Born in Yuma, Arizona, to a Mexican American family, Chavez began his working life as a manual laborer before spending two years in the United States Navy. Relocating to California, where he married, he got involved in the Community Service Organization (CSO), through which he helped laborers register to vote. In 1959, he became the CSO's national director, a position based in Los Angeles. In 1962, he left the CSO to co-found the NFWA, based in Delano, California. Through this, he launched an insurance scheme, credit union, and newspaper for farmworkers. Later that decade he began organizing strikes among farm-workers, most notably the Delano grape strike of 1965–70. Influenced by the ideals of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, he emphasized the use of direct but nonviolent tactics to pressure farm owners into granting strikers' demands. His activities attracted nationwide attention and were strongly promoted by the American labor movement, which was eager to enroll Hispanic members. By the late 1970s, his tactics had forced growers to recognize the UFW as the bargaining agent for 50,000 field workers in California and Florida.