In May 1972, 4,000 garment workers at Farah Manufacturing Company (see FARAH, INCORPORATED) in El Paso went out on strike for the right to be represented by a union. The strikers were virtually all Hispanic; 85 percent were women. Their labor action, which lasted until they won union representation in March 1974, grew to encompass a national boycott of Farah pants. Before the strike Farah was the second largest employer in El Paso. Low wages, minimal benefits, pressure to meet high production quotas, and tensions between workers and supervisors produced a dissatisfied work force.
In 1969 male workers from the cutting room voted to affiliate with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Organizing soon spread to the rest of Farah's five El Paso plants. When workers at Farah's San Antonio plant were fired for joining a union-sponsored march in El Paso, more than 500 of them walked out; El Paso workers followed on May 9, 1972. The strike was quickly declared an unfair-labor-practice strike, and a month later a national boycott of Farah products was begun, endorsed by the AFL-CIO. The strike exacerbated ethnic tensions between Anglos and Hispanics, and split the Hispanic community as well. Striking workers were quickly replaced by workers from El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. But union relief funds, the national boycott, and the Catholic Church all provided important sources of support for the strikers. Strikers acquired skills such as public speaking and organizing activities that brought new groups of people together. The company, its sales badly damaged by the national boycott, was ordered by the National Labor Relations Board in January 1974 to offer reinstatement to the strikers and to permit union organizing. In February Willie Farah recognized the ACWA as the bargaining agent for the Farah employees. The 1974 union contract included pay increases, job security and seniority rights, and a grievance procedure. But a national recession and company mistakes in production and marketing left Farah in a serious financial predicament. Layoffs, plant closures, and high turnover of the work force followed, thus inhibiting the growth of a strong union. Subsequent contracts removed many of the benefits won by the strike.