Magazine article Commonweal

A Great & Good Man

Magazine article Commonweal

A Great & Good Man

Article excerpt

When Cesar Chavez agreed to serve on Commonweal's Sixtieth Anniversary Committee in 1984 it was but an other generous act in a lifetime of them. Small of stature, Chavez always stood out, even on an anniversary committee. Unlike the other twenty-five members of the committee, he lacked all worldly credentials (he was not an archbishop, a governor, a university president, a famous writer, or even a college graduate), and his name was distinctly Hispanic. When he died suddenly - and too soon - on April 23, at the age of sixty-six, Chavez was still standing out. He had been in Arizona, making sure farm workers would get at least a portion of their earned and proper recompense.

Despite his gentle appearance and humble beginnings, Chavez was a born, tenacious organizer. He founded the most successful agricultural workers' union in U.S. labor history, the United Farm Workers Union, a multiracial, rank-and-file outfit that dramatically improved the lot of farm workers - unionized and otherwise - in every region of this country. Though the UFW was/is still far from achieving its goals of humanizing farm labor, the spirit of solidarity among its members is unique in present-day American labor. Predicated on various strata of Catholic social teaching and Gandhian nonviolence, the UFW retains an idealism that is uncommon and a willingness to attempt new ventures. Chavez himself never became a bigwig union leader. It is true that he could be high-handed, and that he offended and too often lost many of his ablest co-workers and allies along the way; but he continued to remain close to the rank and file, to live simply, to prod his union into new endeavors, and to serve as the conscience of labor in general. …

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