Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) Biography » César Chávez: 1927-1993: Labor Leader Biography - Grew Up In Poverty, Risked Life Savings To Form Union, Began Hunger Strike, Pressured By Larger Labor Union

César Chávez: 1927-1993: Labor Leader - Began Hunger Strike

growers ufwoc union boycott


Mirroring Gandhi and his promotion of passive resistance, in the midst of the boycott, Chávez embarked upon 25 days of fasting as a way to publicize his boycott around the country, and also staged protest marches as far away as Texas and other agriculture-based states that employed migrant labor. In July of 1970, 26 growers signed agreements with the UFWOC, and within a few months over 80% of the table growers had entered into union contracts with their workers, establishing equitable wages and improving living conditions. Crediting his fast for promoting the UFWOC's final negotiations, Chávez repeated the technique in later union efforts, saying in the National Catholic Reporter: "I am convinced that the truest act of courage … is to sacrifice ourselves in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice."

With its first battle won, in 1970 the UFWOC focused its attention on iceberg lettuce growers in Arizona and Salinas, California, where lettuce pickers worked in unreasonable conditions for little money. Despite the collusion between growers, large corporations, and members of the Teamsters Union—then expelled from the AFL-CIO and acting independently—to derail UFWOC efforts, Chávez's initiation of a strike and nationwide boycott of California lettuce in September of 1970 ultimately brought the growers to the table—and left Chávez briefly jailed in violation of a court order against such action.

The publicity surrounding Chávez's arrest illustrated to the nation the high-pressure tactics used by growers who allied with the Teamsters as a way to undermine the efforts of UFWOC operators. One result of his arrest was the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which created the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. From then on union organizers had access to the field, and workers had the right to a secret ballot in union elections. Within two years the UFWOC had been legitimized; it had contracts with 147 growers and represented 50,000 farm workers.


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