CŽsar Chvez, the Catholic Bishops, and the Farmworkers' Struggle for Social Justice

University of Arizona Press, 01/09/2008 - 185
Available in paperback September 2008!

CŽsar Chvez and the farmworkersÕ struggle for justice polarized the Catholic community in CaliforniaÕs Central Valley during the 1965Ð1970 Delano Grape Strike. Because most farmworkers and landowners were Catholic, the American Catholic Church was placed in the challenging position of choosing sides in an intrafaith conflict. Twice Chvez petitioned the Catholic Church for help. Finally, in 1969 the American Catholic hierarchy responded by creating the BishopsÕ Ad Hoc Committee on Farm Labor. This committee of five bishops and two priests traveled CaliforniaÕs Central Valley and mediated a settlement in the five-year conflict. Within months, a new and more difficult struggle began in CaliforniaÕs lettuce fields. This time the Catholic Church drew on its long-standing tradition of social teaching and shifted its policy from neutrality to outright support for CŽsar Chvez and his union, the United Farmworkers (UFW). The BishopsÕ Committee became so instrumental in the UFWÕs success that Chvez declared its intervention Òthe single most important thing that has helped us.Ó Drawing upon rich, untapped archival sources at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Marco Prouty exposes the American Catholic hierarchyÕs internal, and often confidential, deliberations during the California farm labor crisis of the 1960s and 1970s. He traces the ChurchÕs gradual transition from reluctant mediator to outright supporter of Chvez, providing an intimate view of the ChurchÕs decision-making process and ChvezÕs steadfast struggle to win rights for farmworkers. This lucid, solidly researched text will be an invaluable addition to the fields of labor history, social justice, ethnic studies, and religious history.

1 Roots of the Conflict
2 Chavez and the Bishops ad hoc Comittee
3 Hasta la Victoria Onward to Victory



Marco Prouty is a career foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State. He has served as a vice-consul in the Dominican Republic and as a desk officer for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, and is presently assigned to Belize as chief of the embassys Political and Economic Section.