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I'm going to tell you as much as I know about the background of Cesar Chavez because he would be too modest to do so himself. And also because I think that it's probably unusually pertinent in a situation like this. The impression may get abroad that this leader has suddenly burst forth upon the stage and that is not at all the case. The the strike which is what I suppose really brings us all here tonight is only the most recent act in a drama that's been going on for a long long time. And I can assure you that it's not the final act in that drama. Cesar Chavez began himself as a farm worker
who followed the crops. When he got married and I began to have a family and he has eight children now. He left farm labor. Because I need hardly tell you that it is virtually impossible to support a family on the type of earnings that you make in agriculture at the present time. He was working. He was working as a lumber handler in San Jose as I recall and he met correct me if I'm mistaken in these details. A fellow named Fred Ross was organizing a chapter of the community service organization in San Jose. Perhaps some of you have heard of the CSO perhaps some of you have heard of Fred Ross himself.
Mr. Ross studied organizing methods under Saul Alinsky. In Chicago and many of you probably heard of Saul Alinsky. And some of you might have heard that a project directed by Fred Ross back in New York state was recently cut off from its war on poverty funds because the organizing methods of Alinsky and Ross and Chavez are perhaps a little too authentic. If I may use that word they're bonafide they are genuine organizing methods rather than the imitation article which some people might prefer.
Well Cesar Chavez became associated with CSO. He was in charge of an Organizing Project in Oxnard for example in which he in effect organized a Farm Workers Union there although it wasn't called that. When he left there he became as I recall the head organizer for CSO throughout the whole state of California and was instrumental in helping that organization build a number of very viable chapters in a number of cities 20 22 something like that. I first met him in Stockton in 1059 where with the help of Dolores Huerta and others they had a very active CSO chapter but he left the CSO.
I think because the organization was tending to place more emphasis upon urban problems than Caesar thought appropriate. And so all alone he went to the little town of delay no. In the northern end of Kern County. And began trying to build the type of rural organization which he thought the state needs. I called it the Farm Workers Association. I had no support whatever except from the dues which the members of the association themselves paid and which he himself was able to earn by working during the day time in the fields and then driving around at night. The little home meetings neighborhood
meetings which is the way he felt organizing ought to be done. Well that was some. What is a two and a half years ago. Three and a half years ago I'm sorry. And he and the association have come a long ways in those three and a half years. You've all. Read a good deal about the F.W. way since September of last fall. And Caesar will be telling you about those events himself but I also hope that he will tell you something about the very long. And patient and tedious and undramatic unspectacular spadework that preceded the events that began in September. With
that I will introduce you to Cesar Chavez national director of the Farm Workers Association. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank my friend Hank Anderson for the very wonderful introduction and then I want to tell you about a picnic we having over in delay no I guess most of you have heard of that. But in order for you to understand what we're faced with and in order to be able to understand the what the strike is all about I think
it's appropriate first of all to give you a brief background of the National Farm Workers Association with emphasis on its origin and on some of the ideas sent on its mainly the way it was organized. On March 30 First of 1062 I quit my job with the community service organization in Los Angeles and came to delay you know with the idea of organizing farm workers with the idea of forming a workers group that would not rely on outside financial assistance for the at least for the initial part of the organization a group that if it were to be organized would have to at least the financial part of that
organizing would have to come from the workers themselves. And so after a few weeks of rest and planning we began the work of getting farm workers together talking to them about the advantages of organization and also their responsibilities. In my 12 or so years working under Alinsky and Fred Ross I had learned one thing and that is that anywhere you go you will find a small group of people whether it be students or university professors or farm workers who are already interested enough to do something about the problem that confronts them. So on this basis I went in order to build a the beginning or the foundations of the association I visited something like 85 small communities including labor camps and was thus able to form
the nucleus of the Farm Workers Association. When I look back on the beginning of that work. It seems like we've gone a long ways and of course when I look forward it seems like we haven't moved hardly anything or anywhere but the idea was that the workers themselves had to pay for the organizing that they had to be a new structure that if they really felt and believe that this was a way out of their. Conditions facing them that then they had to put up the money and if they didn't didn't put up the money then this this what we were doing wasn't that important to them. And I felt and if it came to that that I had no right going around talking to people because I would be fooling myself because then they weren't convincing enough to the point that they wanted to pay 350 a month. Then there was no use in trying to organize them and that and that perhaps my whole approach was not the right way of doing it.
We started with 10 new Spain members and some of my friends in CSO and other friends who would come occasionally would drive occasionally through delay knowing it would stop take time enough to come and see what I was doing would give me as much encouragement as I could but at the same time just before leaving almost always they would say you know you've got a tough job. As if I didn't know. It's a price many people. When they would ask me how are you going to organize the workers when they're scattered. If we consider the San Joaquin Valley which covers eight counties and it's on the extreme south you have Aravind California and that's the home of the Georgia food corporation. And you go all the way to Stockton. This is several hundred miles. It's an awful lot of territory to cover an awful lot of people to see. And so when they
brought this up I would say if I can't organize from behind this desk then I have no reason organizing. And then they would say well what do you mean by this. And I would say I can only do a little bit. But I can do a lot if I never lose sight that what I'm doing has to be duplicated. It is going to get anyplace. And so those 10 members it began. Sorry duplicating things. And pretty soon there were twenty and then there were 30 and then there were 60 and then there were a lot more. It seems quite easy to say that they came and that they were duplicated very easily and they were this is not the case. An awful lot of time and awful lot of personal attention has to be given to each individual if he is going to then act as an organizer. So the whole approach was that we were getting members and also getting organizers and also building
that very essential ingredient to organization and that is that each man knows what to do as best as he can. Or at least its man is prepared to do whatever he can for that group. And so for three years we continued driving many problems faces in the beginning and I just want to mention some of the experiences that we had and I think that they're interesting. Some years back when I was working with the CSO I was confronted with a case where this young daughter had come from Mexico immigrated with her mother a lady of about 60 or 70 years of age and they had been here two or three months and she died. And there was no money to bury her. And the county hospital was willing to bury her but they wouldn't provide the church
services. And the only thing she could get was a gravesite service. And of course this was not enough for that daughter. I went to the library and I went to an attorney friend that I had and I said look it says in the code that the first of kin has a right to to that body. Why would happened if this young daughter would claim the body and then we did the necessary things to to have the services and to have the funeral and so forth. Well this had never been done in the history of Santa Clara County. This is insanity at the moment. At the time. But we went and we had a big argument with the county hospital to try and get claims a body. And we finally they called the state attorney general's office for a decision decision was that we could claim the body so I had a station when we claimed the body and my brother's a
carpenter he built a coffin and we had the wake at her friend's home and the priest and we had the roaster the next day we went to took her to mass took the body to Mass and then we buried buried her and we only paid for the death certificate and it's a dollar and thirty or thirty five dollars for the plot. And but I thought when this was accomplished that it would be quite nice if people who do not have money for the services have some type of a burial insurance supported by their dues to take care of these needs. And so I had not been long in delaying when I was faced with a similar problem. This time I work a little differently I went around to the various funeral parlors and I told him I know how to do this but if they didn't want the publicity get out and the people could do their own varying that then I was expecting that they would cooperate and they did.
The and so this pointed out immediately that we needed a that we had a problem facing us and most of the problems when you get down to the root are economic problems. At least those problems facing the farm workers or at least I'd like to think that this is what they are because I like to deal in that. And so we're able then to set up a very small insurance benefit program or burial program for the membership and this was successful. Then the question of loans came up and so we built up a we built. We organized and we fought with the federal government for about 16 months to get a charter for a credit union and they wouldn't give it to us because they claimed that the workers move an awful lot and that this wouldn't just wasn't practical. And so then we went to the state and the state gave us a charter and we started with $37. I credit union in 22 months lend out over $100000 and still going in business we have a lot of money.
Thirty six thousand dollars I believe or at least up to before the strike started. But. They were also confronted with the ghosts of the area and because of the thousands and thousands of workers with some way of bringing the information to these workers where they were members and not about the movement about what we were doing to organize them. And so we started publishing many of you I'm sure know what it is. It's a newspaper published by the Farm Workers Association. We started in Spanish and then two or three months later they went into an English edition and we hope it will be another at least in one of the major Filipino dialects soon. But the point I'm making is that organizing however difficult it may be when we really examine it it isn't that difficult because the main ingredient is people.
And then the second thing is that there must be a need and there is two things in the valley people and the need. And so we started building and we started building a strike fund. And we're taking a small percentage of that 350 every month and putting it away in a strike fund hoping that this would be large enough to at least get us started. But when the day came that we had to have a strike. In May of this year a group of members most Some would come from a village in Mexico called SEE quite oh that's in a state of Michoacan and who are expert roast grafters came to the office and they say there are about 80 of them who work with the largest rolls company in California to tell us that they were dissatisfied with the promises and with the wages that they were getting with this company. And so we started organizing and then after about three or four weeks of working with them we called the strike. Oh
we went to the grower and we sent letters to them we don't look strikes coming on and we hope you get together with us to write the strike and they laughed at us the usually do. And so we had a strike and we never had a picket out in the strike. Everybody walked out. We were out three days. We got a 40 percent increase and we sent the workers back they want to go back anyway. And he said well next year will come around we'll talk about a contract and saw this. Other work that I've described. Those are the things I'm going to describe I leading them to the strike that we're in today then. In July. 80 workers working with a grower near border Vale were not on strike they were thinning grapes and they wanted a strike because they were dissatisfied with the dollar and a quarter that a dollar and a quarter that they were getting. And their complaint was that the secretary of
labor had issued an order that all growers beginning April the 1st of last year in order to qualify for Mexican nationals saddos they had to offer the domestic workers in that area and also if they import it from foreign workers that they had to to guarantee them a dollar forty an hour. And so what happened was that many people felt that this was a federal minimum wage many of the workers and they felt well of that. But I said oh sorry then. Now guaranteed for a dollar forty. Why shouldn't we be guaranteed those of us who live here and are citizens especially. And so it was a walk on we are on strike and it was a short strike we got a dollar forty and we settle for that and we pulled back. Then I have to explain that. For many years the lane has not used foreign workers. The table
grape industry has not used foreign workers for many years. Some in some cases but not in the large numbers they have been using the strawberries and the citrus and in the spirits and so forth. So we had then before the strike or before Secretary words had issued the order of the dollar 40 we had delay no was about the middle bracket as far as wages are concerned we had the northern part of the state paying a dollar and a quarter an hour delay no Ron dollar 10 an hour. And then we had the southern part of the state in Imperial County who was paying between 90 and a dollar cents an hour. Around Stockton where they were paying a dollar and a quarter an hour they had many of the saddles and Imperial Valley where they were paying a dollar 90 cents to a dollar also quite a few resettles doing the carrots and also the lettuce. So when the order came into effect then we had overnight a race in a way just in
the southern part of the state up to a dollar forty. And then the northern part of the state up to a dollar 40 in some cases a little more than that. And so the L.A. then overnight became a depressed area as far wages were concerned. And so there was and then another reason for the strike. But I guess most important of any Most important of everything was that there was some beginning of an organization there some people working in unison and some idea about having to having to fight if they wanted to get a better working a better wage and better working conditions and so forth. So then on September the 8th the cultural workers organizing committee which is an organizing committee chartered by the National AFL CIO went on strike and they pulled the Filipino workers in the area on strike. Eight days
later we called a mess meeting of our membership which amounts about 200 in the strike zone at that time and put the strike question to them and then the after some discussion they voted unanimously to go on strike not only in support of the strike but also to ask for similar wages and working conditions for themselves along with this they pledge themselves to conduct a strike that would be a nonviolent strike something unheard of in labor especially in farm labor strikes. Up to that point. And then. I was asked to I asked the members to give me five days in which to try and get to the growers and see if somehow we could head off the strike and that by doing this that maybe we could negotiate with them and I was kidding myself. We did
everything under the sun that we could to try and get them to talk to us and they wouldn't they ignored us. And so the strike was called then at 5 o'clock in the morning on September the 20th on a Monday and we've been on strike ever since. And many things have happened and many new ideas have developed and many new people have developed because of the strike. In the beginning we were not organized for the strike. Everyone in the strike. Including myself have never had any experience in strikes. But as time progressed we were able to meet the organizing problems that we had and were able then to. Little by little developed the people who are on strike so that then at this point we have a strike machine that I'm sure can go on for an indefinite period of time. I'm sure that the strike can go on for as long as we can get support from our friends throughout
the state and throughout the country to give us enough to eat. And that's all we ask. So in the beginning of the strike we had many terrible experiences and we found that the gorse in the beginning thought that this was going to be a honeymoon strike and it was going to be like most strikes in farm worker in the agriculture. Industry that it was going to last maybe three days and then it's going to sort of drop. And then in about 10 or 12 days or two weeks at the most the strike was going to be over and the people were going to go back to work. And I think this was their first major mistake because it's almost now four months and we're still going at it very strongly. And then when this when they realized that this wasn't going to stop the people then they started using violence and they started bringing out their shotguns and when I say shotguns I mean
in many case in a good many cases they did. And they started you hiring. Guards to guard the entrances to their properties and also the guards in two occasions felt that they had to draw their firearms and as to the disk area just. Of course they were unsuccessful the more they did this the more encouraged me we got and the more sure we were of what we were doing. And then the after a while the sheriffs and especially in Kern County felt that they had to do something that the strike it being on for too long and after five weeks they thought that everybody knew about the strike and that therefore there was no reason to shout well go Well guys the word is you know in Spanish for strike and well we didn't agree with him but we thought that and we were kidding ourselves that if we talk to them we might get their cooperation and then those
be able to continue the strike so when we gave in to not shouting when they came back three days later and they wanted us to not to talk and we gave into that and then they came back and they didn't want us to to talk to one another in a picket line. So it was too much. And we thought we would challenge this. And when the pickets wouldn't leave the area and two occasions the Gores or some of their employees went out and got their spray rakes and they sprayed us and we stayed with it. And so it's going to take a lot more than those things to discourage. We. Do know is that every time that a the one of our workers has been arrested or every time that he's been humiliated or every time that he has been. Pushed around. That the only thing that's been accomplished by you that is to have a more and a firmer commitment to the strike.
We hope that some day this will be this strike will go down in history as a free first successful strike. We're working for this and I am convinced that this can be done. And I'm not saying is going to be done tomorrow I'm saying that's a long strike but I'm convinced that it can be done. And even if it's not done in delay know this time. I live there and a lot of people live there and we're going to come back and we're going to come back and we're going to stay with it until the day comes when we will get the growers to understand that we have a perfect right to be recognized and to build our own union but. When the day comes that we sign a contract. I'm going to invite all of you to come to learn to celebrate and we'll celebrate with friendly products.
Cesar Chavez speaks on the Delano Grape Strike
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KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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Pacifica Radio Archives (North Hollywood, California)
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In this radio program, Cesar Chavez, President of the National Farm Workers Association, speaks in Berkeley on January 5, 1966 under the auspices of Citizens for Farm Labor about the progress of the Delano Grape Strike and the history of the National Farm Workers Association. He is introduced by Henry Anderson, Chairman of Citizens for Farm Labor. In his introduction, Anderson traces Chavez's beginnings as a farm hand to his work with Fred Ross and the Community Service Organization (CSO) to his organization of the Farm Workers Association. Chavez then speaks on his philosophy of political organization, his creation of an insurance program and credit union for farm workers, previous strikes, and the Delano Grape Strike. Four months into the historic strike, Chavez speaks on his conviction that the strike will continue for as long as the workers continue to have support. He speaks about the growers' violence against the workers, saying, "It's going to a lot more than [violence] to discourage us." The Delano Gr
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Chavez, Cesar, 1927-1993; National Farm Workers Association--History; Hispanic Americans--Civil rights; Agricultural laborers -- Labor unions -- California -- History; Grape Strike, Calif., 1965-1970
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Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Speaker: Chavez, Cesar, 1927-1993.
Speaker: Anderson, Henry
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Pacifica Radio Archives
Identifier: 3214_D01 (Pacifica Radio Archives)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Pacifica Radio Archives
Identifier: PRA_AAPP_BB2358_The_Delano_grape_strike (Filename)
Format: audio/vnd.wave
Generation: Master
Duration: 0:29:30
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Chicago: “Cesar Chavez speaks on the Delano Grape Strike,” 1966-01-15, Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 21, 2024,
MLA: “Cesar Chavez speaks on the Delano Grape Strike.” 1966-01-15. Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Cesar Chavez speaks on the Delano Grape Strike. Boston, MA: Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from