Organizational Structure of the NFWA/UFW Over Time

One of the last exercises during our Networked Social Movements course involved creating visual charts of the organizational structures of the groups/case studies that would comprise our final project for the course. Using a whiteboard and dry erase markers, students were encouraged to creatively and visually draw comparative diagrams that could shed light on each topic. My final project involves a comparative study between the Farm Worker Movement of the 1960s and the Immigrants’ Rights Movement in the new millennium.  Because both of these movements comprise vast amounts of groups and individuals, my project focuses specifically on the National Farm Workers Association/United Farm Workers (NFWA/UFW) and the Dreamer Movement. The NFWA was a farm worker union and the direct predecessor of the UFW, which was founded by Cesar Chavez and other organizers in 1962. The Dreamer Movement, is the name of the movement led by undocumented youth that are seeking to enact the Dream Act. As part of this course exercise, I was able to map out the organization structures of both the NFWA/UFW and the Dreamer movement, which help to inform my particular emphasis on media practice and how structures impact media use and consumption. The images from my illustrations can be found below, along with further explanation and analysis. However, please take note that this exercise was for educational purposes, and the final project will contain better explanation of dynamics, terms, and structures.

The picture above shows the entire visualization of the organizational structures of the NFWA/UFW and Dreamer Organization. There are many symbols in the drawings that were inserted later at the request of our instructor, Professor Sasha Costanza-Chock. These symbols were mostly presented as binaries, however hybrids also exist. They are as follows: Circle = Horizontal Organization vs. Triangle = Top Down, Cloud = Informal Organization vs. Hat = Formal Organization, and Flower = Activism vs. Gavel = Legislative vs. Flaming Gavel = Activism and Legislative. These may not make much sense now, but hopefully with examples below, they will…


The picture above shows how in 1962, the National Farm Workers Association was mostly a top-down organization, with Cesar Chavez clearly being the leader. However, it should be noted that the NFWA was one of the first farm worker unions that actually included farm workers in the governing and decision making process, at the request of Chavez. For this reason there are arrows coming from the farm workers at the bottom, towards the middle leaderships and staff, and up to Chavez, and back down again, in a reciprocal fashion. Upper leadership are wearing hats because they were professional, who were trained as organizers. For example, Dolores Huerta was a college educated former school teacher, who was trained as an organizer. At this point, the NFWA used both grassroots and legislative means to promote change, hence the flaming gavel.

The era begging in 1966, with the Delano Grape Strike, signaled the biggest change in the NFWA’s organization structure. Shifting the conversations away from the term “union” and adopting the term “movement,” and also framing a labor dispute as “la causa” or “the cause” truly transformed the UFW’s capacity to achieve its goals. In the illustration above, it can be seen that the NFWA became inclusive of a variety of other groups, while maintaining most of the structure that was previously in place. Framed as a movement, the UFW was able to tap into the informal demographics of radical protesters and activists that were being mobilized by the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. South, The Free Speech Movement, and the Anti-War Movement. Furthermore, by opening up their ranks to students, media creators, activists, and sympathizers, the NFWA/UFW was able to find fruition in the diverse ideas and perspectives that came with that openness. This dynamic is what undoubtedly led to the UFW’s success in unionizing farm workers, notes organizer and Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz in his book “Why David Sometimes Wins.” This dynamic was new and fresh, and no other union in California at the time thought of taking this approach in building public support.  One the other hand, the shift towards a top-down model once more in the late 70s and early 80s is what ultimately signaled the decline of the UFW as a farm worker union. Not only did the UFW shift into a top-down organization in the 1980s, but it became less inclusive than before, as it lacked the farm worker member base as it shifted towards advocacy over organizing/unionizing.

An examination of the organizational structure of the Dreamer Movement will be compared to the structure of the UFW in my final project, especially as it relates to the capacity to engage in media practice.


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