Peter Shapiro was trained as a labor historian at Berkeley in the early 1970s, then left academia and became a letter carrier for the USPS, working as a labor journalist in his spare time — ten years as labor editor of Unity, published by the League of Revolutionary Struggle, then editing the Oakland Postal Worker and later the B-Mike (the organ of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82 in Portland, and recipient of multiple awards during his tenure there). Shapiro was on the ground in Watsonville as an activist and as Unity labor editor during the strike he details in this book.
On September 9, 1985, 1,000 mainly Mexican women workers in Watsonville, California, the “frozen food capital of the world,” were forced out on strike in response to an attempt by Watsonville Canning owner Mort Console to break their union. The workers remained out for eighteen months, during which time not one crossed the picket line. Before the strike was over, they had foiled a company attempt to decertify their union, forced Mort Console to sell his plant to avoid bankruptcy, and finally won a settlement from the new owner, despite having been advised by the Teamsters that the strike was formally over and they could no longer count on union support.
In the course of the strike, a virtually moribund local union was revitalized, and Watsonville’s Latino majority emerged as a major force in local politics. Coming at a time when organized labor was in headlong retreat, the strike was a dramatic show of the power by women workers whose struggle became a rallying point for the Chicano movement. They developed their own rank and file leadership, performed remarkable feats of self-organization, and successfully negotiated a complex and often difficult relationship with the Teamsters union.
Pianist Jon Jang is on hand to support Peter and rouse the audience. Jon is an amazing pianist and composer, soaked in gospel, blues, jazz and more, and a fiery political activist in his own right.