In the mid-1960s, the charismatic César Chávez led members of California's La Causa movement in boycotting the grape harvest, and melon pickers in South Texas called a strike against growers, contesting unfair labor and wage practices in both states.
In Farm Workers and the Churches, Alan J. Watt shows how the religious and social contexts of the farm workers, their leaders, and the larger society helped or hindered these two pivotal actions.
Watt explores the ways in which liberal expressions of Northern Protestantism, transplanted to California and combined with the pro-labor wing of the Catholic Church and the heritage of Mexican popular piety, provided a fertile field for the growth of broad support for Chávez and his organizing efforts. Eventually, La Causa was able to achieve collective bargaining victories, including a historic labor contract between California agribusiness and farm workers.
The movement did not fare as well in Texas, where the combination of a locally weak union leadership, a more conservative Southern Protestant ethos, and the strikebreaking measures of the Texas Rangers all boded ill. However, a general Chicano/a movement ultimately took permanent root in the state, because of the workers' struggle.
Watt offers a careful examination of the complex interactions among religious traditions, social heritage, and ethnicity as these factors affected the course and outcomes of these two pioneering campaigns undertaken by La Causa.