Delano Grape Strike Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A farmworkers’ strike led by César Chávez succeeded, bringing gains in farmworkers’ rights. In addition to its practical victory, the strike became symbolic to other agricultural laborers, demonstrating that they had the power to achieve better working conditions by organizing collectively.

Summary of Event

Delano, California, a small grape vineyard community of about eleven thousand in the southern San Joaquin Valley, was the scene of a historic farmworkers’ strike. The strike began on September 8, 1965, when farmworkers walked off the fields, protesting low wages and poor working conditions; it ended on July 29, 1970. This strike was coordinated by César Chávez and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). Half the world’s table grapes were produced in the Delano area, which thus attracted thousands of vineyard workers. Delano grape strike (1965) Labor unions;National Farm Workers Association Strikes National Farm Workers Association Labor unions;grape boycott [kw]Delano Grape Strike (Sept. 8, 1965-July 29, 1970) [kw]Grape Strike, Delano (Sept. 8, 1965-July 29, 1970) [kw]Strike, Delano Grape (Sept. 8, 1965-July 29, 1970) Delano grape strike (1965) Labor unions;National Farm Workers Association Strikes National Farm Workers Association Labor unions;grape boycott [g]North America;Sept. 8, 1965-July 29, 1970: Delano Grape Strike[08520] [g]United States;Sept. 8, 1965-July 29, 1970: Delano Grape Strike[08520] [c]Business and labor;Sept. 8, 1965-July 29, 1970: Delano Grape Strike[08520] [c]Social issues and reform;Sept. 8, 1965-July 29, 1970: Delano Grape Strike[08520] [c]Agriculture;Sept. 8, 1965-July 29, 1970: Delano Grape Strike[08520] Chávez, César Di Giorgio, Joseph Huerta, Dolores Itliong, Larry Dulay

The seeds of the Delano strike emerged on September 30, 1962, when Chávez and a few hundred workers met and founded NFWA. Workers began to formulate their agenda. Incentives were provided to encourage members to remain in the union. NFWA member benefits included a co-op store, a gas station, and a service center. By mid-1965, the union had twelve hundred members.

NFWA became involved in striking against Delano vineyards when Larry Itliong, a Filipino organizer, and another union, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), called a strike against grape growers in the Delano area. AWOC, founded in 1959 by the AFL-CIO AFL-CIO[AFL CIO] Labor unions;AFL-CIO[AFL CIO] , convinced a large group of farmworkers to walk out of the vineyards. Between six hundred and eight hundred mostly Filipino workers demanded the right to bargain with their employers for fair wages and just working conditions. Many strikers were aware of better wages, having worked in California’s Coachella Valley, where the grape harvest is earlier than in Delano. Workers were paid $1.40 an hour in Coachella; Delano growers were unwilling to pay more than $1.25 an hour.

AWOC asked NFWA to join their strike, and five days later, after much deliberation, NFWA members voted unanimously to join the strike, which had spread to nine ranches and involved two thousand workers. The strike meeting was called on Mexican Independence Day, symbolically linking their struggle to the one 145 years past. Al Green Green, Al , leader of AWOC, did not like NFWA’s proposition for a joint strike. NFWA called its own strike against the area’s thirty other major grape growers. Chávez sent letters and telegrams to the growers, offering to negotiate contracts setting minimum pay at $1.40 per hour and specifying several other conditions of work.

AWOC concentrated demonstrations within the Delano area. Small picket groups demonstrated in front of vineyards and packing sheds. NFWA used other tactics, such as marches, fasts, and the grape boycott. In fall, 1965, Chávez visited several campuses, where rallies were held to garner student support. This effort resulted in hundreds of volunteers and supporters from the students and faculty. Their inclusion helped publicize the movement beyond the Delano area.

A feud between NFWA and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Teamsters Union , which began competing with NFWA for union membership, threatened the success of the strike. NFWA was being undercut by the Teamsters, who were making deals with local growers. This feud was settled temporarily in 1966, when the two groups merged to become the United Farm Workers United Farm Workers Labor unions;United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). Chávez became director and Itliong became associate director.

The Delano Grape Strike was waged primarily against a group of growers who refused to recognize or deal with NFWA. One of the tactics used to encourage the growers to negotiate a contract was fasting, which Chávez and others used on several occasions. One of Chávez’s fasts lasted from February 15 to March 10, 1968. The march was another useful tactic. A 1966 march (the Pilgrimage), went from Delano to Sacramento, the California state capital. This well-publicized march ended with a large rally at the Capitol Building on Easter Sunday. The United States, Mexican, and Philippine flags, along with a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, flew at the front of this march, which began March 16. Hats with the union’s red hatbands displaying the black eagle and huelga (strike) flags were well represented among those gathered at the capital. The national director of organizing for the AFL-CIO, Bill Kircher Kircher, Bill , marched with the farmworkers. This resulted in a period of lasting cooperation and support between Chávez and the leaders of the AFL-CIO. Union members throughout the United States and Canada voiced support for the farmworkers.

Calling the boycott Boycotts against grape growers proved to be the most effective tactic. The boycott succeeded in reaching the middle class in the United States. In addition, Chávez was a charismatic leader, which blended well with the excellent press coverage of the boycott activities. Chávez stressed nonviolence as the union’s guiding principle. Following the Civil Rights movement, in which Martin Luther King, Jr., had espoused nonviolence as a technique for peaceful protest, this tactic was viewed as acceptable by large segments of the U.S. population. Nationwide focus on the farmworkers’ movement compelled farmworkers to visit major cities in the United States and Canada seeking support for the grape boycott. Usually churches, unions, or universities provided venues for farmworker presentations.

The boycott originally was directed against the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation[Digiorgio Fruit Corporation] , whose Sierra Vista Ranch covered forty-four hundred acres, and Schenley Industries Schenley Industries , whose product lines, S&W Fine Foods and Treesweet juices, were nationally known. Consumers were urged to stop buying these brand names. Schenley became the first winery to settle a contract. Several small wineries run by Catholic religious orders also settled with a contract. Most of the growers in the Delano area were 1920’s immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. John Giumarra Giumarra, John, Jr. , Jr., spoke proudly of how his family came from Sicily and built the largest of the vineyard operations, a twelve-hundred-acre complex that grossed $5.5 to $7.5 million annually. Their cultural backgrounds were of economic struggle to success, where workers needed little beyond what the patrons granted them. This background left most of the growers with little tolerance for farmworker demands.

The Giumarra Vineyards Giumarra Vineyards became the target of a nationwide boycott in the spring of 1967. Consumers could identify Giumarra grapes, because they arrived at the store in clearly labeled boxes. By late summer, 1967, Giumarra, feeling negative effects of the boycott, counterattacked. He persuaded other Delano growers to allow the use of their labels on Giumarra grape boxes. This was designed to prevent consumers from identifying Giumarra grapes in the market.

In January, 1968, the union expanded its boycott to include all table grapes. In October the focus shifted from the products themselves to their outlets. Stores that handled table grapes were faced with mounting pressure, as farmworker union members and supporters began distributing leaflets at stores and publicizing stores that handled the grapes. The boycott was bolstered by picketing at large stores. The boycott grew, and consumers increasingly refused to buy grapes. By 1969, more than seventeen million U.S. consumers had stopped buying grapes. Growers began to feel the financial impact of these tactics and slowly began the move toward granting union demands. This boycott was a major factor in achieving acceptance of the union, collective bargaining, and the signing of contracts. In 1970, 140 grape growers signed contracts with the UFWOC as a result of the Delano grape strike.

Significance

The contracts won by nearly five years of striking constituted a major victory for the farmworkers, but not the end of their struggle. The 1970’s and 1980’s were punctuated by numerous conflicts between growers and farmworkers. In 1984, Chávez was compelled to call another strike. Despite these setbacks, the Delano strike remains one of the most important events in the struggle for farmworker rights. Chávez himself has become an iconic figure, and the grape boycotts he organized in particular—boycotts in which consumers and labor cooperated to bring about changes in management—stand as one of the most successful boycotts in labor history. Delano grape strike (1965) Labor unions;National Farm Workers Association Strikes National Farm Workers Association Labor unions;grape boycott

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dunne, John Gregory. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike. Rev. ed. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971. A clear, concise history of the Delano strike.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fusco, Paul, and George Horowitz.“La Causa”: The California Grape Strike. New York: Macmillan, 1970. Very useful to anyone seeking the causes and effects of the farmworkers’ strike.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jenkins, Craig. The Politics of Insurgency: The Farmworker Movement in the 1960’s. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Excellent analysis of the strategies and consequences of the farmworker movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levy, Jacques. César Chávez: Autobiography of “La Causa.” New York: W. W. Norton, 1975. A well-researched and detailed account covering Chávez’s life and work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Prouty, Marco G. César Chávez, the Catholic Bishops, and the Farmworkers’ Struggle for Social Justice. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2006. Charts Chávez’s work for social justice and his relationship to the Roman Catholic Church. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rodriquez, Consuelo. César Chávez. New York: Chelsea House, 1991. A brief but informative book that captures Chávez’s activities after 1970.

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