Cesar Chavez: The Public Relations of United Farmworkers Movement

The conditions were wretched. Stooped over the crop all day long in the blistering sun, many families walked back to the tents tired, weary and some earning only twenty cents a dayTwenty cents! However, the indignities of farm work did not end there for most migrants. At home, after working all day, migrant workers found solace in camps that were often overcrowded and that had no electricity or running water.

Most laborers were from Mexico, the Philippines, and other nations. The work was arduous, and even though it was honest work, jefe (boss) was underhanded in his dealings with his laborers, often cheating and discriminating against them.

These were the conditions for many migrant workers that sparked Cesar Chavez’s La Causa.

Why was Chavez so integral to the United Farm Workers Movement?

Chavez was integral to the movement because he had first-hand experience of living under these conditions. Working in the fields, along with his parents, he understood what it was to endure back-breaking work that was under appreciated and not valued.

With all of this experience, Chavez understood the needs of people who were often too oppressed to express any emotion at the daily indignities they suffered. He understood that to take on a cause that would transform the working conditions of migrant workers from all races, ethnicities and cultures he would need public support.

How did Chavez galvanize support for a cause that would improve working conditions for so many migrant workers?

Chavez had been working with a community organization until 1962 when he resigned to focus on efforts to improve farm working conditions for migrants, more specifically organizing a union that would address the inequities and discrimination that many experienced.

Chavez would get a once-in-lifetime opportunity to bring the plight of migrant workers to the foreground of society in 1965 when his Farm Workers Association allied themselves with Filipino farm workers who planned to strike in Delano’s grape fields.

And from this event, Chavez’s cause began to take shape and form.

How did Chavez make this issue (which affected one segment of society) matter to the rest of us?

Public relations. His public relations activities were similar to other civil rights’ activists of this time, namely Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach to changing public sentiment. The public relations activities he engaged in included:

  • He allied with volunteers from nearby universities and religious organizations.
  • He allied with organized labor.
  • He marched.
  • He even fasted.

However, the event that defined the movement probably was the highly-publicized march to Sacramento in 1966 and subsequent grape strike and consumer boycott. More significantly, these activities placed pressure on growers to recognize the United Farm Workers (UWF) as a bonafide union.

Through his public relations activities, he convinced the public to understand why farm conditions were unfair and inhumane.

In the end, Chavez accomplished….

Chavez was successful in his life work to improve the conditions of impoverished migrant workers because he:

  • Improved working conditions and pay for farmworkers
  • He helped found legislation that would allow the union to represent farmworkers, allow farmworkers to bargain collectively and allow them to vote in secret ballot elections in California.

By making this cause one that connected and affected society as a whole, Cesar Chavez and the UWF established a two-way relationship that ultimately evolved into a movement that improved the living and working conditions of people who could not speak for themselves.

Okay, well what do grapes and strikes about them have to do with me in 2018?

Any time that a civil rights issue comes to the center of society, we are all affected! Because migrant working conditions were so dire, this movement affected change in a situation that was not only a civil rights issue but a human rights one as well.

For youCesar Chavez and UWF established that businesses, no matter the size or import, have to, in 2018, respect your rights as a human being and as a worker.

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