Growing up in suburban Maryland, I had never really heard of Cesar Chavez Day.
I’m sure that we glossed over the California Labor movement in one of my classes, but it was never a major focus of study. Coming to California, one of my great discoveries has been the strong movement for workers rights and immigration reform. Of course, these issues affect everyone on a national scale and have been covered in the mainstream media, but they were not completely on my radar on the east coast.
Cesar Chavez is, by far, the most important name in the California Farm Workers movement. A strong union organizer, he popularized the phrase “Si Se Puede.” (Roughly translated as “Yes We Can,” the key slogan during President Obama’s 2008 campaign)
On Friday, March 30, local Los Angeles unions and student groups converged upon the small city of Claremont to hold a rally for worker’s rights, specifically those of Pomona College’s dining hall workers. In the Fall, a number of workers at Pomona were fired for deficiencies in their I-9 forms after a document audit.
I helped cover the rally for the Claremont Port Side, expected a medium turnout mostly made of students and faculty.
That wasn’t the case: I have never seen anything like it in Claremont. Almost 700 people arrived to march is support of worker’s rights.
The most striking thing about the rally, besides the size, was the organization. All around the march and rally sites were union representatives with microphones and earpieces, coordinating the location of protestors and timing of events.
For those that think unions are reckless, let me tell you that the representatives here were professional. Law enforcement had obviously worked with the organizers to pull off a safe event and to ensure minimal disruption for the rest of the community.
For me, this rally was a fascinating turning point in the Pomona College unionization story. Now that larger unions are involved (with their highly organized forces), I think there will be more pressure on Pomona’s administration to handle the situation.
Even if you are not in support of the union at Pomona, it’s hard to make the College seem like the underdog. After all, Pomona has an endowment of over 1 billion dollars and a student population of about 1500.
You do the math.
You can read the entire report on the protest at the Claremont Port Side, including video shot and edited by yours truly (see below)