Working people have been organizing in California since the 18th century. And, as Utah Phillips says, we workers do not get benevolent gifts from enlightened management.
What we get is struggle, and From Mission to Microchip: A History of the California Labor Movement, the new book by long-time CFT Communications Director Fred Glass, chronicles that struggle: Working people on one side trying to make their lives and work better, and employers fighting every step of the way to keep them poor and powerless.
That’s the framework of the book, the back and forth of initiative, opposition, and new initiative — that is, the way history happens. There are victories and losses, general strikes and lockouts, mistakes and false friends. There are villains and their hirelings, and people, often workers, who get beaten and tortured and murdered.
So this is neither a feel-good panoramic pageant nor a sociological collection of numbers. It’s about people’s lives and their work. Who were these people? Remember the missions? And that romantic, technicolor time in California history? Who did the work? Under what conditions? Who planted and picked the crops that turned California into an agricultural powerhouse? Who unloaded the ships? Who built the railroads and the Golden Gate Bridge? Who taught the kids? In most histories of California you’ll find none of them.
Here, you will learn about the unskilled labor of thinning beet plants and how work was organized among California’s pre-mission native tribes. About being a telephone operator or a carpenter in the first years of the 20th century, and labor’s lost opportunity in Los Angeles in 1911. About Upton Sinclair and Harry Bridges. The redoubtable C.L. Dellums, suffragette Frances Nacke Noel, and master organizer Luisa Moreno.
And the struggle.
And the sticking together.
One of Glass’ caveats is that when we are united as workers, we can win, but, when divided by gender or religion or ethnicity or anything else, we lose. That should be obvious, but all too often, it has not been. For example: White workers in San Francisco went crazy with racism in 1877, murdered four people, and burned Chinatown. Even then, though, people resisted. Their story is here.
Unlike many histories, Mission to Microchip brings it all up to date. Glass includes the Justice for Janitors campaign, the comparable worth cases, and the recent work of the Millionaires Tax leading to Proposition 30.
The best thing about this book is that it has no end. It leaves you hanging. It puts the ongoing, unfinished struggle in your hands.
Use this book. Read it and teach the young. Our future will be better if you do.
— By Bill Morgan, a member of the CFT Labor in the Schools Committee who taught elementary students in San Francisco for 34 years
» Buy the book at UC Press ($35 paperback, $70 cloth). Use source code 16M4197 for a 30 percent discount.