Political and Social Movements

Labor Unions

Who was Cesar Chavez?

Mexican American farm worker Cesar Chavez (1927–1993) was a labor union organizer and spokesperson of the poor. Born in Arizona, his family lost their farm when he was just 10 years old; they became migrant workers in California, where farm production—particularly of grape crops—depended on the temporary laborers. Chavez knew the migrant worker’s life intimately, and as a young man he began working to improve conditions for his people. In 1962 he organized California grape pickers into the National Farm Workers Association. Four years later this union merged with another to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, or UFWOC (the name was changed to the United Farm Workers of America, or UFW, in 1973). An impassioned speaker known for squishing bunches of grapes in his hands as he delivered his messages, Chavez went on to lead a nationwide boycott of table grapes, since growers had refused to accept the collective bargaining of the UFWOC. By the close of the 1970s, California growers of all crops had accepted the migrant workers’ union, now called the United Farm Workers. Like Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez maintained that nonviolent protest was the key to achieving change.


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