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Texas Matters: 50 Years Marching For Labor And Farm Worker Rights

On this Labor Day, a look back to 50 years ago – a labor fight, a strike and a legendary march for better wages, improved working conditions and human dignity for farm workers.

On June 1, 1966, farm workers in Starr County in the Rio Grande Valley, virtually all of them Latino, left the melon fields.

They did the unimaginable and went on strike.

They were demanding a $25 dollar-an-hour wage, and improved working conditions, including clean drinking water.

The strike was met by derision, disrespect and violence. Strikers were told they didn’t have the right to strike and act as a collect bargaining force.

But the workers continued and began a 490 mile march from Rio Grande City to Austin to bring attention to their cause.

Along the way the marchers were attacked and ridiculed.

When they reached New Braunfels they were met by Gov. John Connelly who told them to turn around and go back to the fields in the valley.

On Labor Day, September 5,  1966, the marchers reached their destination, the state Capitol building and were met by thousands of supporters now aware of their plight and their fight.

Fifty years later, on Labor Day, a celebration and remembrance of that historic march is being held in downtown San Antonio at Milam Park.

Listen to the above audio recording for more on the march, it’s historic context and it’s legacy in an interview with Rebecca Flores, the chair of the Labor Day March Celebration, and United Methodist Church retired Bishop Joel Martinez, who participated in the march and supported the strike in 1966.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi