By Ramon Martinez, La Raza Historical Society of Santa Clara Valley
Longtime San Jose, California labor activist Fred Hirsch died on December 15, 2020 at age 87. An in-person memorial will be held after the pandemic has passed.
I believe that Fred Hirsch was a real HERO, but his importance can only be honored if know his history, what he did to deserve the label. What we often find, is that heroes did things that were difficult, controversial, and unpopular. Heroes are different from the rest of us, because despite difficulties, they lived their entire lives by their convictions. Fred moved to San Jose in 1958, joined UA Local Union 393- Plumbers, Steamfitters, and HVACR Service Technicians and spent the next 60 years organizing the local union.
Most of us knew the older, gentleman Fred Hirsch who was often at rallies and activities that supported progressive ideas. In the attached photo which I took on October 10, 2014, the older Fred is holding up another photo of his younger self with young Cesar Chavez, who he supported 100% by moving with his wife Ginny and their 12-year-old daughter Liza to Delano in about 1965.
Fred was a HERO to Chicanos because:
In 1962-1963 he stood with a neighborhood mom, Sofia Mendoza and a black parent, Mr. Montgomery, and Jack Brito another Chicano parent, in front of Roosevelt Junior High School to protest humiliating treatment of the students. This was one of the first grassroots actions that launched the Chicano Movement in San Jose ( You Tube).
I remember that both Sofia and Fred had the same lifetime mantra: "Organize!, Organize!, Organize!).
In 1967, the Delano growers were fighting the farmworkers with violence and police power. Like most union organizing efforts, radical action like disabling refrigerator train cars to delay the fruit were necessary tactics and Fred was there to do this dangerous work. Later, after the union survived its early days, Cesar adopted non-violence and religious fasts (read, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez by Miriam Pawel, page 165).
In 1968, Fred had differences with Cesar Chavez because he felt the union was not doing enough to prepare farmworkers for union leadership and the long-time survival of the union. Standing by his convictions, he and Ginny left and returned to San Jose. Their daughter Liza stayed and lived with Cesar’s family because she dreamed of becoming an attorney for the union. (read more about Liza Hirsch Medina online).
Fred and Ginny remained lifetime supporters of Cesar and the Farmworker Movement (FredHirsch1967–1968, Microsoft Word - 40 Hirsch_Fred (ucsd.edu).
Fred Hirsch is a HERO to everyone because:
In 1953, he became a New York union plumber and criticized for his activities against the Korean War and demands that the union train and hire more blacks.
In 1958 he moved to San Jose and spent the next 60 years building UA Local 393 - Plumbers, Steamfitters, and HVACR Service Technicians.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s he and Ginny formed the Santa Clara Friends of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), brought leaders like Stokely Carmichael here, and traveled to Mississippi to deliver supplies.
Fred worked to build international solidarity. To better educate the membership and US organized labor, Fred traveled across South America , marched through the tear gas in the streets of Bogota and raised his fist alongside the massive May Day crowds in Mexico City.
He rallied union members to demonstrate against the Vietnam War, Afghanistan War and Iraq War. Fred successfully enlisted the South Bay Labor Council, then millions of members of the California Labor Federation, to join US Labor Against the War, an organization dedicated to demilitarizing US foreign policy.
(Member Spotlight: Fred Hirsch Member Spotlight: Fred Hirsch | Local 393 (ualocal393.org).
He once noted, “I would not be true to myself or to the movement of working people throughout the nation if I didn’t do what I could.”
Fred you are our HERO. Rest in Peace / En Paz Descanse.