More to Explore
The Knights of Labor began as a secret society of tailors in Philadelphia in 1869.
The Homestead strike pitted one of the most powerful new corporations, Carnegie Steel Company, against the nation's strongest trade union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers.
Explore the history of the United States from the colonial period to modern-day America.
The civil rights movement in the United States was devoted to securing equal freedoms and opportunities for African-Americans.
Executive director of the United Farm Workers. Born in Yuma, Arizona, to immigrant parents, Chavez moved to California with his family in 1939. For the next ten years they moved up and down the state working in the fields. During this period Chavez encountered the conditions that he would dedicate his life to changing: wretched migrant camps, corrupt labor contractors, meager wages for backbreaking work, bitter racism.
His introduction to labor organizing began in 1952 when he met Father Donald McDonnell, an activist Catholic priest, and Fred Ross, an organizer with the Community Service Organization, who recruited Chavez to join his group. Within a few years Chavez had become national director, but in 1962 resigned to devote his energies to organizing a union for farm workers.
A major turning point came in September 1965 when the fledgling Farm Workers Association voted to join a strike that had been initiated by Filipino farm workers in Delano's grape fields. Within months Chavez and his union became nationally known. Chavez's drawing on the imagery of the civil rights movement, his insistence on nonviolence, his reliance on volunteers from urban universities and religious organizations, his alliance with organized labor, and his use of mass mobilizing techniques such as a famous march on Sacramento in 1966 brought the grape strike and consumer boycott into the national consciousness. The boycott in particular was responsible for pressuring the growers to recognize the United Farm Workers (ufw; renamed after the union joined the afl-cio). The first contracts were signed in 1966, but were followed by more years of strife. In 1968 Chavez went on a fast for twenty-five days to protest the increasing advocacy of violence within the union. Victory came finally on July 29, 1970, when twenty-six Delano growers formally signed contracts recognizing the ufw and bringing peace to the vineyards.
That same year the Teamsters' union challenged the ufw in the Salinas valley by signing sweetheart contracts with the growers there. Thus began a bloody four-year struggle. Finally in 1973, the Teamsters signed a jurisdictional agreement that temporarily ended the strife.
Believing that the only permanent solution to the problems of farm workers lay in legislation, Chavez supported the passage of California's Agricultural Labor Relations Act (the first of its kind in the nation), which promised to end the cycle of misery and exploitation and ensure justice for the workers. These promises, however, proved to be short-lived as grower opposition and a series of hostile governors undercut the effectiveness of the law.
After 1976 Chavez led the union through a major reorganization, intended to improve efficiency and outreach to the public. In 1984 in response to the grape industry's refusal to control the use of pesticides on its crops, Chavez inaugurated an international boycott of table grapes.
For thirty years Chavez tenaciously devoted himself to the problems of some of the poorest workers in America. The movement he inspired succeeded in raising salaries and improving working conditions for farm workers in California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida.
Jacques E. Levy, Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa (1975); Dick Meister and Anne Loftis, A Long Time Coming: The Struggle to Unionize America's Farm Workers (1977).
RICHARD GRISWOLD DEL CASTILLO
The Reader's Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!
This Day in History
A massive wagon train, made up of 1,000 settlers and 1,000 head of cattle, sets off down the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri. Known as the "Great…
Relive the epic events of the times in this sweeping collection from HISTORY.
Keep up with the latest History shows, online features, special offers and more.Sign up