In 1965, Filipino American grape workers protested poor pay and conditions by calling a strike against Delano-area grape growers. They asked Cesar Chavez and his union to join their strike.
Cesar knew that growers had historically used tension between racial groups to prevent worker walkouts. Cesar’s union voted to join the Filipino workers’ walkouts.
Cesar insisted the Latino and Filipino strikers work together, sharing picket lines, strike kitchens, and a union hall. He required strikers to commit to nonviolence.
The strike received support from other civil rights groups. Cesar led a 300-mile march from the farms to the California capital, Sacramento, raising public awareness of the farm workers’ situation.
Cesar knew the strikers needed to persevere no matter how long it would take. They had to risk everything, even their financial security.
As the strike dragged on for over two years, some young strikers called for violence. They believed that fighting back would prove their manliness. Cesar rejected that notion. He strongly believed in nonviolence, like his heroes, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Cesar believed that nonviolence is more powerful than violence, as long as the cause is just. He felt that nonviolence forces people to be creative, letting them maintain the offensive, which is crucial to winning.
Cesar wrote, “However important the struggle is and however much misery, poverty and exploitation exist, we know that it cannot be more important than one human life.”
He led by example. In 1968, he began a fast to rededicate the movement to nonviolence. He went without food for 25 days. His doctors said his life was in danger. The fast stopped all talk of violence among the strikers. The grape strike and boycott continued.
Cesar knew the farm workers needed more than a field strike to win better conditions. The growers held all the social and political control. Cesar and the United Farm Workers (the result of a merger between other unions) decided to organize a boycott. The boycott enabled farm workers to bring their cause to people throughout the country.
Hundreds of grape strikers traveled across the U.S. and Canada to enlist mass support for the grape boycott. They hoped that consumers throughout North America would respond when they learned about the suffering of field laborers.
Cesar and the farm workers showed ordinary people that by an act as simple as not eating grapes, they could directly help the poorest of the poor.
The boycott connected middle-class families in big cities with poor farm worker families in the California vineyards. Millions stopped eating grapes. By 1970, the grape boycott was a success. Table grape growers at long last signed their first union contracts, granting workers better pay, benefits, and protections.
Source: The 1965-1970 Delano Grape Strike and Boycott
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