Tactics of the United Farm Workers and Their Predecessors (by Sarah Blumenthal)

OVERVIEW: The goal of this lesson is to teach students about the United Farm Workers and have them analyze different techniques and tactics that the UFW (and the groups preceding the UFW) used to gain certain privileges or publicize certain points. The students should be able to discuss a variety of methods used by the UFW and why they used each one by the end of class.

FRAMEWORK: The lesson will ask students to analyze a primary source in context. They will have to draw on the knowledge gleaned from the reading they do prior to class to understand where the primary source fits in and how it illustrates the tactics of the UFW. The timeline, and video should help create a more fully rounded understanding of the period, the emotions and the reasoning behind the decisions of the UFW. They will also help illustrate the path of the UFW from its origins through its current position.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING: The actions of the UFW changed with the sentiments of the period and the specifics of the situation. The leaders drew upon their knowledge of other movements to create a far-reaching, wide-ranging movement of their own.


  1. Which techniques were the most successful?
  2. Which techniques were the least successful?
  3. Why were certain techniques better than others?
  4. How did timing affect the methods of the UFW?
  5. What inspired the techniques of the UFW? What was the historical precedence?
  6. What was the long-term impact of the UFW? Is there still headway to be made? Or do you think the UFW is at a permanent standstill?

INTRODUCTION: The story of the United Farm Workers (UFW) begins long before the founding in 1966. Its founding, a merging of the National Farm Workers’ Association (NFWA) and the Agricultural Workers of California (AWOC), preceded and succeeded many of the events that you’ll study in the next few days.

AWOC, an organization of primarily Filipino workers, began a strike in 1965 against a number of grape growers. Their demands included higher wages and a better work environment. As a small percentage of California’s farm workers, the Filipinos involved looked to the NFWA, a predominantly Mexican organization, for support. Although tentative at first, the NFWA quickly followed suit and not only offered support, but also joined the strike.[1]

At this point, the NFWA expanded the strike, agitating for union recognition in addition to higher wages and a safer, better regulated work environment. Led by Cesar Chavez, the NFWA’s “strike, which unfolded as a minor labor dispute for AWOC [was] the first step in the birth of the farm workers movement.”[2]

Once the movement began, Chavez worked to find a peaceful solution to labor disputes and unionization difficulties among a largely Mexican-American population. He wanted to shift the focus from radical, violent movement to peaceful organization that would get his point across without initiating widespread run-ins with authorities such as the police and major producers.[3] According to Matthew Garcia, “Cesar Chavez used his now famous hunger strikes to quell the urge for retaliation among his followers and redirected the union’s energy away from strikes, toward boycotts and the establishment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board in California.”[4] Chavez’s tactics were key to the later success of the movement.

What you’ve read so far should get you thinking about the reading you did before class today and remind you of the very start of the farm workers movement as a whole. In addition to the seeds of the movement itself, you should think about prior and contemporary movements such as the broader Civil Rights Movement and the narrower Indian Movement. These movements, although generally considered individually, were (and are) intertwined in ways not obvious to those who have not studied them in depth.

It is your job, as a student of history, politics and the allocation of power, to find connections between movements, recognize strategies across cultural divides and see the nuances of the movements that have changed the way our world works.


Before Class:

Why David Sometimes Wins

In Class:


Primary Source: Letter from Delano

Video: Why We Need Unions More Than Ever

Additional: scissors, tape, envelopes


1. Timeline: On the first day, students will try to gather their knowledge from the reading in one place and demonstrate their comprehensive reading skills by creating a timeline. The teacher, prior to class, will create envelopes with each event on the timeline (in the materials section) on a separate sheet. In groups of four, students will organize these events by date and write one key fact about each event.

2. Discussion of the Primary Source: Start students off in pairs. Have them read the primary source aloud once through. After they’ve read the full source aloud, have them go back and write a sentence to summarize each paragraph. In addition, ask them to highlight the three sentences they find most important and star the paragraph they think says the most about the movement. Go around the class and have each group read one of their key sentences aloud.

Once the groups have all read a sentence aloud, merge pairs into groups of four or six for the students to discuss the following questions.

  1. How does the primary source fit with what you’ve already read? Does it help illustrate why the UFW worked in certain ways in employed certain tactics?
  2. After reading the primary source, is there anything that you find surprising?
  3. Do you think Chavez’s letter accurately portrays the actions of the UFW?

Let the students discuss each question, but ask them to focus on one to present to the class. Let the students discuss until it seems like most groups have finished and then have each group pick one representative. Ask that representative to talk about what their group discussed and let other groups ask questions. If it seems like the other groups don’t have anything to say, let another group go, but try to connect the presentations. This way, students will see how the questions are related and will be more likely to join the conversation.

3. Video: Play the video for the students and, at the end, ask them the following questions.

  1. How did the UFW stay relevant?
  2. Why is the UFW still necessary?
  3. Is there something unique to the UFW that has helped them survive?

4. Follow-up:

At the end of the class, have each student write down the part of class they found most interesting, informative or useful.


Cohen, Irving J. “La Huelga! Delano and After.”Monthly Labor Review 91, no. 6 (June 1968). America: History & Life, EBSCOhost (accessed February 29, 2012).

Friedland, William H. and Dorothy Nelkin. “Technological Trends and the Organization of Migrant Farm Workers.” Social Problems 19, no. 4 (Spring, 1972), http://www.jstor.org/stable/799928 (accessed February 29, 2012).

Garcia, Matthew. “Labor, Migration and Social Justice in the Age of the Grape Boycott.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 7, no. 3 (Summer 2007), http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2007.7.3.68 (accessed February 29, 2012).

Rodriguez, Richard. “Saint Cesar of Delano.” The Wilson Quarterly 34, no. 1 (Winter 2010), http://www.jstor.org/stable/20700655 (accessed February 29, 2012).


  1. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  2. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  3. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
  4. Students compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions and determining the lessons that were learned.
  5. Students analyze how change happens at different rates at different times; understand that some aspects can change while others remain the same; and understand that change is complicated and affects not only technology and politics but also values and beliefs.
  6. Students recognize the complexity of historical causes and effects, including the limitations on determining cause and effect.
  7. Students interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.

[1] Marshall Ganz, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Stretegy in the Cailofrnia Farm Worker Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 123.

[2] Ibid., 126.

[3] Matthew Garcia, “Labor, Migration and Social Justice in the Age of the Grape Boycott.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 7: 3 (Summer 2007). http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2007.7.3.68.

[4] Ibid., 68.

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