Phillip Vera Cruz was a Filipino-American union leader, farm worker, and leader of the Asian-American movement. He was a co-founder of the Farmworker Organizing Committee, which later merged with the National Farmworker Association to become the Farmworker Union. As a long-time vice president of the union, he worked to improve working conditions for migrant workers.
Vera Cruz eventually settled in California, where he became a farm worker. He joined the AFL-CIO-affiliated union, the National Farm Labor Union, in the 1950s. His local union, based in Delano, California, had a Farmworker Organizing Committee (AWOC). AWOC’s main focus was adding members to the National Farm Workers Union. AWOC was comprised primarily of Filipino-American farmworker organizers, although it hired Dolores Huerta. Huerta eventually resigned from the AWOC to join the National Farm Workers of America, which had a primarily Mexican-American membership. Philip Vera Cruz, former vice president of the UFW, described the beginning of the great Delano grape strike. “On September 8, 1965, at the Filipino Hall at 1457 Glenwood St. in Delano, the Filipino members of AWOC held a mass meeting to discuss and decide whether to strike or accept the reduced wages proposed by the producers. The decision was’ strike “and it became one of the most important and famous decisions ever made in the entire history of California farmworker struggles. It was like a firebomb, setting off the strike message to the vineyard workers, telling them to sit in the labor fields and set up pickets at every farmer’s ranch.
It was this strike that ultimately made the UFW, the farmworker movement, and César Chávez famous all over the world. “On September 8, 1965, the local Delano voted to strike against winegrowers. After the strike was called, the producers tried to bring in Mexican-American workers , some of whom were affiliated with the National Farm Workers of America. César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and other leaders of the National Farm Workers of America met with various organizers from the National Farm Labor Union, including Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, Benjamin Gines, and Pete Velasco Together, they decided that both unions would strike against grape growers, an action that ultimately led both unions to join forces. e to become United Farm Workers. The new union debuted in August 1966 and continued the strike until 1970. In the new union, Vera Cruz served as second vice president and on the board of directors.
Vera Cruz resigned from the UFW in 1977. That year, César Chávez traveled to the Philippines to meet with Ferdinand Marcos, whom Vera Cruz viewed as a brutal dictator. Vera Cruz continued to live in California’s San Joaquin Valley after his resignation, and remained active in union and social justice issues for the rest of his life. Vera Cruz received the Ninoy M. Aquino Award in 1987, traveling to the Philippines for the first time in fifty years to accept it. In 1992, the AFL-CIO Asia Pacific American Labor Committee honored Vera Cruz at its founding convention. He died at the age of 89 in 1994, in Bakersfield, California.