Keep Me in the Loop!

from Teresa Romero Message of Solidarity at ILWU Convention

It is my privilege to bring you greetings from the members and leaders of the United Farm Workers of America—and to reflect on this day upon the cherished annals of solidarity that have existed over six decades between the UFW and the ILWU.

An old ILWU motto goes, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” You have fulfilled that motto ten-fold over the last 56 years when it comes to the farm workers.

Few unions in North America stood by the farm workers’ side earlier and more consistently than the ILWU. You were among the first unions to deliver practical and valuable boots-on-the-ground labor solidarity to the UFW during our earliest days.

The ILWU witnessed the adversity and hardships willingly endured by the strikers, Cesar Chavez and all UFW staff—including “pay” of five dollars a week plus room and board. And your union was moved to respond.

On crucial occasions starting in the mid-1960s, struck grapes and boycotted products were sitting on the docks, ready to be loaded onto ships. Grape strikers would show up with picket signs. Your longshore members would refuse to touch the scab cargo—despite the threat of sanctions.

We remember ILWU members who went above and beyond countless times. Don Watson was a Ships Clerks’ Local 34 member and a leader and veteran of the “Old Left” of the ILWU. Brother Watson would work his 800 hours on the docks to qualify for union benefits—and then donate most his time the rest of the year volunteering with the UFW.

The ILWU provided us with office space in San Francisco and recruited union members for boycott picket lines in front of supermarkets.

Car caravans were organized from the Bay Area, Los Angeles and other sites taking donated food and clothing to the grape strikers in Delano through the remainder of the ’60s. ILWU members at every pier on the waterfront were hit up for donations to support the strikers during the holidays.

When the UFW won our first union contracts starting in 1966, farm workers were struggling against generations of corruption and favoritism that stained agribusinesses’ farm labor system. ILWU International President Jimmy Herman loved Cesar and the farm workers. He came to Delano to help our union set up its first hiring halls based on the just model of the longshore experience.

Amidst the bitter and bloody second grape strike of 1973—thousands of nonviolent strikers were arrested for violating unconstitutional anti-picketing injunctions issued by local judges. Hundreds were savagely beaten by grower goons and rural cops. Dozens were shot. Two strikers were murdered.

During those toughest of times, unions like the ILWU and the Seafarers came to our rescue. Jimmy Herman dispatched ILWU members to stand shoulder to shoulder with the beleaguered farm workers on the picket lines of the Coachella and Central valleys. Often by Brother Herman’s side was veteran African American ILWU labor and community organizer LeRoy King, who had been a contemporary of Paul Robeson during the ‘40s.

Don Watson volunteered untold days and weeks working with the UFW Legal Department. The UFW had mounted a massive lawsuit against the Central Coast vegetable growers and shippers. Through discovery we obtained huge volumes of payroll and other records. Brother Watson would come down to Salinas and spend weekends—straight from Friday night through Sunday night—pouring through and making sense of those records.

It was such labors that contributed immensely to the success of the lawsuit that pressured the industry and enabled the UFW to negotiate the landmark jurisdictional agreement under which the Teamsters officially left the fields for good in 1977.

The ILWU consistently participated in the farm workers’ marches and rallies—such as the 1975 march to Modesto against Gallo. You visited supermarkets during the boycotts. You supported us financially.

More recently, I oversaw fundraising that let us build the more than 10,000 square foot Central Coast Farm Worker Center in Salinas—the UFW’s extensively renovated state-of-the-art facility serving the largest concentration of unionized farm workers in the nation. It was dedicated in 2018 with strong financial help from ILWU Local 13 in Los Angeles.


Your repeated demonstrations of selfless commitment and genuine union solidarity over the years are not easily forgotten—not the least of all by us.

Brothers Jimmy Herman, Don Watson, LeRoy King and many others are now gone. But they—and all of you with the ILWU—live on in the hearts of the farm workers.

We cannot think of a union more worthy of emulation. You have lived out—time and time again—your motto, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

All of us stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. So let us never forget where we come from. Let us resolve to finish the work our predecessors have begun among us. And let us never forget the workers whose lives we have shared and whose fate we still hold in our hands. Together with them we must forge a stronger and more hopeful future.

¡Viva La Causa! ¡Solidaridad Para Siempre!