The Yardstick – “Seeking Justice and Peace in Vineyards”

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Father John Bank of Youngstown, Ohio, left, Bishop Joseph Donnelly, center, and Monsignor George Higgins, right, stand on picket line with farm workers in Coachella Valley.

Courtesy of ACUA

In late 1969, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), though still not taking a position on the strike in Delano, did take one important step forward in assisting Chavez and the UFW. The bishops created the Ad Hoc Committee on Farm Labor, which was to serve not only as an extension of the NCCB in California, but also as a mediator between the UFW and growers. The committee included five bishops (two from California) and two priests, including Monsignor George Higgins. The latter, along with Monsignor Roger Mahony and Bishop Joseph Donnelly of Hartford, would do much of the ground work for the committee in Delano and other parts of California.

In his The Yardstick column of March 16, 1970, Higgins commented on two trips to California he had made recently as part of the committee, mentioning that the statement on farm labor made by the NCCB in 1968 was correct in not only lamenting the hardships of the farm workers, but also that of the small family farmers. Harsh weather, high interest rates, low prices on produce, and high machinery costs have “forced a number of small growers to the wall and has left a number of others teetering on the verge of bankruptcy,” Higgins wrote. The bishops, many of these small farmers, and Higgins agreed that these farmers needed to form associations to help there way of life survive, and Higgins added that they would have the support of the NCCB if they did this.

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"Seeking Justice and Peace in Vineyards"
Courtesy of ACUA

However, he also urged them to stop joining with the larger growers in their anti-union and anti-Chavez campaigns, while also acknowledging their complaints that some unionists have treated these growers unfairly. Higgins, though, stressed that the committee was only interested in trying “to persuade the parties to resume negotiations as soon as possible and to settle their differences at the collection bargaining table.”



1. Who does Higgins empathize with and why?

2. Why would small growers ally themselves with agribusiness over farm workers?