On Labor Day, Unions Back Fred Ross Project

by on September 5, 2022

Photo shows Cesar Chavez and Fred Ross Sr.
Cesar Chavez and Fred Ross Sr.

Film Offers Powerful Strategies for Organizing Success

Labor Day is a good time to recognize how unions are laying the groundwork for building the next generation labor movement. This requires exposing new activists to successful labor campaigns. Many labor unions, including UNITE HERE, SEIU, IAM (Machinists) , CNA, UFCW Local 770 and LIUNA (Laborers) are furthering this goal by supporting a film on the ongoing organizing legacy of Fred Ross Sr.

It’s a particularly creative and strategic use of union funds.

Ross created the house meeting. He developed an electoral outreach strategy that elected the first Latino to the Los Angeles City Council in 1949. He then trained Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta as organizers,  along with many other key farmworker activists. Ross has left a remarkable legacy whose lessons fully apply to today’s labor activists.

But how can new generations of organizers learn these lessons? That’s what the film on Fred Ross Sr. accomplishes.

I wrote in January about the launching of the film project ( See “Film on Fred Ross Will Inspire Young Organizers,” January 24, 2022). Over $500,000 has been raised. In addition to unions, foundations, and social justice groups the Cesar Chavez Foundation recently donated $50,000 and the California Latino Caucus actively raised funds.

Fundraising for the film taps perfectly into the rising pro-union mood across the nation. And it has allowed director Ray Telles to begin filming without waiting for complete funding.

Telles told me last week how he recently discovered the Ross legacy while filming in Atlanta. “We were profiling Raise Up/ Fight for 15 for the Fred Ross Sr. film. We followed three women who work for a Dollar General Store in South Carolina-Tara Thompson, Keisha Brown and Taiwana Mulligan. Their situation has been very difficult and they only make $11 an hour. They are now organizing for a union and for a $15 wage. When we interviewed Ms. Mulligan I asked her if she knew who Fred Ross was. She said of course. When I asked her  to tell her story about how they went about organizing she said; ‘Well, I had a few of my coworkers come over to my house and we had a little meeting.’”

Fred Ross Jr. also noted the connection between the film and the powerful stories of organizing multi-racial organizations and unions as part of the growing Fight Back spirit at Amazon, Starbucks and other companies. “We are making plans to show the film as part of organizing training campaigns – bringing out my Dad’s Axioms for Organizers to new generations of activists. It’s also been very inspiring to see California farmworkers marching once again with strong labor, faith leaders, students and a broad coalition to demand Governor Newsom sign AB 2183, the fair election bill.

Ross is referencing the nearly one month march to Sacramento that the UFW began in August. It  recalled Cesar Chavez’s legendary 1966 march that put the farmworkers’ movement on the national map.

I’ve followed the farmworkers movement since the 1970’s. I was so moved by its activist power that I wrote a book on its ongoing legacy. The recent march and vigil was a powerful example of this, as it demonstrated strong labor and activist solidarity with farmworkers.

Fundraising for the film has become its own organizing campaign. This may be the first film funded by building a national network of labor organizers reaching out to their unions, personal friends and networks.  There are already over 500 donors!

Are you among them? If not, don’t feel left out. Donate today!

And if you are part of a social justice organization outside of labor, this film will also inspire and train your new organizers and members. The Public Interest Network, which trains activists across the nation through the Student PIRGs, immediately saw the benefit of showing the Ross film on campuses. The Network backed their support by contributing to the film.

This film will be shown to activists in all fields. It has value to those working in local, state, national and even international arenas (both Ross’s played major roles in the 1980’s Central American Peace Campaign).

So help get it completed!  Celebrate Labor Day 2022 by personally donating or asking your group to donate!

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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