On César Chávez Day: Co-opted, Erased, But Still Alive in Wisconsin Victory
Today California and Texas recognize the birthday of César Chávez. Colorado and Arizona have the option to celebrate the holiday, though it’s hard to imagine most AZ lawmakers doing so. The legendary farmworker organizer would have been 84 years old.
Chávez’ name is still a threat to big agribusiness: when the Maine Governor ordered a labor mural from the state’s Department of Labor removed last week, he also instructed that the César Chávez Conference Room get a new name. Not because his electorate wanted that, not even out of personal sentiment, but because it went against the “pro-business goals” of the agency that’s supposed work on labor’s behalf. According to Gawker,
"[Gov.] LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt says the mural and the conference room names are not in keeping with the department's pro-business goals and some business owners complained." They just snap their fingers, and it's removed.
It’s not just the Chávez name that lives on. President Obama had huge success using the late labor leader’s grassroots organizing slogan and strategies. The blog BeyondChron points out that millions think that “Yes We Can” originated with the Obama campaign; even an NPR host attributed the phrase to the president. Of course, Obama used the strategies to very different ends from labor solidarity. Most recently, he’s been largely silent on the Wisconsin protests.
Chávez would naturally have been in ardent opposition to Gov. Walker’s policies, and today he wouldn’t just be celebrating a birthday. This morning Walker was forced to comply with a halt to his radical anti-union legislation. The blog Think Progress notes that if Walker wants to bypass the order with a vote, he no longer has a sure majority. Worker organizing made that happen, and Chávez would be proud of the legacy.