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Mexican and Japanese Laborers Form a Union

In 1903, Mexican and Japanese farmworkers in Oxnard, California joined together to resist a wage cut by their employers. When they requested that their union be allowed to join the American Federation of Labor, President Samuel Gompers told the workers their union would only be admitted to the Federation if they agreed to bar Japanese workers from joining. The Mexican workers were unwilling to accept those terms, as they explained to Gompers in this letter.

OXNARD, CAL., June 8, 1903.

Mr. Samuel Gompers, Pres. American Federation of Labor, Washington, D. C.

DEAR SIR: Your letter of May 13, in which you say: ‘The admission with us of the Japanese Sugar Beet & Farm Laborers into the American Federation of Labor cannot be considered,’ is received.

We beg to say in reply that our Japanese brothers, here were the first to recognize the importance of co-operating and uniting in demanding a fair wage scale.

They are composed mostly of men without families, unlike the Mexicans in this respect.

They were not only just with us, but they were generous. When one of our men was murdered by hired assassins of the oppressors of labor, they gave expression of their sympathy in a very substantial form.

In the past we have counciled, fought and lived on very short rations with our Japanese brothers, and toiled with them in the fields, and they have been uniformly kind and considerate. We would be false to them and to ourselves and to the cause of Unionism if we, now, accepted privileges for ourselves which are not accorded to them. We are going to stand by men who stood by us in the long, hard fight which ended in a victory over the enemy. We therefore respectfully petition the A. F. of L. to grant us a charter under which we can unite all the Sugar Beet & Field Laborers of Oxnard, without regard to their color or race. We will refuse any other kind of charter, except one which will wipe out race prejudices and recognize our fellow workers as being as good as ourselves.

I am ordered by the Mexican union to write this letter to you and they fully approve its words.

J.M. LIZARRARAS,

Sec’y S. B. & F. L. Union, Oxnard.

Source | John Murray, “A Foretaste of the Orient,” International Socialist Review, 4 (August 1903): 72–79.
Creator | John Murray
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | John Murray, “Mexican and Japanese Laborers Form a Union,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 17, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/2261.

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