IT BEGAN IN DELANO
At the end of summer of 1965, the grapes were
ripening in the fields around a farm town named Delano, California.
Many of the farm workers in Delano had just come from the Coachella
valley, the site of a recently successful strike. Farm workers
demanded $1.25 per hour, and when they didn't receive it, on
September 8 nine farms were struck, organized by AWOC's Larry
After five days growers began to bring in Chicano
scabs from the surrounding area. AWOC approached Césaer
Chávez, the leader of the National Farm Workers Association,
and asked the NFWA to join the mostly Filipino strike. At a meeting
on September 16, packed with hundreds of workers, at Our Lady of
Guadalupe Catholic Church in Delano, the NFWA voted unanimously, to
shouts of "Viva la Huelga!" to strike too. Chavez was apprehensive.
Asked later when he felt his organization, which had $100 in its bank
account, would have been ready to go out on a big strike, he replied,
In joining the strike, the NFWA, with many more
members than AWOC, took the lead. It also strengthened the ethnic
make up of the strike: now the majority of workers involved were
Chicano. By September 20 more than thirty farms were out, with
several thousand workers leaving the fields. Despite the large
numbers of striking farm workers, however, the workers could not
muster picket lines at all the ranches simultaneously. There were
many fields strung across hundreds of miles.
NFWA and AWOC set up a system of roving pickets,
with different fields picketed each day. Fifteen or twenty cars full
of pickets would go to a field where a grower was attempting to use
strikebreakers. Striking workers, often harassed by the growers and
police, sometimes violently, would try to get the scabs to leave the
fields. Remarkably, their appeals were successful much of the time in
persuading workers to join the strike.
The growers made a mistake almost immediately.
They had always been able to end strikes with small wage concessions.
Soon after the strike began, they raised wages to $1.25 per hour.
This time they were shocked to discover it wasn't enough. The raise
merely encouraged the strikers to believe they were being effective.
Now there had to be a union, too.
The action in Delano was the first real stepping
stone for the United Farm Workers. With the attention being given to
Chicanos to the Chicano Movement, César Chávez and
Dolores Huerta were able to bring national attention to the farm
workers struggle. This action in Delano also helped prompt later
strikes and begin a national grape boycott. Without a doubt, Delano
is where the success of the United Farm Workers started.
Information provided by the United Farm Workers (UFW)