immediate rewards, but for the genuine good will of the workers. The UFW's current president, Arturo Rodriguez, makes a paltry six thousand dollars a year to honor Cesar Chavez's motto that only the poor can know its own plight. And while the UFW's gains have included better union contracts, its greatest aims appeal to the farmworker in general, through both legislation and appeals to the American consumer. In this way the UFW is not fighting for itself, but for the farmworker. That is why many groups, including the National Council of Churches, currently support the UFW's grape boycott.

Most importantly, if we hold the rights of man as something to be cherished and vigorously fought for, we must address the gross injustices that occur to farmworkers on a daily basis. No one should be forced to be exposed to toxic chemicals. No one should be forced to accept intolerable and inhumane working conditions in order to feed his or her children. No one should be kept silent by fear to accept a life that causes pain, loss, and death. We as an institution cannot make the same mistake that Stanford did in letting apathy set in. A statement by a student leader at Stanford during the students' failed attempt to keep the boycott wrote that "We never thought, at this institution, that an image of a boy born with no arms and no legs projected on the Memorial Auditorium video screen would be welcomed with shouts of vicious laughter." We must hold to the ideal that Martin Luther King Jr. expressed when he said that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, and we must treat all injustices with the respect they deserve.

Many students have verbally assaulted us and have accused us of imposing our views on the student body. We do not want to impose our views, but argue for something that we deeply care about. We know that Harvard students have shown time and time again the intelligence to acknowledge a wrong. The recent demonstrations that occurred during Jiang Zemin's visit are proof of Harvard's awareness of human rights violations. But do Harvard students have the heart to set its tastes aside and do the right thing?


Harvard Crimson Editorial

No Grapes: Support Grape Pickers

Perhaps Harvard students have merely forgotten. Last week, in response to numerous student requests, Harvard Dining Services (HDS) announced that they will begin to carry grapes again at brunch on Nov. 9 after five years of supporting the ongoing United Farm Workers (UFW) boycott on table grapes. In response, we will remind the student body of the reason that grapes have no place in our dining halls.

The boycott of table grapes was begun for two reasons: for the livelihoods of the one percent of grape workers represented by the United Farm Workers (UFW), founded by the late Cesar Chavez; and for the sake of the countless others who would wish to join but are prevented for fear of losing their jobs.

Grape pickers in California work long days under arduous conditions in close proximity to pesticides. They are paid for the number of boxes of grapes they pick. The UFW called for a boycott because the conditions in the grape-picking industry were so dangerous that grape pickers could not find jobs that offered humane treatment, clean drinking water, health or accident insurance, and basic sanitation for the workers in the agricultural camps. The College has been a part of the boycott which is currently upheld at Yale, Stanford and Duke since 1992. Other parts of the Harvard community are not currently under the grape boycott, though this is a perfect opportunity for them to express their support as well.

Unfortunately, the boycott has not yet been successful. However, this is no reason to lose hope or to waver in our support. The first battle seems to be in awareness: Harvard students need to be made aware that their grapes will most likely be from California, from the farms of those who refuse to listen to the call for humane treatment of their workers. The bad publicity and public-health risks that surrounded Chilean grapes in the late 80s nearly guarantees that Harvard will procure their grapes the quick and easy way, from the large and boycotted California grape producers.

The only bright note in this announcement is that the grapes have not yet arrived at our undergraduate tables. Protests, letters and comment cards are appropriate if not imperative forms of protest. We Harvard students still have time to take the facts of the boycott into account and keep grapes off our tables.


If you would like to be more informed about the California pesticide grown grapes please contact the United Farm Workers for more information, or contact Education for Action (E4A) at Radcliffe: (617) 496-6033. "Wrath of Grapes" and "NO GRAPES" videos produced by the UFW are available for viewing.


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