U.S. farmworkers in California campaign for economic justice (Grape Strike), 1965-70


To get grape growers to sign union contracts, increase wages, and improve working conditions.

Time period

September, 1965 to July 29, 1970


United States

Location City/State/Province

Delano, CA

Location Description

Centered in Delano, CA, but the grape boycott spread both nationally and internationally.
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Cesar Chavez, assisted by Dolores Huerta, led the National Farmworkers Association, which ran the campaign. Sometime between 1968 and 1969, the organization became the United Farmworkers of America (UFWA), also led by Chavez. Cesar Chavez has become iconic, both as the leader of the farmworkers’ movement and as an advocate for nonviolent methods.


A group of Filipino grape workers in CA’s Coachella Valley who began the first strike and asked for the National Farmworkers Association’s assistance, and the AFL-CIO.

External allies

National unions, International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union,
National Council of Churches, United Auto Workers Union, consumers in US and Canada, civil rights organizations, trade unions, student activists, antiwar groups, religious bodies, supermarket owners, restaurant owners, AFL-CIO.

Involvement of social elites

Activist Dorothy Day and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.


California grape growers

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

There were some instances of intended campaigner violence, which led Chavez to do a hunger strike calling for pledges of nonviolence. This hunger strike, or satyagrahic fast, was successful in limiting the campaigner violence.

Repressive Violence

The protesters met with repressive violence from farm foremen, security guards, the police, and the Teamster union. They were also often arrested, sometimes preemptively. Additionally, protesters were attacked by dogs and sprayed with pesticides.


Economic Justice



Group characterization

American and Canadian consumers
longshoremen from Oakland
antiwar activists
student activists
civil rights organizations members
Chicano and Filipino farmworkers
union members

Groups in 1st Segment

Filipino grapeworkers in Coachella Valley
National Farmworkers' Association
Chicano and Filipino workers
International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union

Groups in 2nd Segment

Robert F. Kennedy

Groups in 4th Segment

American and Canadian consumers

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

Civil rights organizations, other trade unions, student activists, antiwar groups, religious bodies, and Dorothy Day: Not known.

Segment Length

10 months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

5 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

UFWA signed contracts with 85% of California’s grape industry that affected 20,000 grape workers and which resulted in higher wages and better conditions. Not 6 because some companies reneged on their agreements soon after.

Database Narrative

Before the grape strike in 1965, the average annual income
of a California farmworker was less than $1,400. In addition, variations in
weather or market patterns could lessen this amount. Working conditions were
also poor, as many workers did not have access to a sufficient amount of food
or sanitary facilities.

In 1965, the National Farmworkers Association in Delano, CA,
was in its early stages with only 200 due-paying members. At the time, the
organization, which was led by Cesar Chavez, did not intend to undertake any
sort of mass action. Instead, the Farmworkers Association intended to increase
membership and resources before beginning anything major.

Yet in September 1965, Filipino workers from a farm in the
Coachella Valley of California went on strike because of a decrease in wages.
The workers wanted their wages to be raised to equal the federal minimum wage, and
asked the Farmworkers Association for help. Chavez and the Association felt
they had no choice but to assist the protesters and soon strikes had begun at
other major grape farms, along with picket lines, both of which lasted the
length of the campaign. This was the beginning of the great grape strike or la huelga.

In the time that followed, the picket lines were routinely
attacked. Picketers were roughed up, attacked by dogs, threatened by cars, and
even sprayed with pesticides. Apart from being disrupted physically, picket
lines were also halted by court-imposed injunctions. Judges routinely sided
with the farm owners rather than the minority farmers.

Still, the picket lines were visited and joined by activist
Dorothy Day (a friend of Chavez’s), Walter Reuther (the president of the United
Auto Workers’ Union), and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Senator Kennedy mocked the
local sheriff, who was illegally placing people he believed might picket in
jail before they had committed any crime. Kennedy said, “I suggest that […] in
the luncheon period […] the sheriff and the district attorney read the
Constitution of the United States” (Cortright 80-81). Meanwhile, Chavez traveled
across the nation giving speeches and raising support, particularly from
members of the civil rights movement, free speech movement, other unions, and
the AFL-CIO.

In November 1965, longshoremen in Oakland agreed to let a
thousand ten-ton crates of grape rot rather than handle the delivery from
Delano. This was the first of many boycotts. Next, the Farmworkers Association
began consumer boycotts targeting specific major companies.

In March 1966, the Farmworkers Alliance went on a march to
the capitol of California in Sacramento. Chavez called it a pilgrimage or peregrinación, and fashioned it after
Gandhi’s march to the sea. The march, which was intended to publicize the
boycott and remonstrate the spraying of pesticides on protesters, was also the
longest march in U.S. history up to that point, totaling 250 miles from Delano
to Sacramento. Nightly, rallies were held and the union’s declaration read. By
the time the march reached Sacramento, it had transformed from a hundred people
to thousands.

Following the march, Schenley and a few other grape
companies signed a contract with the Farmworkers Association that included a
wage increase of 35 cents an hour. Unfortunately, the contracts only covered
5000 workers, which was merely two percent of the total number of California’s farmworkers.

At that time, the boycotts were having trouble because the boycotted
companies had only to switch their labels in order to confuse the consumers
attempting to boycott their goods. Therefore, the Farmworkers Association began
a total boycott of California table grapes in January 1968.

In February, 1968, Chavez mimicked Gandhi again when he went
on a 25 day hunger fast due to intended violence on the part of protesting
farmworkers. Chavez announced at a union meeting that he had begun to fast and would
not eat again until everyone had pledged nonviolence. Thousands of supporters
arrived in Delano to make the pledge. This was a significant moment for the
campaign, as it marked the official adoption of a nonviolent ideology.

Meanwhile, the boycott began to spread across the nation. By
this point, the National Farmworkers Association had transition into the United
Farmworkers of America (UFWA), and UFWA offices were set up in a Detroit,
Chicago, Boston and other cities across the nation. The campaign gained the
support of student activists, clergy, and antiwar activists, and participation
in the boycott became part of the counter culture of the 1960s and 70s.

As of 1969, 17 million Americans and many Canadians were
participating in the boycott, not buying table grapes or Gallo wine. Grape
shipments in North America decreased by a total of one third and grape owners
suffered significant losses in sales.

At this point, UFWA began to see results. Initially, 40
companies in Coachella, CA signed contracts that increased wages and added
benefits. Then in July 1970 Giurma, which was California’s largest grape
company, also signed a contract with UFWA. After that, the rest of the grape
companies signed contracts too and the campaign was won. The strikes, pickets
and boycotts ended.

Yet almost immediately after the grape campaign ended, UFWA
became involved in a new campaign in the lettuce fields of the Salinas Valley
in California. The lettuce workers were angry because the lettuce growers had
made “sweetheart deals” with the Teamster unions. New strikes and boycotts were
launched with Chavez again leading the campaign.

Soon after, major grape growers reneged on their contracts
and entered into similar sweetheart deals with the Teamster unions, so UFWA recommenced
the grape boycott. Yet the novelty of the boycott tactic had worn off and lost
its initial effectiveness. In 1980, after UFWA reached a membership of 100
thousand people, the organization began to decline in members, influence, and


Chavez was influenced by Gandhi’s march to the sea and hunger strikes. (1)
The grape strike campaign influenced the lettuce boycott that began in August 1970. (2)


Abrams, Susan. "The United Farm Workers Union." Nonviolent Action and Social Change. Ed. Severyn Bruyn and Paula Rayman. New York: Irvington, 1979.

Cortright, David. Gandhi and Beyond; Nonviolence for an Age of Terrorism. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2006.

Dunne, John G. Delano. New York: Noonday P, 1967.

Merriman, Hardy. "California Grape Workers' Strike and Boycott- 1965-1970." Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, Gene Sharp. Boston: Extending Horizons Books, 2005.

Sharp, Gene. Politics of Nonviolent Action. Boston: Porter Sargent Publisher, 1973.

Additional Notes

The campaign embodied a nonviolent ideology, had a strong leader, and was part of the United Farmworkers movement.

This case was originally written by Maurice Weeks (14/8/2008), then researched again and added by Lindsay Carpenter (3/8/2011).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Lindsay Carpenter, 3/8/2011 and Maurice Weeks, 14/8/2008