The document project on which this lesson plan is based is available by subscription only from Alexander Street Press.
One of the mainstays of the San Antonio economy in the 1930s for Mexicans was the pecan shelling industry. From ten to fifteen thousand were employed seasonally at wages that commonly averaged $2 or $2.50 for a fifty-hour week. This project focuses on a six-week strike, largely by Mexican women pecan shellers, in February and March of 1938, in response to a cut in wages of about 15 percent. The strikers, numbering perhaps 5,000 in all, were not permitted to picket peacefully or hold public meetings. Leading women in the community and the Texas Civil Liberties Union intervened in the conflict and publicized the unconstitutional harassment of the strikers, who eventually secured an arbitrators' award that restored about half of the recent wage cut.
To discuss the newspaper coverage of the 1938 pecan shellers strike in San Antonio; to examine the role of women and of left-wing politics in the strike.
Read "Siguen Firmes Los Nueceros," (Pecan Shellers Stand Firm). Why were workers dissatisfied with working conditions? What was the position of La Prensa, the newspaper of upper-class Mexican refugees, toward the strike? Toward left-wing supporters of the strike?
Ask students to read "Pecan Strike Heads Offer to Quit," from the San Antonio Light. What actions did Police Chief Owen Kilday take to try to shut down the strike? What was his reason for arresting Emma Tenayuca Brooks? Had she broken any laws? What was the C.I.O.'s position toward the strike leadership?
Ask students to read "Pecan Workers Protest Civil Rights Curb" from The Daily Worker, the newspaper of the American Communist Party. How was this newspaper's coverage similar to or different from that of La Prensa? from that of the San Antonio Light?
Writing assignment: Read "El Gobernador Ordena Se Investigue La Huelga," (Governor Orders Strike Investigation). Compare this article to the previous articles from the San Antonio Light and The Daily Worker. Answer the following questions in a 2-3 page paper: How does this article emphasize the importance of female participation in the strike? How is the coverage different from articles in the San Antonio Light and The Daily Worker? Why might La Prensa be more likely to report on female participation in the strike?
For Further Exploration
To explore further different media coverage of strikes and labor unrest, see two other projects on the Women and Social Movements website that both contain accounts from ethnic newspapers: Workers and Allies in the New York City Shirtwaist Strike, 1909-1910 and Women and the Lawrence Textile Strike, 1912.