"How Chavez Runs His 'Union'"; The Yardstick - "Criticism of Chavez and His Union Tactics”

Chavez_Paul VI.jpg

Cesar Chavez visits with Bishop Joseph Donnelly (center) and Pope Paul VI during a trip to Rome, Italy.

Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Criticism of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee's tactics did not occur only outside of the Church. Some clergy also criticized the union for how it was operated and the strategies used in its work.

One particularly virulent critic was Father Daniel Lyons, S.J., a writer for the National Catholic Register, who authored an article titled, “How Chavez Runs His ‘Union.’” In the article, Lyons accuses Chavez of dictatorship within the UFW, writing that he “does not have any elections for officers in his union. Nor does he have any bylaws. What he runs is not really a union in the acceptable sense of the word.” Lyons also wrote that Chavez did not have the best interests of the worker at heart, and that his only thought was complete domination of the UFW to make himself more wealthy.

In response, Monsignor George G. Higgins, in his The Yardstick column, accused Lyons of being “petulantly anti-Chavez and anti-UFWOC from beginning to end” and proceeded to dissect Lyons’ arguments. Higgins denied that Chavez was against elections, writing that elections had not been held in some areas due to pressure from growers to persuade workers to vote against a union or that some growers had secretly negotiated contracts with another union (presumably the Teamsters). Higgins also claimed that secondary boycotts were legal for unions not covered under the National Labor Relations Act (which the UFW was not), and argued, using the words of another writer, that the UFW did not operate under union laws so as to not restrict its ability to organize.

Chavez runs union.pdf

"How Chavez Runs His 'Union'"
Courtesy of ACUA

The debate had partisans on either side, and served to prove that not everyone within the Church was enamored with Chavez. However, the UFW leader did receive unexpected thanks for his work by none other than Pope Paul VI, who granted a private audience with Chavez in Rome in 1974 and lauded the UFW leader for his commitment to Catholic social teaching (the full statement by the Pope on his meeting with Chavez can be found here). In a sense, Chavez had received his greatest endorsement.



1. What does Lyons accuse Chavez of in his article?

2. What evidence does Lyons present?

3. How does Higgins respond?

4. What evidence does Higgins present?

5. Why would Higgins defend Chavez against a fellow member of the clergy?

6. How does Higgins acknowledge due criticism of Chavez and the UFW?

YS-Chavez union tactics.pdf

"Criticism of Chavez and His Union Tactics"
Courtesy of ACUA