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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Organizing migrant workers and decision to leave the IUD and IUE

Pierce discusses the IUD's brief effort to organize farm and migrant workers during the 1960s. Earlier in the interview, Pierce had talked about his interest in the special problems of this group and his desire to include them more directly in the labor movement. During the 1960s, an effort to do so was concentrated in Florida and Pierce describes the success of organizing migrant workers until a decision from the top—he believes Walter Reuther was primarily responsible—halted the effort. Pierce notes his anger about this, here, and later says that this event was largely responsible for his leaving the IUD and the IUE in 1968.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jim Pierce, July 16, 1974. Interview E-0012-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

The migrant thing probably …you know, how does something like this start … you look back and you don't really know how it started because different people were doing different things aimed at the same direction. Reuther, of course, had a strong interest in farm workers. Nick Zonarich always wanted to organize the very poorest more depressed people. He always wanted us to bear down on them. I had had exposure in both the Texas valley and in Florida to the migrants, and I was pushing strongly for it. There were others, churches, people that we worked with politically that had an interest in this.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Had Chavez became more nationally known ?…
JIM PIERCE:
Not really at that time. At that point, Chavez was running a … I think it was probably an OEO funded community action type thing that was organizing farm workers, yes, but hadn't achieved the stature that he presently has, and it was not within the labor movement. I can't remember on the west coast who headed up the farmworkers the AFL-CIO had a farm workers campaign going. I think it was based with strong support in the Philipino community and had been for many years, there were a lot of Chicanos and blacks in it. I just can't remember that guy, I didn't know him that well. He left and Franz Daniels was working for me at that time. Franz back during the old CIO Organizing Campaign, had been a State Director, and I don't know where all he went after that, but he came back here assigned to me, later was withdrawn and sent out to work with the farm workers in California. It is possible that somebody made a decision, I can't be sure of this, that you would organize in both areas and under different structures and see what happened, I don't know, I wasn't in on that … on those decisions. Anyway, the decision was made to hit the Florida stream, find out what the problems are with migrants, get them interested in unions, follow them as they go upstream, find out what the conditions are upstream, and organize them, and we did. We started out and we first used IUD cards.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did they join different unions? Did they join different internationals?
JIM PIERCE:
This time it was an IUD card they were signing, then later the decision was made that you involve the Laborers International Union, so we switched over to the Laborers International Union cards, and they became involved. A man named Bud Loeberg our liaison with the laborers… came in occasionally. Vurnie Reed is still with the Laborers Union, a really nice guy … got involved with it, very excited about it, but it fell apart for some reason.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You signed up …
JIM PIERCE:
We signed up 25,000 or 30,000 or more maybe …
WILLIAM FINGER:
But they didn't …
JIM PIERCE:
No I think someplace along there the decision was made by Reuther to put all the money and effort, everything that they had on the west coast instead of here, and they turned this over to the Packing House Workers Union and it has fallen flat on its face after that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It was out of your hands?
JIM PIERCE:
It was out of my hands. I was specifically instructed not to involve myself in it whatsoever. I got plenty pissed off about that.