Creating the UFW: Farmworker’s Fight to Unionize (by Bryn Launer)


Speaking and Listening Standards Grades 9-10

1) Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

a. Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.

d. Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.

4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically (using appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation) such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose (e.g., argument, narrative, informative, response to literature presentations), audience, and task.

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies Grades 9-10

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

5. Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

6. Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

9. Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Grades 9-10

1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

a. Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion,and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.

2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.

b. Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

9. Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


This lesson focuses on the struggle of the Mexican farmworkers to form a union and successfully sign with major growers. Using two primary documents, students will undergo activities in which they compare and contrast the resources, tactics, and challenges that the workers as well as the growers were presented with. This set of learning activities will allow students to engage in discussion with their peers, present main points of their discussion to the class, and compose a short paper designed to situate primary documents within a historical context.


This lesson plan should be preceded by other classes covering historical social movements including the African American civil rights movement, as well as more in depth background on the Mexican American civil rights movement. Students should be aware of background about the prejudice Mexican Americans faced in the late 19th and 20th century, as well as the segregation of California schools. Students will be asked to draw on this previous knowledge and apply it to two primary documents, one written by a UFW organizer, and one article published by the Council of California Growers Newsletter, each with instructions on how to further their cause.

Ninth and tenth grade students will actively listen to a brief lecture on the history of the UFW, read and discuss the two primary documents in peer groups, and present on their findings, following the Speaking and Listening Standards for grades 9-10 outlined by the California “Common Core.” Students will then analyze the primary documents on their own and write a brief 3 page paper situating the primary documents within the historical context of prejudice, segregation, and other major events of the first half of the 20th century. These activities will cover California “Common Core” grade 9-10 standards for Reading and Writing Literacy in History/Social Studies. Finally, the students will demonstrate their understanding of the causes for the success of the UFW by applying the tactics they learned to a real-world issue, and coming up with a plan for how they could better one aspect of daily life at their school.

Essential Understanding

During the fight to unionize, the Mexican American farmworkerss and the grape growers had vastly different resources available to them, and they utilized different tactics as well. Identify the differences in how these two groups fought for their cause, and relate each advantage or disadvantage to the historical context that each group experienced. Finally, provide an explanation for why the farmworkers eventually triumphed over the growers, based on these differences.

Essential Questions

1) How did the history of economic and social oppression of the Mexican migrant farmworker influence their access to resources and power when attempting to unionize?

2) How did the history and social structure of the United States help the immigrant growers to gain influence, power, and money in the early 1900’s?

3) What advantages and disadvantages did the growers possess, and what strategies did they employ, when trying to prevent the farmworkers from unionizing?

4) What advantages and disadvantages did the farmworkers possess, and what strategies did they employ when fighting to unionize?

5) What was the difference between the value of an individual growers’ contribution and an individual farmworkers’ contribution to the movement, and how is this related to the inherent power structure of the 1960’s?

6) What tactics enabled the Mexican American farmworkers to eventually triumph over the growers?

7) How does this triumph reflect the changing times during the 1960’s?


Farmworkers: Immigrants, often of ethnic minorities such as Mexican American, Filipino, or Japanese, who work long, hard days in the fields for minimum wage. May not speak much English, and often travel with the seasonal crops for work.

Growers: Slavic and Italian immigrants who arrived in America very poor, but were able to acquire land through shrewd business deals. They own large farms and corporations, and are well connected politically and financially.

Organizers: Employed by the union, organizers are in charge of rallying the people in a community to come together and strike. Need to be both a leader as well as impartial in most affairs in order to avoid alienating potential strikers.

Scab Workers: People who cross picket lines to work despite an ongoing strike, also called “strike breakers.”

Solidarity: Refers to the feeling of unity due to commonly shared goals, histories, or ethnicities. Expressed by supporting one another through times of difficulty, and standing with those whom with you feel a mutual bond.

UFW: Labor union created in the 1960’s, led by Cesar Chavez. Primarily composed of Mexican American and Filipino migrant workers.


Starting in the late 1800’s, Mexican immigrants began settling in California, where they found work in the rich fields of the Central Valley.  Along with other racial and ethnic groups such as the Filipinos, the Mexican American migrant workers quickly became invaluable to the agriculture business. However, they were not paid or treated well, were underrepresented in legal battles, and were segregated from other ethnicities due to language and geographical barriers. 1 The growers, who owned the large farms and employed the farmworkers, were Slavic and Italian immigrants who arrived in America penniless. However, they were White, had an insular Catholic community, and employed shrewd business tactics, and soon they were became wealthy farmowners. Their own understanding of their rise to success prevented them from communicating with the farmworkers- If they had been able to rise up from poverty, why couldn’t the workers? 2

Strikes by the farmworkers in an attempt to improve their conditions during the early 1900’s were unsuccessful, due to the power differences between the growers and the workers, as well as the fact that strikes often coincided with wartime activity, which gave the growers political support, as they were providing large amounts of produce to feed the troops.3  However, the growers did have two main vulnerabilities when it came to strikes. First, farms can only produce a commodity, and thus a profit, during the harvest.4  Thus, they were unable to wait out strikes as other businesses with less time-sensitive products could. The other vulnerability was due to the seasonal nature of crops. Often, there was not enough work year-round to sustain an extensive settlement of workers.5  In the case of a strike, there may not be enough time for scab workers to travel to the farm before the crop rots.

With the advent of World War II in the early 1940’s, the growers again benefitted from their political power.  Many of the men who used to work the fields had been recruited by the draft, and the growers were facing a labor shortage. In response, the government created the Bracero Program, in which Mexican citizens came to the United States on a temporary work contract to till the fields.  The Bracero legislation not only displaced Mexican American workers with legal immigrants from Mexico, it also caused an increase in illegal immigration, further flooding the job market. 6

Cesar Chavez founded a chapter of the Community Service Organization, a Mexican American advocacy group, which gained support from liberals and churches due to its nonviolent beliefs.  Chavez and the CSO pressured the Department of Labor to cancel the Bracero Program, and at the same time, the influence of the growers with the government was falling as they represented a smaller and smaller percent of the nation’s farms that benefitted from the Bracero Program.7  In 1964, the Bracero Program finally came to an end, marking a shift in the power imbalance between the growers and the farmworkers.

In 1962, Cesar Chavez and his collaborators formed the Farmworkers Association, which focused on  the experience of being a Mexican immigrant, as well as the importance of community and solidarity among workers. The strike began with the Filipino workers in Delano choosing to stay at home instead of going to work. Chavez recognized this opportunity, and put the decision to strike in solidarity with the Filipinos to the UFW as a vote. Over 1,000 Mexican American farmworkers voted to go on strike and join the Filipinos, a landmark moment for the union. The police were routinely called to the picket line, and they harassed the farmworkers while allowing the growers to spray the farmworkers with pesticide.

In 1966, Cesar Chavez and the UFW made the decision to march from Delano to Sacramento, in order to garner support for the strike. Their goals were to make or renew contact with sympathetic farm workers along the way, and to serve penance for their sins. 9  Before the marchers had even reached Sacramento, the first big grower corporation, the Schenley Corporation, signed a contract with the UFW. Buoyed from the success of the Sacramento march, Chavez and the NFWA began to reach out to supporters in urban areas, asking them to boycott grapes from the California growers.  Other corporations soon followed suite, and the farmworkers and the UFW finally gained the upper hand, achieving their goal of forming a union, regaining power from the growers, and gaining a national presence in the civil rights struggle.


Eliseo Medina: Setting up a Boycott– Part I: Internal Organization

Council of California Growers Newsletter: Growers Took Positive Steps– Section beginning: “Just completed last week was a brand new tool…” Through “‘The time is NOW”

Growers Berate Cesar- Coachella Grape Strike, 1973 – Photograph

Huelga vs. Growers & Teamsters Poster – Photograph

Cesar Marching with Strikers – Photograph


These activities are designed to occur over two 1-hour classes of 32 9th or 10th grade students.

Day 1:

Introduction (20 minutes): The teacher will give an engaging lecture on the background covered in the Introduction section, using photographs from the Materials section to highlight the reality of the conflict. Students will be encouraged to ask questions.

Peer Discussion (20 minutes): The teacher will hand out copies of “Setting up a Boycott” by Eliseo Medina and “Positive Steps” by the Council of California Growers Newsletter. Students will read them individually. The teacher will then divide the students into groups of four, assigning half of the groups to list the resources and tactics available to the growers, and half of the groups to list the resources and tactics available to the farmworkers.

Peer Presentations (20 minutes): Each group will present a brief, three minute summary to the class of their conclusions from their discussion. Students from each group will write key words that they identified as significant to either the growers or the farmworkers. (Ex: solidarity, money, practicality).

Students will be assigned a three page paper due at the beginning of the next class. Their assignment is to relate the historical context discussed in the lecture to the strategies and resources available to both the farmworkers and the growers. These papers will be graded on the student’s ability to compare and contrast the realities that the farmworkers and growers experienced, and how historical events influenced these realities.

Day 2:

Open Discussion (20 minutes): Students will be given the opportunity to present their conclusions that they reached in their three page papers. Other students will be encouraged to ask questions and reach deeper understandings of the power structures and oppressive systems that influenced the lived realities of the workers and the growers. This activity will be in an informal setting, with students remaining in their chairs, and speaking without needing to raise their hands.

Contemporary Application (40 minutes): Students will be divided into groups of eight. They will be asked to consider an issue that they are currently facing in their school, and how the student body could borrow strategies from the farmworkers in order to implement effective change by working with the administration. For example, perhaps students want the library to be open after school hours, so students who may not have a space to do homework at home can have a quiet space to study. Students may come up with ideas such as presenting their solution to student government, contacting the librarians to gain their support, creating a petition to show the administration the number of students who support this idea, and contacting outside media or public libraries for publicity and support.  While students are not required to follow through with their plan, the teacher will be available to help them if they do desire to implement their strategy. This activity will cement the student’s understanding of effective organizational strategies, connect their historical learning to the present day, as well as the highlight power of organized groups of people.

Additional Sources

Bardacke, Frank. Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers. London: Verso, 2011.

Bruns, Roger. Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Movement. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood, 2011.

Ganz, Marshall. Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Menchaca, Martha. The Mexican Outsiders: A Community History of Marginalization and Discrimination in California. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1995.

Pawel, Miriam. The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009.


1.  Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers. (London: Verso, 2011), 48.

2. Ibid, 147.

3. Marshall Ganz, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 5.

4. Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers. (London: Verso, 2011), 50.

5. Ibid, 50.

6. Martha Menchaca, The Mexican Outsiders: A Community History of Marginalization and Discrimination in California. (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1995), 92.

7. Marshall Ganz, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 57.

8. Ibid, 160.

9. Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers. (London: Verso, 2011), 228.

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