One of the most inspiring and peaceful leaders who believed that “non-violence is more powerful than violence” (Cesar Chavez), became the labor leader that established improvement and justice worldwide for union workers. Cesar Chavez, influenced by his early experience as a migrant worker, became the founder for the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. He also established the first contract for American Farm Workers and lead an influential boycott known today as “La Causa”. Despite the obstacles and problems faced, Cesar Chavez fought for pay raises, better treatment and working conditions for all farmworkers.
When Chavez was a young boy he witnessed the injustice that many farm workers would face. Cesar was raised in Arizona, his home was taken by dishonest Anglos. The Anglos had promised Cesar Chavez’s dad to clear eighty acres of land and in exchange he would receive forty acres that were joined with his home, but that was not the case. His father lost all land due to shortage of money and was unable to afford the interest. Growing up, Cesar Chavez was not a big fan of school, he dealt with racism and discrimination.
As a primarily spanish speaker he felt shamed and did not feel welcomed in schools due to teachers mistreating him when he spoke spanish. Cesar attended 65 elementary schools and lived through segregation. In 1942 he graduated the eighth grade and devoted his time to farm work, since his father had been in an accident and Chavez did not want his mother working in the fields, he took over. In 1946, just 19 years old, Chavez decided to join the Navy and served two years. Two years later he married Helen Fabela and decided to settle in Delano.
His first insight in an organization was when he worked as a voter register. Cesar Chavez left his job to found the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962 but shortly after, the association became known as United Farm Workers (UFW). “Chavez didn’t want to call it a union, because of the long history of failed attempt to create agricultural unions, and the bitter memories of those who had been promised justice and abandoned” (Tejada Flores 1).
Cesar Chavez, along with thousands of migrant farm workers fought for fair wages, pension benefits, health care and respect. Chavez became the voice of many farm workers that did not stand up for themselves, he advocated for their rights and wanted to make farm workers feel like any other worker, establishing equality. Two short strikes were the beginning, 85 farm workers in McFarland reached out to receive help from UFW to help them get a pay increase.
After successfully creating his association known as the United Farm Workers, Chavez lead one of the most historical grape strike and boycott. It took some convincing from an executive board member of the UFW named Jim Drake to get Chavez in the idea of creating a useful activity for workers after the harvest peak. Another founding member believed that you can’t organize people unless they have something to do, this all encouraged Chavez to lead the boycott. On September 8, 1965, Filipino grape workers walked out on a strike expressing their opposition on years of poor pay. The Filipinos asked Cesar Chavez to join them. The Delano Grape Strike was the first major association between Mexican and Filipino workers. Cesar Chavez shared his ideas with the Filipinos, making them share picket lines with the Latinos as well as remaining nonviolent.
Cesar Chavez’s main goals was to overthrow a farm labor system since they treated farm workers as if they weren’t important, he combined labor activism with environmentalism fighting for higher raises and against pesticides too. Two years into the strike, many became impatient, some believed there was going to be no victory. The money was becoming an issue, budgets were getting cut but this did not stop Cesar Chavez.“ He had already begun boycotting table grapes, following the tradition of his hero, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cesar also followed Gandhi and Dr. King’s practice of militant nonviolence.” (Kim 1).
Chavez remained determined, patient and non violent since he believed violence would not make anything better, instead, it would ruin his goal. “For Cesar Chavez, patience and sacrifice were siblings. He paired them in a way that only American prophets can, mixing utopian visions with an enviable practically”(Stavans 72). Chavez was great at leading by example, instead of turning to violence he decided to go on a fast.
His reason behind the fast was declaration that he was not cooperating with the supermarkets who would sell California Table grapes. The fast got a lot of attention, paved the way for media attention regarding the boycott. Cesar Chavez went without food for 25 days, only drinking water. Cesar Chavez put his health on the line, losing 35 pounds in 25 days the doctors worried that his life was in danger. It was still not an easy journey, the companies they were protesting against had good lawyers and protection. The Delano growers were powerful, they had their security guards intimidate the strikers. The strikers faced humiliation from getting sprayed with pesticides to verbally and physically being assaulted.
On March 1966, Chavez organized a 300-mile march, starting from Delano to Sacramento. That became the longest protest march in the United States. They gained hundreds of supporters thanks to the march, informing every town they passed through and what it stood for. As the movement began to grow and block grapes from leaving distribution, companies were struggling.
By 1970, the boycott from UFW was a success. Grape growers finally signed their first contract. The contract granted workers protection, benefits and higher pay as well as better working conditions.
Cesar Chavez was an influential man with determination and willingness to help others. His strong leadership and successful accomplishments continue to benefit thousands of farm workers.