Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Birthday, César Chávez!

Today is the birthday of the late César Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers union. It is a holiday in California and every year Rep. Joe Baca (CA-43) has introduced a resolution to make it a national holiday. Last year, when he was still a senator and candidate, President Obama supported the resolution, saying:

"Chavez left a legacy as an educator, environmentalist, and a civil rights leader. And his cause lives on. As farmworkers and laborers across America continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair wages, we find strength in what César Chávez accomplished so many years ago. And we should honor him for what he's taught us about making America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation. That's why I support the call to make César Chávez's birthday a national holiday. It's time to recognize the contributions of this American icon to the ongoing efforts to perfect our union."

The United Farm Workers has changed since César's day. The San Diego Union Tribune ran an interesting article a couple of days ago about how the union has revised its position in favor of legalizing undocumented workers, who were once only viewed as potential strikebreakers.

Back in the early 1960s as the Bracero Program was ending, "probably 80 percent [of farm laborers] were documented, and about 20 percent were undocumented. Today it would be just the reverse,” says Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers. It is now estimated that as many as 90 percent of California's farmworkers are foreign-born, most of them here illegally. Nationwide, the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., has estimated that while only 4 percent of unauthorized workers are employed in agriculture, such workers make up the vast majority of farm labor.

This demographic shift has led other unions to join the farm workers in supporting legalization. “There has been a significant change in the mind-set of the labor movement,” Rodriguez says. Today, legalizing workers once seen as competitors has become a priority; the UFW kicked off a new pro-legalization campaign this month.


As a librarian, I would like to share some Web resources with you to help you celebrate and remember César Chávez:

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