César Chávez Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

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.Chávez, César

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 United Farm Workers of AmericaUnited Farm Workers of America (UFW). The union grew, and in 1965, a five-year strike by grape pickers began at Chavez’s request. The strike led farmers to negotiate with their workers, who achieved higher wages, better hours, health care, and some pension benefits as a result.

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 1975Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act, that gave farmworkers’ unions negotiating powers that had been reserved for industrial laborers. Chávez is thought of as one of the most influential people in the labor movement, and he rose to become the president of the AFL-CIO. Chávez continued his battle for better conditions and working processes for farmers until his death in 1993, and he is remembered among the Latino and farmworker communities as a hero.

Further Reading
  • 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.



Consumer Boycotts

Bracero program

Farm labor

Labor history

Labor strikes

United Farm Workers of America

Categories: History