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Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08
Pages 14 and 15
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Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08 - Pages 14 and 15. July 1979 - August 1979. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. October 2, 2014. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1537/show/1523.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(July 1979 - August 1979). Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08 - Pages 14 and 15. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1537/show/1523

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08 - Pages 14 and 15, July 1979 - August 1979, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed October 2, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1537/show/1523.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough 1979-07 - 1979-08
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date July 1979 - August 1979
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas--Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Physical Description 28 page periodical
Format (IMT)
  • image/jpeg
Original Item Location http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name index.cpd
Item Description
Title Pages 14 and 15
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas--Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name femin_201109_552an.jpg
Transcript pecan shelters strike A recently published essay booklet, Women in the Texas Workforce: Yesterday and Today is the product of two and a half years of research and oral history interviews by members of People's History in Texas, a group founded in 1976 to produce non-sexist and non-racist educational materials. The group's first project was the 1976 Women in Texas History Calendar. Glenn Scott, project coordinator, describes their research problems: "The only histories that were relatively accessible were those of women who had been elected to office, or born to affluence or were married to someone important in traditional terms. However, there was a vast number of women whose history was hidden—those who cleaned, sewed, cooked, picked vegetables, kept house, reared children, shelled, ironed, milled, rolled cigars, served food. In fact, their very absence brings the message to students of Texas history that these women's lives were really not part of history. "We began to shape a project to research and produce a history of working women in Texas. To do the research, it quickly became apparent that interviews or oral histories of working women would be essential because traditional historical resources provided so little. Unions are one of the few non-elite organizations which leave written records. We selected the period 1930-1950 because it marked the entry of women into Texas labor history." One essay in Women in the Texas Workforce: Yesterday and Today documents the 1938 San Antonio pecan shelter's strike. Here is an excerpt from Croxdale's account of that strike. . . by Richard Croxdale In San Antonio in the spring of 1938, 12,000 pecan shellers, mostly Chicanas working in one of the lowest paid industries in America, conducted a three- month long strike, defeating both the owners of the factories and the San Antonio political machine. They not only gained significantly higher wages, but many claim they laid the foundation for Chicano civil rights activity in San Antonio 30 years later. Texas pecans accounted for 40% of the nation's production in the 1930's. With pecan trees growing rampant along Texas rivers and creeks, local promoters often grew mystical over the possibilities of the pecan. Seeing no possibility of overproduction, they claimed that marketing potential had not yet begun to be exploited. The Governor of Texas, James T. Hogg, was one such enthusiast: "I want no monument of stone or marble but plant at my head a pecan tree . . . and let the pecans be given out among the plain people that they may plant them and make Texas a land of trees." As Hogg desired, the pecans were given out to the plain people, not to plant but to shell at a wage of $3-5 a week. Primarily Mexican women and Chicanas, 12,000 workers were employed at shelling pecans in San Antonio in as many as 400 small shops. San Antonio was the Texas shelling center because half the Texas pecan crop grew within a radius of 250 miles from that city. The Industry Conditions in the shelling factories resembled those existing in late 19th century sweatshops. Whereas other industries had increasingly become more mechanized during the 20th century, there had been a reversal of this trend in the pecan shelling industry. When the Southern Pecan Shelling Company began operations in 1926, hand shelling, cracking and shaking replaced all machines in San Antonio. Using to full advantage a large and low-paid Spanish-speaking population, Julius Seligmann, owner of the Southern Pecan Shelling Company, introduced the contracting system. Contractors were essentially employees of the large pecan dealers who controlled the supply of nuts as well as the prices for shelling. According to Senora Perez, a small contractor, "They would give you the whole pecan on credit for about 10 cents a pound, and they would buy the nuts back for 30 or 36 cents . . . You could furnish the building, the electricity, the water, and a clean place to work in and have some left over for profit." The contracting system permitted Seligmann to eliminate expenditures of fixed costs during slack times and to reduce responsibility for management. Women constituted 70-80% of the pecan-shelling work force. As the Depression progressed, however, men had to enter the shelling factories. Alberta Snid's father was one of these: "As a last resort, my father had to go in and shell pecans. There was nothing else." According to a federal study, the average annual family income of shellers was $251, and the average individual weekly income was $2.73. Alberta Snid remembers that people were paid not in money but in staples such as beans, potatoes, rice, coffee. "And I don't mean there was a bunch of it, [it was] a pound of this, a pound of that, whatever they felt like giving you. My mother never allowed that, though, she fought for her money." The working conditions in the small plants were abysmal. "As many as 100 pickers sat at stalls around long tables in a room perhaps 25 by 40 feet long, wielding picking knives with quick deft move- i Workers in pecan shelling shed, San Antonio, early 1930's. Conditions in the shelling factories resembled those existing in 19th century sweatshops. Photo courtesy of Anita Perez. ments." Illumination was poor, inside toilets and washbowls non-existent, and ventilation inadequate. A normal workday was 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every weekday. Pecan-shelling was seasonal, the peak coming from October or November to May, with the summer months being generally slack. Workers often joined the agricultural migratory stream in these off-months, picking cotton and beet-sugar in Texas, and sometimes followed the harvest all the way to Minnesota. The market for pecans was national arid was dominated by a few large firms. Southern Pecan Shelling Company, owned by Julius Seligman, shelled 1/4 to 1/3 of the nation's entire crop of pecans. R. E. Funsten of St. Louis also shelled 1/4 of the total crop. Between the two, a high degree of monopoly control of the market was firmly established. Using this market position, Seligmann bought a huge surplus in 1935 and when a shortage occurred in 1936, Seligmann reaped a windfall profit of $500,000. In federal testimony, however, Seligmann claimed that he could not make a cent on pecans and hence couldn't pay higher wages. Labor Organization Organization among agricultural workers and packing shed workers has always been difficult due to the seasonal and transitory nature of the work. [But] formal union organization among the pecan shellers began in 1933 with the Pecan Shelling Worker's Union of San Antonio, led by Magdeleno Rodriquez. Rodriquez was supported financially by Seligmann who believed that a union would prevent small operators from undercutting the scale paid by the larger companies. According to Latane Lambert, he [Rodriquez] was also connected to Chief of Police Owen Kilday's political machine. While he might not have had an overt connection, he was one of the people upon whom the machine depended. Rodriquez had a large following and Alberta Snid's impression of the union was good: "He really organized the people and he was almost as good as Emma Tenayuca. Unfortunately, he was gone from one day to the next, and we never heard from him any more." Latane Lambert, however, characterized Rodriquez as a representative of caudillismo and was glad "that the action of people participating in the pecan strike blasted once and forever whatever political machine there was on the West Side." On the national scene, a group of unions calling themselves the Congress of Industrial Organizations became disgruntled with the conservative policies of the American Federation of Labor. They split with the AFL in 1936, and began actively encouraging the organization of the unorganized. The Worker's Alliance, a national organization [was] formed by the Communist Party during the Depression for the purpose of advancing the interests of the unemployed; the dominant force in the San Antonio chapter was Emma Tenayuca. A well-known figure in San Antonio politics, Tenayuca had led sit- downs in the City Hall and had battled pay cuts in the WPA. In addition, her husband, Homer Brooks, had run for the governorship of Texas under the Communist Party banner. According to Latane Lambert, Tenayuca was in the front because "... as in any movement, you would take the ones who were the most articulate, who appealed to the crowd, and she was a good speaker. It was right she would be [called] La Passionara because in her shrill little voice she would make your spine tingle." During the '30's, Emma Tenayuca was probably San Antonio's most dedicated and persistent organizer and advocate of the unorganized. Her background "The struggle to improve wages and working conditions by the women working in the pecan factories . . .constitutes an episode in labor history equally as dramatic as any of the better known C/O struggles of the northern-mass production industries, " points out Croxdale. "The fact that the conflict goes un- mentioned in labor annals is one more instance of women's history being ignored. With the help of a number of oral interviews, we are prepared to tell that story." HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH 14 JULY/AUGUST 1979 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH 15 JULY/AUGUST 1979