Cesar Chavez was an American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962.
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Cesar Chavez’s early life and how he became involved in the labor movement
Cesar Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Arizona. He was the second of five children born to Librado and Juana Estrada Chavez. His parents were migrant farm workers who followed the crops around Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico. Growing up, Chavez experienced firsthand the hardships of migrant farmworker life. He often had to drop out of school to help his family in the fields. In spite of these difficulties, he managed to graduate from high school in 1944.
After high school, Chavez enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served for two years. When he returned home, he married his wife, Helen Fabela, with whom he would have eight children. The couple settled in San Jose, California, where Chavez went to work as a community organizer for the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).
Chavez’s work with the NFWA/UFW led him all across California and into other states as well, as he worked to organize farm workers and negotiate contracts with growers on their behalf. In 1965-1966, Chavez led a historic 265-day march from Delano to Sacramento to bring attention to the plight of migrant farm workers. This march helped secure passage of the first-ever statewide collective bargaining agreement for farm workers in California in 1966.
In 1968, Chavez transformed the NFWA into a union known as the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). The following year, the UFWOC staged a successful 17-day striking grape growers in Delano which eventually led to a contract with them that included a pay raise and better working conditions for vineyard employees.
The founding of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA)
Cesar Chavez was an American farmworker, labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962.
Chavez was born in Yuma, Arizona, in 1927. He began working in the fields with his family at a young age and later joined the U.S. Navy. After his discharge from the Navy, Chavez returned to California and continued working in agriculture. In 1952, he met Fred Ross Sr., a community organizer who would become his mentor. Ross convinced Chavez to join the Community Service Organization (CSO), a group committed to improving conditions for Latinos in California.
Chavez became increasingly involved with the CSO and began leading voter registration drives and organizing protests against discriminatory hiring practices. In 1962, he left the CSO to form the NFWA with Huerta. The NFWA fought for better wages and working conditions for farmworkers and helped lead a successful boycott of California grapes in 1965.
In 1966, Chavez and the NFWA merged with another farmworker organization to form the United Farm Workers (UFW). The UFW continued its fight for improved conditions for farmworkers throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. Chavez became a nationally recognized leader during this time and was celebrated by many as a champion of workers’ rights. He died in 1993 at the age of 66.
The early years of the NFWA and its struggles
Cesar Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Arizona. He was the second of five children born to Librado and Juana Estrada Chavez. His parents were migrant farm workers who traveled from one agricultural job to another in California and Arizona. Cesar grew up working in the fields with his parents and siblings. The family struggled to make ends meet, and Cesar received little formal education. He left school after the eighth grade to work full-time in the fields.
In 1942, when Cesar was 15 years old, his father died suddenly of a heart attack. Cesar’s mother became the sole support for her family. The following year, Cesar moved to California with his mother and siblings to find work in the San Joaquin Valley. Chavez began working as a tractor driver and later as a field worker. He eventually settled in Delano, California, where he met and married his wife, Helen Fabela. In 1952, they had their first child, Fernando.
In 1962, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), a union that represented migrant farm workers in California’s Central Valley. Chavez’s main goal was to improve working conditions and wages for farm workers. However, he also wanted to help them gain respect and recognition as a vital part of society.
The NFWA struggled in its early years. Farm workers were often reluctant to join a union because they feared retribution from their employers. In addition, most farm workers were seasonal migrants who moved from one agricultural job to another throughout the year. This made organizing them into a cohesive unit very difficult.
Despite these challenges, Chavez persisted. He recruited new members by traveling from one agricultural camp to another and speaking at community meetings. In 1965, he helped organize a strike against grape growers in Delano
The formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW)
In 1962, Cesar Chavez left his job as a community organizer in La Causa, a Chicano civil rights organization, to found the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in Delano, California. The NFWA was created to protect the rights of migrant farm workers. At that time, these workers had no labor protections and were paid very low wages. Chavez realized that the only way to improve conditions for farm workers was to organize them into a union.
In 1965, the NFWA joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), another farmworker union, to form the United Farm Workers (UFW). The UFW quickly became one of the most successful unions in American history. Under Chavez’s leadership, the UFW won many important labor contracts and helped improve conditions for farm workers across the country.
The UFW’s early years and its struggles
In the early years, the UFW struggled to unionize agricultural workers and win contracts with growers. Farmers were reluctant to sign contracts, and when they did, they often violated them. Chavez used a variety of tactics to try to improve conditions for farm workers and unionize them. He staged sit-ins and boycotts, and in 1965 he led a march from Delano to Sacramento to draw attention to the cause. In 1966, Chavez and the UFW won their first major victory when grape growers in California signed a contract with the union.
The UFW’s successes in the 1960s and 1970s
Chavez had many successes in the 1960s and early 1970s. The most significant was probably the aftermath of the Delano grape strike. In September 1965, Chavez and others met with Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown to sign an agreement that gave striking farm workers most of what they wanted. The agreement also led to the creation of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), which helped agricultural workers get union contracts and gave them a way to file complaints against growers who violated labor laws.
The UFW’s decline in the 1980s
In the early 1980s, the UFW saw a marked decline in both membership and power. This was due in part to the ascension of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency, as Reagan’s policies favored businesses and corporations over workers and labor unions. In addition, many of the original farm workers who had been with the UFW since its inception were getting older and retiring, while younger workers were not as interested in joining a union. Chavez himself was in declining health, and his successor as UFW President, Arturo Rodriguez, was not able to fill Chavez’s shoes.
The UFW continued to decline throughout the 1980s, losing significant ground to rival farm worker unionization efforts such as those led by Cesar chauffeur zonas and Jorge Majadocio. By the end of the decade, the UFW’s membership had dwindled to less than 10,000, a far cry from its heyday in the early 1970s when it boasted over 80,000 members.
The UFW’s resurgence in the 1990s
In the early 1990s, the union refocused its efforts on California’s Central Coast, where it had been strongest in the 1960s. The area was targeted in part because many of the workers were immigrants from Mexico, as Chavez himself had once been. The union also reached out to other groups, such as environmental organizations, to broaden its base of support. This strategy paid off, and by 1994 the UFW had regained much of its former power.
The legacy of Cesar Chavez
Cesar Chavez was an American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist who founded the National Farm Workers Association (now the United Farm Workers union) in 1962.
The future of the UFW
In 1962, Cesar Chavez was spending his days organizing migrant farm workers in California. He had been working on behalf of these workers since the late 1950s, and he had seen firsthand the terrible conditions they worked under. He also saw how little power they had to negotiate for better wages and working conditions.
So Chavez decided to start a union for these workers. He called it the United Farm Workers (UFW). The UFW would give these workers a voice and the power to negotiate for better wages and working conditions.
Chavez was not the only one who believed that farm workers needed a union. In fact, there were already several unions fighting for the rights of farm workers. But Chavez believed that he could do something different. He believed that he could create a union that was run by and for farm workers.
To do this, Chavez took two key steps. First, he reached out to other Mexican Americans who were already involved in the civil rights movement. Second, he formed an alliance with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). This was a powerful national labor union that represented millions of workers across the country.
The AFL agreed to help Chavez organize the UFW. With their help, Chavez was able to quickly grow the UFW into a large and powerful union. In just a few years, the UFW had over 50,000 members!