How can people work together to raise their voices and demand the rights they have been denied?
In this lesson, students will learn about the initial phase of the grape workers’ strike that occurred in California’s San Joaquin Valley from 1965 to 1966. The strike lasted until 1970, when most grape growers signed contracts with the United Farm Workers union. After exploring images related to the farmworkers' movement, students will watch a video that explains the events that occurred in the first year of the strike. Then, students will analyze the strategies used during this period of the farmworkers’ movement and reflect on the impact these strategies had.
In 1965, grape workers in the San Joaquin Valley in California went on strike to demand higher wages and better work conditions. Many farmworkers were denied a living wage or basic necessities, such as sufficient housing, healthcare, or education for their children.1 The strike began mainly with workers of Filipino ancestry, organized by Larry Itliong and the union called the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC).2 At the time, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta led another union in the San Joaquin Valley, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which was comprised mostly of Mexican-American farmworkers. The NFWA decided to support the strike, and in 1966, the two unions merged into the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (United Farm Workers).3
The grape workers strike lasted from 1965 to 1970. In 1966, César Chávez led a march from Delano in the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento, to draw attention to the strike. The march succeeded in bringing national attention and the first negotiations between vineyard owners and the union. However, most of the growers continued to refuse to negotiate with the union, and the United Farm Workers organized a national boycott of grapes to place additional pressure on the growers. Many consumers were sympathetic to the strike and refused to buy grapes, and grocery stores followed suit by refusing to stock non-union grapes. By 1969, grape sales in the United States had dropped 30–40% as a result of the strike and boycott.4 In 1970, all the major grape growers in the San Joaquin Valley agreed to negotiate with the United Farm Workers, and the resulting agreement granted workers a 6% wage increase and recognized the right of the union to negotiate on behalf of farmworkers in the future.5
Teach about Nonviolent Strategies in Social Movements
Dolores Huerta and César Chávez used nonviolent action in their efforts to push for farmworkers’ rights. Use our lesson Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change to teach students about the overall strategy of nonviolence by identifying how these steps played out during one important struggle of the civil rights movement: the student protests in Nashville to end segregation.