Letter from Chavez to Msgr. Higgins

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Cesar Chavez speaking possibly from UFW headquarters.

Courtesy of ACUA

It was a time of crisis in the United Farm Workers in 1973. As previously mentioned, the UFW was continuing to struggle with the Teamsters on the Salad Bowl front when a new front (that was really an old one that had subsided for awhile) opened up in the form of grape grower negotiations. The contracts that the UFW had fought so hard to win in 1970 were set to expire in 1973, and the Teamsters wanted in on the action. The UFW began to lose many of the contracts it had fought for previously, leaving the future of the organization in doubt.

Due to this move by the Teamsters, Cesar Chavez renewed the strike and boycott of table grapes. With the knowledge that he would need further assistance, Chavez wrote to Cardinal John Krol, archbishop of Philadelphia and then-president of the United States Catholic Conference, a letter that was subsequently forwarded to Monsignor George Higgins. In the letter, Chavez laments the way the growers treated the UFW, claiming that they “negotiated with us and at [the] same time were arranging secret, back-door contracts with Teamsters.” Chavez requested that clergy return to the Coachella Valley in mid-May 1973 to discuss the situation with the workers and as a sign of the Church’s support for them.

It is not readily apparent whether Higgins or any other clergy went to California at that date; however, what is known is that, as mentioned earlier, the bishops of the U.S. did lend their support by formally supporting the grape strike/boycott. The ties between the Church and the UFW were strengthened.



Chavez to Higgins, May 1973
Courtesy of ACUA



1. What does Chavez believe the wishes of workers to be?

2. Why does Chavez seek the support of the Catholic Church?