Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Weekender – Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle

“The Weekender” is our new feature where every weekend we hope to highlight a short film, movie or documentary pertaining to the Americas. 
March 31st would have been the 84h birthday of the late civil rights activist and labor leader Cesar Chavez.  His life has received renewed attention with the new release of a Hollywood biopic that was directed by Diego Luna and stars Michael Peña, America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson.

The Mexican-American Chavez devoted his life to improving the conditions of farm workers by campaigning for equal pay and fair working conditions.  He championed nonviolent efforts to promote the rights of farmworkers who generally suffered from abusive labor conditions as well as low pay for their work.  Along with Dolores Huerta, he co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW), which helped organize strikes and other actions such as a boycott in the 1980s to protest the use of toxic pesticides on grapes.

Chavez’s views on immigration varied; on the one hand, he was opposed to undocumented immigrants who he viewed as “scabs” that would potentially undermine his efforts to campaign for farmworkers.  Yet he also successfully campaigned to end the Bracero guest worker program that he believed had exploited migrant laborers and unfairly displaced domestic farmworkers.

Below the page break is the first part of a documentary depicting the Delano grape strike of the mid-1960s where Chavez and his allies fought for union recognition for farmworkers.  The film includes footage of the poor working conditions faced by laborers, picketing protesters in front of a California supermarket, and an interview with one of the grape owners who admitted to have never met Chavez but still labeled his tactics as “distasteful.”

In the second part of the documentary then-California Governor and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan claims that the grape boycott is “immoral” and ill-timed “blackmail,” which are accusations that Chavez subsequently reply.

The Delano grape strike lasted five years and ended with the UFW successfully reaching a collective bargaining agreement with growers in 1970.

Video Source – YouTube user UnionSolidarity

Online Sources –; Latino Times; Fox News Latino; Wikipedia

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