Here in California last Thursday, it was a state holiday -- the birthday of Cesar Chavez, founder and leader of the United Farm Workers Union. There were no brass bands nor Main Street parades, but this day this year comes at a crossroads for unions in America.
In Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere, public employee unions are under siege. Many conservative commentators have asserted a difference between these unions of largely white collar bureaucrats and the struggles of miners, farm workers, and the really/truly oppressed. But Chavez himself made no such distinctions -- he was, in the finest Catholic tradition, a bulwark for dignified labor no matter who it was and where the work happened.
That key to Chavez is made clear in a column by the new Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez. Writing in the archdiocesan newspaper The Tidings, Gomez notes of the labor leader: "In everything, he declared that life is sacred and that the human person has a dignity as a child of God that no one can take away."
Yes, Chavez fought for the most discarded in our society -- farm workers still fight for basic human rights, still struggle to provide a better life for their children. In comparison, yes, a public school teacher or motor vehicles inspector has no complaint.
But they know what Chavez knew: without a strong union, their standard of living will inevitably decline. They have seen it in other crafts and skills and professions -- from auto workers to textile manufacturers.
This week, we celebrate the first anniversary of the launch of our podcast, NCR in Conversation. Catch the latest episode here.
Like Chavez then, it seems today's unions are fighting against a tide of history and human behavior too strong to overcome. But Chavez did -- and migrants workers throughout the Southwest and beyond regard him today as a kind of saint. As Archbishop Gomez writes, his defense of human dignity was "heroic."
The work of maintaining that dignity, safeguarding it, continues with new urgency today.
Just $5 a month supports NCR's independent Catholic journalism.
We are committed to keeping our online journalism open and available to as many readers as possible. To do that, we need your help. Join NCR Forward, our new membership program.
Looking for comments?
We've suspended comments on NCRonline.org for a while. If you missed that announcement, learn more about our decision here.