The following piece, titled "Sons of Zapata," is about the farmworker strike in Rio Grande City in 1966. We present this document as part of our contribution to help rebuild the important history of the struggle of the Texas farmworkers.
In order to appreciate the sacrifices made by the Sons of Zapata in their struggle for dignity and justice, it is necessary to know something of the land in which they live and manner in which they have been ignored by their fellow Americans.
The average tourist, whose destination is Old Mexico and who passes through south Texas only incidentally, does not enter Starr County for it is not on the usual tourist routes. Starr County is an isolated backwater, outside the mainstream of whom are of Mexican descent, are among the least well educated and the most unspeakably impoverished of any in the entire United States.
Except for a few oil and natural gas wells, industry is non- existent in Starr County. The only important means of livelihood available to the people is farm work, ( prior to June, 1966, agricultural labor in Starr County drew $.40 to a maximum of $.85 cents an hour) and offers year-round jobs to but a few. The scarcity of jobs and the meagerness of the pay accounts for the large number of residents who migrate to other parts of the country in search of farm work during the summer of each year. From the valley of the Rio Grande, Mexican-American farm workers travel in their, rickety old cars and heavily laden pick-ups to gather in the harvests of Arizona, California, Oregon, Colorado, and other states. They return to Texas in the fall, and try to get through the winter on the strength of their summer earnings.
The single most important reason for the disparity between the several dollars an hour paid to industrial workers in American and the $.40-$.85 an hour paid to farm workers is that industrial workers are organized into labor unions. The National Labor Relations Act, which is regarded as a bill of rights for industrial worker organizations, specifically excludes agricultural workers from its provisions. This means that employers are under no obligation to bargain collectively with their employees, even if every one of them has signed an authorization card. There is no way in which an employer of farm workers can be forced to hold a representation election. In addition to the the exclusions of farm laborers from the NLRA, the organization of agricultural employees in Texas is made even more difficult by the failure of state law to protect workers who sign authorization cards from being discharged or discriminated against their employers. Organizing any union in Texas has always been difficult; organizing a farm workers union has been thought impossible heretofore.
Portrait of Starr County
According to the U.S. census of 1960, almost one-third of the 3,339 families residing in Starr County had annual incomes of under $1,000. About 70% earned less than $3,000, which was the cut-off level for defining the poverty-stricken when the "War on Poverty" was launched in 1964. The average per capita income in 1960, $534, was so small as to rank the county as seventeenth poorest in the United States and as the most impoverished in Texas.
An estimated 22% of adult Starr County residents are illiterate in both Spanish and English. The average number of years of school completed by Starr County citizens is considerably less that the 6.7 years attained by adult male Texans of Mexican descent as a whole. By comparison, Californians of Mexican descent have an average of 10.8 years of schooling.
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