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Delano Grape Strike: 50th Anniversary of Historic Labor Rights Movement

First Posted: Sep 26, 2015 05:00 AM EDT
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Labor rights advocates are honoring the 50th anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike in California on Sept. 26, where Latino and Filipino farm workers united and called for improved working environments.

Paul Chavez, chairman of the Cesar Chavez Foundation and son of the labor rights leader, told Latin Post about the significance of the farm workers who walked out of wine and table grape vineyards in September 1965 and how "the poorest of this nation's poor" stood up against the big and powerful.

"What's most significant about it is that it showed people that you don't have to be born into power and privilege to make a change," said Paul Chavez, adding, "Filipino and Latino farm workers joined together in a cause for justice, and in doing so, they really inspired a nation to go out and to not just help farm workers but also to go out and be active in their own communities and to make a difference."

Chavez said the farm growers had traditionally put one race against another as an effort to circumvent potential walkouts. But on Sept. 8, 1965, Filipino American grape workers organized and went on strike after years of low pay and deteriorating conditions. Cesar Chavez, with the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), would join the Filipinos for improved labor rights. NFWA and the Filipinos' Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee would unite and form the United Farm Workers (UFW) union.

"Some people had a very negative view of farm workers; they were not viewed in a positive image as they are today," said Dolores Huerta, UFW co-founder, noting that workers were paid $0.50 cents per hour.

As a result of the strike, Huerta told Latin Post that new UFW contracts provided workers with medical plans, pension plans, better wages through negotiations, cold drinking water, toilets in the fields and the right to unionize, "and it had an effect on labor unions [today] because many of the labor unions use the same strategies that we used in the farm workers' union."

Tanis Ybarra, retired secretary-treasurer of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, said the civil rights movements initiated a lot of the Latino civil rights movement across the country. Although he was a student when the strike occurred, Ybarra knew the significance made by the grape strike and boycott veterans. He acknowledged that the UFW is still representing workers, 50 years later, which further showed the impact of the grape strike.

Ybarra said, "We're all grateful to all these folks who dedicated their lives to ensuring that farm workers would have a union. I feel honored to just be amongst them."

"Dolores is one of the icons," said Ybarra. "She's a lady who has devoted her life to working with farm workers [and] working on women's issues. ... I wish all of us could have the energy she has. It just comes from her dedication and her commitment to helping people."

To commemorate the Delano Grape Strike, labor rights advocates will meet outside of Delano, at the "Forty Acres" complex, on Sept. 26. According to a statement from the UFW, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will speak at the anniversary event, whose father, Robert "Bobby" Kennedy, met Cesar during a fast for nonviolence.

"It's going to be a day of remembrance and honoring those pioneers who 50 years ago challenged history," said Chavez, adding that there will be programs recognizing the remaining strikers of the first grape strike and a memorial dedication to Richard Chavez, Cesar's younger brother, who is reflected as "an unsung hero" in the movement.

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For the latest updates, follow Latin Post's Politics Editor Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO or contact via email: m.oleaga@latinpost.com.

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