The goal of this lesson is to introduce the beginnings of the 1960s farmworker movement and pinpoint several of its monumental events. Students will focus on the struggles that farmworkers have historically dealt with and learn of the direct action that allowed members of unions, like the UFW, to bring national attention to the movement.
This lesson will guide students in developing their understanding of several sources through two days of individual analyses, collaborative discussions and short presentations. The first day incorporates the analysis of a political cartoon followed by discussion of a video clip that provides general background of the movement. The second day focuses on the analysis of “The Plan of Delano” which summarizes many of the farmworkers’ demands. This, in turn, will allow students to identify the motivations behind the farmworkers’ unionization (largely dependent on the unbalanced grower-farmworker relationship) and think critically about the meanings behind the workers’ demands throughout the movement. It will also provide students with general insight into what encourages people to join a movement while taking into consideration the context of the era.
The farmworkers were able to successfully organize based on a non-violent ideology that fostered national recognition and ultimately challenged the power of the grower in the grower-farmworker relationship.
- What contributed to Cesar Chavez’s becoming the iconic leader he is today?
- What were the immediate goals of the UFW, and what do these goals reveal about the pressing thoughts of farm workers?
- At what point did the farmworkers’ struggle become a national social movement?
- What elements of the movement most encouraged its successes?
One evening, in the middle of the apricot picking season of 1950, Cesar Chavez, one among many immigrant workers in a farm in San Jose, California, was introduced to Fred Ross, an American community organizer. Chavez lent a close ear to what Ross had to say and was immediately interested. After a few more conversations, Ross convinced Chavez to begin working with him in the Community Service Organization (CSO).
Why was Chavez immediately interested in the CSO? Well like the field workers’ history predicted, Chavez and his family would have soon be trapped in a continuous cycle of poverty—working as a field laborer at the time was extremely laborious and reaped almost no benefits. In 1965, for example, grape pickers were working for a meager $.90/hour, plus ten cents per basket collected. Even then, field workers were continuously replaced every time they tried to get their growers to improve their work conditions. Eventually the growers began encouraging the establishment of laws (such as the Alien Land Law of 1913) to control the workers’ desire to organize. If there were any possibilities of competition arising from the immigrant community (which was a combination of Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and Mexicans) buying land, growers would do anything to ensure a failure. It was evident that the grower had all the power—workers that weren’t citizens (and many were not) could not vote to counteract the eminent power of the grower in the community. So hearing that the CSO’s primary goal was to organize communities to improve their economic and social standings was enough to pique Chavez’s interest. In almost no time, Ross apprenticed Chavez in the ups and downs of community organizing and offered him leadership roles throughout several Californian CSO chapters. 
In 1962, Chavez left the CSO to organize the farmworkers in Delano, California into a union. Chavez dedicated months to spreading his idea of a farmworker union before officially forming the National Farmworkers Association (NFWA) in late 1962. The NFWA was not alone in trying to organize farmworkers, however. The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) began strikes against Delano grape growers in 1965, and seeing the large numbers of the NFWA (with 1,200 member-families) asked Chavez to strike along with them.  NFWA leaders initially doubted their ability to sustain a major strike, so Chavez initiated his fundraising tour and organized a 340-mile march to Sacramento to gain national attention. Around the same time, nationwide boycotts against two large grape corporations, Schenley Industries and DiGiorgio Corporation began. As the boycotts gained momentum, the Teamsters (a union on the side of the grape growers) appeared and voiced their opposition to the farmworker unionization. In 1966 the NFWA and AWOC decided to join resources and formed the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC).
Throughout the next few years, the United Farm Workers (UFW) spanned out across the US and Canada and advocated an international grape boycott. The movement was largely influenced by other movements of the time; some of the UFW’s more tactful actions were establishing its strikes and other actions as nonviolent, involving the church, and representing the ideas of morality in the movement.  Moreover, the farmworker movement continued growing with a strong 50,000 UFW members by 1970. The movement’s beginnings in Delano aimed at bringing local attention to the struggles that discrimination inflicted upon the immigrant farmworkers, yet with the thousands of people inspired to courageously defy the system for the bettering of a struggling community, the movement successfully spread their message across continents.
- Andy Zermeno’s Political Cartoon
- Chicano! PBS Documentary (from 12:36-24:40)
- “The Plan of Delano”
- Posters and Markers
Day 1: Introduction and Document Analysis
Consider introducing this lesson with a political cartoon depicting Andy Zermeno’s take on the fruit growers’ and contractors’ dependence on and exploitation of the farmworker. Because the cartoon offers no historical context, ask if any student can guess around what time the cartoon was made. The exact date is not provided, but Zermeno’s work circulated in a prominent movement magazine, El Malcriado, from 1965 to 1971. You may then ask for further interpretations.
Now that students have a sense of the general farmworker-grower relationship, provide more historical background. You may print copies of the introduction provided above, and engage several students in reading separate parts. For further visual support, continue with the twelve-minute clip from the documentary, Chicano! History of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement: The Struggle in the Fields. Ask students to discuss their thoughts on the clip. You may guide the discussion with the following questions:
- What do the grower responses to the farmworkers’ strikes and walkouts imply about their statuses and views on their agricultural business?
- Why do you think Chavez decided to focus on human rights and social issues rather than solely on the laborers’ economic issues?
- What did Robert Kennedy’s involvement lend to the movement?
- How did the march to Sacramento increase the movement’s visibility?
For homework, ask students to read and analyze “The Plan of Delano.” If the students need guidance for their analysis, suggest a SOAP analysis where students identify and expand their interpretations on the speaker, occasion, audience and purpose of the work.
Day 2: Review and Poster Presentations
Start the class by reviewing the homework. You can split the class into groups of four to five and ask each group to review their SOAP analyses with each other. This may take around fifteen minutes. For the remainder of the class, assign one of the following questions to each group:
- What was main purpose of The Plan? How does it contribute to the voice of the movement as a whole?
- How would you describe the tone of the passage? What does this tone convey?
- What are central themes you find throughout the document?
- What criticisms does The Plan reveal? How does The Plan offer to solve these wrongs?
- What do the farmworkers’ demands speak of their experiences with the growers?
- What do the references to history (in particular, past revolutions) add to the piece? What does this say of the importance of context in framing a movement?
Hand each group a large poster paper and markers. They should collaboratively answer their question on their posters as in-depth as possible, using direct quotes for evidence whenever necessary. Students can then present their answers to the rest of the class.
Here is an analytical summary of The Plan that provides insight to the questions above: Valdez’s commentary mentions that The Plan was formed as a declaration (of the workers’ intentions to end the injustices they had suffered) to be read at “all the stops on the March to Sacramento.” The plan is divided into six parts. The first part introduces their actions as those of a non-violent social movement. The second part asks for support from “all political groups and protection of the government.” At the same time, it criticizes the government for not having helped even when the injustice was obvious. The third part establishes the importance of the church and religion in the movement. In part, this adds authority figures (God, La Virgen de la Guadalupe) to justify their calling to action and encourages more to join because God “shall not abandon [them].” The fourth point emphasizes the suffering that the workers have become accustomed to. It highlights the idea that they have endured suffering for so long that it will not be enough to bring them down any further. Unity and strength are central themes in the fifth point. The unity they looked for was not only across people of Mexican descent but across all farm workers; their numbers would offer them their strength. The final point is a repetition of their intent to revolutionize through action. They allude back to their roots in the Mexican Revolution where the poor sought “bread and justice” because it was their right as “free and sovereign men.”
After all groups present, pose the Essential Questions to facilitate a concluding class discussion. Encourage students to reflect on all the sources used for this lesson.
Chavez, Cesar. “The California Farm Workers’ Struggle.” The Black Scholar, 7.3. (1976): 16-19.
Cohen, Irving J. “La Huelga! Delano and After.” Monthly Labor Review. (1968): 13-16.
“‘Viva la Causa’ Cesar Chavez, interviewed by Wendy Goepel,” (1963), Farmworker Movement Documentation Project.
Key Ideas and Details
1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
2. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
3. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
4. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
Chronological and Spatial Thinking
5. Students compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions and determining the lessons that were learned.
6. 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.