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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Strides have been made since Cesar Chavez, but there is more to be done

As an agricultural school, we can’t turn a blind eye to the labor conditions of farmworkers

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD 

You may not have realized this since we didn’t get a day off, but Mar. 31 was Cesar Chavez Day. This day shouldn’t just be another date on a school calendar — it’s important to remember the meaning of holidays that recognize the work of union rights movements and to continue advocating for these causes. While there have been several improvements to the labor conditions of farmworkers, there is still a long way to go. 

The federal holiday recognizes the legacy of Chavez and his work in organizing California farm workers. In 1962, Chavez, along with Dolores Huerta, established the United Farm Workers (UFW) to fight for better treatment for these workers. 

In 1965, farmworkers who picked grapes were paid an average of $.90/hour and there were no portable toilets at the ranches. It also was and still is common for children to be working in the fields. 

The 1965-1970 Delano Grape Strike and Boycott was first started by Filipino-American grape workers who striked against their low pay and treatment. Chavez and the UFW officially joined the strike on Sept. 16, 1965, which is also Mexican Independence Day. 

Chavez took inspiration from movements started by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi to take a nonviolent approach to the strike. In 1968, Chavez fasted for 25 days to bring awareness to the nonviolent nature of their movement. His hunger strike gained attention from Dr. King and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who attended an event by the union.

“However important the struggle is and however much misery and poverty and degradation exist, we know that it cannot be more important than one human life,” Chavez said in a 1970 interview. The strike ended that year, after grape growers signed their first contract with the union which helped improve the conditions for union workers. 

The UFW boycott isn’t just a part of Mexican-American history – it is also an integral part of Californian and American history. Huerta is responsible for the popular UFW slogan “Sí, se puede” which means “Yes, it can be done.” Former President Obama credits this slogan for his popular campaign slogan “Yes, we can.” 

As Cesar Chavez Day recently passed, it’s important to understand that the labor problems farmworkers are facing aren’t just a part of history but also a part of an ongoing struggle. 

Today, the average life expectancy of farmworkers is 49 years due to their working conditions and often lack of health insurance. Farmworkers are also 35 times more likely to have a heat-related death than other labor jobs. 

Many farmworkers in California are migrants, with 7,000 of them living in migrant centers that offer seasonal housing to employees. Many of these workers and their families are affected by a law that forces workers to move 50 miles away from the centers when crops aren’t in season. According to an investigation by The Sacramento Bee, 69% of farmworkers with children say the 50-mile law has affected their children’s education. 

There are few labor protections for farmworkers and their children. During non-school hours children can work in the fields with their families as early as age 12. According to a Federal Report from 2018, more than half of children’s workplace fatalities were in agriculture. 

There is much at stake for migrant farmworkers in this year’s upcoming election, with presidential candidates who have vowed to end birthright citizenship, a campaign promise that violates the 14th Amendment. 

While farmworkers’ struggle for fair treatment is ongoing, there have been steps made to address these problems. Recently, Fresno Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula introduced legislation to overturn California’s 50-mile exemption rule and force migrant centers to remain open year-round. 

Like other U.S. holidays that are centered around groups that have historically faced oppression, Cesar Chavez Day is an opportunity to honor the strides made for labor rights that  also serves as a reminder that change is necessary. The Editorial Board hopes you take time to reflect about all the ways in which you are impacted by California farmworkers, many of whom help put food on your plate.  

Written By: The Editorial Board

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