California: Cesar’s War.
TIME magazine. Friday, Mar. 22, 1968
As leader and prophet of «la Huelga,» the California grape pickers’ 35-month-old strike in the verdant San Joaquin Valley, Cesar Chavez, 41, has combined hard-knuckled organizing tactics with a brand of mysticism peculiarly his own. A Mexican-American who from boyhood worked in the vineyards himself, Chavez patched together his tatterdemalion National Farm Workers Association in 1965, organized scores of picket lines, boycotts, church meetings, marches and sing-ins to lift his people out of peonage.
The movement—»la Causa» to its members—has been unexpectedly successful in its attack on the grapes-of-wrath misery to which pickers, mostly migrant workers, have been subjected for generations. Thus far, nine of the valley’s largest growers—most notably, Schenley Industries, Di Giorgio Corp., the Gallo Winery and Christian Brothers—have signed contracts with the N.F.W.A., elevating a laborer’s average pay from $1.10 an hour to a minimum of $1.75. Other benefits such as medical care have also been won, along with more habitable work camps for the men and women who once lived in tar-paper shacks, battered buses, overaged trucks, in haystacks or under bridges.
Squeezing & Bleeding. But the condition of the huelguistas remains depressed and depressing. The union claims 17,000 members across the nation. In California, Chavez’ forces last August struck the Guimarra Vineyards Corp., which farms 12,000 acres near Delano.
The campaign is undoubtedly squeezing the grower, but it is also bleeding the union, which needs some $50,000 a month to house and feed the strikers and cover other expenses. The A.F.L.C.I.O. is pouring $10,000 a month into Delano while Walter Reuther, a friend of Chavez, is contributing $7,500 from United Auto Workers union coffers. Of course, the workers need far more than that, not only in terms of money but moderation as well.
«Viva All of You!» After three years of bitterness between pickers and growers, the danger in Delano now is that the strikers will resort to violence. Yet Chavez, the militant labor leader, is a devout Roman Catholic who believes perfervidly in pacific means to his ends. Last month, «to recall farm workers to the nonviolent roots of their movement,» Chavez began a 25-day fast, living only on water and Eucharistic wafers in a scruffy Delano gasoline station owned by the N.F.W.A.
Overnight, a small tent city of sympathizers sprouted around the gas station, which became a sort of shrine. A Franciscan priest celebrated Mass there each evening until last week, when Chavez, more than 30 Ibs. lighter—he went without food for four days longer than Gandhi during his 1924 hunger strike—ended his fast.
More than 6,000 farm workers gathered in Delano’s Community Park for a Mass and bread-breaking ceremony. Unable to walk without aid, Chavez took Communion beside Bobby Kennedy, who later climbed onto a flatbed truck to address the crowd in a Codtown Castilian so tortured that he asked Chavez: «Am I ruining the language?» Finally, Kennedy settled for giving a simple cheer: «Viva la Causa! Viva Cesar Chavez,! Viva All of You!»
Cesar Chavez, the California farm labor organizer, from the video: California: A Tribute.
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