American Studies 197A
Winter Quarter 2002
Workers and "Shared Leadership"
By Raymond Ramirez
on my research for the history of the Oxnard Sugar Beet Strike
of 1903, I have learned something about shared leadership.
That is, I have come to see those who participated in the
strikes as leaders in their own rights to a decent living.
Whether the actual strikers knew it or not, they were setting
a precedent that showed that a multiracial labor coalition
could be done and could be successful. What I saw as more
important, I think, was the fact that by going on strike,
these seemingly ordinary people put a lot of their interests
(like making a living) on the line for something that they
believed in. I believe that in itself is leadership at its
best. I had always known that leadership often involved taking
risks. But I just had to admire those who put their own neck
on the line to fight for something that they actually believed
in. While I had already known this before doing research on
the Oxnard strike, I had not really reflected on how much
fortitude that takes until now.
I have not yet had the chance to interview individuals, given
that my topic is mostly research-based, I have come to understand
the concept of shared leadership better through research of
the Oxnard Sugar Beet Strike. For example, while the Japanese
Mexican Labor Association (JMLA) was led by people such as
individuals such as union president Baba Kozaburo, J.M. Lizarras
(secretary of the Mexican branch), and Y. Yamaguchi (secretary
of the Japanese branch), the concept of shared leadership
can be seen in the strike. For instance, during their strike,
1,200 workers (90% of the beet workforce in the county) took
the initiative to fight for a better wage. A huge part of
leadership, I feel, is based on initiative. General members
of the JMLA, for example, took leadership roles by increasing
the militancy of the strike after an anti-JMLA individual
was proclaimed "not guilty" in a biased trial for
killing a striking member of the JMLA. Furthermore, JMLA members
helped draw strikebreakers to their side, thus increasing
their strength and countering union tactics. These actions
led to negotiations in which the JMLA won major concessions.
Incidents such as these show how ordinary people can do plenty
to advance interests, such as labor, by taking the initiative
to do something about their situation. Indeed, I believe that
the strike would have been highly unsuccessful if the leaders
were looking to negotiate without backing from their constituency.
Thus, strength is in numbers, and numbers can only come from
the leadership initiative of grassroots people.
believe that the leadership approach of the JMLA contrasts
very much with that of current UCLA students. From my observation,
many students unknowingly take to the concept of "top-down"
leadership. A good example of this is the setup of many classrooms
at UCLA. Many of these classrooms have seats that are bolted
to the floors. This type of setup discourages group interaction
and instead encourages instructor-dominated lectures ("top-down
approach). Moreover, students are not given the chance to
polish their leadership skills through group discussion. It
is through these discussions that students can get an idea
of how to work together in a group, and how to handle issues
such as intergroup conflict, etc. However, most students do
not know or do not care that their classrooms
are structured in this way. As a result, they end up accepting
the "top-down approach".
believe that the shared leadership concept applies to me in
several ways,. For instance, I believe that the shared concept
of leadership applies to me in that I perform a steady amount
of time into community service. For instance, I work with
an after-school tutoring program. I feel that through this
type of work, I am able to exercise my share of "shared
also believe that what we can learn from the leadership style
of the JMLA is that everyone is a leader in the community.
Thus, we should take advantage of this by siding with movements
that seek to correct social inequalities. Students can also
learn that leadership does not necessarily mean that of a
"top-down" approach. Rather, it could mean anybody
who takes initiative do something positive for others.
In terms of the group project, I feel that I am contributing
based on a shared leadership approach by doing my share of
the work and trying to make sure, as do the other group members,
that our group as a whole is progressing properly. Getting
our assignments done is especially important since we will
be working much closer together in the upcoming weeks, since
we are filming a video. Coordination and early preparation
are going to be needed, so it is important for us to make
sure we are all on the same page, and we are able to do this
by checking up on each others work.