On September 8, 1965, Filipino American grape workers, members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, walked out on strike against Delano-area table and wine grape growers protesting years of poor pay and conditions. The Filipinos asked Cesar Chavez, who led a mostly Latino farm workers union, the National Farm Workers Association, to join their strike.
Cesar and the leaders of the NFWA believed it would be years before their fledgling union was ready for a strike. But he also knew how growers historically pitted one race against another to break field walkouts.
UFW voted to join the Filipino workers’ walkouts on Mexican Independence Day, September 16, 1965. From the beginning, this would be a different kind of strike.
Cesar insisted the Latino and Filipino strikers work together, sharing the same picketlines, strike kitchens and union hall. This was what the agricultural businessmen/landowners did not want. They wanted each group to replace the other when they refused to work and that tactic needed to be challenged.
UFW led a 300-mile march, or perigrinacion, from Delano to Sacramento. It placed the farm workers’ plight squarely before the conscience of the American people.
The strikers turned to boycotts, including table grapes, which eventually spread across North America.
The strikers knew most people couldn’t drop what they were doing and dedicate themselves completely to the movement like the grape strikers, most of whom lost their homes, cars and worldly possessions. But the farm workers showed ordinary people that by making little sacrifices every day—by 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. At dinner tables across the country, parents gave children a simple, powerful lesson in social justice.
By 1970, the grape boycott was a complete success. Table grape growers at long last signed their first union contracts, granting workers better pay, benefits, and protections.
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