Updated 06:54 PM EDT, Sat, Oct 24, 2020

Cesar Chavez Day 2014: Date, History of Cesar Chavez

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Millions around the globe will gather on Monday, March 31 to celebrate seminal Mexican-American union leader and labor organizer Cesar Chavez. 

While a feature film was released recently spotlighting his inspiring story, many are not aware of the enormous impact Chavez had on union and migrant workers' rights in the United States.

Chavez was born in Yuma, Arizona to Mexican immigrant parents in 1927, and moved to California with his family in 1939, according to History.com. His family spent the next 10 years working the fields in California, which is when he encountered squalid migrant camps, paltry wages, racism and backbreaking work.

Chavez made his foray into labor organizing after meeting Father Donald McDonnell in 1952, an activist and Catholic priest, and Fred Ross, an organizer in the Community Service Organization, who recruited Chavez to join his group.

Chavez became national director of the group within a few years, but resigned in 1962 to devote his time and energy to fighting for migrant workers' rights by organizing a union for farm workers.

He founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962.

In 1965, the nascent Farm Workers Association joined a strike that was started by Filipino farm workers in Delano's grape fields. In a matter of months, Chavez and his union became nationally recognized.

The union joined the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike against the grape groups, and the two organizations later merged to become the United Farm Workers.

Chavez gained inspiration from the civil rights movement and preached nonviolence. He allied with urban universities, religious organizations and organized labor, and unified his supporters by staging a march on Sacramento in 1966, which pushed the grape strike and boycott to the national forefront.

The boycott pressured grape growers to recognize the United Farm Workers, otherwise known as UFW. The first union contracts were signed in 1966, but the struggle did not end there. In 1968, Chavez went on a fast for 25 days to protest the support of violence within the union.

Then on Jul 29, 1970, 26 Delano growers signed contracts recognizing UFW.

While he had conflicts with the Teamsters union and encountered legal barriers during his struggle, his efforts secured raises and improved conditions for agricultural workers in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.

He continued his fight into the '80s, when he initiated an international boycott of table grapes to protest the pesticides used on grape crops.

Cesar Chavez day is on Monday, March 31 each year, and is a state holiday in California and an optional holiday in Colorado and Texas. Other states, like Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska and New Mexico also celebrate Chavez's efforts.

In those states, community leaders celebrate Cesar Chavez day by speaking to the public about Chavez's successful endeavors, and sharing how his efforts positively impacted society.

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