Delano grape strike

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Delano grape strike
Date September 8, 1965
Location Delano, California
Goals Minimum wage
Methods Strikes, boycotting, Demonstrations
Resulted in Collective bargaining agreement
Parties to the civil conflict
United Farm Workers;
Agricultural Workers

Lead figures

Arrests: 250
Deaths: 14
Injuries: 300

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.[1][2][3] One week after the strike began, the predominantly Mexican-American National Farmworkers Association, led by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Richard Chavez,[4] joined the strike, and eventually the two groups merged, forming the United Farm Workers of America in August 1966.[3] The strike rapidly spread to more than 2,000 workers.

Through its grassroots efforts—using 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.[2][3] 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.[1][2][3]


The Forty Acres complex in Delano was made a National Landmark in 2008.

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 (Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), in 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.[5]

On March 17, 1966 Cesar Estrada 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-american and filipino-american 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.[6] In August 1966, the AFL-CIO charted the UFW, officially combining the AWOC and the NFWA.[7]

After a record harvest in the fall of 1965, thousands of California farm workers went on strike and demanded union representation elections. Many were arrested by police and injured by growers while picketing.[8] Chavez sent 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.[5]

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.[5]

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.[5]

Starting in December 1965, Chavez’s organization participated in several consumer boycotts against the Schenley corporation.[5] 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 hiring halls in Delano, Coachella, and Lamont.[9]

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 criminals to break up farm workers voting to unionize. They attacked voters, overturned 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.[5]

In June 1975, California passed a law allowing for secret ballot union representation elections for farm workers. By mid-September, the UFW won the right to represent 4,500 workers at 24 farms, while the Teamsters won the right to represent 4,000 workers at 14 farms. The UFW won the majority of the elections in which it participated.[10]

The Teamsters signed an agreement with the UFW in 1977, promising to end its efforts to represent farm workers. The boycott of grapes, lettuce, and Gallo Winery products officially ended in 1978.[11]


The grape strike officially began in Delano in September 1965. In December, union representatives traveled from California to New York, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Detroit, and other large cities to encourage a boycott of grapes grown at ranches without UFW contracts.

In the summer of 1966, unions and religious groups from Seattle and Portland endorsed the boycott. Supporters formed a boycott committee in Vancouver, prompting an outpouring of support from Canadians that would continue throughout the following years.

In 1967, UFW supporters in Oregon began picketing stores in Eugene, Salem, and Portland. After melon workers went on strike in Texas, growers held the first union representation elections in the region, and the UFW became the first union to ever sign a contract with a grower in Texas.

National support for the UFW continued to grow in 1968, and hundreds of UFW members and supporters were arrested. Picketing continued throughout the country, including in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Florida. The mayors of New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Detroit, and other cities pledged their support, and many of them altered their cities’ grape purchases to support the boycott.

In 1969, support for farm workers increased throughout North America. The grape boycott spread into the South as civil rights groups pressured grocery stores in Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Nashville, and Louisville to remove non-union grapes. Student groups in New York protested the Department of Defense and accused them of deliberately purchasing boycotted grapes. On May 10, UFW supporters picketed Safeway stores throughout the U.S. and Canada in celebration of International Grape Boycott Day. Cesar Chavez also went on a speaking tour along the East Coast to ask for support from labor groups, religious groups, and universities.[12]

Mapping UFW Strikes, Boycotts, and Farm Worker Actions 1965-1975 shows over 1,000 farm worker strikes, boycotts, and other actions.


  1. ^ a b Hurt, R. Douglas and for farm growers to cease exposing farm workers to dangerous pesticides. American Agriculture: A Brief History. Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2002. ISBN 1-55753-281-8
  2. ^ a b c 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
  3. ^ a b c d 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
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f [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]
  6. ^ Ballis, George. La Causa : The Delano Grape Strike, 1965–1970. Take Stock, 01 01. 2008. Web. 11 Nov. 2009 <>.]
  7. ^ "UFW timeline". Retrieved 2016-04-22. 
  8. ^ "United Farm Workers geography". Retrieved 2016-04-22. 
  9. ^ "United Farm Workers geography". Retrieved 2016-04-22. 
  10. ^ "United Farm Workers geography". Retrieved 2016-04-22. 
  11. ^ "United Farm Workers geography". Retrieved 2016-04-22. 
  12. ^ "United Farm Workers geography". Retrieved 2016-04-22. 

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