March 10th, 1968

Labor Leader Cesar Chavez Ends 25-Day Fast

During the 1960s, Latino and Asian workers at California’s grape farms faced brutal conditions. While at work, farm workers had no access to toilets or clean water and were often exposed to dangerous pesticides. Wages were low and workers had no access to health care. Labor contracts allowed farm owners to fire employees at will. In 1965, organizers inspired by the non-violent protests of the civil rights movement in the South organized a strike of grape farm workers. One of the organizers of this strike, Cesar Chavez, consolidated a number of local organizations of farm workers into the United Farm Workers union and became the symbol of the movement.

Owners of grape farms refused to comply with the farm workers’ requests and the strike continued for years. Farm workers conducted marches and organized national grape boycotts. In February 1968, Cesar Chavez began a fast to draw attention to the plight of farm workers and illustrate his commitment to non-violent protest. Mr. Chavez’s fast lasted 25 days and he lost 35 pounds, going from 175 to 140 pounds. He repeatedly ignored warnings from doctors who told him that permanent kidney damage would result from his actions.

Mr. Chavez’s fast attracted national attention; Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a number of national labor leaders, and hundreds of Latino farm workers attended a March 10, 1968, ceremony marking the end of the fast. In 1970, California grape growers signed the first union contracts with farm workers.