Chávez advanced the standing of minority workers and strengthened labor institutions in the United States. He founded several significant labor organizations, and at the time of his death, he was the president of the AFL-CIO.
The family of César Chávez ran a small farm and a local store in Yuma, Arizona, but with the onset of the Great Depression, his family lost everything. His father packed up the family and moved to California, so that he could pursue employment as a migrant worker–an insecure way of life that hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially Latinos, were forced to adopt to survive harsh economic conditions. Young César quickly began to realize that the economic misfortunes his family faced were part of a greater injustice in the U.S. labor system, and his childhood experiences would contribute greatly to his later life as an activist.
When Chávez reached adulthood, he followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a farmworker picking beets, lettuce, and apricots on California farms. He grew frustrated with the poor wages and long hours that Latinos like himself were forced to withstand, and he began to take action to make working conditions better for farmworkers. Chávez studied leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and believed that true change could be brought about through peaceful protest and strikes that were designed to end injustice without violence.
Chávez’s quest to improve the working conditions of migrant laborers led him to participate in worker strikes and in 1952 led him to join the Community Service Organization (CSO), where he organized strikes and promoted voter registration among farmworkers. In 1962, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which later became the
Chávez’s aim was to secure better working environments for Latino farmworkers, but he achieved much more. His peaceful methods of fasts, strikes, and boycotts led to legislation, such as the 1975
Ferriss, Susan, Diana Hembree, and Ricardo Sandoval. The Fight in the Fields: César Chávez and the Farmworkers Movement. Bel Air, Calif.: Harvest/HBJ Book, 1998. Levy, Jacques E., and Barbara Moulton. César Chávez: Autobiography of La Causa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
United Farm Workers of America