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Lessons: Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta

Lessons on Cesar Chavez,  Dolores Huerta and Philip Vera Cruz.

Grade 8 -12.


1.     to know a biography of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Philip Vera Cruz

2.     to describe the contributions of the United Farmworkers Union to U.S. history and labor history.

3.     Will describe working conditions in agriculture in the U.S. in the period 1950-present.

4.     Will identify why unions are formed.

5.     Will distinguish between unions and social movements.

6.     Will gather information on the UFW struggle for justice.

7.     Will define anti racism.

8.     Will identify what they know about Dolores Huerta and the UFW,  how they learned this information, and possible gaps in their knowledge.

9.     Will conclude that accomplishments of Dolores Huerta and the UFW were the results of long term organizing and cooperation among workers.

10. Will plan to improve their own skills in group action.


1965.  The Delano Grape Strike, initiated by Filipino workers, combines with the National Farmworker Association to form the United Farmworkers union.   See Document #2.  Multiracial union organizing was essential to survival and success.


1965-1972.  The United Farmworkers used consumer boycotts to win union contracts.  They were opposed by powerful corporate agricultural interests and the Republican Party.  The UFW trained generations of union organizers who now work in other unions. The leaders of the UFW included Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz and others.


1976.  After over ten years of boycott pressure, a farm labor law is signed in California providing the right to organize in agriculture free  supervised elections in the fields.  This right to organize by agricultural workers has yet to be recognized in other states.


Statement by Cesar Chavez at the termination of his first fast.

    Cuando somos realmente honestos con nosotros mismos debemos admitir que nuestras vidas son todo lo que verdaderamente nos pertenecen. Por lo tanto, es como usamos nuestras vidas lo que determina que clase de hombres somos. Es mi creencia mas profunda que solamente con dar nuestra vida encontramos la vida. Estoy convencido de que el acto mas verdadero de valor ¼ es el de sacrificarnos por los demas en una lucha por la justicia totalmente no violenta.</P>

     When we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belongs to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of people we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage ¼ is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice.

—César Chávez (1927–1993)


Students  should read a brief history of the UFW.   See document #1.

Other students should read document #2.  Report to the entire class.


Students should view the  video:  The Fight in the Fields, or other appropriate video on the Farmworker movement.


Students should go to the web site: www.UFW .or.  Make a list of struggles that the UFW is currently involved in.


Identify the main themes in one or two songs about the UFW history such as Mañana is Now, or the Corrido de Dolores Huerta.


In groups, students should describe hopelessness from two or more viewpoints.


Individual students should make and educational plan that leads to completing high school and attending college.


            Identify their own academic skills and potential skill deficits.

            Make a plan to overcome these skill deficits. ( for example, writing a paragraph).


Interview a local activist who participated in the UFW movement.  What did she/he do?  Would you be willing to do this?


Conduct research on one aspect of the UFW struggle for Justice.  Use the Farmworker Documentation Project as a source. Include the use of music and art when possible.  Assign groups to read and report on one document on the site.

Groups should identify key points or key ideas in each reading  or video selected.


Make a presentation to the class on what you learned about the UFW.


Work as  team within a community service organization.   Analyze and improve your team work..  Will identify that there are many occasion when working together as a team assists people to resolve problems.  What are some of the tasks performed by organizers and members of the union to make the boycott possible?


Find out when the local Cesar  Chavez celebration and/or march is occurring in your community.  Decide whether to go, whether to participate.


Read, “Origins of the Obama  Machine,” here: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4037/

            In pairs respond to:

1.     How did the UFW contribute to the Obama campaign?

2.  How are historical events linked together.


Dolores Huerta, who along with Cesar Chavez  helped to create the UFW, supported Hillary Clinton rather than Barack Obama.  What conclusions do you draw from this?

Make a list of the evidence that supports your conclusions.


What is economic justice?


Additional lessons at various grade levels are here:


Free video, lesson plans and teaching materials at Teaching Tolerance.  http://www.tolerance.org/kit/viva-la-causa

Excellent resource.  The March Continues: Five Essential Practices for Teaching the Civil Rights Movement.  Teaching Tolerance. 2014. 



Web resources.  www.UFW.org


Excellent and detailed primary  resource materials for research are here:

Farmworker Movement Documentation Project.




Video:  Chicano: History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.


The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement.  Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval.  1997.  Harcourt Brace.


Video:  The Fight in the Fields : Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Struggle. By Ray Telles and Rick Tejada-Flores.


Revised.  March 16,2009.  D. Campbell.

For more see, Choosing Democracy; a practical guide to multicultural education.  4th. ed. 2010.   Allyn and Bacon.  Duane Campbell.


Doc #1. 



                         César Chávez: "Presente"

                                    By  Duane E. Campbell


The spirit of Cesar Chavez lives on in the struggle for union rights and justice in the fields of California.  Along with Dolores Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz, and others, César created the United Farm Workers (UFW) the first successful union of farm workers in  U.S. history.  There had been more than ten prior attempts to build a farm workers union.

            The United Cannery and Packinghouse Workers (UCAPAWA) organized  in the 1930's, the National Farm Workers Union (NFW)  led by Ernesto Galarza  tried to organize Farm workers in  the 40's and 50's.  In 1959, the AFL-CIO tried to organize again with  the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee  (AWOC).  AWOC continued the prior efforts  of Ernesto Galarza  and the NFW in struggling against "braceros" or guest workers, contract workers  imported from Mexico, for  breaking strikes.  A renewed "guest worker" bill is presently before Congress.

            Each of the prior attempts to organize farm worker unions were destroyed by racism and corporate power. Chávez chose to build a union that incorporated the strategies of social movements and community organizing  and allied itself  with the churches, students,  and organized labor.  The successful creation of the UFW changed the nature of labor organizing  in the Southwest  and contributed significantly to the birth of Latino politics in the U.S.

            Today, under the leadership of UFW president Arturo Rodriguez, over 28,000 farm workers enjoy benefits on the job. They are incorporated into California's educational, health and civic communities.  The UFW has shown the AFL-CIO  that immigrants can  and must be organized.

            César Chavez, Dolores Huerta,  Philip Vera Cruz, and others deliberately created a multiracial organization, Mexican,  Mexican American, Filipino, African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican and Arab workers, among others, have been part of the UFW.  This cross racial organizing  was necessary in order to combat the  prior divisions and exploitations of workers based upon race and language. Dividing the workers on racial and language lines always left the corporations the winners.

            In the 60's Chávez became the pre-eminent civil rights leader for the Mexican and Chicano workers, helping with local union struggles throughout the nation.  He worked tirelessly to make people aware of the struggles of farm workers for better pay and safer working conditions. It is a testament to Cesar Chavez's skills and courage that the UFW even survived. They  were opposed by major interests in corporate agriculture including the Bruce Church and Gallo Corporations as well as the leadership of the Republican Party then led by  Ronald Reagan.   Workers were  fired, beaten, threatened and even killed in pursuit of union benefits . Non union  farm workers today  continue to live on  sub-poverty wages while producing the abundant crops in the richest valley, in the richest state in the richest nation in the world.  

 In response to corporate power, Cesar developed new strategies, such as the boycott, based upon  his personal   commitment to  non-violence in the tradition of Ghandi and  Martin Luther King Jr.  César  Chavez died in his sleep on April 23, 1993 near Yuma, Arizona.

             Today Mexican, Mexican American and Puerto Rican union leadership is common  in our major cities and in several  industries.  For myself  and others, the UFW was a school for organizing.  Hundreds of activists in labor and community organizations owe their skills to UFW training and experience.    Along with improved working conditions, salaries, and benefits,  training this cadre of organizers remains a major legacy of the UFW.

            César taught us that all organizations have problems, that all organizations are imperfect. But, if you wait for the perfect organization, nothing gets done. Building popular organizations builds people's power, and democracy.

In creating the UFW Chavez organized thousands into a union  and inspired millions.    Children in school study his life.  Many curriculum packages stress his emphasis on service to others.  The service side of Cesar’s work was certainly inspiring.

            The organizing side changed the Southwest and  organized labor.   In a 1988 campaign and fast  Cesar focused attention on the many dangerous problems of pesticides used in the fields.  Artists have captured his image in hundreds of ways.  Schools, parks, and highways have been named for him.  Establishing Cesar Chavez holiday in California and other states has increased knowledge of his contributions.

            The movement led by Cesar  created a union and reduced the oppression of farm workers.  Many people,  descendents of earlier generations of farm workers, learned to take a stand for justice.  We learned to not accept poor jobs, poor pay,  unsafe working conditions as natural or inevitable.  Rather, these are social creations which can be changed through organizing for economic and political power.  Dolores Huerta continues her important education and organizing work throughout the nation.

            Now, thousands of new immigrants harvest the crops and only a small percent are in unions.  The new generations of immigrants and migrant labor hardly know Chavez’ name nor his contributions.  Yet, in other regions  immigrants are being organized into unions such as Justice for Janitors, by activists who learned their organizing skills working with the UFW. And, Latino political leaders often made their first commitments on a UFW picket line.

            The generation that created the UFW is passing. A new generation of political activists, mostly within the Democratic Party, have emerged since the Chavez generations.  In the 2006 massive immigrant rights movements,  several new organizing practices emerged.   The organizing of these demonstrations was significantly assisted by persons trained within the UFW.  A new, significant Latino  union and political base has been created.

Chavez' legacy to popular struggles, to  Chicano/Mexicano self determination and to unions for the immigrant workers is beyond measure.  The union taught us how to organize for power and for justice.  He is present in all of our work.  I plan to march on March March 28,2009   in memory of Cesar Chavez' contributions to building a more democratic society for working people. You can find our more about this remarkable leader at www.ufw.org  And, www.cesarchavezfoundation.org

And, http://www.farmworkermovement.org/  Duane Campbell is a Professor of Bilingual/Multicultural Education at Calif. State University-Sacramento and the author of Choosing Democracy; a practical guide to multicultural education. (Allyn and Bacon, 2010. )


Doc #2.


Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee

            Farm workers have long tried to organize themselves into unions  to improve their working conditions.  Low wages, long hours, lack of fresh water, terrible housing, provoked numerous strikes in the fields. Anyone could start a strike, the difficulty was to organize the forces necessary to win the strike.

            The United Cannery and Packinghouse Workers (UCAPAWA) organized  in the 1930's, the National Farmworkers Union (NFW)  led by Ernesto Galarza  tried to organize farmworkers in  the 40's and 50's.  In 1959, the AFL-CIO tried to organize again with  the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee  (AWOC).

            AWOC had several weaknesses, including a top down leadership selected  by AFL-CIO leaders, not  by farmworkers, and a strategy of  working  cooperatively with labor contractors. AWOC continued the prior efforts  of Ernesto Galarza  and the NFW in preventing   "braceros" or guest workers, contract workers  imported from Mexico, from breaking strikes.

            In the Spring of 1965,  the mostly Filipino farmworkers, associated with AWOC, conducted a successful 3 day strike to raise wages in the grape fields of the Coachella Valley in California.  When the harvest moved north to the Delano area,  AWOC, led by  Filipino leader Larry Itlong, insisted on the same $1.40 per hour wage they had won in Coachella.  The Delano area growers refused. 

            Philip Vera Cruz, a former  UFW  Vice President, described the start of the  Great Delano Grape  Strike.

            "On September 8,1965, at the Filipino Hall at 1457 Glenwood St. in Delano, the Filipino members of AWOC held a mass meeting to discuss and decide whether to on strike or to accept the reduced wages proposed by the growers.  The decision was 'to strike" and it became on of the most significant and famous decisions ever made in the entire history of the farmworkers struggles in California.  It was like an incendiary bomb, exploding out  the strike message to the workers in the vinyards, telling them to have sit-ins in the labor camps, and set up picket lines at every grower's ranch… It was this strike that eventually made the UFW, the farmworkers movement, and Cesar Chavez famous worldwide."

            AWOC  leaders quickly asked Cesar Chavez's National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) to join the strike.  Chavez, whose NFWA was mostly composed of Mexican American workers, thought a major strike was years away.  But he did not believe he could refuse to join workers on strike.  The NFWA joined the strike 12 days later on Sept.20,1965.

Agricultural  growers had  often  kept workers from winning strikes by using one ethnic group  of workers against the other.  If  the Mexican laborers went on strike, a Filipino labor contractor might harvest the crop. When Filipino workers threatened strikes, the grower would try to hire  Mexican "braceros" to do the work.


             During the Delano strike, AWOC  merged with  Cesar  Chavez's NFWA,  creating  what would be known as  the United Farmworkers, AFL-CIO,  a multi-ethnic union with multi-ethnic leadership. ( See UFW entry) The  unity of Filipino and Mexican workers, along with  the  later addition of  African American, Arab  and other  farm  workers,  assisted  the  new union to oppose  the grower  efforts to pit Filipino and Mexican workers against each other.

             Labor affiliation proved extremely valuable to the merged union  in  providing funds and  union supporters  to assist in winning the grape boycott and  later in defending the new UFW  from attacks by the larger, crime ridden, Teamsters union.


Glaraza, Ernesto. Farm Workers and Agri-business in California. 1947-1960.

University of Notre Dame Press. Notre Dame, Indiana.1977.


Scharlin, Craig & Villanueva, Lillia V., Philip Vera Cruz. A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement. UCLA Labor Center, Institute of Industrial Relations & UCLA Asian American Studies Center. 1992. Los Angeles.


Duane Campbell is a Professor of Bilingual/Multicultural Education at California State University-Sacramento and a labor activist.  His most recent book is Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education. (2010)  Allyn/Bacon


Material on this site:  Creative Commons Copyright. 2009.


[1] >Statement made at the termination of a 25-day fast for nonviolence, March 10, 1968; Delano, California. From César Chávez Foundation. Education of the Heart, Cesar E. Chavez in his own words.(nd). Reprinted by permission.