United Farm Workers of America Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The United Farm Workers organizes for the rights of agricultural workers and has been instrumental in changing labor laws and securing more equitable contracts.

The United Farm Workers of America (UFW) occupies a unique place in the history of American agribusiness and labor relations. Formed as an activist union for agricultural workers during the mid-1960’s, it has conducted consumer boycotts and engaged in direct action to pressure growers, food industries, and government to confront the often miserable working conditions in agricultural labor. Emerging from Chicano activism and multiracial labor organizing in food industries, the UFW has always combined labor organizing with campaigns for economic justice and civil rights.United Farm Workers of America

The UFW is part of a long and complex history in agricultural labor relations. Most histories of the UFW emphasize its genesis in the government-sponsored Bracero programbracero program (1942-1964), which was aimed at recruiting Mexican workers for American agriculture. Agricultural workers in general faced dismal working conditions, in part because none of the labor protections of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) applied to agriculture. Work and housing conditions could be extremely poor, and education was inadequate for workers’ children who moved frequently. Pesticide poisoning plagued the health of adult and child laborers, and racial prejudice in the American Southwest and California added to the stress for agricultural workers and their families.

César Chávez takes the California lettuce strike issue to Chicago and the Midwest in 1979.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Labor activists César Chávez, CésarChávez and Dolores Huerta, DoloresHuerta helped organize the Unions;agricultureNational Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962 to address some of the critical problems facing agricultural workers. In 1966, Chávez and other activists who were organizing a grape boycott aimed at California producers linked the NFWA with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), a group working on the Delano grape strike with the AFL-CIO. These two groups next merged to form the UFW. The UFW continued the fight for protective measures in health, housing, education, and for equitable contracts with growers and across agribusiness. In 1975, the UFW was instrumental in California’s adoption of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA), which finally secured the right to collective bargaining for agricultural workers, and the union has since prioritized immigrant labor rights.

The UFW broke important ground in American business history by using nonviolent tactics drawn from the Civil Rights movement, such as boycotts and mass marches. Chávez, for many years the public face for the UFW, also adopted the strategy of political fasting, a tactic he shared with the Indian international human rights leader Mahatma Gandhi. This creative fusion of human rights philosophy with labor organizing has allowed the UFW to bring to the forefront the moral dimension of American economic and labor relations.

Further Reading
  • Ferris, Susan, Ricardo Sandoval, and Diana Hembree. The Fight in the Fields: César Chávez and the Farm Workers Movement. New York: Harvest/Harcourt, 1998.
  • Shaw, Randy. Beyond the Fields: César Chávez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the Twenty-first Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.
  • Soto, Gary. Jessie de la Cruz: A Profile of a United Farm Worker. New York: Persea Books, 2002.

Agribusiness

Agriculture

Bracero program

César Chávez

Farm labor

Immigration

Internal migration

Labor history

Latin American trade with the United States

Mexican trade with the United States

Categories: History Content