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United Farm Workers Cooperative

Texto en español.

The founding of Latino radio station KDNA in Yakima in the late 1970s went hand-in-hand with the coalescing of the United Farm Workers (UFW) of Washington State, which organized in the Yakima Valley. This movement focused on labor and immigration rights, among other issues.

Mexican families were drawn to the Yakima Valley in the 1930s by jobs in the labor-intensive cultivation/production of sugar beets, asparagus, and hops. However, early attempts to organize farm workers focused on white male migrant laborers, largely excluding workers of color. Chicano or Latino laborers were not organized in Washington until decades later. Caesar Chavez is one of the best-known leaders of the modern farm workers movement, started in California in the 1960s. The movement soon spread, including north to Washington to college campuses and the communities of the Yakima Valley.

The initial California strikes against grape producers led to what became the United Farm Workers (UFW). Although originally focused on unionizing ethnic farm workers, the movement expanded to address issues such as immigration rights, civil rights, and improving the living conditions of farm workers. More on the history of labor unionism on the West Coast can be found at the “Farm Workers in Washington State History Project” hosted by the University of Washington.

The rise of the UFW in California in the mid-1960s was one arm of a larger “war on poverty” and Latino community organizing happening in other states, generally known as el Movimiento (The Movement). Representing Washington State, two Yakima Valley College students and community organizers, Tomas Villanueva and Guadalupe Gamboa, met with Caesar Chavez and others in el Movimiento in California. Villanueva and Gamboa were both catalysts in organizing the UFW of Washington State.

The United Farm Workers Cooperative building in Toppenish started life as the first Latino cooperative grocery in the Valley. Built between 1946 and 1954, the market served as an important fixture within the Latino community. Under Tomas Villanueva, the building became the United Farm Workers Cooperative headquarters. The UFW Cooperative served as a community center and assisted farm laborers the same way many fraternal societies supported industry workers before labor unions, as a support network when they had wage disputes, work related injuries, etc. The UFW Cooperative brought the Latino community, and particularly farm laborers, a stronger voice in the Yakima Valley and beyond. Although the UFW Cooperative no longer exists, it remains a vital part of the history of el Movimiento in Washington State.

Images

2016 view of the former United Farm Workers Cooperative headquarters, in Toppenish.

Image by Artifacts Consulting, Inc.

1969 UFW poster advocating the grape boycott.

Courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society, image 2002.5.47.

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