'Against All Odds' : Cesar Chavez & the Delano Grape Strike
When Latino and Filipino American farm workers struck Delano-area table and wine grape growers in 1965, it would become a different kind of strike led by a different kind of leader.
Cesar Chavez insisted strikers from different races work together. He had them take a solemn vow of nonviolence. Strikers drew unprecedented support from outside the Central Valley, from other unions, church activists, students and civil rights groups. Cesar led a 300-mile Delano-to-Sacramento march, or perigrinacion, that attracted national attention.
But Cesar knew the strikers' greatest weapons were their decision to persevere nonviolently against all odds no matter how long it would take and their willingness to sacrifice and out-work and out-smart their adversaries.
Following the examples of M.K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for the first time in American history Cesar used a boycott, of California table grapes, in a major labor dispute. He changed the scene of battle from the fields, where the odds were stacked against farm workers, to the cities, where farm workers asked the American people for help.
Cesar believed if consumers knew about the suffering of farm workers who were struggling nonviolently, they would respond. So hundreds of grape strikers traveled to cities across the U.S. and Canada, organizing support for the grape boycott.
Cesar showed ordinary people that by making small sacrifices every day--by not eating grapes--they could directly help the poorest of the poor. He connected middle-class families in big cities with poor farm worker families in California vineyards. Millions stopped eating grapes. At dinner tables across North America, parents gave children a simple, powerful lesson in social justice.
By 1970, the grape boycott was a complete success. Grape growers signed their first union contracts, granting workers better pay and protections.
In the decades that followed, Cesar Chavez continued using strikes, boycotts, marches and fasts to help farm workers stand up for their rights.
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He has been gone for 17 years. But the work of Cesar's movement is carried on today by hundreds of men and women who help farm workers and other low-income, Latino working families.
Recent United Farm Workers contracts protecting farm workers include one of California's largest vegetable companies, the nation's biggest strawberry worker employer and largest rose producer, America's biggest winery and dairy, the largest winery in Washington state--plus UFW contracts covering 75 percent of California's mushroom industry.
The UFW recently won the first state regulation in the U.S. protecting California farm workers from dying or becoming ill from extreme heat. It won the first law in the country to call in mediators to hammer out union contracts when growers won't negotiate. The historic, bipartisan AgJobs bill, negotiated by the UFW and the nation's growers, would let immigrant farm workers earn the legal right to permanently stay here by continuing to work in agriculture.
Meantime, the non-profit Cesar E. Chavez Foundation continues achieving much progress for farm worker and poor Latino families outside the work place.
More than 4,000 units of quality affordable housing in four states have been built for farm workers and other low-income Latinos. Radio Campesina is the movementís nine-station Spanish-language radio network, with popular Mexican music and high quality educational programming for half a million daily listeners in three states.
Thousands of farm worker and other poor kids get after-school and weekend instruction and tutoring through another movement arm. Millions of students learn about Cesar's work through California's Chavez holiday law. Many children learn Cesarís message through service-learning activities in their communities.
Seventeen years after his passing, more than 400 dedicated people work hard each day to carry on Cesar Chavez's vision of what a movement can become on behalf of the people to whom he dedicated his life.