Chavez, Cesar

Chavez, Cesar (Estrada)

(1927–93) labor leader; born in Yuma, Ariz. A migrant farmworker in his youth—he attended 65 elementary schools and never graduated from high school—he became a community and labor organizer of agricultural workers in the 1950s. In 1962 he started the National Farm Workers Association, based in California and the Southwest among the mainly Chicano (Mexican-Americans) and Filipino farmworkers; in 1966 this union would be chartered by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations as the United Farm Workers of America; he remained its president until his death. He first attracted national attention when in 1965 he struck the table grape growers in California by calling for a national boycott; this first such strike and boycott lasted five years and ended with the first major victory for migrant workers in the U.S.A. He continued his struggles, both with the Teamsters Union that tried to take over his workers and with the large growers that refused to improve their wages and working conditions; at the time of his death he was leading yet another national boycott of grapes to protest the use of pesticides harmful to workers. He went on three hunger strikes—25 days in 1968, 24 days in 1972, and 36 days in 1988—and it was believed that these produced physical damage that hastened his death.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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He received his BA and Masters in Social Work at U of M and quickly became a field organizer in California where he moved with his new wife, Linda Chavez, Cesar's daughter.