I first became acquainted with the union in 1968 in San Jose, CA. My father ran for County Supervisor that year. I was 11 years old. Our family friend and comrade, Fred Hirsch took me out to a local supermarket called Dick’s and we handed out leaflets asking customers to Boycott grapes. As a candidate, my father endorsed the grape Boycott. Being raised in Famoso (Bakersfield) he grew up with migrant farm workers so it was easy for him to do.
In 1969 our family moved to Los Angeles. In 1973, my brother Patrick and I were introduced to Ray Ortiz and his wife Barbara who convinced us to join the Boycott staff. We moved to the Boycott house on Hobart Blvd. (near Washington) in L.A. All summer we went out to different areas of So. Cal. to picket and ask people not to shop at the store until they stopped selling grapes. We mostly picketed Safeway. Cesar was smart. He knew that farmworkers were excluded from the NLRA nothing could prevent them from engaging in a secondary boycott. He turned every negative into a positive.On one of his visits to L.A. I got to meet him in the front of the Boycott house before he went inside. He asked me my name. I said, “Joe Hancock,” He responded, “that’s a name to remember.’ I never forgot that. It was a very proud moment for me. Although I met him again on occasions, that is the one that sticks out in my mind.
During the summer of ‘73 two farmworkers were killed on the picket line in the fields. One was from the Phillipines, the other from Yemen. Because of the violence, the strike was halted, and the Boycott was expanded. In L.A. we wrote personal letters to the politicians in Sacramento in our own hand and took them out to the picket lines at the stores and asked customers to sign them. We send bundles of letters to Sacramento! We even asked customers for change to buy stamps.
In the fall of ‘73 I went back to high school, while my brother stayed on the Boycott. Gallo winery in Modesto (Livingston) CA. refused to renew its contract with the union. So we had a new defensive battle on our hands. We began to picket local liquor stores. Strikers were brought to L.A. and I met some great new friends. When I wasn’t at the school I was out picketing. Several of us from the same school formed the Echo Park Boycott Committee. We made a banner and carried it on marches. One I remember started in Panorama City in the San Fernando Valley and went south through the heart of the city. That march took a week. I was only able to go on the first day because of school.
We picketed every liquor store in Echo Park and East Hollywood. We were harassed by the police, the friends and family of the owners, and other AFL-CIO union members. The retail clerks Local 770 didn’t like us picketing stores where their members lost hours, and the liquor store distillery workers didn’t like us picketing stores where their members lost sales. We were effective! When I was on the line they used to call me “pizza face” because I had a bad case of acne.
I’m a Chavista. I will always be a Chavista. Nothing can seperate me from the union. Whatever campaign there is, no matter how big or small, you can call on me. Although I’m disabled now, I’m not helpless. I can still make phone calls. I’ll help. Give me a call or send me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (323) 239-6335