Last May, at a public meeting the National Park Service held in Oxnard to gather stories about the farmworkers movement, a man in his 50s came up to Martha Crusius. He told her about a rally he’d attended with his parents, migrant workers from Mexico, back in the 1960s.
“He was a little kid back then, and he really didn’t understand it,” Crusius says. “But he remembered that there was this small, soft-spoken Mexican guy leading the rally, and he was someone people really looked up to.” While listening to others testify at the meeting, he realized what he’d witnessed. “That man,” he told Crusius, “was Cesar Chavez.”
Crusius is director of the National Park Service’s Cesar Chavez Special Resource Study, an effort to curate and preserve the legacy of the iconic civil rights leader and United Farm Workers co-founder for future generations. It’s an effort that fits neatly,
I grew up on the western edge of South Central, near Century Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue. My block was full of local government workers—sanitation, probation, school district. I don’t know if the private-sector folks were unionized, but their wages were competitive enough to allow them to buy houses in the area, a scenario made possible by the standards set by unions that, from my perspective, were becoming mainstream. Part of that standard was hiring blacks as a matter of course.
It hardly needs to be said that today’s focused attack by the Right on unions all over the country is an attack on the working and middle classes. Public employee unions are the big target now because the private sector unions have frankly become too puny over the last generation to pose much of a threat any more to the corporate powers that be, which have expanded as rapidly—more rapidly, actually– as unions have dwindled.