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ᜎᜇᜒ ᜁᜎᜒᜌᜓ - Larry Itliong Crewneck

ᜎᜇᜒ ᜁᜎᜒᜌᜓ - Larry Itliong Crewneck

Larry Dulay Itliong (25 October 1913 – 8 February 1977), also known as "Seven Fingers", was a Filipino-American labor organizer. He organized West Coast agricultural workers starting in the 1930s, and rose to national prominence in 1965, when he, Philip Vera Cruz, Benjamin Gines and Pete Velasco, walked off the farms of area table-grape growers, demanding wages equal to the federal minimum wage, that became known as the Delano grape strike. He has been described as "one of the fathers of the West Coast labor movement." He is regarded as a key figure of the Asian American movement.

 

Biography

Itliong was a native of San Nicolas, Philippines. One of six children of Artemio and Francesca Itliong, Itliong only had a sixth grade education. He immigrated to the United States in 1929 and joined his first strike in 1930; Itliong was only 14 when he came to the United States. Itliong was an excellent card player, and avid cigar smoker, who spoke multiple Filipino languages, Spanish, Cantonese, Japanese, and taught himself about law. Itliong married six times, had seven children, and raised his family in the Delano area  and in the Little Manila community of Stockton, California.

As a farmworker Itliong worked in Alaska, where he organized cannery and agricultural unions, Washington, and up and down California; he also worked in Montana and South Dakota. While living in Alaska, he helped found the Alaska Cannery Workers Union (which later became Local 7 of the United Cannery and Packing and Allied Workers Union, then Local 7 of the International Longshoreman's and Warehouse Workers Union). He lost three fingers in an accident in an Alaskan cannery, which earned him the nickname, "Seven Fingers."

Some of the labor organizers whom Itliong met in his early days had ties to the Communist Party. Filipinos in California led the way in unionization efforts among farmworkers in the 1930s and 40s. During World War II, Itliong served on a U.S. Army transport ship as a messman. After the war, he settled in the city of Stockton in California's Central Valley. In 1948, Itliong (along with Rudy Delvo, Chris Mensalvas, Philip Vera Cruz, and Ernesto Mangaoang) became involved in the 1948 asparagus strike, which was the first major agriculture strike after World War II.] Itliong served as the first shop steward of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 37, in Seattle, and was elected its vice-president in 1953. He served as secretary of the Filipino Community of Stockton from 1954 to 1956. In 1956, Itliong founded the Filipino Farm Labor Union in Stockton. In 1957, he was elected president of the Filipino Voters League in Stockton. By 1965, Itliong was leading the AFL–CIO union Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee; the majority of members of the committee were Filipinos who had in the 1930s arrived in the United States.

A vote was held on 3 May 1965 in which the committee voted to strike against Coachella Valley grape growers. Although the strikers weren't able to negotiate a contract with the growers, they did succeed in winning higher wages. Following the success in Southern California, on 8 September 1965 the Agriculture Workers Organizing Committee voted to strike against grape growers in Delano, California, where the grape season starts in September. This strike became the first time Mexican workers, due to the decision of Cesar Chavez, did not break a strike of Filipinos; later, on 16 September 1965, Chavez's National Farm Workers Association joined the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee on the picket lines. These strikes occurred around the same time when younger Filipino Americans began a period of political self-reflection and awakening.

The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and National Farm Workers Association merged to form the United Farm Workers; Itliong was skeptical of the merger, as he believed that Mexicans would become dominant over the Filipinos when the organizations merged, and that improving work conditions would come at the expense of Filipino farmworkers, but Itliong kept those feelings to himself at the time. In 1966, the California Rural Legal Assistance was founded as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Itliong sitting on the founding board. Itliong served as assistant director of the United Farm Workers under Cesar Chavez, and in 1970 he was appointed the United Farm Workers' national boycott coordinator. In 1971, Itliong resigned from the United Farm Workers because of disagreements about the governance of the union; another reason for resigning from the United Farm Workers, was that Itliong felt that the union was not willing to support aging Filipinos. Alex Fabros, a doctoral candidate at University of California, Santa Barbara, called the merger "devastating for the Filipinos who participated in the UFW.".

After leaving the United Farm Workers, Itliong assisted retired Filipino farmworkers in Delano, and was a delegate at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Together with Vera Cruz, Itliong worked towards building a retirement facility for UFW workers, known as Agbayani Village. Although no longer in the United Farm Workers, Itliong continued to support others in the organized labor movement, such as helping others plan a strike against Safeway supermarkets in 1974. Itliong also served as President of the Filipino American Political Association, a bipartisan lobbying organization. He died in 1977 at the age of 63 in Delano of Lou Gehrig's disease.

     

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