Four years later, however, Chavez left CSO to form his own organization, which he called the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). The name was later changed to the United Farm Workers (UFW). In 1965, Chavez and the NFWA led a strike of California grape-pickers to demand higher wages. In addition to the strike, they encouraged all Americans to boycott table grapes as a show of support. The strike lasted five years and attracted national attention. When the U.S. Senate Subcommittee looked into the situation, Robert Kennedy gave Chavez his total support.
The man who would teach Cesar Chavez how to put theory into practice arrived in San Jose in 1953. Fred Ross was an organizer. He was in San Jose to recruit members for the Community Service Organization. CSO helped its members with immigration and tax problems, and taught them how to organize to deal with problems like police violence and discrimination. To Chavez, Ross’ simple rules for organizing were nothing short of revolutionary. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship between Chavez and Ross.
There were other important influences in his life. In 1952, Mr. Chavez met Fred Ross, an organizer with a workers' rights group called the Community Service Organization. Mr. Chavez called Mr. Ross the best organizer he ever met. Mr. Ross explained how poor people could build power. Mr. Chavez agreed to work for the Community Service Organization.
Mr. Chavez worked for the organization for about ten years. During that time, he helped more than 500,000 Latino citizens to vote. He also gained old-age retirement money for 50,000 Mexican immigrants. He served as the organization's national director.
However, in 1962, he left the organization. He wanted to do more to help farm workers receive higher pay and better working conditions. He left his well paid job to start organizing farm workers into a union.
Grape Workers March
One of Cesar's first major actions was to strike against grape farmers. A strike is when workers refuse to work. The strike started in Delano, California. Cesar and sixty-seven workers decided to march to Sacramento, the state capital. It took them several weeks to march the 340 miles. On the way there people joined them. The crowd grew larger and larger until thousands of workers arrived in Sacramento to protest. In the end, the grape growers agreed to many of the worker's conditions and signed a contract with the union.
Cesar and the union continued to work for the cause of the worker. Over the next several decades the union would grow and continue to fight for the rights and working conditions of the migrant farmer.
THE DEATH OF CÉSAR CHÁVEZ
César Estrada Chávez died peacefully in his sleep on April 23, 1993 near Yuma, Arizona, a short distance from the small family farm in the Gila River Valley where he was born more than 66 years before.
The founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, was in Yuma helping UFW attorneys defend the union against a lawsuit brought by Bruce Church, Inc., a giant Salinas, California based lettuce and vegetable producer. Church demanded that the farm workers pay millions of dollars in damages resulting from a UFW boycott of its lettuce during the 1980's. Rather than bring the legal action in a state where the boycott actually took place, such as California or New York, Church "shopped around" for a friendly court in conservative, agribusiness dominated Arizona, where there had been no boycott activity. "César gave his last ounce of strength defending the farm workers in this case," stated his successor, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, who was with him in Arizona during the trial. He died standing up for their First Amendment right to speak out for themselves. He believed in his heart that the farm workers were right in boycotting Bruce Church, Inc. during the l980's and he was determined to prove that in court." (When the second multimillion dollar judgement for Church was later thrown out by an appeal's court, the company signed a UFW contract in May 1996. After the trial recessed at about 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 22, César spent part of the afternoon driving through Latino neighborhoods in Yuma that he knew as a child. Many Chávezes still live in the area.
He arrived about 6 p.m. in San Luis, Arizona about 20 miles from Yuma, at the modest concrete block home of Dofla Maria Hau, a former farm worker and longtime friend. César and eight other UFW leaders and staff were staying at her house in a poor farm worker neighborhood not far from the Mexican border.
César ate dinner at around 9 p.m. and presided over a brief meeting to review the day's events. He had just finished two days of often grueling examination by attorneys for Bruce Church, Inc. He talked to his colleagues about taking care of themselves, a recent recurring theme with César because he was well aware of the long hours required from him and other union officers and staff. Still, he was in good spirits despite being exhausted after prolonged questioning on the witness stand; he complained about feeling some weakness when doing his evening exercises. The UFW founder went to bed at about 10 or 10:30 p.m. A union staff member said he later saw a reading light shining from César's room. The light was still on at 6 a.m. the next morning. That was not seen as unusual. César usually woke up in the early hours of the morning well before dawn to read, write or meditate.
When he had not come out by 9 a.m., his colleagues entered his bedroom, found that César had died apparently, according to authorities, at night in his sleep. He was found lying on his back with his head turned to the left. His shoes were off and he still wore his clothes from the day before. In his right hand was a book on Native American crafts. There was a peaceful smile on his face.
In September 1962, Chavez's National Farm Workers Association (now the United Farm Workers) held its first convention. Three years later, the union voted to join Filipino farm workers in a strike against grape growers. When the owners refused to agree to the workers' requests, Chavez organized a 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, California, in the spring of 1966.
Chavez also announced a nationwide boycott of California grapes as a way to get other vineyard owners to change their conditions and pay scales...
Cesar Chavez is best known for his efforts to gain better working conditions for the thousands of workers who labored on farms for low wages and under severe conditions. Chavez and his United Farm Workers union battled California grape growers by holding nonviolent protests. Chavez got the idea for nonviolent actions from Martin Luther King Jr., who was a leader in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans. Chavez also went on hunger strikes, protesting by refusing to eat for long periods of time. In 1968 he fasted for 25 days in support of the UFW (United Farm Workers) commitment to non-violence. He was inspired to fast by M.K. Gandhi of India.
Because of Chavez's peaceful tactics and public support for the union, he and the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee were able to negotiate contracts for higher wages and better treatment of agricultural workers with California grape producers.
A few years later, César volunteered to serve in the United States Navy. César, like many American men and women, served in the military to fight for freedom and to protect the people of the United States.
After two years in the Navy, César returned home and married his girlfriend, Helen. After a short time, they moved to San Jose, California and began a family.
After achieving only an eighth-grade education, Cesar left school to work in the fields full-time to support his family. He attended more than 30 elementary and middle schools. Although his formal education ended then, he possessed an insatiable intellectual curiosity, and was self-taught in many fields and well read throughout his life. Cesar joined the US Navy in 1946, and served in the Western Pacific in the aftermath of World War II. He returned from service to marry Helen Fabela, whom he had met working in the vineyards of central California. The Chavez family settled in the East San Jose barrio of Sal Si Puedes (get out if you can), and would eventually have eight children and thirty-one grandchildren.
César Estrada Chávez was born in Yuma, Arizona, thirty eight years ago, into a family of five children which struggled to make a living on their father's small farm near the banks of the Colorado River. When he was ten years old his hardworking father finally lost everything. There was no alternative for the family but to take to the road, doing the only thing they knew how to do--farm work. They became migrant farm workers, joining the stream of workers that followed the harvest of crops from Arizona to northern California and back, barely scraping by as they endured the scorching heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter in ramshackle huts and their broken-down car. School was irregular and haphazard for Cesar. When the perpetually impoverished family finally settled in Brawley, César attended a segregated school with second-class equipment. In spite of these humiliations, he liked school and was an alert and receptive student. However, the necessity of helping support his struggling family forced him to drop out during the eighth grade to work as a migrant
BORN: March 31, 1927 • Yuma, Arizona
DIED: April 23, 1993 • San Luis, Arizona
Mexican American labor leader, social activist
Cesar Chavez was a Mexican American labor leader and social activist who fought against racial prejudice. He founded and led the first successful farmworkers' union (organized groups of workers joined together for a common purpose, such as better working conditions) in the United States.