This September marks the 45th anniversary of the Delano, Calif., grape strike that brought together Filipino American agricultural workers and Mexican American farm workers to form what became the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).
The strike began on Sept. 8, 1965, when over 1,500 farm workers with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, mostly Filipino, in Delano, Calif., walked off the farms of area tablen grape growers demanding wages equal to the federal minimum wage.
Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, Benjamin Gines and Pete Velasco led the striking workers.
One week after the strike began, on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day, the predominantly Mexican American National Farmworkers Association, led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, joined the strike.
In unifying, both groups built a powerful and historic movement for change. The UFW was born in 1966 after both groups merged. The strike quickly spread impacting over 2,000 workers. It lasted more than five years and eventually became a major victory for the UFW, leading to a first contract with area growers. By 1970, the UFW had succeeded in reaching a collective bargaining agreement with the grape growers, affecting over 10,000 farm workers.
Gregory Cendana, interim deputy director with the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) said his parents came to the U.S. as Filipino immigrants. Growing up in a union household Cendana said he’s honored and proud to know he stands on the shoulders of some of the hardest working brothers and sisters in the labor movement.
APALA is one of seven AFL-CIO constituency groups and continues to be grounded in the work of our predecessors seeking ways to build stronger community and labor partnerships, said Cendana.
For example the number of Asian American workers is rising 300 percent in the state of Nevada, and overall that increase is significantly growing throughout the rest of the country too, notes Cendana.
Looking back it’s important to understand the history of Asian American workers, he said. And Filipino farm workers were extremely critical in helping to create the UFW.
“A goal of mine is to share that piece of history with young people and learn from those past events in order to build a more united labor and people’s movement,” he said.
“It’s important to build power for underrepresented communities,” added Cendana.
For Cendana it’s especially important to uplift the Asian American voice and engage Asian American youth and students to learn about their history in the U.S. labor movement.
“Today there are a lot of parallels to the struggle of the original Delano grape workers,” notes Cendana.
However workers today are in a very different context and 40 years after the Delano strike the political climate has changed, he said.
Nevertheless, Cendana says the Delano grape strike reminds him that “change can happen and it needs to happen with strategic campaigns, coalition building and collective power.”
At the end of the day it’s important to continue celebrating the history and victory of the Delano grape strike but it’s even more important to learn from those successes, said Cendana.