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The United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) was a CIO-affiliated trade union during the late 1930s and 1940s.

UCAPAWA was founded as the agricultural arm of Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1937. Part of the reason behind its founding was to address the concerns of agricultural laborers and their counterparts in packing and canning during the Great Depression. Relief agencies in California's San Joaquin Valley, for example, did not offer aid to agricultural laborers, and farmers, taking advantage of the desperation of migrant workers, repeatedly reduced the wages offered to workers.

UCAPAWA was particularly strong among Mexican and Mexican American workers. In 1940, the San Francisco News called UCAPAWA the "fastest growing agricultural union in California", and attributed its success to its appeal to Mexican and Mexican American workers.[1] The union was also supported by such outside organizations as the John Steinbeck Committee to Aid Agricultural Organization, the J. Lubin Society, the Spanish-speaking Peoples Congress, and on occasion, local clergy.

UCAPAWA leadership, some of whom had ties to the Communist Party, made use of women's social networks and cultivated leadership among Mexican women. UCAPAWA was one of the few labor unions that allowed women to hold positions of authority. In these positions, they pushed for such benefits as maternity leave and equal pay, and were therefore on the forefront in the struggle for women's equality.[2]

One early UCAPAWA strike was the 1939 Madera Cotton Strike, which, despite provoking a violent reaction from a group called Associated Farmers, succeeded in winning a minimum wage for union members. It also served as an example of inter-ethnic solidarity, with African American, Mexican American, and White American workers all participating in the strike.

In Seattle, UCAPAWA represented Filipino cannery workers from 1937 until 1947.[3]

In the Southern United States, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU), which Communist UCAPAWA president Donald Henderson regarded as "a utopian agrarian movement", became affiliated with the union.[4] A power struggle between the groups erupted soon after the affiliation, and culminated with a 1939 protest against the eviction of sharecroppers in Missouri, which was unsupported by the national organization. As a result, the STFU left the union.

The STFU dispute was a turning point for UCAPAWA. Agricultural unions did not have collective bargaining rights and often faced local hostility. As a result, UCAPAWA shifted its focus from the fields to processing plants.

In Texas, UCAPAWA was instrumental in unionizing and uniting workers from feed, flour, and cotton mills. At a 1938 wildcat strike of shrimp-processing plant workers, a UCAPAWA organizer was murdered on the picket line.[5]

During the 1938 pecan-shellers strike led by Emma Tenayuca in San Antonio, UCAPAWA president Henderson dispatched organizer Luisa Moreno to turn the union, El Nogal, into an efficient bargaining organization. The strike, which also became violent when strikers were teargassed, ended with the recognition of the UCAPAWA local and a minimum wage for workers.

In 1939, UCAPAWA vice president Dorothy Ray Healey played an important role in unionizing workers at California Sanitary Canning Company (Cal San) in Los Angeles, who struck in August of the same year. Union members picketed the cannery, grocery stores that sold Cal San goods, and the houses of the Shapiro brothers, the plant's owners. Faced with children holding signs bearing slogans such as "I'm underfed because Mama is underpaid", the Shapiro brothers met with negotiators and soon reached a settlement. The Cal San local became UCAPAWA's second largest, and the union's ranks grew to include the workers at several California canneries.

In 1944 UCAPAWA became the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers (FTA). In 1946, the Los Angeles local "collapsed under the weight of Red Scare witchhunts".[6] By 1950, the FTA only counted 1,000 workers as members, and it was folded into the Distributive and Processing Workers of America.


  1. ^ "(title unknown)". San Francisco News. 1940-07-22.  
  2. ^ Trujillo, David (December 2003). "Labor Reaches Out". Political Affairs Magazine (Communist Party, USA). Retrieved 2006-07-15.  
  3. ^ "Filipino Cannery Unionism Across Three Generations 1930s-1980s" (HTML). Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project. University of Washington. 2006-05-12. Retrieved 2006-07-15.  
  4. ^ "Southern Tenant Farmers Union". Encyclopedia of the American Left. 1990.  
  5. ^ "Texas State Industrial Union Council". Handbook of Texas. University of Texas. May 2005. Retrieved 2006-09-03.  
  6. ^ Ruiz, Vicki L. (1998). From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth Century America. New York City: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513099-5.  


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