From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement

Matt Garcia, Author
Matt Garcia. Univ. of California, $34.95 (394p) ISBN 978-0-520-25930-0
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This monumental chronicle complicates the heroic image of Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers, America's "most successful farm worker movement," showing the labor leader's role not only in the UFW's rise but also in its decline. Garcia, professor of transborder studies at Arizona State University (A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900–1970) rivetingly analyzes turf-fighting, strategic failures and successes, giving women and others credit equal to Chavez's for the multicultural, international movement's formation of unprecedented coalitions. In a detailed rendering of Chavez's painful decline, Garcia finds that preoccupations with Synanon's psychological experiments and with communal living hamstrung UFW decision-making. Chavez's isolation intensified after Proposition 14, an effort to reform farm labor law, failed in 1976. Ultimately, his "famous obstinacy and a willingness to risk everything to achieve his goals" contributed to the UFW's unraveling as it struggled with management and legal oversight instead of its original, successful strategy strikes, consumer boycotts, and marches. Garcia's personal portrait of Chavez is not pretty: foul-mouthed, homophobic, power-hungry, and a philanderer. This rich and bracing account is a must-read for today's community organizers. 18 b&w photos, 1 map. (Sept).
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