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Sat May 11, 2024, 10:21 AM May 11

On This Day: Labor organizer and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez begins hunger strike - May 11, 1972

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Chavez's fast for farmworkers

Chavez started a 24-day fast on May 11, 1972, the same day the Arizona Legislature and then-representative Jack Williams passed a bill outlawing tactics that unionized farmworkers used to demand fair working conditions.

The bill prohibited collective bargaining, secondary boycotts and strikes at times of harvest, all of which were used by Chavez and were essential to his non-violent and self-sacrifice-based protesting principles.

"Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union hoped that governor Jack Williams would veto House Bill 2134. But, he didn't," Christine Marin, historian and professor emeritus of Arizona State University, wrote in an article for barriozona.

Eventually, Chavez's efforts resulted in the government granting farmworkers the right to negotiate with their employers for fair wages, benefits and protections.

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Phoenix-Santa Rita Hall-1962

This is the historic Santa Rita Center (also called Santa Rita Hall) building located between 10th street and place and Hadley street. It was where Arizona native Cesar Chavez started his 24-day hunger strike on May 11, 1972, to draw attention to the inhumane conditions farm workers endured in the fields. Coretta King met Chavez in the hall during his fast. For a while, the hall became the headquarters of what became the United Farm Workers of America Union. The structure was built in 1962 and is list as historical in the Phoenix Register of Historical Places.

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Places of César Chávez

While African Americans were fighting for their Civil Rights in the 1960s, César Chávez organized Latino and Filipino farm workers to do the same. Using similar tactics, including marches and boycotts, Chávez and his team brought crucial awareness to the working conditions and precarious living of the people who grow and harvest our food.

César Chávez was born March 31, 1927, on his family’s small farm outside of Yuma, Arizona. His family lost their land in the Great Depression. Chávez joined them as a migrant farm worker after completing the 8th grade. He worked on farms throughout California, experiencing the challenging working conditions.

He first worked in political organizing with Fred Ross and a Latino Civil Rights group, the Community Service Organization (CSO). Chávez helped organize voter registration drives and anti-discrimination campaigns. In the CSO, he learned organizing principles. But Chávez wanted to focus on the rights of farm workers.

Despite widespread skepticism, he resigned from CSO and founded the National Farm Workers Association, which became the United Farm Workers. Their first major action in 1966 was to join Filipino organizers like Larry Itliong for the Delano grape strike. The strike lasted five years, as workers demanded higher pay, safer working conditions, and the recognition of their union. This would be followed by other national actions, like the 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, California in 1966 and an international grape boycott. Chávez would go on three 25-36 day fasts to further raise awareness, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Chávez passed away in Yuma, Arizona in 1993, while visiting to support local farm workers being sued by big agriculture.

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Cesar Chavez

Cesario Estrada Chavez (ˈ1927– 1993) was an American labor leader and civil rights activist. Along with Dolores Huerta, he co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which later merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) to become the United Farm Workers (UFW) labor union. Ideologically, his worldview combined leftist politics with Catholic social teachings.

Born in Yuma, Arizona, to a Mexican-American family, Chavez began his working life as a manual laborer before spending two years in the U.S. Navy. Relocating to California, where he married, he got involved in the Community Service Organization (CSO), through which he helped laborers register to vote. In 1959, he became the CSO's national director, a position based in Los Angeles. In 1962, he left the CSO to co-found the NFWA, based in Delano, California, through which he launched an insurance scheme, a credit union, and the El Malcriado newspaper for farmworkers. Later that decade he began organizing strikes among farmworkers, most notably the successful Delano grape strike of 1965–1970. Amid the grape strike his NFWA merged with Larry Itliong's AWOC to form the UFW in 1967. Influenced by the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez emphasized direct nonviolent tactics, including pickets and boycotts, to pressure farm owners into granting strikers' demands. He imbued his campaigns with Roman Catholic symbolism, including public processions, Masses, and fasts. He received much support from labor and leftist groups but was monitored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

In the early 1970s, Chavez sought to expand the UFW's influence outside California by opening branches in other U.S. states. Viewing illegal immigrants as a major source of strike-breakers, he also pushed a campaign against illegal immigration into the U.S., which generated violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and caused schisms with many of the UFW's allies. Interested in co-operatives as a form of organization, he established a remote commune at Keene. His increased isolation and emphasis on unrelenting campaigning alienated many California farmworkers who had previously supported him and by 1973 the UFW had lost most of the contracts and membership it won during the late 1960s. His alliance with California Governor Jerry Brown helped ensure the passing of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, although the UFW's campaign to get its measures enshrined in California's constitution failed. Influenced by the Synanon religious organization, Chavez re-emphasized communal living and purged perceived opponents. Membership of the UFW dwindled in the 1980s, with Chavez refocusing on anti-pesticide campaigns and moving into real-estate development, generating controversy for his use of non-unionized laborers.

A controversial figure, UFW critics raised concerns about Chavez's autocratic control of the union, the purges of those he deemed disloyal, and the personality cult built around him, while farm owners considered him a communist subversive. He became an icon for organized labor and leftist groups in the U.S. His reception by Maria Elena Lucas on his October, 1981 visit to dedicate the first Farm Worker Service Center in the Midwest evidences his continuing appeal to migrant farm worker activists. Posthumously he became a "folk saint" among Mexican Americans. His birthday is a federal commemorative holiday in several U.S. states, while many places are named after him, and in 1994 he posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


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On This Day: Labor organizer and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez begins hunger strike - May 11, 1972 (Original Post) jgo May 11 OP
We never had California grapes or lettuce in our house. My mom MaryMagdaline May 11 #1
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