Curatorial Projects > Battle Emblems (2006)


United Farmworkers (UFW) evolved from unions founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to defend farmworkers’ rights, primarily in California’s Central Valley. Then named United Farmworkers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), they went on strike to support Filipino farmworkers in Delano, CA in 1965 and launched a grape boycott. Although picket lines were in the fields, focus turned to cities where grapes were sold, as a coalition of supporters helped with the movement. Positioning their boycott as one of justice and dignity, the grape strike became known as La Causa. At its height, 14 million Americans boycotted grapes. Pressure compelled the growers to contract with UFWOC in 1969, ending the abusive system of labor contracting and pesticide exposure. UFWOC became UFW in 1972 with AFL-CIO membership. When grape contracts expired in 1973, growers signed with the Teamsters Union, as lettuce growers had done in 1970, triggering statewide strikes. The Teamsters responded by intimidating and attacking UFW strikers, thousands of whom were arrested and two killed. This violence led the state to create an agency in 1975, enabling workers to choose a union, and requiring growers to bargain with unions that won elections. Although UFW overwhelmingly won elections thereafter, growers used loopholes to delay contract negotiations for years. Of the hundreds of elections UFW won from 1975 to 1980, less than half led to contracts. UFW’s size and impact declined in the 1980s, and Chavez’s death in 1993 marked the end of an era. His successor, Arturo Rodriguez, returnedUFW to the fields, organizing and winning contracts in strawberries,mushrooms,and wine grapes.

According to San Francisco State University Labor Archivist Jeff Rosen, “The farmworkers' logo was designed in 1962 by Cesar Chavez, relatives Richard and Manuel, and graphic artist friend Andrew Zermeno. Borrowing the eagle's head from the Mexican flag and placing it on an inverted Aztec pyramid, Chavez wanted a logo that farmworkers could reproduce simply. The colors were white to represent hope, black for workers’ struggles, and red for sacrifices that would be made. Many farmworkers were of Mexican descent, so the eagle logo…was a powerful and easily understood symbol. The wings were square-shaped because Richard wasn’t an artist and used graph paper in making the design.” SFSU Labor Archivist Conor Casey, said about a later visit from Dolores Huerta, “She assured us that Cesar and Richard had created the logo alone, Zermeno wasn’t involved with the design, and resemblance between the UFW eagle and an inverted Aztec temple was entirely coincidental.”