The Truth About NATLFED


Every Fucking Worker Around

Wait — I mean, Eastern Farm Workers Association.

Gino always preferred the first line.  Others tried to come up with clever variations for WMLA, ESWA, etc.  It just didn’t come across the same.

EFWA Suffolk was the flagship entity, the first, the model for all other mutual benefits associations to come into existence.  Most tactics were spearheaded out of Suffolk first and then sent unilaterally to the other associations.  There was one that did not, the Special Event Protocol, which was spearheaded out of the ESWA Philadelphia office.  Why?  I’m not sure, but it probably had something to do with the education process that National felt the Operations Manager needed.

Canvassing the streets of Bellport was a good way to introduce people to the conditions of our membership.  South Bellport (south of the LIRR tracks) was the rich side of town.  North Bellport was home to a solid membership base.  The line delineating North Bellport and East Patchogue wasn’t even marked, just one street over and there you were, but still the same type of people.

Believe it or not, few in the area were on welfare.  Sure, some were on it for a while or needed help with food stamps, but most were persons that scrambled and scrounged for work.  When the picking season came, many had jobs.  After the picking season, they worked in the fast food places, the lace mill, retail stores, whatever they could find.

In other words, the exact opposite of what most people thought — that our members were nothing but a bunch of lazy people that sat around all day collecting government benefits.

These were people that had roots in the community, generation upon generation living in the same area (for many families).  Or, some that settled after landing a job that didn’t require sleeping in a bunkhouse.  The kids attended school because the parents wanted them to do better in life.  Some of the kids were industrious in the summer, assembling lawnmowers and rakes, heading across the tracks to offer their services mowing lawns.

That was part of the success of the organization.  Every worker, not just farm workers.  If the potatoes weren’t picked, there was no grading to be done, no trucks required to haul away the sort to market.  The stores would just get potatoes from Maine but the community would suffer the loss of wages while the farm owners waited for the price of potatoes to increase.

In the early days, EFWA attracted many activists including the local Black Panthers, who operated a free health clinic in Riverhead.  Such alliances are rare in the Organization today.  One stated reason is that such groupings became co-opted with government dollars that had strings attached, thus changing the revolutionary intent of the groups into a charitable handout.

EFWA had the ability to spawn ancillary organizations, as special interest groups pursued agendas of importance.  Committee of Friends and Relatives of Prisoners (CFROP) was spawned directly out of the Workers Benefits Council.  When some business ventures looked at Long Island as an ideal place to grow wine grapes, members organized a subcommittee of grape workers.  Western Farm Workers Association even sent a shipment of the special ring knives used to cut the bunches of grapes.

It took a long time before Gino authorized a Western Farm Workers Association because he had too much respect for Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers.  The establishment of the drive was carefully orchestrated such as to be separate, yet in solidarity with, the UFW.  He saw the eventual downfall of the UFW but we weren’t going to kick them off the ladder.

On the west coast, one of the entities had a bunch of mushroom workers that started organizing a proto-union effort.  This was an effort that Gino called “the one that got away” because we weren’t in charge of the union.  I wonder if it lasted or if it joined the ranks of UFW.

In fact, what has happened to the fight?  My travels occasionally take me to areas where there are entities.  I hear the same things.  Either no one has heard of the organization or they think it’s a good charity for the poor people.  Even in Medford, the Arena Operations Manager was elevated to the status of Saint by the membership, the press, the local charities, churches, etc.  People in Atlantic City complained about the local office being a complete and disgusting rat hole.

The fight has long since gone.  With the death of Robert T Burns in Suffolk, the last of the Black Panthers decided EFWA wasn’t worth their time.  EFWA had promised to re-open a service center in Riverhead and failed to do so.  The Panthers began an effort, and I don’t know how far they got.

If you’re not growing, you’re dying.  The closure of service centers, ancillary organizations, support groups and others is a sign that you are dying.  The “better fewer but better” campaign didn’t work out for national leadership as they had intended.  They got rid of the doers, the activists, the true believers and were left with the ones with no place else to do, with the only strength of blindly following orders from persons that never set foot on a picket line, never did a bucket drive, etc.

It’s a far cry from Every Fucking Worker Around.

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