For decades the migrant, bachelor, Filipino farmworkers – called Manongs, or elders — had fought for better working conditions. So in the summer of 1965, with pay cuts threatened around the state, these workers were prepared to act, says historian Dawn Mabalon.
“They’re led by this really charismatic, veteran, seasoned, militant labor leader Larry Itliong,” she says.
He urged local families in Delano to join Manongs in asking farmers for a raise. The growers balked. Workers gathered at Filipino Hall for a strike vote.
“The next morning they went out to the vineyard, and then they left the crop on the ground, and then they walked out,” Mabalon says.
Cesar Chavez and others had been organizing Mexican workers around Delano for a few years, but a strike wasn’t in their immediate plans. But Larry Itliong appealed to Chavez, and two weeks later, Mexican workers joined the strike.
Soon, the two unions came together to form what would become United Farm Workers, with Larry Itliong as the assistant director under Chavez.
Mabalon says, “These two groups coming together to do this? That is the power in the Delano Grape Strike.”
It took five years of striking, plus an international boycott of table grapes, before growers signed contracts with the United Farm Workers.
Those years weren’t easy: on strikers, families, or Delano.