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César Chávez (1927-1993): American Visionary

Op Ed by Rubén Martínez, MI ALMA 

March 31 is when we celebrate the birthday of César Chávez and his lifelong efforts to improve the lives and working condition of farmworkers.


Farmworkers are a central and essential component of the nation’s food systems, yet they are the most economically vulnerable segment of the work force. Despite organizing efforts during the period from the 1930s through the 1950s to improve their working conditions, no gains were made.



Rubén Martinez


One of the major obstacles was the Bracero Program, a guestworker program established in 1942 by the U.S. and México to meet labor shortages during WWII. Continued after the war, the program was not ended until 1964.


It was then that César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla, Larry Itlong, and their supporters began to have successes in organizing farmworkers and bringing their plight to the American public with the help of students, religious leaders, civil rights activists, and labor leaders.


In 1965, invited by Larry Itlong to help Filipino American farmworkers in their walkout against Delano grape growers, César and Larry began the five-year Delano Grape strike.


Promoting non-violence, marches, and boycotts, they garnered the attention of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, who participated in hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor.


In February-March 1968, César fasted for 25 days at the Delano headquarters of the United Farm Workers (UFW) in opposition to the increasing willingness of farmworkers to resort to violence against grower-paid goons who repeatedly used violence against them.


Sen. Kennedy joined 8,000 farmworkers and supporters at the Catholic Mass when Chávez broke his fast, calling him a heroic figure. In 1970, Chávez and the United Farm Workers signed the first union contracts with several table grape farmers in California.


Today, California is the state that has passed legislation granting farmworkers collective bargaining rights. Despite the achievements by the United Farm Workers, resistance against and legislative assaults on labor unions throughout the country have diminished the gains made by the UFW. His vision was to transform the farm labor system into one that treats farmworkers as human beings with dignity and human worth. His vision remains to be realized.




Copyright © 1989 to 2021 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 03/23/21 10:30:20 -0800.





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