Resistance, Radicalism, and Repression on the Oxnard Plain: The Social Context of the Betabelero Strike of 1933

THIS NARRATIVE EXAMINES THE 1933 mobilization of the Mexican community of Oxnard, California—located sixty miles northwest of Los Angeles—on the behalf of los betabeleros during the early years of the Great Depression. In August of 1933, Mexicanos del betabel organized under the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union (CAWIU) to demand a thirty-five cent an hour wage, a comparable 30 to 50 percent increase in the piece rate, an eight-hour work day, regular Saturday paydays, nondiscrimination in hiring regardless of nationality, union affiliation or with the Filipino Protective League (FPL), free transportation to and from job sites, the elimination of the use of labor contractors, employment through a union hall, and union recognition.

In support of the CAWIU, men and women took to the streets, picketed the monstrous American Beet Sugar Company (ABSC) factory, and urged all employees within the plant to support the strike. As the resistance of the Mexican community and los betabeleros galvanized, individuals and organizations from beyond the Oxnard Plain—such as A. L. Wirin of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Emma Cutler of the International Labor Defense (ILD)—monitored events and became involved in the strike—and the stakes were high in a lucrative industry that rewarded Ventura County sugar beet farmers with over $2 million annually. As los betabeleros garnered a critical mass of support from inside—and from outside—the community, farmers of the Oxnard Plain systematically collaborated with the law agencies of Ventura County to crush the strike.

The betabelero strike of 1933—a specific response to the increasing commercialization of agriculture on the Oxnard Plain—is part of a longer tradition of resistance to injustice. This strike, similar to a seminal conflict thirty years prior, established the foundation upon which subsequent labor battles were built. And while the Mexican community of Oxnard led the mobilization of protest and opposition, it was aided by a cross-cultural coalition. Individuals and groups representing a variety of temperaments and agendas formed coalitions with Mexicans of Oxnard to advance the cause of los betabeleros. This diversity of interests in the 1933 strike was also a hindrance. In this respect, protraction of the strike allowed for the emergence of ideological, as well as intra- and inter-ethnic, fissures. Coupled with this, the bottom-up organization of the CAWIU inhibited the formation of a core leadership. Despite its limited success, the strike serves as an important prism in which to examine the institutional features that supported an existing tradition of courage and determination within the Oxnard Mexican community prior to and after 1933.

The labor protests of Mexicans in the West during the first three decades of the twentieth century illustrate a pattern of resistance to exploitation. One of the earliest of these episodes took place in Oxnard in March of 1903, when Japanese and Mexican sugar beet workers and contractors formed an extraordinary alliance—Japanese-Mexican Labor Association (JMLA)—to combat the slashing of the existing wage rate by 50 percent.[1] The following month, Mexican workers constructing the Pacific Electric Railroad in Los Angeles organized under El Unión Federal Mexicanos (the Mexican Federal Union or UFM) in their demand for a wage increase. As was the case in the sugar beet strike, the UFM strike (despite its ultimate failure), foreshadowed the rise in collective protests among Mexicans not only in Southern California but throughout the western United States.[2]

During the 1930s, disputes between Mexican workers and various agricultural industries escalated with the intensification of the Great Depression. In 1933, Mexican cotton pickers of the CAWIU, in their victory over growers, in the San Joaquin Valley tapped into migrant community networks and utilized leadership skills attained during the Mexican Revolution. That year the CAWIU and its Mexican members were also victorious in the Imperial Valley of California.[3] In many of these struggles, the Mexican consul played a significant role in supporting the efforts of workers while at the same time tempering the radicalism and militancy of these movements. The actions of the Mexican consul also assisted in the repatriation of Mexican nationals and their U. S.-born children as the economic crisis unleashed a xenophobic backlash.[4]

The plight of the migrant agricultural worker garnered national attention with the controversial portrayals of Dorothea Lange, Carey McWilliams, and John Steinbeck. The vexing countenance of the “Migrant Mother” (Florence Thompson), the harsh efficiency of the factories in the field, and the odyssey of hardships encountered by the Joad family, obliterated the myth of California being the Eden of the West.[5] All the while, from the sugar beet colonies of Colorado to the barrios of Los Angeles, Mexicans reformulated an identity by coalescing cultural elements of the United States and Mexico.[6] This transformation was determined by circumstance, necessity, and choice that varied relative to the level of oppression that Mexicans experienced and the group agency permissible within a social context.

To understand community support for los betabeleros in Oxnard, one has to appreciate the groundwork of protest and agricultural labor organization prior to the summer of 1933. In July of 1900, for example, a sign of this activism arose after an Independence Day jailhouse blaze took the lives of two male Mexicans arrested for public drunkenness and assault with a deadly weapon. Suspicious of the circumstances in which the prisoners perished and lacking confidence in the ability of city officials to conduct a thorough and honest investigation, Mexican leaders summoned the Mexican consul in Los Angeles. By appealing to the Mexican consul, the community placed Oxnard city authorities on notice that abuses against them would not go unchallenged.[7]

Strain between the Mexican community on the one side and Oxnard city and ABSC officials on the other resurfaced three years later when an interracial alliance between Japanese and Mexican labor contractors and field workers manifested in the formation of the JMLA in February of 1903. The JMLA represented a rare instance in early twentieth century United States labor history because two racial groups successfully united to advance their common interests. Labor contractors (both Japanese and Mexican), historically utilized by employers to undermine the efforts of organized labor, steered the union effort. This began when a clique of city financiers and executives of the ABSC formed the Western Agricultural Contracting Company (WACC), essentially demoting ethnic labor agents to sub-contractors. The WACC then slashed the wage rate from $5 for each acre of beets thinned to $2.50, reducing the commission that independent contractors deducted from the earnings of los betabeleros.[8]

Consequently, the WACC’s actions cemented an interracial union of contractors and betabeleros who, for the first time in the Oxnard Plain’s history, succeeded in defeating capitalist interests.[9] Consisting of approximately one thousand Japanese and two hundred Mexicans, the JMLA organized meetings and street protests within the community. In an article titled “The Japs and Mexicans,” the Oxnard Courier reported, “Dusky skinned Japanese and Mexicans march through the streets headed by one or two minor contractors and beet laborers four abreast and several hundred strong.”[10]

As the strike continued, each side refused to compromise. Frustrated by the impasse, growers, with the aid of law enforcement and the local press, coordinated acts of repression. Violence erupted on 23 March 1903, when a WACC wagon arrived in the China Alley district of Oxnard in an attempt to transport a crew of strike-breakers to the sugar beet fields. Anticipating resistance, WACC officials summoned the police to escort the wagonload of laborers. The Oxnard Courier reported that a man approached the crew of strikebreakers, one armed with a shotgun, and proceeded to place a JMLA banner on the wagon. Then a gunshot from an unknown person, followed by a “general fusillade,” broke the tension. The Ventura Independent estimated some two hundred shots fired.[11] In the end, five persons were wounded, one of them mortally. The Los Angeles Times, the Oxnard Courier and other newspapers blamed the JMLA for this violence. Only the Ventura Independent faulted the WACC.[12]

The union now faced a crucial question: how to respond to such repressive acts of violence without losing existing support in the larger community. The JMLA issued a statement published in the Oxnard Courier declaring that nine-tenths of its members did not demand an increase in the wage scale, only that it not be decreased. The declaration also emphasized, “Many of us have families, were born in this country and are lawfully seeking to protect the only property that we have—our labor.”[13]

With the outbreak of violence against it, the organizational efforts of the JMLA won the support of the majority of betabeleros and the community, forcing the WACC to negotiate. By 30 March the WACC agreed to the cancellation of virtually all of its contracts on Oxnard Plain. In addition, the JMLA obtained an agreement from a committee of farmers to return to the pre-strike wage schedule.[14]

Soon after the 1903 sugar beet strike, the JMLA’s existence faded. A combination of factors contributed to its short life. First, diversification in the production of specialty crops in Ventura County created a labor shortage that elevated the wage rate of agricultural workers. The higher level of pay, in turn, attracted a wave of people, creating a surplus of labor during the non-harvest season. Second, as the unifying threat of the WACC disappeared, the incentive for contractors working cooperatively with betabeleros to safeguard wages disappeared.[15] Third, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), under the leadership of Samuel Gompers, offered to extend a charter to the JMLA on the condition that it exclude its Japanese allies. The leadership of the Mexican branch of the JMLA denounced the AFL and refused the offer.[16]

More radical opposition to the rise of commercial agriculture in California grew in the ensuing decades with the emergence of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the activities of transplanted dissidents in the West. In fact, the evidence suggests that Japanese students involved in the strike of 1903 were adherents to socialist principles and assisted in the organization of the JMLA.[17] Within the Mexican community itself, one radical socialist, Simon Berthold, lived and worked on the Oxnard Plain. The Oxnard Courier described Berthold as a betabelero and a known socialist.[18] In addition to his circulation within socialist circles, Berthold had been an insurgent leader of a movement devoted to the anarchist cause of Ricardo Flores Magón’s El Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM).[19] The early presence of radicals like Berthold and the Japanese socialists contributed to the creation of a tradition of resistance to the powerful agricultural landowners of the Oxnard Plain.

The incendiary propaganda of the PLM reached Mexicans throughout the Southwest by way of the organization’s Regeneración and other Spanish language newspapers. The Oxnard Daily Courier reported the perspective of one resident—identified as an observer of Mexicans in the city—that in his mind, ” … there are more Oxnard Mexicans reading now than at any other time. It has been found that practically every time there has been any disturbance a copy of the insurrecto paper has been found in the pockets of those implicated. The paper is said to side with the revolutionists, and the Mexicans here, after reading of the affairs, desire to emulate those they read about.”[20] The unidentified resident, and by extension the Oxnard Daily Courier itself, expressed a distrust of Mexicans in the city as potential insurgents. And since literate Mexicans of Oxnard read aloud to their compatriots at the downtown placita (plaza), Spanish language newspapers represented a vehicle with the potential to transform what was popularly viewed as the obsequious peon into a murderous rebel.[21]

The social consciousness of Mexicans, however, was peaked by many mediums. In addition to print, individuals or group stood before audiences in the open air and challenged conditions perceived as unjust. Like itinerant ministers, IWW (Wobbly) organizers preached their gospel up and down the California coast. To abate such activity, especially after the protracted San Diego Free Speech Fight of 1912 and the Wheatland Strike of 1913 south of Marysville, California, the Oxnard police routinely arrested Wobblies on misdemeanor charges and forced others out of the city.[22]

The Oxnard Daily Courier, with regular reports from Los Angeles, took an intensified interest in the organizing activities of the Wobblies. These articles, for example, proclaimed that an “I.W.W. element among the Mexicans and Russians in the walnut and citrus district were planning depredations in the way of stealing crops and damaging trees.”[23] This sort of jingoism fed into the larger “Red Scare” hysteria, creating the illusion that patriotic growers were up against dangerous, labor-organizing Bolsheviks.[24]

In addition to the existence of radical writings and labor groups on the Oxnard Plain, other social institutions contributed to the organization of Mexicans. Far from being an insular group, Mexican residents were active within the civic groups and churches in and out of the segregated colonias in which they lived. In the celebration of the Fourth of July and Mexican Independence on 16 September 1923, El Unión Patriótica Benéfica Mexicana Independiente (UPBMI) spearheaded the promotion of street parades and other festivities. For the Mexican Independence celebration, leaders of the UPBMI solicited the support of Robert Beach, superintendent of labor of the ABSC, in obtaining municipal permits. The city of Oxnard also sponsored an organization named the Community Service, which recruited the involvement of Mexican leaders in the promotion of civic programs and events.[25]

Mexican residents also created networks of support in the Catholic churches of Guadalupe in the Meta Street barrio and Santa Clara. Although largely intended for and attended by Euro-American parishioners, a significant portion of Mexican Americans worshipped at the gothic inspired Santa Clara church. The more humble Guadalupe church mainly served Mexican parishioners who were nationals of Mexico. A smaller number of Mexicans practiced their faith in Protestant churches in the city of Oxnard. Whichever the church, the religious institutions of Mexicans afforded them an added avenue of interaction and succor.[26]

Mexican workers and their families also found an escape from the harsh realities of their working lives through recreation, particularly baseball. Mexican baseball players of the Oxnard Aces competed against teams from near and far as part of La Asociación Mexicana de base ball del Sur de California (the Southern California Mexican Baseball Association). Paralleling the social networks of communication and organization developed along the migrant route of Mexican agricultural laborers in the San Joaquin Valley and within the food processing industry of California, the baseball circuit of La Asociación augmented a shared sense of ethnic and class mutuality.[27]

In July of 1933, on a tonnage basis, the ABSC disbursed over $2 million in payments to area sugar beet farmers—a 17 percent increase from the year before. Of this, an estimated $250,000—12.5 percent—went toward the labor required for the cultivation and harvest of sugar beets. The level of the payment parceled out in the area not only affected the profit margin of farmers but also influenced their willingness, or unwillingness, to increase the wage schedule of the betabeleros. Meanwhile, the condition of agricultural labor in general worsened as the national economic crisis escalated. Between April and December of 1933, thirty-seven agricultural strikes erupted in California alone. In August, communities such as Merced, Salinas, Fresno, Tulare, and Santa Clara witnessed worker walkouts from the orchards, vineyards, and cotton fields. Individual strikes involved anywhere from one to six thousand persons, and statewide some fifty thousand went on strike.[28] And, in Oxnard, 1,200 betabeleros also went on strike.

As los betabeleros and the CAWIU, an affiliate of the communist Trade Union Unity League, proclaimed the second sugar beet strike of the Plain’s history on 7 August 1933, they also informed an audience of seven hundred that a local representative of the Southern California Beet Growers Association (SCBGA) had stated, “We have no time to speak with these Mexican peons.”[29] In an expression of historical amnesia, the city newspaper reported, “For the first time in local history Oxnard is experiencing a strike. And it isn’t a nice feeling.”30 The Los Angeles Spanish language press, La Opinion, announced,”Un numeroso grupo de Mexicanos huelguistas efectuó una manifestión por los calles de Oxnard, hoy, tratando de inducir a los trabajadores a que secunden el movimiento. [A large group of Mexican strikers marched through the streets of Oxnard today, imploring workers to support the movement.]”31 In an effort to discredit the agency of the betabeleros and their supporters, the Oxnard Daily Courier, in lockstep with agricultural interests, blamed the presence of “outside agitators” for the strike. The newspaper also emphasized a schism between Mexican strikers and Filipino workers who refused to join the protest. It further indicated that two-thirds of the sugar beet toppers remained in the fields. To shield them from the strikers, county officials dispatched deputized, armed guards.[32]

Contradicting its own reports regarding the low turn-out of strikers in comparison to those remaining in the fields, the Oxnard Daily Courier wrote of betabeleros picketing ABSC company housing and “every road leading out of Oxnard….” The CAWIU and its supporters also conducted systematic patrols to deter the use of strikebreakers. Teams of six to eight persons walked the unpaved neighborhood where betabeleros lived urging their brethren not to serve as esquiroles (scabs). The strikers further understood that the outbreak of violence would only serve as a pretext for the authorities to retaliate. Hence, they maintained a disciplined practice of peaceful protest.[33] Women and young girls played a central role in the strike. On 10 August 1933, for example, the local newspaper reported, “Reinforced by their women, the strike of Mexican field laborers today continued on its fourth successive day…. Groups of women and girls in addition to men, picketed every entrance of the local A. B. S. factory, the adobe houses, and every exit from Oxnard.”[34] Advising the strikers and supporters of their civil liberties, Emma Cutler, of the ILD, joined Mexican women on the picket lines. This, however, did not prevent law officers from arresting them on charges of disturbing the peace. In fact, as the strike continued, the Ventura County sheriffs department, the Oxnard police, and the state highway patrol intensified their patrols of the area.[35] To augment what Carey McWilliams characterized as “fascist control,” Ventura County Sheriff Howard Durley mobilized a countywide vigilante campaign by swearing in scores of ranchers as deputies.[36]

Unlike the 1903 sugar beet labor dispute that was numerically dominated by Japanese contractors and workers, during the 1933 strike 80 percent of the approximately 1,200 persons were United States citizens of Mexican ancestry and nationals of Mexico. Filipino betabeleros made up the remaining 20 percent and were represented in a joint effort by the Filipino Protective League (FPL). Meanwhile, Oxnard Mayor Ed Gill, himself a beet grower, attempted to mediate the strike. Furthermore, the SCBGA offered to re-implement the undisclosed 1932 topping wage scale, reportedly 12 percent higher than the 1933 rate. The association also proposed to eliminate the use of contractors. CAWIU leaders accepted the 1932 wage scale, however, they continued to demand union recognition. The SCBGA rejected that demand and the strike continued.

As Gill and other beet growers attempted to appease the striking betabeleros without union recognition, they also intensified pressure on the CAWIU by using law enforcement to undermine any alliance between differing racial groups. Sugar beet growers and law enforcement agencies learned this lesson from the 1903 strike. Local, county, and state police kept close surveillance on the interracial activities of agricultural workers.

The agricultural fascism that Carey McWilliams described in California is corroborated by Oxnard Daily Courier reports. Prior to the strike, Chief of Police Joe Kerrick, infamous in the eyes of many within the Mexican community in Oxnard, informed the public of the presence of “Mexican agitators” from outside Ventura County. The police chief also had knowledge of a meeting—infiltrated by Kerrick’s men—at the hall of the mutual aid organization UPBMI, where so-called outside “Mexican agitators” spoke to an audience of seventy-five persons.[37] Furthermore, Carlos Bulosan, in his wrenching autobiography, America is in the Heart, also wrote how law enforcement agencies of Ventura County sought-out labor organizers. To persecute organizers, they often deputized vigilantes, consisting mostly of growers or their hired hands. On one occasion, Bulosan and his colleagues were followed to a clandestine meeting place in the outskirts of the city. Once they had arrived at the barn where they were meeting, a spray of gunshots peppered the structure. Bulosan narrowly escaped with his life. It was also common practice for police officers of Oxnard and sheriff deputies of Ventura County to arrest identified labor organizers and transport them out of the county. This came to be known as “floating.”[38] This intimidation and the use of violence to combat the campaigns of the CAWIU and other labor unions were common in California. In one of the more blatant examples of this sort of repression, cotton growers in the San Joaquin Valley, later represented by the Associated Farmers (AF), conspired with local law agencies to violently quash the efforts of the CAWIU.[39]

In response to the activities of the CAWIU, Kerrick and Ventura County Sheriff Durley, in conjunction with other local agencies, intensified the web of surveillance over the union. Kerrick correctly linked the CAWIU to the labor disputes of the previous months in El Monte, Santa Maria, and Norwalk. At the El Monte berry strike, the Mexican consul in Los Angeles appealed to the nationalist sympathies of Mexican strikers in order to effect the formation of La Confederción de Uniones Campesinos y Obreros Mexicans (CUCOM), which ultimately supplanted the efforts of the CAWIU.[40] To intimidate CAWIU members and their supporters, Kerrick and Durley ordered around-the-clock patrols.[41] As an arm of the ABSC and the beet industry, the Oxnard Daily Courier collaborated with the powers that be in launching a propaganda campaign to assuage the fears of residents and garner their support against the CAWIU. Days before the strike, an edition of the newspaper reported that at the local Chamber of Commerce office, seven hundred Mexicans registered and expressed their desire to work. A spokesperson for the Chamber declared, “These Mexicans have homes in this city, have been receiving aid during the past winter and are still on the rolls,” and continued saying, “[p]laces of the Mexicans who might strike can readily be filled. It is indicated as the surplus of laborers will take care of that factor.”[42] On 11 August the newspaper further reported that most of the strikers had abandoned the union and returned to work, escorted by sheriffs, under the working conditions of the 1932 beet topping schedule. Other betabeleros, however, continued the struggle and urged their Filipino brethren not to return to the fields. Those who crossed the picket line were escorted by armed guards.[43]

To further debilitate the union, farmers formed a labor association named the Homeworkers Organization (HO). The name of the HO implied that betabeleros not involved in the strike were residents of Oxnard; conversely, CAWIU strikers were outside agitators. This also conveyed the impression that Mexicans of Oxnard were content with the status quo. In addition, through the HO, ranchers sought to negotiate with the betabeleros on an individual basis. Shrewdly co-opting the cultural symbolism of a Spanish designation, ranchers renamed the HO the Alianza De Trabajadores Mexicanos (Mexican Workers Alliance). Serving as brokers, the appointed leaders of this organization consisted of Augustin González, president; Joe Ramírez, secretary; and Carlos Najera, treasurer. Through the Alianza, Oxnard farmers recruited workers at the office of the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce. Therefore, instead of having the Mexican consul organize a union, as had occurred in the El Monte berry strike of 1933 in Los Angeles County, growers formed a thinly veiled company union filled with men who would serve as labor contractors under the guise of a trade union. The Chamber, however, made it clear that the Alianza was not a union, only an alliance of individual workers recognized by the city council, ranchers, and a segment of the Mexican community. To gain the support of the betabeleros still on strike, Mayor Gill once again announced the co-optation of the CAWIU’s salient demand of increasing the wage rate and eliminating the use of contractors.[44]

In an effort to counter the machinations of the SCBGA to break the strike and solidify cross-cultural alliances, the CAWIU worked closely with the FPL and implored ABSC factory workers, consisting predominantly of Euro-American men, to join their movement. The CAWIU sought to create coalitions that transcended not only race and ethnicity but also a labor system stratified by field and factory work. At a picket demonstration in front of the factory, strike leaders chanted: “Unity and solidarity of all workers must be our watchword.” They continued: “The Mexican workers especially appeal to the [Euro] American workers in the factory to unite with us in our union. Without organization we are helpless [;] together we are powerful and protect our own interests.”[45] This particular effort, however, proved futile. Only the few Mexicans who worked in the factory walked out in support of their striking compatriots.[46] This is an important point of contrast with the successful betabelero strike of the JMLA in 1903. Why did the solidarity between Mexican and Filipino labor contractors and betabeleros fail? First, by limiting its actions to cutting the wage rate, the SCBGA avoided infringing upon the interests of labor contractors. Hence, the growers’ association deflected a vital component of cohesion that could have fortified the unity of Mexican and Filipino workers, even though it was one of the demands of the CAWIU that the SCBGA ultimately accepted. Second, in 1933 the severity of the Great Depression, an economic condition absent in 1903, played an important role in undermining this interracial coalition.

In addition to combating the maneuverings of the farmer-sponsored Alianza, CAWIU leaders warned members of the anti-CAWIU activities on the part of the Mexican consul.[47] Two factors explain the actions of the Mexican consul in El Monte. First, the consul sought to eliminate the presence of communists within Mexican labor unions. As in the United States, the Mexican government abhorred the communist critique of the capitalism system and the call for revolution. Second, by influencing the union activity of Mexicans in the United States, the consul sought to, in the words of one historian, “channel expatriate political activism onto conservative ground,” away from class-based politics.[48] Although the Oxnard Daily Courier made no mention of the presence of the Mexican consul in the city, in a 28 August issue of the Western Worker—a newspaper affiliated with the Communist Party—the CAWIU announced the exposure of the ineffective attempts of the Mexican consul to break up the strike in Oxnard, proclaiming that, “Workers stand fast with CAWIU representation irrespective of race or nationality.”[49]

While the union worked on shoring up support in and out of the sugar beet fields, it held regular and frequent meetings at UPBMI hall. Union members and their supporters, from different parts of the state, gathered and spoke at the mutual aid society. At one of the meetings, Jean Rand—described as a twenty-five year old woman from Los Angeles—argued the case of the striking betabeleros and railed against the National Recovery Administration (NRA) of the New Deal.[50] Although Rand’s political affiliation and ethnic, class, and educational background are not clear, her appearance, along with that of Emma Cutler highlights the cross-cultural support for the cause of the betabeleros. The increasing complexity of collaboration grew in significance as law enforcement ratcheted up its repression.

In an effort to cower the union, in early August Oxnard Police Chief Kerrick arrested a group of strikers on the charge of drug possession. Tapping into the popular stereotype of Mexicans being predisposed to violence, especially in conjunction with narcotics and alcohol, while at the same time exhibiting its own bias in favor of the interests of the SCBGA, the Oxnard Daily Courier opined, “What would have happened had the tins of marihuana [sic] been distributed among 12 striking Mexicans was a matter of conjecture today.”[51] Days later, the police broke up a gathering of strikers under the pretext of an incipient riot when rancher Elmer Johnson attempted to recruit laborers. At this event, Ezquiel [sic] Pantoja, whose husband had been jailed earlier in the week, pressed the betabeleros to continue the struggle. Pantoja then turned to Kerrick and declared, in the words of the Oxnard Daily Courier, that, “‘this is a free country’ and she could talk if she wanted to.”[52] In another instance, the CAWIU accused Ventura County Deputy Sheriff William Suytar with forcing over a dozen men to work at a ranch under the threat of arrest. The sheriffs department, in its defense, argued that Suytar was simply obliging the desire of these men to work and offered them protection from union intimidation. The Western Worker also reported that the Oxnard police stormed the homes of twenty workers and beat them in an effort to force them to join the farmer-conceived Alianza.[53]

The betabeleros of the CAWIU responded to these blatant acts of coercion with non-violent protest. In mid-August, the union organized a cross-cultural parade in the city. Depending on the reporting source, the demonstration ranged from five hundred to one thousand strikers, their families, and supporters. They began their march from the barrio of La Colonia to the ABSC adobe-housing complex, and from there along a major street to police headquarters. Upon their arrival, six men and women entered the police station and met with Don Holt, chief deputy district attorney, to discuss the matter of the police compelling striking laborers to work the sugar beet fields. After the meeting, the marchers resumed the parade and disbanded at what served as the union’s headquarters, the UPBMI hall.[54]

Since Ed Gill was both the mayor of the city and a sugar beet grower, seventy-five CAWIU picketers targeted his ranch and exhorted esquiroles to join them. In response, the police and “special officers” armed with sawed-off shotguns attacked the picketers with tear gas and arrested Jean Rand, Peter Salideo, Frank Salas, John Madrid, and Mike Flores on charges of disturbing the peace and the destruction of property. Upon being arrested Rand called to the others, “Well boys, the police are to put me in jail—it is up to you to carry on.”[55] Bail was set at $500. All entered not-guilty pleas and demanded a trial by jury.[56]

Subsequent to the arrests at the Gill ranch, Kerrick raided CAWIU strike headquarters at the UPBMI hall. The police confiscated the union’s treasury of $16, along with application cards and books. Kerrick arrested the occupants and charged them with vagrancy. Six were floated or escorted to the Ventura-Los Angeles county line. The Los Angeles Times reported that the arrests stemmed from the complaint of UPBMI officials that the hall was rented as a meeting place, not lodging, for the union. The Oxnard Daily Courier also stated that the police chief acted on the complaint of the UPBMI that the union be evicted for not paying rent. La Opinion, however, reported that the eviction was against the wishes of the UPBMI. In an interview with a La Opinion reporter, an unnamed representative of the mutual aid lodge declared that the police stormed the hall against their will and that they would happily renew the rental agreement with the CAWIU but feared police reprisal.[57]

After the raid, A. L. Wirin of the ACLU met with Ventura County District Attorney James C. Hollingsworth. Wirin implored the district attorney to prosecute Kerrick on charges of police brutality against CAWIU leaders José Montas, Jack Wright, and other striking betabeleros. Hollingsworth, however, refused. In response, Wirin filed a $25,000 lawsuit against Kerrick and his brother Ben for the beating of Montas and Wright. But one problem existed, Montas was nowhere to be found. Days later Wirin, accompanied by other lawyers and activists, turned in an affidavit on the part of Montas testifying to the brutality at the hands of the Kerricks and described the floating of himself and fellow organizers G. Alarcon, Joseph Alvarez, and Pablo de Santiago out of Ventura County.[58]

Meanwhile, the ACLU, the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (NCDPP), and the International Labor Defense (ILD) took an increasing interest in the events in Oxnard. Ellis O. Jones, Ella Winter of the NCDPP, and Emma Cutler of the ILD served as observers and provided support in the form of legal representation and publicity for the union’s cause. The three organizations dispatched a joint petition for an investigation of the events in Oxnard to United States Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. The telegram pleaded, “Can you intervene immediately, investigate [the] brutal mistreatment [of] striking Mexican, Filipino workers in Oxnard, California. Provisions NRA being violated. Police being used as strike breaking agency.”[59]

During this time, the local newspaper described a meeting in La Colonia barrio as a sensationalized affair attended by over one hundred persons. Mexican leaders, striking betabeleros, as well as Wirin and Jones, addressed the audience and denounced the police as “… brutal tools of the farmers and bosses and the beet growers [who] were using the police to break the strike.” And, in an effort to de-legitimate the strike as the work of outside agitators—hence implying that the overwhelming majority of “our Mexicans” found living conditions on the Plain satisfactory if not amenable—the Oxnard Daily Courier reported that “… two-thirds of the Mexicans present were outside of the city Mexicans.”[60]

From the commencement of the strike in early August to mid-September, nine CAWIU members and supporters were jailed, charged with violations ranging from disturbing the peace to vagrancy and the destruction of property. The names of the persons jailed indicate a cross-cultural effort on the part of the union and its supporters: Jack Britton, Mike Flores, Ramon Flores, Leon Gonzáles, John Madrid, José Montas, Jean Rand, Frank Salas, W. Scott, and Jack Wright. California Governor James Rolph, United States Secretary of Labor Perkins, and an unidentified official of the NRA responded to the appeals of the ACLU, NCDPP, and the ILD by firing telegrams to Oxnard officials protesting the prosecution of the defendants.[61] Meanwhile, Mexican, Filipino, and Euro-American supporters loyally appeared at the hearings and trials of the accused. At the end of one of the proceedings, outside the courthouse, speakers addressed the crowd in English and Spanish. One of the crowd responded, “Viva la partida comunista!”[62]

On 13 September the ten were set free. In a meeting presided over by Judge Malvern Dominick, with Hollingsworth, Kerrick, Gill, Durley, and Don Holt on one side, and Wirin, Cutler, and John Beardsley of the ILD on the other, the charges against seven of the ten defendants were dismissed. Salas, Flores, and Madrid were found guilty and sentenced to thirty days in jail. Judge Dominick, however, credited them with twenty-nine days for time served and suspended the remaining day. Immediately after their release, a motorcade paraded them in triumph through the streets of Oxnard, ending in the neighboring community of Camarillo, where a fiesta of two hundred celebrated. The next day, CAWIU leaders sent an announcement to La Opinion not only declaring the release of the strikers and four “obreros de habla inglesa” (English-speaking workers), but also proclaiming the vote of four hundred union members of-ficially thanking Wirin and Cutler for their diligent legal defense.[63] In an editorial in the Oxnard Daily Courier, however, this local newspaper Red-baited the activities of the CAWIU and proclaimed that “… because of the backing of various groups with the Moscow Reds the strikers had the benefit of the services of a very clever attorney.” The editorial concluded that, “Now that they [the charges] have been dropped there is more Red activity in the Oxnard section and throughout the county wherever labor is employed than ever.”[64]

Despite the protests, arrests, legal maneuverings, and public appeals, the CAWIU failed to halt the topping of sugar beets or gain the recognition of the Oxnard SCBGA. The strike did achieve, however, an increase in salary for betabeleros who continued to work. Collateral benefits also emerged. For instance, by the end of August the Los Angeles Times reported the decision of the Santa Paula Citrus Fruit Association, Mupu Citrus Association, Rancho Sespe, the Teague-McKevett Company, the N.W. Blanchard Investment Company, and the Limoneira Company to increase the wage rate of all field and packinghouse workers by 10 percent.[65] The Walnut Growers Association of Ventura County increased the wage rate of its employees by 10 percent—which translated to about forty-five cents for each sack of walnuts.[66] Seemingly anxious to avoid strikes within their orchards and packing houses, these growers preemptively increased the wage rate of their workers.

Although the sugar beet strike ended without union recognition, labor organizing continued on the Plain. Likewise, Oxnard growers, ABSC managers, and related interest such as bankers and their allies continued to Red-bait any opposition to their interests. Early one January morning in 1934, Oxnard residents found on their porch steps circulars informing the community of a cross-cultural assembly of workers, meeting at the UPBMI hall. In addition to covering labor struggles throughout California, the CAWIU newsletter promoted an ILD lecture on wages and potential union demands. At another gathering, the Oxnard police observed the presence of mostly Mexicans, with some “Americans.” The local newspaper described the attendance of veteran agitators of Oxnard with “… those not known to local peace authorities.”[67] During the summer, CAWIU organizers encouraged betabeleros to work at the current rate while the union negotiated with ABSC officials.[68] The outcome of these talks, apparently, did not amount to anything since no further mention of the union appeared in the local press.

In August 1935, the ILD organized a meeting in Oxnard’s plaza attracting some two hundred Mexicans, Filipinos, ranchers, and businessmen. One of the speakers asserted that the wages in Oxnard were the lowest in California and that, “Oxnard today is one of the blackest spots in the state….” One Mexican speaker from the central coast town of Guadalupe directed his speech at Kerrick, urging the police to stop harassing union organizers.[69] The next month, pamphlets charged Kerrick and the Oxnard police department with terrorism: raiding the homes of workers and searching the cars of people entering the city.[70] As the union’s presence continued, the ire of farmers and employers on the Oxnard Plain increased.

Actually, the threat of the mobilization of another strike in Oxnard sparked a reaction among city leaders. At a Rotary Club meeting in January 1934, John W. Rooney, manager of the ABSC factory, Joe McGrath of the McGrath Estate Company, Henry C. Downs, and Walter Riley led a discussion on the probability of another strike. The likelihood of such an action compelled farmers to resurrect the Alianza De Trabajadores Mexicanos. Furthermore, city officials instituted ordinances abrogating constitutional guarantees of free speech and peaceable assembly.[71]

Augmenting the ordinances infringing upon fundamental civil liberties, the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce sponsored a series of anti-communist lectures. At one event, speakers identified the ACLU as an arm of the Communist Party. And, the Oxnard Daily Courier reported that, “[t]he aim of the Communist Party is to permeate every learned society as it now exists….”[72] In particular, the Chamber invited, on special request of the Ventura County branch of the AF of California, Los Angeles Chief of Police James Davis. Considering that Davis gained national notoriety for the formation of a special unit known as the Red Squad, with the specific purpose of intimidating, harassing, and breaking up labor unions and radical groups, this invitation demonstrates the frame of mind of farmers and business interests in Ventura County.[73]

Amidst polarized groups such as the AF on the one hand, and labor unions on the other, there existed individuals who looked upon the events of the time more impartially. Father Charles E. Leahy of Loyola University, in an address before a capacity audience at the Oxnard Unified High School Auditorium, pointed out that over four thousand strikes took place in the nation in 1934 alone and argued that one-half of them were justified in the context of the magnitude of the Great Depression. In Leahy’s opinion, to defend against the emergence of communism the “evils of capitalism” needed to be abolished. Interestingly, Jack C. Miller, representative of the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce, expanded on Leahy’s subtle perspective and attributed the rash of strikes to the failure of employers to offer a living wage.[74]

A deliberative examination of the Plain’s role in the market economy of the nation did not go much further. Anti-communist paranoia persisted, and any assembly, especially attended by individuals not recognized as local residents, was closely monitored. In June 1934, Leon Gonzáles, Joe Valdez, and Joe Sarturnarno held meetings in Ventura and Oxnard to organize a protest of the county welfare department’s practice of withholding aid to families in need of assistance—one way county governments tried to coerce families to take up agricultural work. The Oxnard Daily Courier dismissed the purpose of the gathering and highlighted the alleged planning of another strike. Citing Kerrick as the source of the report—which exposed the police department’s infiltration—the newspaper characterized the gathering as a cabal. And, again, in the patronizing belief that local Mexicans were not only content with their station but also incapable of such planning on their own, the report pointed to the assistance of “Los Angeles [Euro] Americans.”[75]

Red-baiting, surveillance, and infiltration soon shifted to outright intimidation. The next month, under the pretext of an immigrant sweep, Oxnard police officers raided homes in the barrio of La Colonia and on ABSC property. The police arrested, and later released, eight individuals. In the process of the raid, the police claimed to have confiscated communist literature.[76] Subsequently, local farmers in a convoy of 120 vehicles, each containing at least two passengers, stormed through the unpaved streets of La Colonia. At one point, the motorcade stopped and a person stood atop a table proclaiming that the farmers and businessmen of Oxnard were the friends of the Mexican. After the speech, the farmers retreated to the local community center and announced the formation of the Ventura County Protective Association.[77]

In response to the escalating acts of intimidation, Clinton J. Taft, regional director of the ACLU, wrote Kerrick informing the chief of police of his knowledge of the Oxnard Police Department’s use of “terror” to prevent meetings and eradicate the presence of union organizers. Taft pressed Kerrick to protect the rights of all citizens.[78] Taft’s letters had little impact on Kerrick. In September 1934, the Oxnard police arrested Mike Shantzek on charges of vagrancy and trespassing. In truth, the police arrested Shantzek for passing out literature and soliciting contributions for the Communist Party. Three months later, Kerrick arrested labor organizer Bill Silva on the pretext of an outstanding warrant from the Imperial Valley and held him at the Ventura County jail. [79]

These Red Squad-like tactics exacerbated tensions between the Mexican community and the police. Compounding this strain were the frequent acts of abuse on the part of individual police officers toward Mexicans in general. The basis for this police misconduct stemmed from the perception of Mexicans as inherently inclined to criminal activity. The escalating conflict between the Mexican community and the police erupted into a general melee on a Christmas day, 1934. It began when police officer Cecil Kellogg attempted to arrest two Mexicans for public drunkenness in the China Alley district. The two men fled rather than be taken to jail. While giving chase, Kellogg fired his gun. One suspect was apprehended and the other escaped. In the process, however, a bullet from Kellogg’s weapon ripped through a bystander’s thigh and another round whizzed by the head of another bystander. The apparent use of excessive force incensed a throng of 150–300 Mexicans in the vicinity, requiring the mobilization of city and county law enforcement officers with riot gear to quell the angry onlookers and protect Kellogg.[80] The event highlighted the continued antagonism between a significant portion of the Mexican community and law enforcement in the Oxnard Plain before, during, and after the betabelero strike of 1933.

The betabelero strike of 1933 helps situate the position of Mexicans in the United States during the Great Depression. As labor conflicts spread throughout the nation, the resistance of Mexican workers and their families challenged the popular perception of them as a pliable and passive population serving the needs of industry. To the contrary, with the support of community institutions in Southern California like UPBMI, the Catholic Church, and unions such as the CAWIU behind them, Mexicans boldly stood up to the iron heel of commercialized agriculture.

Just as importantly, the strike also complicates the notion of valiant Mexicans, on one side, battling the evil and heartless interests of white growers, on the other. The involvement of the ACLU, the ILD, and Euro-American allies aiding the CAWIU highlights the cross-cultural partnership that formed during and after this period. Coalition building, however, was a two way street. Growers on the Oxnard Plain also embarked on an alliance with Mexicans in the establishment of a company-style union, the Alianza de Trabajadores Mexicanos. Furthermore, unlike the 1903 sugar beet strike, in which Japanese and Mexicans betabeleros and labor contractors steadfastly united under the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association and defeated the Western Agricultural Contracting Company, no such union endured between Mexican and Filipino workers. The economic crisis of the Great Depression and the surplus of labor that accompanied it inhibited the development of a resilient interracial alliance. Furthermore, the CAWIU demand to eliminate the use of ethnic contractors alienated a segment of the system of labor that was central to the success of the 1903 sugar beet strike. By the 1930s, labor contractors acquired a dubious reputation for not only disappearing with the wages of crews but also serving as buffers allowing the farmers to avoid negotiating with workers directly.

Where links of interracial cooperation between Mexicans and Filipinos failed, the resources of community provided both the strikers and sugar beet interests with instruments of mobilization and control. Newspapers, for example, served as an important medium for the CAWIU and the SCBGA in marshaling forces against each other. This is of particular significance in this era of dramatic conflict and despair that signified social upheaval and the communist threat to the capitalist economy. Hence, Red-baiting was not limited to rhetorical debate, but legitimized brutal repression in various aspects of life. The CAWIU, nonetheless, benefited from the diligent and astute counsel of Al Wirrin of the ACLU, Emma Cutler of the ILD, and other progressive-minded individuals in obtaining the release of jailed CAWIU members and activists. As a result, the threat of costly legal battles tempered the actions of local law enforcement. And the fact that the repatriation and deportation of Mexicans did not occur in Ventura County to any meaningful extent, compared to the scale that occurred in Los Angeles and other parts of the nation, indicates that authorities were careful of not driving out Mexicans who were a critical part of the region’s agricultural economy.

If we accept the notion of the past as prologue to the future, the betabelero strike of 1933 is a foundation for subsequent labor conflicts, not only in Ventura County but throughout California from the 1940s to the campaigns of United Farm Workers during the 1960s. As a migrant resident of the city during his childhood and as a Community Service Organization organizer in Oxnard in 1958, César Chávez witnessed the compelling importance of the protest march, not only as a symbolic act of self-sacrifice, but also as a critical instrument of community mobilization which he later employed during the United Farm Workers Union’s 1966 pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento.[81] Therefore, a culture of community resistance and labor activism on the part of Mexicans explains why the Oxnard Plain was one of the hotbeds of agricultural conflict in the United States.

FRANK P. BARAJAS is an assistant professor of History at California State University Channel Islands.

NOTE: This article contains many acronyms. For reference, we have included a list below.

ABSC – American Beet Sugar Company
ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union
AF – Associated Farmers
AFL – American Federation of Labor
CAWIU – Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union
CUCOM – La Confederción de Uniones Campesinos y Obreros Mexicanos
FPL – Filipino Protective League
HO – Homeworkers Organization
ILD – International Labor Defense
IWW – Industrial Workers of the World
JMLA – Japanese-Mexican Labor Association
NCDPP – National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners
NRA – National Recovery Administration
PLM – El Partido Liberal Mexicano
SCBGA – Southern California Beet Growers Assocation
UFM – Mexican Federal Union (El Unión Federal Mexicanos)
UPBMI – El Unión Patriótica Benéfica Mexicana Independiente
WACC – Western Agricultural Contracting Company

 

NOTES

1� Tomás Almaguer, “Racial Domination and Class Conflict in Capitalist Agriculture: The Oxnard Sugar Beet Workers’ Strike of 1903,” in Working People of California, ed. Daniel Cornford (Berkeley, CA, 1995), 183–207.

2� Grace H. Stimson, The Rise of the Labor Movement in Los Angeles (Berkeley, CA, 1955), 267; Charles Wollenberg, “Working on El Traque: The Pacific Electric Strike of 1903,” in The Chicano, ed. Norris Hundley Jr. (Santa Barbara, CA, 1975), 96–7; Edward J. Escobar, Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity: Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1900–1945 (Berkeley, CA, 1999), 39; Douglas Monroy, Rebirth: Mexican Los Angeles from the Great Migration to the Great Depression (Berkeley, CA, 1999), 8.

3� Devra Weber, Dark Sweat, White Gold: California Farm Workers, Cotton, and the New Deal (Berkeley, CA, 1994), 79–111; Cletus E. Daniel, Bitter Harvest: A History of California Farmworkers, 1870–1941 (Ithaca, NY, 1981).

4� Francisco E. Balderrama, In Defense of La Raza: The Los Angeles Mexican Consulate and the Mexican Community, 1929–1936 (Tucson, AZ, 1982); Abraham Hoffman, Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression; Repatriation Pressures, 1929–1939 (Tucson, AZ, 1974); Camille Guerin-Gonzales, Mexican Workers and American Dreams: Immigration, Repatriation, and California Farm Labor, 1900–1939 (News Brunswick, NJ, 1994); Gilbert G. González, Mexican Consuls And Labor Organizing: Imperial Politics in the American Southwest (Austin, TX, 1999).

5� Anne Loftis, Witness to the Struggle: Imaging the 1930s California Labor Movement (Reno, NV, 1998).

6� Sarah Deutsch, No Separate Refuge: Culture, Class, and Gender on an Anglo-Hispanic Frontier in the American Southwest, 1880–1940 (New York, 1987); Vicki L. Ruíz, Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930–1950 (Albuquerque, 1987); George J. Sánchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945 (New York, 1993).

7� “Mexican Consul Investigates,” Oxnard (California) Courier, 14 July 1900.

8� Tomás Almaguer, Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California (Berkeley, CA, 1994), 187–92; “Oxnard Has Labor Troubles,” Ventura (California) Independent, 5 March 1903; “Beet Thinners Organize,” Ventura (California) Free Press, 6 March 1903.

9� Almaguer, “Racial Domination,” 184.

10� “The Japs And Mexicans,” Oxnard Courier, 7 March 1903.

11� “Labor Riot at Oxnard Ends Fatally,” Ventura Independent, 26 March 1903; “Peace and Harmony Reign after Bloody Affair at Oxnard,” Ventura Free Press, 27 March 1903; “Riot Monday in Chinatown,” Oxnard Courier, 28 March 1903.

12� Almageur, Racial Fault Lines, 196.

13� “Communication from the Union,” Oxnard Courier, 28 March 1903.

14� “Peace and Harmony Reign after Bloody Affair at Oxnard,” Ventura Free Press, 27 March 1903; “Oxnard Troubles to be Compromised,” Ventura Independent, April 1903; “Peace and Work Once More,” Oxnard Courier, 4 April 1903; Almaguer, Racial Fault Lines, 197–9.

15� Richard Steven Street, “The 1903 Oxnard Sugar Beet Strike: A New Ending,” Labor History 39, no. 2 (1998): 196–9.

16� Almaguer, Racial Fault Lines, 202.

17� Ibid., 189, footnote 20.

18� Quote from “Former Oxnarder is Leader of Mexican Insurgent Band,” Oxnard Courier, 3 February 1911; “August Gratz Tells of Mexican Insurrection,” Oxnard Courier, 29 June 1911.

19� Lowell L. Blaisdell, The Desert Revolution: Baja California, 1911 (Madison, WI, 1962), 39; Carey McWilliams, North from Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States (1949; reprint, New York, 1990), 185.

20� Mexican Papers are Cause of Much Trouble,” Oxnard (California) Daily Courier, 16 October 1912.

21� Ibid.; “Many out-of-Town Agitators Address Local Workers at Communist Organization Meeting,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 9 August 1935.

22� “Army of I.W.W.’s is Headed Down Coast,” Oxnard Courier, 23 January 1914; “I.W.W. Gangsters Break Cells, Fight Officers,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 28 December 1916; “I.W.W. Prisoners in Jail are Quick,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 29 December 1916; Stuart Marshall Jamieson, Labor Unionism in American Agriculture (Washington, DC, 1945), 11–2; “Loafers Keep Far Away from Oxnard,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 4 October 1918; Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (Chicago, 1969), 191–7.

23� “Night Riders Will Guard Fruit Groves,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 18 October 1919.

24� Ibid.; “Whole Pacific Coast to War On I.W.W. and Government Enemies,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 14 November 1919; “I.W.W.’s Thwarted in Making Jail Delivery at Spokane,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 15 November 1919; “Los Angeles Ready for Red Gunmen,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 18 November 1919.

25� All of these articles are from the Oxnard Daily Courier. “Mexican Lodge to Stage Big Fourth of July Celebration with Home Talent Carnival,” 8 June 1921; “Committee Thanks All Participants,” 6 July 1921; “Mexicans to Have Own Speaker Here on Fourth Of July,” 12 June 1923; “Interests in Fourth of July on Increase,” 16 June 1923; “Mexican Girls Will Stage Plays on 4th,” 30 June 1923; “Mexican Independence Day to be Celebrated with Big Program Here,” 27 July 1923; “County Wide Celebration Mexican Independence Day to be Staged Here,” 1 August 1923; “Gran Jamaica to be Held Here on May 24th And 25th,” 9 May 1924; “Gran Jamaica to Draw Many Here on Saturday Sunday; Big Program,” 22 May 1924; “Campaign Underway to Raise Funds for Community Service,” 5 June 1924; “Community Playground Opens Mon. June 28,” 19 June 1926.

26� “Dedication of New Church Makes for Great Day in Oxnard,” Oxnard Courier, 19 August 1904; “All Mexican Program Featured at Meeting of Guadalupe Church,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 21 September 1929; “Spanish School to Give Program,”Oxnard Daily Courier, 24 May 1917; Bob Valles, interview by Frank Barajas, 17 March 1999; Mary Navarro, interview by Frank Barajas, 6 January 2000; Martha Wucherpfennig Furrer, interview by Mary Johnston and Johanna Overby, 23 June 1981, Ventura County Museum of History and Art; Robert Hinostro, interview by Frank Barajas, 25 June 1999. Interviews conducted by author are in author’s possession.

27� “Oxnard Aces to Face Ventura Merchants,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 9 September 1933. The following four articles are from Los Angeles La Opinion: “Juegos De La Asn. Mexicana,” 21 July 1933; “Juegos De La Asn. Mexicana,” 24 June 1933; “Juegos De La Asn. Mexicana,” 1 July 1933; “Los ‘Aces’ Ganan a Los Arriola,” 23 September 1933; Weber, Dark Sweat, 91–2, 203–5; Ruíz, Cannery Women, 31–9, 69–71; José M. Alamillo, “Peloteros in Paradise: Mexican American Baseball and Oppositional Politics in Southern California, 1930–1950,”Western Historical Quarterly 34 (Summer 2003): 196–200.

28� “Plowing Beets for Campaign Now Underway,” 25 July 1933, and “17 Per Cent Jump in Beet Payment To Ranchers,” 29 July 1933, Oxnard Daily Courier; “The Citrus Industry,” Farm and Garden Section of the Los Angeles Times, 6 August 1933, 4; “La Mayoria De Ellos Son Mexicanos,” La Opinion, 16 August 1933; Weber, Dark Sweat, 80.

29� Jamieson, Labor Unionism, 80, 96; Quote from “1200 out at Oxnard,” Western Worker (Oakland, CA), 21 August 1933.

30� “Mexican Workers Strike, Filipinos Stick,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 7 August 1933.

31� “A large group of Mexican strikers embarked on a protest march in the streets of Oxnard, today, in an effort to garner the support of workers for the movement,” “La Mayoria De Ellos Son Mexicanos,” La Opinion, 16 August 1933.

32� “Mexican Workers Strike, Filipinos Stick,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 7 August 1933; “Strikers Orderly is Report of Officers,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 8 August 1933.

33� “Strikers Still Picket A.B.S. Adobe Houses,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 9 August 1933.

34� “Police Make First Arrest in Strike,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 10 August 1933.

35� “Ibid.; “Strikers Still Picket A.B.S. Adobe Houses,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 9 August 1933; “Beet Workers Strike in Chino,” Los Angeles Times, 9 August 1933, pt. 1, 4; Carey McWilliams, Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Labor in California (Boston, MA, 1939), 9, 238.

36� “Strikers Orderly is Report of Officers,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 8 August 1933; “Beet Workers Strike in Chino,” Los Angeles Times, 9 August 1933, pt. 1, 4; “Strikers in Oxnard Area Spurn Employers’ Offer,” Los Angeles Times, 10 August 1933; Jamieson, Labor Unionism, 96.

37� “Labor Strike on Ranches Looms,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 25 July 1933; “Authorities Seize Labor Documents,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 27 July 1933; “Movement to End Strike Peacefully Gains Force,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 12 August 1933.

38� Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart: A Personal History (1943; reprint, Seattle, 1988), 196; “Y En Oxnard La Policia Es Acusada,” 27 August 1933, and “Seis Floated out,” 27 August 1933, La Opinion; “3000 Oxnard Workers Protest Police Attack,” Western Worker, 28 August 1933; “Labor Situation Here Misrepresented by Clinton J. Taft,” 4 August 1934, and “Placing Men on Ranches,” 15 September 1934, Oxnard Daily Courier.

39� Ruíz, Cannery Women, 49–50; For an in depth discussion on the origins and scope of purpose of the Associated Farmers, see McWilliams, Factories, 231–9.

40� González, Mexican Consuls, 111.

41� “Labor Strike on Ranches Looms,” 25 July 1933, and “All Quiet along Beet Labor Front,” 5 August 1933, Oxnard Daily Courier.

42� “Plenty of Labor Should Beet Men Strike in Fields in Oxnard District,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 5 August 1933.

43� “Believe Backbone of Mexican Strike Broken,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 11 August 1933.

44� “Local Mexicans Form Workers Alliance,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 15 August 1933; “50 New Mexicans Join Alliance,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 18 August 1933; “3000 Oxnard Workers Protest Police Attack,” Western Worker, 28 August 1933.

45� “Movement to End Strike Peacefully Gains Force,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 12 August 1933.

46� Jamieson, Labor Unionism, 96.

47� “1200 out at Oxnard,” Western Worker, 21 August 1933.

48� González, Mexican Consuls, 86.

49� “3000 Oxnard Workers Protest Police Attack,” Western Worker, 28 August 1933.

50� “Movement to End Strike Peacefully Gains Force,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 12 August 1933.

51� Ibid.

52� “One Third More Workers Return,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 14 August 1933.

53� “Would Stop Parading,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 14 August 1933; “Se Cree Que Terminara El Conflicto,” La Opinion, 18 August 1933; “1200 out at Oxnard,” Western Worker, 21 August 1933; “3000 Oxnard Workers Protest Police Attack,” Western Worker, 28 August 1933.

54� “Would Stop Parading,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 14 August 1933; “Se Cree Que Terminara El Conflicto,” La Opinion, 18 August 1933.

55� “Toward No Violence Ultimatum to Agitators,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 19 August 1933.

56� “Gas Quells Beet Riot,” Los Angeles Times, 18 August 1933, pt. 1, 1; “Una Bomba Lacrimosa Metio Paz,” La Opinion, 19 August 1933; “Five Arrested in Beet Strike Held under Bail,” Los Angeles Times, 20 August 1933, pt. 1.

57� “Officers Uncover Further Plans of Strikers,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 21 August 1933; “Beet Field Strike Ends,” Los Angeles Times, 22 August 1933, pt. 1, 1; “Judge Rodgers Waits For Formal Charges,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 25 August 1933; “Y En Oxnard La Policia Es Acusada,” La Opinion, 27 August 1933; “Seis Floated Out,” La Opinion, 27 August 1933; “3000 Oxnard Workers Protest Police Attack,” Western Worker, 28 August 1933.

58� “Chief and Brother Deny Charges of Arrested Worker,” 26 August 1933, “Refuses Criminal Complaint against Kerrick,” 28 August 1933, “Council Refuses Dismissal Demand,” 30 August 1933, in Oxnard Daily Courier; “Prosecution of Oxnard Police Chief Refused,” Los Angeles Times, 29 August 1933, pt. 1, 10.

59� “Organizations Investigate Beet Labor Strike Conditions in Oxnard District,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 23 August 1933.

60� “About 100 Mexicans Attend Colonia Gardens Meet,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 24 August 1933.

61� “Change of Venue for Oxnard Strike Leaders,” Western Worker, 4 September 1933. The ACLU received a letter from the Federal Department of Justice promising an investigation. See “Trial of Oxnard Strike Leaders on Sept. 13 and 19,” Western Worker, 11 September 1933.

62� “500 at Oxnard Cheer Communists; Fakers Exposed,” Western Worker, 18 September 1933.

63� “Wirrin Reveals Hearing Plans,” 9 September 1933, “Strike Trial to Consume Several Weeks,” 11 September 1933, “May Settle Strike Case out of Court,” 12 September 1933, “Three Workers Tried before Judge Dominick,” 13 September 1933, “Present Strike Trouble Ends and Prisoners Freed,” 14 September 1993, “Communist Paper Comments on Trial,” 25 September 1933, Oxnard Daily Courier; “Huelguistas Libertados En Oxnard, Calif.,” La Opinion, 23 September 1933.

64� “Reds in the Saddle,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 22 September 1933.

65� “Citrus Firms Boost Wages,” Los Angeles Times, 26 August 1933, pt. 1, 8; “Cargos A La Policia De Oxnard,” La Opinion, 25 August 1933; “Minimum Wage Adopted by Packing House,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 31 August 1933.

66� “Walnut Growers Assn. Increases Wages of Orchard Pickers,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 31 August 1933.

67� “Communist Agitators Organizing in City,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 12 July 1934.

68� “Urge Mexicans Whites Attend Hall Session,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 4 January 1934; “Mass Meeting Advertised,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 5 July 1934; “Strike Agitators Tell Men to Go to Work in Oxnard Area,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 18 July 1934.

69� “Many out-of-Town Agitators Address Local Workers at Communist Organization Meeting,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 9 August 1935.

70� “Communists Distribute Circular Decrying Chief Kerrick to County Supervisoral Board,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 10 September 1935.

71� “Labor Talks Feature at City Rotary Club,” 17 January 1934, “Mexican Worker’s Alliance Holds Meeting,”18 January 1934, “Propose County Anti-Picketing Ordinance,” 19 January 1934, “Table Anti-Picketing Ordinance for County,” 20 January 1934, “Anti-Picketing Ordinance Read,” 24 January 1934, “Council Adopts Anti-Loitering Ordinance,” 7 February 1934, “Supervisors Adopt New Anti-Picketing Measure,” 2 March 1934, Oxnard Daily Courier.

72� “Communist Scored in Strand Theater Rally,” 9 February 1934, quote within “American Civil Liberties Union Linked with Communist Party,” 21 February 1934, Oxnard Daily Courier.

73� “Communism Must be Thwarted Gill Says at Red Men Meeting,” 24 February 1934, “Communism Real Menace in U.S.,” 9 March 1934, “Communists in Our Government Fabric Says Rotary Speaker,” 5 July 1934, “Chief James Davis Will Talk at Anti-Communist Meeting on Wednesday,” 6 October 1934, Oxnard Daily Courier. No subsequent news report indicated whether or not Davis actually spoke; Escobar, Race, 98–101.

74� “Abolish Capitalism Evils, Prevent Communism—Leahy,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 22 March 1935.

75� “Three Former Agitators in this Section,” 8 June 1934, “Authorities Recognize Well Known Communists in Oxnard,” 28 June 1934, Oxnard Daily Courier.

76� “Immigration Officers Nab Communists Here,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 25 July 1934.

77� “Farmers Form County-Wide Protective Association,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 1 August 1934.

78� “Labor Situation Here Misrepresented by Clinton J. Taft,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 4 August 1934: Taft was active throughout Southern California in defending the civil liberties of labor organizers. See Escobar, Race, 83, 100.

79� “Four Arrested by City Police,” 13 September 1934, and “Arrest Resident from Imperial in Oxnard,” 19 December 1934, Oxnard Daily Courier.

80� “Sheriff Stops Christmas Riot at City Jail,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 26 December 1934.

81� Richard Griswold del Castillo and Richard A. Garcia, César Chávez: A Triumph of Spirit (Norman, OK, 1995), 29–30, 51.

 

 

By: FRANK P. BARAJAS

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