Fresno, the working class capital of California’s San Joaquin Valley, remains a hardscrabble town with a history of radical activism.
Co-published by the American Prospect
A national growers’ lobby has sued the U.S. Department of Labor to freeze the wages of H-2A workers at a level barely above minimum wage.
Dolores, a documentary mix of archival footage and interviews with Dolores Huerta, her family and such prominent figures as Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis and Luis Valdez, portrays the United Farm Workers co-founder as a pivotal yet relatively uncredited luminary in labor history.
The time for Diane Rodriguez’s play is 1970, and the immediate setting is the office of El Malcriado, the newspaper founded by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez in Delano, California.
Many people thought Cesar Chavez was crazy to think he could build a union among migrant farmworkers. Since the early 1900s, unions had been trying and failing to organize California’s unskilled agricultural workers. Whether the workers were Anglos, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos or Mexican Americans, these efforts met the same fate. The organizing drives met fierce opposition and always flopped, vulnerable to growers’ violent tactics and to competition from a seemingly endless supply of other migrant workers desperate for work. So when Chavez left his job as a community organizer in San Jose in 1962 and moved to rural Delano to try, once again, to bring a union to California’s lettuce and grape fields, even his closest friends figured he was delusional.
Within a decade, however, the United Farm Workers (UFW) union had collective bargaining agreements with most of California’s major growers. Pay, working conditions and housing for migrant workers improved significantly.
California State Senator (and former United Farm Workers activist) Bill Monning is sponsoring an effort on behalf of a broad coalition of activists and legislators urging Governor Jerry Brown to nominate Fred Ross Sr. for the California Hall of Fame. Ross, who mentored Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Eliseo Medina and multiple generations of great activists, was arguably the leading community organizer of his time. Although Ross died in 1992, his influence over current Latino voter outreach and labor organizing strategies remains strong. A national campaign began earlier this year to get President Obama to award him the posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Fred Ross Sr. spent 60 years in California working to bring social and economic justice. But he is not in the state’s Sacramento-based Hall of Fame, an omission that Senator Monning and others now hope Governor Brown will remedy.
On September 6, 2013, Monning, along with Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and many of their Senate colleagues,
Activists, organizers and elected officials across the United States have come together to urge President Barack Obama to award posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the legendary organizer, Fred Ross Sr. The first to organize people through house meetings, a mentor to both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and a pioneer in Latino voter outreach since 1949 when he helped elect Ed Roybal as Los Angeles’s first Latino council member, Ross’ influence on social change movements remains strong two decades after his death in 1992. If there were a Mount Rushmore for community organizers, Ross’s angular face would be on it. Here is a brief summary of Ross’s remarkable legacy, along with instructions on how to get your message of support to President Obama in time for the February 28 deadline.
Like all activists familiar with his work, I had a reverence for Fred Ross, Sr. before I knew the full record of his accomplishments.
’Tis the season of miracles. There’s only enough oil to light the lamp for a couple of days, but it stays lit for eight. A peasant’s vision upsets a bishop, especially when the peasant returns with roses. Darkness grows until the earth shifts and the light returns. A child born in a stable turns out to be a presence of God. A festival celebrates the principles that make the miracle of human community. A star moves across the sky guiding astrologers on a quest.
These ancient tales and festivals, developed around the miracles of light and life, create the season’s themes of hope and love and peace. There are unsung miracles as well — happening in our own time that you will never read about in the papers or see on the nightly news. These stories tell about people without power claiming their strength and about the lowest-wage workers achieving victories.
President Obama this week designated the home and burial site of the legendary United Farm Workers (UFW) leader, César Chávez, a national monument. Known as La Paz, short for Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, or Our Lady Queen of Peace, the site is in Keene, California
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the designation is a
fitting tribute for a man whose campaign for civil rights and respect for workers struggling in the shadows broke new ground and left an indelible mark on the pages of American history. The farm worker movement that Chávez is most often associated with was never deterred by their lack of money or clout. These workers knew that together they could form a mighty force for justice. Their collective action through the United Farm Workers brought national support to the moral cause and won historic victories and protections for agricultural workers.
Fifty years ago I graduated from high school on the other side of town from where Dolores Huerta had a decade earlier. My high school class will hold its reunion this fall. Also 50 years ago, Huerta and Cesar Chavez founded the United Farm Workers a few miles further south in Delano. The UFW just celebrated its half-century at its annual convention, this year in Bakersfield.
Long before I met Chavez I had heard of the legend. He had learned about organizing under Fred Ross, who was criss-crossing the state building the Community Service Organization (CSO) network among the Spanish-speaking urban barrios. But when Chavez wanted to expand CSO’s mission to organize farm workers in the Central Valley, CSO said no. So he did it on his own, with no money, no budget and only a handful of contacts. He went to Delano and began to work among the vineyards,