By Congressman Bob Filner
Great men are always remembered on the anniversaries of their great achievements, births, or deaths. In January, we take a day off work to honor Martin Luther King Jr. In May, we pause to remember Americans who never returned from foreign battlefields. We name days for other great fighters George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but we've overlooked someone who fought tirelessly on our behalf. Cesar Chavez brought dignity and respect to farm workers who organized themselves and became an inspiration to all people engaged in human rights struggles throughout the world. It is time we pay him the respect he deserves!
Cesar E. Chavez, the son of migrant farm workers, dedicated his life to fighting for the human rights and dignity of farm workers. He was born March 31, 1927, and over the course of his 66 years, Cesar Chavez' work inspired millions and made him a major force in American history.
In 1962, Chavez and his family founded the National Farm Workers Association, now known as the United Farm Workers of America, which organized thousands of farm workers to confront one of the most powerful industries in the country. He inspired them to join together and nonviolently demand safe and fair working conditions.
Through the use of a grape boycottt, he was able to secure the first union contracts for farm workers in the Untied States. These contracts provide farm workers with the basic services that most workers take for granted services such as clean drinking water and sanitary facilities. Because of Cesar Chavez' fight to enforce child labor laws, farm workers could also be certain that their children would not be working side-by-side with them and would instead attend the migrant schools he helped establish. In addition, Cesar Chavez made the world aware of the exposure to dangerous chemicals that farm workers and consumers face every day.
Cesar Chavez' influence extended far beyond agriculture. He was instrumental in forming the Community Service Organization one of the first civic action groups in the Mexican-American communities of California and Arizona.
He worked in urban areas, organized voter registration drives, brought complaints against mistreatment by governmental agencies. He taught community members how to deal with governmental, school and financial institutions and empowered many to seek further advancement in education and politics. There are countless stories of judges, engineers, lawyers, teachers, church leaders, organizers and other hard-working professionals who credit Cesar Chavez as the inspiring force in their lives.
Cesar Chavez will be remembered for his tireless commitment to improve the plight of farm workers, children and the poor throughout the United States and for the inspiration his heroic efforts gave to so many Americans.
I have introduced legislation in every Congress since 1995 to create a federal holiday in honor of Cesar Chavez. However, business interests in Washington cry foul each time. "We can't afford it," they say. "It will cost American businesses millions in lost labor." These are the same arguments they used against Chavez as he fought for dignity and just wages for farm workers. He proved then that dangerous pesticides and inhuman working conditions would not be tolerated while businesses claimed it was the only way.
Congress must follow the lead of California, a state that knows the fruits of Chavez' labor first hand, and designate March 31st as a Federal holiday to commemorate his birth. What better way to honor a man who fought for the underprivileged than to give workers a much deserved day of rest?
Congressman Bob Filner represents California's 50th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.