Died when: 66 years 23 days
Star Sign: Aries
César Estrada Chávez (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈsesaɾ esˈtɾaða ˈtʃaβes]; also ['sizəɹ ˈtʃavɛz] March 31, 1927 – April 23, 1993) was an American labor leader, community organizer, and Latino American civil rights activist. Along with Dolores Huerta, he co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which later merged to become the United Farm Workers (UFW) labor union. Ideologically, his world-view combined leftist politics with Roman Catholic social teachings. Born in Yuma, Arizona, to a Mexican American family, Chavez began his working life as a manual laborer before spending two years in the United States Navy. Relocating to California, where he married, he got involved in the Community Service Organization (CSO), through which he helped laborers register to vote. In 1959, he became the CSO's national director, a position based in Los Angeles. In 1962, he left the CSO to co-found the NFWA, based in Delano, California, through which he launched an insurance scheme, credit union, and the El Malcriado newspaper for farmworkers. Later that decade he began organizing strikes among farmworkers, most notably the successful Delano grape strike of 1965–1970. Amid the grape strike his NFWA merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to form the UFW in 1967. Influenced by the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez emphasized direct but nonviolent tactics, including pickets and boycotts, to pressure farm owners into granting strikers' demands. He imbued his campaigns with Roman Catholic symbolism, including public processions, masses, and fasts. Receiving much support from labor and leftist groups, he was monitored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In the early 1970s, Chavez sought to expand the UFW's influence outside California by opening branches in other U.S. states. Viewing illegal immigrants as a major source of strike-breakers, he also pushed a campaign against illegal immigration into the U.S., which generated violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and caused schisms with many of the UFW's allies. Interested in co-operatives as a form of organization, he established a remote commune at Keene in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains. His increased isolation and emphasis on unrelenting campaigning alienated many of the California farmworkers who had previously supported him and by 1973 the UFW had lost most of the contracts and membership it won during the late 1960s. His alliance with California Governor Jerry Brown helped ensure the passing of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, although the UFW's campaign to get its measures enshrined in California's constitution failed. Influenced by the Synanon religious organization, he re-emphasized communal living and purged perceived opponents. Membership of the UFW dwindled in the 1980s and Chavez moved into real-estate development. A controversial figure, UFW critics raised concerns about Chavez's autocratic control of the union, the purges of those he deemed disloyal, and the personality cult built around him, while farm-owners considered him a communist subversive. He became an icon for organized labor and leftist groups in the U.S. and posthumously became a "folk saint" among Mexican Americans. His birthday is a federal commemorative holiday in several U.S. states, while many places are named after him, and in 1994, he posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.