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The Union of Their Dreams

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  92 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
A generation of Americans came of age boycotting grapes, swept up in a movement that vanquished California's most powerful industry and accomplished the unthinkable: dignity and contracts for farm workers. Four decades later, Cesar Chavez's likeness graces postage stamps, and dozens of schools and streets have been renamed in his honor. But the real story of Chavez's farm ...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published October 20th 2009 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published 2009)
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Nov 14, 2014 Derek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Miriam Pawel's Union of their dreams is a must read for so many reasons, but if you aren't versed in the history of Cesar Chavez, the UFW (United Farm Workers) and the struggle of Chicano farm workers (like I was not) it may require some additional research.

The book is ambitious. Pawel is telling eight personal stories. Within those stories she is describing an epic triumph and tragedy of a movement and of a man, and that epic is woven through the dry complexities of legal tactics, court cases,
Oct 20, 2009 AJ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book reads like a case-study in leadership gone wrong. It was really fascinating to read about the union/movement as it started from a very small organization, to a large union that just imploded on itself. A lot of the themes in this book are classic - a micro-managing leader who increasingly becomes paranoid as his hold over the union wanes, an organization that becomes big at a pace faster than their leadership can keep with, purges of once-loyal members, etc. At times the book got a bit ...more
The Union of Their Dreams by Miriam Pawel is an examination of the United Farm Workers (UFW) rise as a economic and political force as an agricultural union in California in the 1960s and 1970. This book takes as its premise that the often glowing accounts of the UFW, which focus mainly on the personality of its founder Cesar Chavez, tell an incomplete and inaccurate story of the union. Pawel’s premise is that while Chavez accomplish med much, much more could have been accomplished if it was no ...more
Grady McCallie
Jan 20, 2016 Grady McCallie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rea ...more
Stuart Elliott
Feb 16, 2013 Stuart Elliott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: labor
A Union of Their Dreams is one of the best books about workers that I have read in recent years.

The book is not a biography of Cesar Chavez or a history of the United Farmworkers. Rather it is a collective biography of eight people who jointed the farm workers movement and played important roles in the movement.

They include Eliseo Medina who was recently elected Secretary-Treasurer of the SEIU, making him the highest ranking Mexican-American in the US labor movement.

At a book talk at Watermark
Jamie VW
Sep 03, 2012 Jamie VW rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pretty brutal look at the UFW and Cesar Chavez. I had been partial to an almost flawless portrait of the labor leader and though much of it is still intact after reading this book, it paints a pretty searing portrait of the man - especially in how he treated loyal staff who had sacrificed much of their lives to La Causa. If you don't know much about UFW, I don't know if this is the place to start - it is hard to come away from the book without feelings of outrage, yet it is important to rememb ...more
John Rivera
Oct 29, 2011 John Rivera rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Pawel's work is a wonderful and complete history of the United Farm Workers Union. The book is incredibly easy to read, is formated in chronological order, and divides each chapter into miniature biographies for the most relevant actors in this union movement. It's also written in journalistic style, as opposed to a historian's style; as result the book possesses the feel of a story that is quite fitting for its content. A dry historical text and narrative could never offer the emotional experie ...more
Sal Valdez
Aug 13, 2012 Sal Valdez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
started this book a couple of days ago and it is hard for me to put it down. so far it has been a mesmerizing story. of course it helps me that i got to meet Cesar Chavez personally and that I have worked with Eliseo Medina, one of the central figures in the book and in the UFW during the strike years.
finished this book today; 8.21.12. a hard action yet critical look at Cesar and the union he built. through the initial strikes to the fierce boycotts in cities all over the nation, through the pas
Apr 14, 2010 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A good history book for people who don't like to read history books. It's written more like a novel than a text book so it should be pretty accessible to anyone who has even a passing interest in the farm worker movement in the US. It will be hard for anyone to read this book without feeling a full range of emotions from depression to anger to joy. The author gives a side of the story which is often left unheard. All too often we only hear Chavez's story. In my experience most people don't even ...more
Nov 09, 2009 Pete rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really proud to have worked on this book -- it's an amazing story. For obvious reasons, the basic UFW narrative you get in a school textbook is one of triumph -- and what they accomplished was important. But it could have been so much more. Regardless of the politics, the story that Miriam tells, braiding eight lives around the central push of the Union's peak years from the late 60s to the early 80s, is incredibly compelling even if you aren't an activist or a friend of labor. I don't want to s ...more
ARC received through the First Reads giveaway program.

This was an interesting look at the people behind the farm worker movement. The writer blends history and journalism techniques, lending a personal feel to the story. For the first half of the book, I found this very hard to follow (especially since I don't know much about Cesar Chavez or the UFW). By the second half, however, I was riveted.

This is an informative book that really humanizes the major players in the movement. I'd suggest some b
Jan 01, 2010 Veronica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm only half way through this book and it is fascinating. As someone who is an organizer and has seen behind the curtain, it's good to read about other organizations and their own struggles.

I will be looking for critical responses to this book as it doesn't paint Chavez in the best light, but one I can only hope is an honest look at a man who became a movement. And what that means when one person becomes "the organization."
Jan 04, 2010 Antdugl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I rate a book based not on whether I agree with it, but based on how much it makes me think and ponder. This book rates among the highest I've read for a long time, because it touches on all the key issues that continue to plague the labor movement. And I'll take an author with a little bit of animus over hagiography any day. This book is definitely a must-read for everyone involved in the labor movement today.
Jan 07, 2012 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hooray for a book that provides an outlet for so many voices and which paints a realistic image of an important historical figure.

The voices in Pawel's book could surely have written this themselves--but the way Pawel weaves their stories together is what makes this a book, a testament to a life, a new way of seeing Chavez that at once sheds more light on the farm workers movement (both the good and the bad for the people involved), but on Chavez and his personal life as well.
I'm off to a slow start, but by no way a fault of the story or writing. Very approachable and fluid so far.

Good approach to conveying a lot of factual information, as well as giving the reader a view into the process and feelings of the people involved
Nov 20, 2009 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was excited to receive this book in a Goodreads giveaway. The author uses the main leaders in the movement as a vehicle to tell its history, which made history seem more personal. By the end of the book, I felt as though I had met each of them personally.
Jun 13, 2010 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very painful (for me) internal history of the United Farm Workers union. Things were apparently worse than I thought. I am hoping there is another side to it. Well written and researched, though...
May 08, 2012 Erica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't really finish it. Fine for what it is (interviews of several activists around Chavez), although didn't give even brief necessary timelines or backstory to the movement. Found something more useful for my needs in Mooney and Majka's -Farmers' and Farm Workers' Movements-.
Jan Tucker
This book confirmed much of what I knew about the United Farmworkers, filled in a lot of details, and provides valuable lessons for any organizational leader about what to do and especially, what to avoid.
Mar 09, 2010 Gabe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Insightful and tragic- kinda like my tenure in the labor movement
Apr 25, 2012 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A rather sobering examination of a not often asked question... "what the heck happened to the United Farm Workers?"
Important lessons for anyone in the social justice, labor rights world.
Carol Rugh
Jan 11, 2013 Carol Rugh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A complicated portrait of a leader and a movement that swept through the lives of thousands of people, mine included. A poignant depiction of the duplicity of man.
Very interesting. Never knew Cesar Chavez was such a jerk to his own committed followers. How sad.
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politics law unions organizing 1 11 Oct 07, 2009 12:59PM  
  • Labor's Untold Story
  • Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement
  • State of the Union: A Century of American Labor
  • Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell); My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement
  • Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History
  • In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s
  • Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream
  • Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice
  • Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America
  • Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign
  • Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina
  • Strike!
  • Anarchy Works
  • Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerrilla
  • Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley
  • Toward the African Revolution
  • Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class
  • Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
Miriam Pawel is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who spent 25 years as a reporter and editor at Newsday and the Los Angeles Times before becoming an author and independent historian. For more information about Miriam, background on "The Union of Their Dreams," photos and audio clips, check out
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“Hundreds of people began to care in a personal way about the suffering of farm workers because they care about you and learned that you were willing to go to jail with striking farm workers,” Chris wrote the delegates from the Jesuit spirituality conference. He apologized profusely for having misled them into thinking they would be out in a few days. But no one complained. They told Chris the two weeks ranked among the most moving times of their lives. The gripes came from those who had opted for the picket line that obeyed the injunctions. They had been forced to make the decision too fast, they grumbled to Chris.

Chris saw the saga as a modern parable, and he loved to tell the story: The people who played it safe, unwilling to risk arrest, ended up feeling cheated and angry. Those willing to sacrifice emerged from the ordeal enriched, certain that the experience had changed their lives.”
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