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The true story revolves around Cesar Chavez, captivating leader of the United Farm workers Union and the struggle, which he inspired. This movement handed him the stature of being one of the most prominent leaders in USA’s history. He was able to inspire Americans in all facets of life. His methods were novel to the extend, that he combined peaceful preaching of Mahatma Gandhi and Mexican American values. The outcome was not a small traditional struggle, rather a magnanimous effort for economic justice. The union was able to befriend powerful people like Robert Kennedy, but on the other hand created enmity with Ronald Reagan and the powerful Teamsters Union. Many Americans joined in the struggle at its prime, especially farm workers grape and lettuce boycotts. They were inspired by the non-violent nature of the struggle and Cesar Chavez personality.
Method of organizing people: Cesar Chavez was born in a small place Yuma, Arizona on March 31, 1927. His parents were owners of a grocery store. Cesar early childhood was spent at his parent’s ranch. His family after losing ranch and store became refugees to California. Cesar left education after eighth grade. He joined his family in harvesting crops from Oxnard to San Jose. When Chavez was 40 his family settled in San Jose. It was here that he was introduced to Gandhi’s teachings, having a profound effect on his beliefs. He was specially impressed by the ideology of “self sacrifice” to bring about a social change. In 1952, an opportunity fell in Cesar lap for organizing people. Cesar met Fred Ross, who was hired by a social activist Saul Alinsky, to organize Mexican Americans. Ross after a lot of pursuance became Chavez’s tutor in organizing people. In the process, they became strong friends. Chavez owing to his dedication became the president CSO, but when he asked the organization to work for the farm workers cause, they disagreed.. Chavez left the organization along with Huerta and Padilla (who were also hired by Ross), and created their union of farm workers.
Slow but Steady progress: Growers and workers have always been at loggerheads with each other. Growers use multiple ways of disrupting workers union i.e. recruiting workers for acting as strike breakers, violence. Law enforcement also sides with the wealthy and organized labor shows apathy towards unskilled workers. Initially, International Workers of the World, followed by Communist party and CIO, organized farm workers. In the thirties industrial workers had won the right to organize as a union, but farm workers were left in high and dry due to the opposition by southern agriculturalist. Once Chavez was in Delano in sixties, he was sharp enough not to call his organization a union rather a community service. He started by recruiting family members and ex CSO veterans. Beginnings were so modest, that their office was a garage. Chavez wanted to slowly build his organization, but fore coming events forced Chavez to re evaluate his policy. Filipino grape workers went on strike and Chavez organization joined them after consensus. The church, labour activist and student avtivist avidly supported Farm workers. For propagating their message they used community posters and murals. They were given a huge boost by the inclusion of Senator Robert Kennedy, who came to Delano to investigate the grape strike.
Grape strikers went on a pilgrimage to the state capital in Sacramento. During their journey they were entertained by Chicano theater. This evolved the Chicano theater movement. The union was able to draw out a contract with Schenley Corporation. The next big victory came at the DiGiogio ranch, where they defeated the teamsters in a union election.
Novel Approaches: Activist decided to adopt a pro-active approach by sending their members around the country to set up a massive nationwide boycott of table grapes. Grape strike was un able to bring the growers to the table. This made the activist to make the campaign into a crusade, involving public pressure to pressurize the growers.
After a struggle of three years, during the grape strike, militants in the union wanted to resort to violent means. This was totally against Chavez’s beliefs, and he in an attempt to force his view, fasted for 25 days. It was a stroke of genius, he was able to not only unify the union but also renew their commitment to nonviolence. When Chavez ended the fast, Robert Kennedy was by his side. Kennedy after a week announced that he was running for president, as reciprocation Farmworkerss were the first union that supported his candidacy. Unfortunately after winning he was assassinated.
In 1968, Lionel Steinberg was the first one to sign a contract, followed by the most powerful grape grower John Giumarra in 1969. After the contract, boycott was over. This was followed by Lettuce strike, where teamsters and union had fights resulting in massive arrests. Chavez also went to jail. In 1973, union went through one of its most violent periods after the grape contract in Coachella valley expired. It was so violent that Chavez calls of the strike.
After UFW helped Jerry Brown a politician, reach the governorship in the early seventies. He joined forces with the UFW and legislation was passed which gave right to the farm workers the right to union elections and representation. Irony of the matter was that the democrats supported the farm workers and the republicans were against them.
The union lost most of its momentum in the eighties, due to change of perspectives and losing of key members. People were more interested in environmental issues; as a result Chavez tried to re focus their attention at pesticides. He also tried to “Fast for life” but this time it did not bear fruit. Cesar Chavez died once he was sleeping on 22nd April 1993. There was a procession of more then thirty five thousand members in the streets of Delano, paying tribute to Chavez’s accomplishments.
Chavez’s story is the story of how ordinary people through their commitment can become extraordinary, touching millions of people. He was able to permanently alter the lives of farm workers working in America.
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Fight in the fields ( Cesar Chavez and Farm Workers struggle). Paradigm Productions and Independent Television Service. 2004. Retrieved from :
Cesar Chavez and the Farm workers' Struggle. Retrieved from