Little Bits of History

Farm Work

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 30, 2011

César Chávez

September 30, 1962: The first convention of the National Farm Workers Association (UFWA) convened. The meeting was held at an abandoned movie theater in Fresno, California. There were hundreds of delegates in attendance. The flag of the new group was first shown. It was a black stylized eagle on a white circle in a red field. UFWA was created from the merging of two older groups, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the National Farm Workers Association. The latter was led by César Chávez. He and Dolores Huerta worked together to bring about the new organization, now called United Farm Workers (UFW).

Chávez was born in Yuma, Arizona in 1927. He was one of six children born to this Mexican-American family. The family owned a grocery store and a ranch but lost their property during the Great Depression. The family had agreed to clear land for a clear title to the ranch, but the deal was broken and they lost their home. Although a bright student, Chávez faced discrimination in school. He quit school after graduating from eighth grade in 1942. To keep his mother from working in the fields, he took over and began the laborious task himself.

He worked in the fields for ten years. In 1952 he became an organizer for the Community Service Organization, a group advocating for Latino rights. He was outspoken against police brutality and encouraged all Latinos to register and vote. It was Filipino workers who began the Delano grape strike in 1965, but Chávez supported their efforts. Six months later, NFWA initiated their own grape pickers strike. They marched from Delano to Sacramento and asked for all Americans to boycott table grapes. National attention led to US Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare to look into the case.

Organizing farm workers was a difficult task. Many times in the past, attempts had been made to fight for better wages and working conditions. They did not receive the backing for industrial unions and were often in conflict. Some local efforts would work for a short time, but then be disbanded. In 1936, it became law that workers could join together and fight for their causes and bargain collectively. During World War II, an agreement between Mexico and the US allowed “guest workers” to come north to harvest crops. This program lasted until 1964. UFW has as a goal the integrity of the working class to maintain the right attitude, encourage innovation, and work non-violently toward empowerment.

“From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.”

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”

“In some cases non-violence requires more militancy than violence.”

“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” – all from César Chávez

Also on this day:
Meet the Flintstones – In 1960, The Flintstones come to prime time television.
FBI HQ – In 1975. The J. Edgar Hoover Building was dedicated.