Remembering Cesar

Every time we remember Cesar Chavez, the image of an activist who fought for farmworkers’ rights reappears. Through peaceful protests and hunger strikes, he was able to obtain recognition of the hard work farmworkers do for the first time.

Today is the 85th anniversary of Chavez’s birthday. It makes sense to celebrate the arrival into the world of someone who humbly and resolutely dedicated his life to improving the lives of others. His dedication led Chavez to win important battles, like the first labor contract for farmworkers. By leading United Farm Workers (UFW), Chavez improved wages and working conditions in the fields.

However, there is a long way to go to guarantee farmworkers the safety needed to do their job without putting their health at risk. And efforts are currently underway to eliminate existing rights. For example, in Maine, the Legislature is seeking to eliminate the right to unionize that egg farm workers have today.

Moreover, a reform of federal regulations on child labor-which is only allowed in the agriculture industry-has come under attack in the House of Representatives.

The Labor Department is updating regulations written more than 40 years ago in order to protect almost 212,000 children under 18 who do work for hire and almost half a million children working in family farms.

These reform proposals have become the target of two bills promoted by the industry, which amazingly is invoking family values to allow the most vulnerable population to be exploited. The Preserving America’s Family Farms Act, sponsored by Tom Latham (R-Iowa), says the reform would threaten a time-honored “tradition” of child farm labor, which supposedly develops character and leadership. Their nerve is unbelievable!

Chavez is no longer among us. But farmworkers are still being mistreated and disrespected, whether by imposing restrictive anti-immigrant state laws or attacking the workers’ safety protections. Although the battles continue, if Cesar was able to say “yes, we can,” then we can today and tomorrow.