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The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and…
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The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar… (2009)

by Miriam Pawel

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With a novelist's empathy and a historian's care, Pawel chronicles the well-known story of how Chavez built the first successful union for farmworkers--and the lesser known story of how he tore it down
  chicagofreedom | Oct 26, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Miriam Pawel presents an incomplete but illuminating history of the United Farm Workers (UFW) from 1965 through 1989. The book focuses tightly on the experiences of eight people in the movement, including boycott organizers, attorneys, a minister, and farmworkers who became team leaders and union organizers. Although Cesar Chavez is a dominant figure in the story, he is presented at a distance, always through others' eyes, and Pawel spends virtually no time explaining his background. For the reader, as for the focal characters, Chavez' leadership and legendary status is a given from the outset. This stylistic choice makes it easier to grasp how, for so long, movement and union members could defer to Chavez and overlook his flaws, while giving greatly of themselves to realize his dreams.

For students of advocacy movements, the central lesson of the story is that Chavez was a charismatic and idealistic movement leader, and a terrible administrator. Once the movement won -- institutionalizing, through state legislation in 1975, the right of workers to form a union -- Chavez should have stepped away from the fledgling UFW, turning it over to the gifted organizers and managers he had recruited. That would have freed him to build new movements -- a broad campaign for poor people, a utopian spiritual community, a community services organization. Instead, Chavez tried to have it all, refusing to hand over control of the union, but neglecting union business to pursue a series of experimental initiatives. The story Pawel tells is a tragedy -- for Chavez, who destroyed much of what he had built and turned on staff who loved him; for the farmworkers, many of whom lost contracts they had fought hard to win; and especially for committed union staffers forced out in a series of emotionally brutal purges.

While this book will benefit anyone interested in labor or advocacy movements, it has too narrow a focus to serve as the definitive account of the entire UFW. For example, Dolores Huerta comes across in this book as Cesar Chavez' hatchet woman, though she has had a distinguished career in Sacramento as a lobbyist for workers. Richard Chavez, Cesar's brother, comes across as a Cassandra who repeatedly warns Cesar against his mistakes but is ignored. The book is simply silent on Richard and Dolores' long-running relationship, which could hardly be overlooked in a book that wanted to address all facets of the UFW's history. In later chapters, Chavez' son Paul and son-in-law Arturo Rodriguez climb to leadership positions in the union, but are never sketched with any depth. The book also gives little sense of how the union has evolved since Cesar Chavez' unexpected death in 1993 (although Pawel published a long and highly critical article on that in the Los Angeles Times in 2006). Pawel has little to say about the theory of organizing, another dimension of the story that would have been interesting to understand better. But, with respect to its purpose -- capturing the experience of working for Cesar Chavez during the UFW's initial rise and fall -- the Union of Their Dreams does an excellent job. ( )
  bezoar44 | Aug 5, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Miriam Pawel creates a very good, although very long, portrait of Cesar Chávez. He was and still is a hero to many. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys an in-depth history read. ( )
  susiebrooks | Aug 2, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Union of Their Dreams presents a unique perspective of the farm worker movement, with individual chapters focused on some of the integral members of the movement that do not get much attention. Pawel does a good job portraying both the strengths and the faults of Chavez and the movement.

I would recommend The Union of Their Dreams to anyone that is interested in social movements or the history of the period. ( )
  kbondelli | Nov 24, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Miriam Pawel, in her book The Union of Their Dreams, chronicles the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers movement through the eyes of a handful of central participants. Pawal's approach is particularly valuable because it allows her to evade the hero worship and iconography that surrounds Cesar Chavez and his legacy. Instead, Chavez is sketched by others' relationships with him and the reader gets a much fuller picture of the UFW as an organization.

Earlier, I reviewed John Dittmer's The Good Doctors which explored a civil rights organization from its birth in the segregation-era South to its eventual dissentigration. Whereas the Medical Committee for Human Rights eventually fell prey to its diversified interestsand lack of strong leaders that diluted its clout, the UFW profiled by Pawal was an organization bound too tightly to a single charismatic leader. It reminds the reader that institutions have many ways to fail, no matter how much good they've effected.

Pawal's book is an important addition to the history of American labor, and is unique in its attention to the relatively anonymous participants. It was heartbreaking to read the stories of people who had poured their lives into the movement and been discarded and forgotten. Chavez played a major role in the UFW, but he was never alone.
  ToTheWest | Aug 31, 2010 |
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The Union of Their Dreams paints a vivid portrait of the cost of leadership that stifles dissent and activists who accept being silenced for the sake of the struggle.
 
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For those who believe they can change the world.
¡Que vivan!
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The history of the United Farm Workers union begins and ends with Cesar Chavez, who had the audacity to single-handedly challenge California's most powerful industry, and the will to keep fighting for three decades. By the time he died in 1993, he stood alone again.
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