Cesar Chavez Day on March 31 is a federal commemorative holiday, celebrated to honor the enduring legacy of the American labor rights hero. The day was initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2014. Born to migrant laborers, Chavez’s early life experiences shaped his leftist ideology and made him the face of the 1960s labor movement. Through his persistent efforts and non-violent protests, he became America’s lightning rod. On March 31, union members and community leaders come together to celebrate the life of this American icon and take inspiration from his four decades of selfless service to the workers of the United States.
History of Cesar Chavez Day
Cesar Estrada Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, to a Mexican-American family in Yuma, Arizona. He spent his early years at a farm where his mother worked as a part-time laborer. As the Great Depression periled the states in the late 1930s, Chavez’s family lost their homestead to foreclosure. Now a nomad in their own country, his family moved to California in search of a livelihood.
The migration had a grave impact on Chavez, who dropped out of school soon after and began working in the fields. In 1946, he joined the navy and served for two years. After his discharge, he rejoined farmwork, got married, and settled in Delano, California.
After living a life of instability, low wages, and no ownership, Chavez began questioning the rationality behind his lack of accumulated wealth after years of hard work and dedication. His quest for answers led him down the path of grassroots organizing. In 1952, he became a mobilizer for a Latino civil rights group called the Community Service Organization (C.S.O.).
Chavez spent the next decade of his life fighting against racial and economic discrimination. He encouraged his community members to participate in democracy and led hundreds of voter registration drives. He later became the national director of C.S.O. After a dispute within the organization, Chavez resigned from his post in 1962 and joined hands with Dolores Huerta. Together, they founded the National Farm Workers Association.
He spent the following years of his life involved in regular protests, strikes, and participating in labor uprisings throughout the country. Inspired by Gandhi’s principles of non-violence, he led hundreds of sit-in protests and hunger strikes.
Chavez passed away in 1993. Later that year, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. Even after decades of his passing, he continues to inspire human rights activists everywhere and is a folk hero for millions of Americans.
Cesar Chavez Day timeline
Cesario Estrada Chavez is born to a Mexican-American household in Arizona, U.S.
Soon after his family’s relocation to California, Chavez leaves formal education and becomes a full-time laborer.
After a small stint at the Navy, Chavez rejoins his old job as a laborer and becomes a member of the National Farm Labor Union.
Chavez and Dolores Huerta establish the National Farm Workers Association.
Cesar Chavez Day FAQs
What is Cesar Chavez’s biggest contribution to labor rights?
Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later consolidated with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and is now known as United Farm Workers (U.F.W.). It is one of the largest farm labor unions in America with over 10,000 active members.
Is it legal to unionize in America?
Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, unionizing is legal in the United States of America. Through a petition call with over 30% agreeing members, the National Labor Relations Board conducts an election to ratify the union. If the majority votes in favor, the board certifies the agreement and grants bargaining power to the union.
What are the perks of joining a union?
A union worker, on average, earns 30% more than a non-union worker. Union employees have healthcare coverage, guaranteed pensions, and protection against unjust dismissals. A unionized workforce has the negotiating power for better wages and improved working conditions.
How To Observe Cesar Chavez Day
Read about America’s labor rights history
From winning the right to unionize to finalizing a five-day workweek, America has a rich history of labor organizing. On March 31, read about the extraordinary courage of ordinary people like Cesar Chavez, Doroles Huerto, Eugene Victor Debs, and many more, who made the reality of union organizing accessible to millions of Americans.
Join a union
Change starts at home! Fight for a better life for you and your comrades by joining a union or organizing for one. As Chavez himself said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community.”
Write a letter to your member of congress
On Cesar Chavez Day, raise your voice against the injustices around you. Have an issue you care about? Write a letter to your representative and demand action. Bring your community together and organize a march. Honor the hero by following his principles of aggressive but non-violent protest.
5 Interesting Facts About Unions
A strike to remember
The word ‘strike’ originates from a 1768 incident in London, where workers expressed their frustration over a pay cut by striking down the sails of the ships.
The love for unions
The overall view of unions is positive in the U.S., with over 55% of Americans supporting the right to unionize.
What the % says
Despite favorable opinion, only 11% of the American workforce is unionized. The total unionized American workforce figure has never crossed 35%.
The bloody picket
The 1921 West Virginia clash between deputies and coal miners is one of the most fatal labor uprisings in U.S. history, claiming over 100 casualties on both sides.
“Yes, we can”
“Yes we can,” the iconic slogan of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was inspired by Dolores Huerta, who coined the Spanish version of the phrase during Cesar Chavez’s hunger strike in Arizona.
Why Cesar Chavez Day is Important
It honors the hero
Chavez lived and died in the service of his community. His lifelong struggle for labor rights enlightened a generation of Americans to fight for better working conditions. Through his non-violent protests, he paved a way for many human rights activists. On March 31, we honor the hero and his innumerable contributions to society.
It promotes unions
The fight for labor rights carries on. Farmworkers, in particular, need protection to fight the adverse impact of climate change. Apart from this, many labor unions can use our solidarity and material support right now. Raise your voice, hold the strike, and never cross the picket line.
It’s a day of service
The Service-Learning and Civic Engagement society commemorates Chavez’s birthday with a week-long observation of farmworker rights. Educative seminars about unions are conducted in a community gathering and funds are raised to support labor uprisings throughout the U.S.
Cesar Chavez Day dates