Delano grape strike
The Delano grape strike was a labor strike by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the United Farm Workers, against grape growers in California. The strike began on September 8, 1965, and lasted more than five years. Due largely to a consumer boycott of non-union grapes, the strike ended with a significant victory for the United Farm Workers as well as its first contract with the growers.
The strike began when the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, mostly Filipino farm workers in Delano, California, led by Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, Benjamin Gines and Pete Velasco, walked off the farms of area table-grape growers, demanding wages equal to the federal minimum wage. One week after the strike began, the predominantly Mexican-American National Farmworkers Association, led by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Richard Chavez, joined the strike, and eventually the two groups merged, forming the United Farm Workers of America in August 1966. The strike rapidly spread to over 2,000 workers.
Through its grassroots efforts—utilizing consumer boycotts, marches, community organizing and nonviolent resistance—the movement gained national attention for the plight of some of the nation's lowest-paid workers. By July 1970, the UFW had succeeded in reaching a collective bargaining agreement with the table-grape growers, affecting in excess of 10,000 farm workers.
As a result of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee’s decision to strike against Delano grape growers on September 8, 1965, Chavez held a conference in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, on September 16 which is the Mexican Independence Day, in order to allow the National Farm Workers Association to decide for themselves whether or not to join the struggle at Delano. An estimated crowd of more than twelve hundred supporters and members of Chavez’s organization repeatedly chanted, “Huelga!” the Spanish word for strike, in favor of supporting the Delano grape farmers.
On March 17, 1966 Cesar Chavez embarked on a three-hundred mile pilgrimage from Delano, California to the state’s capital of Sacramento. This was an attempt to pressure the growers and the state government to answer the demands of the Mexican and Filipino farm workers which represented the Filipino-dominated Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the Mexican-dominated National Farm Workers Association, led by Cesar Chavez. The pilgrimage was also intended to bring widespread public attention to the farm worker’s cause. Shortly after this, the National Farm Workers Association and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee merged and became known as the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee.
After a record harvest in the fall of 1965 left activists and strikers with nothing to protest since the workers departed from the fields as the grape season drew to a close, Chavez turned to a different tactic of protest. His solution was to send two workers and a student activist to follow a grape shipment from one of the picketed growers to the end destination at the Oakland docks. Once there, the protestors were instructed to persuade the longshoremen to refrain from loading the shipment of grapes. The group was successful in its course of action, and this resulted in the spoilage of a thousand ten-ton cases of grapes which were left to rot on the docks. This event sparked the decision to use the protest tactic of boycotting as the means by which the labor movement would win the struggle against the Delano grape growers.
This initial successful boycott was followed by a series of picket lines on Bay Area docks. The International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, whose members were responsible for loading the shipments, cooperated with the protesters and refused to load non-union grapes.
Chavez’s successful boycotting campaigns in the docks inspired him to launch a formal boycott against the two largest corporations which were involved in the Delano grape industry, Schenley Industries and the DiGiorgio Corporation.
Starting in December 1965, Chavez’s organization participated in several consumer boycotts against the Schenley corporation. The increased pressure from supporters in the business sector led to the farm workers’ victory and acquisition of union contracts that immediately raised wages and established a hiring hall.
The large corporations affected by the strikes led by Chavez employed fear tactics in order to protect profits. The documentary The Wrath of Grapes mentions that the Delano-based company, M Caratan Inc., hired thugs to break up from workers voting to unionize. They attacked voters, over turned tables and even smashed ballot boxes.
The DiGiorgio Corporation was finally pressured into holding an election amongst its workers allowing them to choose the union they wanted to represent them on August 30, 1967. This came as a result of the boycott tactic of blocking grape distribution centers. With their products not on the shelves of retailers as a result of the boycott, the DiGiorgio Corporation was pressured to answer to the demands of the farm workers. The result of the vote favored the union representation of the UFW, a 530 to 332 vote, against the representation of The Teamsters, which was the only union that was competing against the UFW in the election.
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- Weber, Devra. Dark Sweat, White Gold: California Farm Workers, Cotton, and the New Deal. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1996. ISBN 0-520-20710-6
- Feriss, Susan; Sandoval, Ricardo; and Hembree, Diana. The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement. New York: Houghton Mifflin Courtyard, 1998. ISBN 0-15-600598-0
- Quinones, Sam (2011-07-28). "Richard Chavez dies at 81; brother of Cesar Chavez (He helped Cesar Chavez build the United Farm Workers into a political and agricultural force. He organized the California grape boycott in the late 1960s.)". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- [Shaw, Randy. Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. California: U of California P, 2008. Print]
- Ballis, George. La Causa : The Delano Grape Strike, 1965–1970. Take Stock, 01 01. 2008. Web. 11 Nov. 2009 <http://americanhistory.si.edu/exhibitions/resources/lacausascript.pdf>.]