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From the Jaws of Victory by Matt García

From the Jaws of Victory by Matt García

The book under analysis is From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement by Matt García. The book is a great contribution to the history and particularly to the understanding of the success and final failure of Farm Worker Movement. Much attention is paid particularly to Cesar Chavez, a leader of the United Farm Workers labor union. The book under analysis presents a detailed study of the historic events which took place right at the middle of the struggle. The 70’s were very difficult years for the workers, and at the same time, they were really successful in the parts where people managed to strive for their rights. The book shows a triumph of workers and finally ends up with the specific discussion of the failures of the boycott. The main idea of the book is to show how the struggle was perceived by simple people who were in the middle of the events, how the struggle began and what the consequences were. Overall, the book consists of eight chapters not including the introduction and the epilogue. It should be mentioned that Cesar Chavez is considered an icon for American workers, he is a legend for many people, but the final failure of the rebellions proved his inconsistence as a leader. Having an intention to focus on the main aspects and elements of the rebellion, the book presents the events and struggle from the side of workers and union staff, which shows the reasons why the rebellion failed and why Cesar Chavez should not be as idolized as he is paying attention to leadership failures.

The book starts with the discussion of the beginning of the movement in 1968 and lasts till 1980s. Then the chapter “Capitalism in Reverse” discusses the situation in the society and particularly the working conditions and the desires of employees to change a lot. Overall, the demands of the workers and their vision of the future working conditions are the centers of consideration in this chapter. The “Workers of the World, Unite” dwells upon the situation when two unions and two leaders united for the common goal. The desire to improve the working conditions was a logical outcome of oppression, which led to the rebellions all over the country. Further chapters logically and consequently move from the success in the struggle to the complications. “Stuck in the Middle”, “A Bitter Harvest”, “Busy Dying”, “Rotting from the Inside Out”, and “Some Were More Equal than Others” are the chapters in the book which start with a very successful and even triumph in the rebellion development and successively end with the decline in movements and its oppression.

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Much attention in the book is paid to the staff relations, to the communication between employees, and to the leadership itself. The main requirement to the workers expressed was a higher attention of the international members to the working conditions in the country. The workers were looking for international support, and they managed to gain it. Expressing the arguments and reaching the goals of writing, the author focuses on the legal acts and specific legislation accepted during the struggle, namely, Agricultural Labor Relations Act by the California legislature in 1975 (at the peak of success of the struggles) and proposition 14 (the first step on the way to the movement defeat).

The epigraphs help much in understanding the author’s intentions. Matt García (2012) starts with the following expressions, “[The role of the] organizer [is to] work with people where they are, not where you are, or where you think they ought to be” by Fred Ross; “An organizer is an outsider in many cases – there’s nothing wrong in that. But when he assumes a sort of special position in that program. If you organize a good group, pretty soon you find yourself hoping, ‘I wish I had vote in this outfit’” by Cesar Chavez; and “I am aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident, I hit it in the stomach” by Upton Sinclair. Reading these quotes at the beginning of the book, the author just gives a hint which particular direction one should follow in order to understand the main idea of the reading. However, one cannot get the idea of what the book is about until they read it till the end. The very structure of the book is logical and chronically correct. However, the author’s attention to detail and a very slight change in the meaning show the very idea and the author’s intention. The first part of the work shows how the struggle began and how it succeeded. Further, the book slightly moves to the events which stopped the rebellion success and caused the decline of the struggle power. García stresses the fact that many people considered Cesar Chavez an icon of the situation, a person who managed to succeed, but he also indicates to the fact that not many people pointed on him after the rebellion decline. Showing the situation inside the rebellion, between people who actively struggled for their rights, the author tried to show the behavior of the leader in the beginning and the leadership failures at the end. The changes which occurred in the progress of the struggle were not the outcomes of time changes; those were the results of inappropriate leadership initiated by Cesar Chavez. The author explained this decline in leadership effectiveness by the fact that Chavez took too much on his shoulders to sustain. There was the time when he managed to cope with the situation, but further he “became increasingly invested in his power to dictate the strategies and priorities of the union as the decade wore on”.

Overall, the discussion in the book is close to the description of the situation by the one who saw it. The book lacks some direct analysis of the situation; however, thinking about the specifics of the information layout, it is important to stress the fact that the book is full of names, some quotes and direct expression of judgments. The book is a half-narration and a half-historic chronological work, which contributes greatly to the world community in understanding the working movements in 1970s. The names in the book, the smallest details to the daily routine and an analysis of the ordinary events provide an impression that it is a storytelling. Generally, the author contributed greatly to the detailed understanding of the situation. The worker movements were spread all over the country and the understanding of the situation was mainly focused on the vision of the events from the side of the state in general. Of course, some witnesses discussed the situation, but there was no much detailed analysis of the case from the inside of the struggle. The worker movements were very important for state development; they were necessary for the formation of the state as it is now. However, the understanding of the life of workers who were interested in the struggle is a very important aspect for understanding the failure of the final goals.