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Hundreds mark anniversary of farmworkers' labor movement

Hundreds of people flocked to Delano over the weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of the Delano grape strike, when grape pickers on Sept. 8, 1965 walked out to protest years of substandard pay and poor working conditions.

That walkout, led by Cesar Chavez, sparked an international boycott and eventually led to the creation of the United Farm Workers.

Marc Grossman, who knew Cesar Chavez for the last 24 years of his life and is a spokesman for UFW, talked to KPCC about the importance of what happened in Delano decades ago.

"Delano was the beginning of a revolution in self-empowerment and determination among Latinos that is felt today in every corner of America," he said. "We honored those veterans from the '65 strike who began and sustained a movement as well as a union, and got millions of people from all over North America and Western Europe to boycott California grapes. In the process, they inspired succeeding generations of Americans to social and political activism."

The roughly 1,000 people who showed up Saturday to commemorate the event consisted of farmworkers past and present, family members and supporters of the UFW cause.  Speakers at the event included UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta as well as Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Grossman said Chavez, who died in 1993, rarely accepted personal awards and allowed things to be named after him, so he probably wouldn't be too happy with all of the honors that have been afforded him since his passing.

"But, he used to say that his job as an organizer was to help ordinary people to extraordinary things. I think one of the factors that contributed to his success and the enduring legacy that continues to this day is that he got people to believe in themselves," he said.

"He made everybody in the movement believe that job that he or she was doing was vitally important, whether you were an attorney representing the union in court or you were cooking in the strike kitchen," he said. "The UFW is still the same feisty union it was five decades ago, and it is still fighting and still making progress for people."