"I remember the first time I had a grape, I went, ‘Wow! This is quite tasty.’ It was absolutely ingrained so deeply in me: Never cross a picket line.”
- VP Harris
In an interview with The Nation Magazine
, she discusses the impact of the 1965-75 California Grape Workers Strike and the effects unions have had in our nation.
After contractors for Google’s Pittsburgh operations voted to join the steelworkers union, Harris asked to meet with the workers. “Most people don’t even know that we represent people that work with Google, but she did,” explained Brown. “She wanted to talk with them about organizing in new sectors, new industries. She was very specific.” That specificity is evident in the task force’s initial report on organizing, which labor historian Erik Loomis praised for giving “nearly unprecedented attention to the demands of organized labor in the recent Democratic Party.”
It’s not surprising that Walsh, who was a union leader before he became mayor of Boston, has been so ardent about the task force’s work. And it shouldn’t be surprising that Harris has been equally ardent. Her labor ties run deep.
Growing up in California in the late 1960s and early ’70s, with a mother who was “very deeply rooted” in the movements for economic, social, and racial justice, the vice president was inspired by Cesar Chavez, Delores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers, which used grape boycotts to force growers to negotiate. “The farmworkers movement was very much a part of my childhood,” she recalled. “This sounds quaint, and so I’m reluctant to say it, but, you know, I didn’t eat a grape until I was in my 20s. Like, literally, had never had a grape. I remember the first time I had a grape, I went, ‘Wow! This is quite tasty.’ It was absolutely ingrained so deeply in me: Never cross a picket line.”
For Harris, the connection between the civil rights movement and the labor movement is foundational history. “This is the stuff that you know that we have to remind people of,” she told me. “This is why Dr. King was assassinated, because he was bringing together the civil rights movement with the workers. It was the sanitation workers [with whom the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched in Memphis before his assassination in 1968]. He saw the alignment, and saw the power, of bringing these groups together that seemingly had nothing in common and had everything in common. And we were on the verge of a merger of that; an understanding that the priorities and the issues [of civil rights and labor activists] are inextricably linked.”
While we are living in a time so disturbing that a sitting President has to address the nation about rising RW extremism and violence as a threat to our democracy, it's good to know Unions are making a comeback under this administration. And quite honestly, it's a tool we will need going forward.
After all, being pro-union is anti-fascist. From the book, how Fascism Works, by Jason Stanley:
November is not an election about parties, it is literally a choice between democracy and fascism. That we can vote at all is due in part to unions. Happy Labor Day.