Agriculture and Labor Unions
Filipino agricultural workers were one of the most exploited groups of laborers in the Delta region. As a result of this overt subjection, Filipinos formed and joined labor unions to combat excruciating work environments and low wages. The methodologies of early Filipino labor unions were gleaned from the practices of Communist labor unions, originally the only labor group in America willing to defend the rights of Filipino workers. Stockton was home to many Filipino movement leaders including former assistant director of the United Farm Workers, Larry Itliong. As time progressed, exclusively Filipino labor unions began to appear in Stockton throughout the 1930s, however it was in 1939 that the Filipino American Laborers Association, later the Filipino Agricultural Laborer’s Association, America’s most powerful Filipino labor group, was created.
The founders and leaders of F.A.L.A were Dr. Macario Bautista and Francisco Varona. Dr. Bautista was a renowned member of the Filipino community and the only licensed Filipino doctor in the Delta region. He was also elected as the president of the Filipino Community of Stockton, and worked collaboratively with Claro Candelario, a radical Filipino labor leader, to organize protests and demonstrations in the Delta Region. Varona served as labor assistant to Joaquin M. Elizalde, the Philippine’s representative in Congress.
The organization saw initial success in the asparagus strike of 1939, as white and Japanese farmers quickly succumbed to the group’s demands. However, in fear of the F.A.L.A’s achievement, Japanese farmers quickly made plans for Mexican scabs to replace Filipino workers on strike. The animosity between the Japanese and Filipinos swiftly transformed into a racial struggle, as Japanese farmers began to see themselves as racially and socially superior to the Filipinos. As Issei growers were working to break Filipino strikes, they found themselves aligning with a Stockton resident, Kay Morimoto, and the Filipino Federation of America (F.F.A), an anti-union group. The antagonism of F.A.L.A was perpetuated further as Japanese landlords evicted Dr. Bautista from his office location at 241 S. El Dorado, located in the epicenter of Little Manila, and replaced him with a Japanese employment agency used for strikebreaking. Dr. Bautista’s eviction did not fare well with members of F.A.L.A, inciting one member to fire ten shots into the employment office, although there were no casualties or injuries.
Challenging those who fought against their movement, F.A.L.A persisted. The efforts of the organization were continual despite the setbacks put forth by white and Japanese growers. The organization made some headway by aligning themselves with the American Federation of Labor, who negotiated treaties on behalf of F.A.L.A, but the alliance with the A.F.L proved fatal as the union grew exponentially weaker. World War II confirmed the end of F.A.L.A because the war created new jobs in the military industry while others enlisted into the armed services. The efforts of F.A.L.A, although remarkable, did not bring about the necessary change for Filipino recognition in the political sphere, fair wages, and favorable work conditions.