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Ghostworkers and Greens: The Cooperative Campaigns of Farmworkers and Environmentalists for Pesticide Reform

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[Excerpt] Ghostworkers and Greens shows how farmworker groups often drew connections to the larger public in their pesticide reform efforts in order to increase the number of people supporting their campaigns and compensate for their lack of political and economic power. While several agricultural chemicals carried the risk of poisoning farmworkers, the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) focused its initial campaign on DDT, the infamous persistent pesticide whose threat extended well beyond the bounds of the field. The launch of subsequent campaigns followed incidents of widespread poisoning of the public by pesticide residue. Cesar Chavez and other organizers argued that growers’ misuse of pesticides threatened the public and farmworkers alike and that the problem could be resolved with a strong union presence in the fields. Other farmworker groups like the Maricopa County Organizing Project, Arizona Farm Workers, and the Farmworker Association of Florida focused their water quality, and ozone depletion. They similarly connected farmworker health issues to broader concerns. Additionally, these groups devoted resources to educational efforts among farmworkers, teaching workers and their families how to best protect their health around dangerous agricultural chemicals. The organizations used lawsuits to gain leverage as well. The public face of their campaigns, though, typically sought to establish a bond with people and groups having little direct connection to the fields. This book also demonstrates that environmental organizations espoused a similar rhetoric of cooperation, suggesting that environmentalists and workers should work together on issues when interests overlapped. Organizers of the first Earth Day stressed the value of building alliances with organizations associated with other causes, stating that the potential for cooperative campaigns was innumerable because pollution affected everyone regardless of race or social standing. Recently formed environmental organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Friends of Earth (FoE) embraced the expanded vision of environmentalism readily. Of the older conservation groups, the Sierra Club showed the greatest enthusiasm for tackling new challenges. This is made clear in Sierra Club Bulletin editorials from the early 1970s that spoke of the compatibility of environmentalism and social justice. Environmental organizations knew that workers and environmentalists would not agree on everything, but recognized the value of finding common ground and cooperating on issues of mutual interest. Many environmental groups continued to voice support for partnerships with labor organizations in the 1980s and beyond.

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The abstract, table of contents, and first twenty-five pages are published with permission from the Cornell University Press. For ordering information, please visit the Cornell University Press at


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pesticide reform; farm workers; environmental organizations; labor organizations


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