20th century farming in America was dominated by the small family farm. Labor was provided by the family members and there was no issue regarding wages. Beginning in the early years of the 20th century and increasingly thereafter large-scale commercial agriculture displaced the family farms but the corporate farmers found that hand labor remained more cost effective for harvesting certain fruits and vegetables. This work was highly seasonal and the corporate farmers had to rely upon migrant workers in most cases to staff their farms. These migrants were exposed to exceedingly low wage, exploitation, and wretched living and working conditions. Yet, when the U.S. Congress finally passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 an exemption for these workers was crafted in order to pacify the strong farm growers lobby (Keyserling). Workers in other areas of work were granted the right to organize under the terms of the new legislation but farm workers were not. Over the next thirty years there were many efforts by unions to rescind the exemption granted the farming industry but they all failed.
The 1960s in America were marked by a series of social and political movements designed to effectuate change.
A Chicago-based organizer who played a prominent role in organizing many of these movements was Saul Alinsky (Hoffman). Alinsky was looking to organize Mexican-American farm workers in California and enlisted the assistance of a young Cesar Chavez. Chavez initially joined Alinskys Community Service Organization (Encyclopedia Britannica) in an effort to register Mexican-Americans to vote but he later left and formed the National Farm Workers Association (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Chavez and his fledgling union recognized the plight of the migrant workers in California and began slowly to organize workers. As collective bargaining rights had been denied farm workers under the terms of the Wagner Act (NLRA), Chavez was forced to adopt alternative measures to force the issue of farm workers rights. After a series of protests and walks that served to draw attention to his movement, Chavez organized the San Joaquin Valley table grapes boycott. Because Chavezs union could not legally strike the growers they were forced to use outside influences such as the power of.