Statement to United Domestic Workers of America,NUHHCE, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and Friends in Commemoration of the 10thAnniversary of the Death of Cesar Chavez and the Commencement of UDW’s “Chavez 25 Organizing Drive”
Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO.
President Ken Seaton-Msemaji, UDW executive board, members and friends:
I recently learned of your “Chavez-25-Organizing Drive” in which United Domestic Workers of America will highlight Cesar’s influence on the founding of UDW as a way to pay tribute to his life and legacy and to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Cesar’s passing.
I remember vividly when you, Fahari Jeffers, Greg Akili, and others would come to the UFW headquarters in La Paz to meet with Cesar and discuss the formation of a labor union for domestic workers of all kinds, including home care workers. As I recall, it was on a summers day, in August of 1977, in Cesar’s back yard, that you formed the United Domestic Workers Organizing Committee and dedicated yourselves to fulfilling the dream of building this new movement.
As you know, Cesar believed that labor unions provided the best structure and apparatus for organizing the working poor in to a movement that could win recognition and respect and gain the opportunity to achieve justice on and off the job, and throughout their communities and neighborhoods. Cesar believed that unions had the capacity to not only organize these constituencies but also gave these workers a vehicle to gain the power they needed to transform their lives, from the cradle to the grave.
Cesar and his family had been farm workers so that is where he started organizing. But even back then in 1962, Cesar envisioned that a farm workers union could organize and empower the people in the fields but that there needed to be a union to organize and empower our sisters and brothers in the cities. He believed that there were many groups of mistreated workers, farm workers in the fields and domestic workers in the cities, were the most mistreated and exploited.
Cesar had approached several individuals and groups urging them to take on the Herculean task of building a union for domestic workers. While humbled by Cesar’s high regard for them, none of these individuals felt up to the task. They believed it was impossible to organize domestics, primarily because the workers did not have a common workplace. But Cesar refused to give up, and in the early 70′s, he met you, Fahari, Greg Akili and others who were involved in the NIA Cultural Organization. Cesar believed in you and he hoped that you would believe in his dream and agree to take on the near-impossible task of building a union for domestic workers and helping to transform the entire labor movement by establishing a base of power among those low wage workers who were unrepresented and had been left out for too long.
I remember you and the others coming to La Paz for days at a time, to visit with Cesar and learn as much as you could before starting your mission. And I remember occasions when you would travel with Cesar, riding with him from city to city for hours and sometimes days on end, asking him dozens of questions about organizing, collective bargaining, membership service programs and everything related to building a meaningful organization that could be democratically run and, that someday, could become self supporting.
After you started organizing, Cesar would often come back to La Paz after one of his trips and tell us that he had stopped by the UDW offices in San Diego to see how things were coming along and that he was hopeful and encouraged that your efforts would succeed.
Now, here we are, some 25 and a half years later. Cesar has now been gone for ten years. Like the UFW, UDW is still standing, still struggling and still fighting to make Cesar’s twin dream of a movement for farm workers and domestic workers become a lasting and forceful reality.
We are now making incredible progress in the UFW but still have a long way to go. In UDW you too have come a long way and accomplished a lot. After two decades of fighting, UDW won its law giving home care workers the right to collective bargaining and union representation. With your recent organizing and election victories of the last two years, you are well on your way to building that vibrant organization that Cesar envisioned. And like us, you too have a long way to go.
Like Cesar was before his passing, the UFW is proud of the devotion, sacrifice and hard work that everyone has contributed to building UDW. And we are very proud that, together with Cesar, we have been able to support and assist you during those years.
I am reminded that many years ago you asked Cesar “How can we ever repay you for all that you and the UFW have done for us?” Cesar replied very simply: “Brother Ken, the best thing you can do is to help me and the UFW is to build a powerful union for domestics.” That is what Cesar believed then, and that is what I, and the UFW believe now. We know that we can count on you to support our efforts just as you can continue to count on us to support yours.
Congratulations on your new campaign. We look forward to assisting you in any way that we can.
Arturo S. Rodriguez
¡Con Unión Se Vivo Major!
Founded by César E. Chávez