Today, many people are familiar with Cesar Chavez as an influential figure within The United Farm Workers of America (UFWA). Our original research into Chavez and his activism resulted in a ton of information about The United Farm Workers Movement. Therefore, we thought it would be more interesting to talk about a significant, but maybe not so well known moment during Chavez’s activist work. This moment is The Delano Grape Strike and Boycott of 1965, also known as the catalyst for the formation of UFWA.
One hundred years before 1965, farm workers had tried to organize a union and strike for better working conditions and pay. Unfortunately, every attempt to form a union and strike was crushed and defeated. On September 8, 1965 the Filipino-American farm workers launched a strike against Delano-area grape growers. It wasn’t long after Chavez’s involvement in the strike that the The United Farm Workers of America was established as a result of the merge between Latino and Filipino farm workers.
The Delano Grape Strike was unique because Chavez insisted that all strikers take a solemn vow to remain nonviolent. On February 1968, following the example of Gandhi, Cesar announced he was fasting to rededicate the movement to nonviolence. He went without food for 25 days, only drinking water. It was an act of penitence for those who advocated violence and a way of taking responsibility as leader of his movement. Cesar’s fast ended the violence and acquired the attention of important leaders such as MLK, who expressed his admiration and solidarity for the movement.
For the first time in American history, Chavez and the UFWA decided to use a boycott in a major labor dispute, which connected middle-class families in big cities with poor farm worker families in the California vineyards. Cesar knew the farm workers couldn’t win with just a field strike because the growers controlled all rural, social, and political institutions. Therefore, Chavez fashioned a boycott on table grapes after Gandhi’s salt boycott of 1930 and Dr. King’s Montgomery bus boycott in the mid-1950’s. By 1970, the grape boycott was a complete success. Millions of Americans refused to eat grapes.
The Delano Grape Strike resulted in plenty of successful accomplishments for the UFWA’s demands. Table grape growers signed their first union contracts, granting workers better pay, benefits, and protections. Specifically, the contract established an Organizing Committee (UFWOC) that ended abusive labor practices and created a system in which jobs were assigned by a hiring hall that gave priority to seniors. Additionally, the contract improved dangerous working conditions, raised wages, provided fresh water and toilets in the fields, and set up medical clinics in the Salinas and Coachella valleys. Although this contract did not completely end the labor abuse that farm workers endured, it created a foundation for future labor unions to continue the fight for pay equality and fair labor conditions. For any more information on the UFWA and current movements, please visit: