As Women’s History Month winds down, let’s take a moment to remember Jessie Lopez de la Cruz, one of the women who were, and some of whom still are, leaders and activists working at the intersection of civil and labor rights.
Jessie Lopez was born in 1919 in Anaheim, California, and began working in fruit and vegetable fields when she just five years old.
While working in San Juan Capistrano in 1932, Jessie was asked to help translate during a strike of Mexican workers, but she continued as a farmworker for decades and didn’t become an organizer until she was in her 40s. Her husband, Arnold, began working with César Chávez and the National Farm Workers Association in 1965; meetings were held in the couple's home, and soon Jessie began to volunteer as well.
After the National Farm Workers Association became the United Farm Workers, Jessie became the top recruiter in the union. She led or participated in a variety of actions, such as picketing stores, to advocate for the safety of Mexican American workers and against employer corruption and abuse.
When the United Farm Workers established its first hiring hall in 1968, Jessie became the manager, and her advocacy led the union to expand opportunities for women in leadership positions, despite strong opposition.
Jessie Lopez de la Cruz retired in 1993 and spent her retirement working with California Rural Legal Assistance and her local Catholic charity. After she died in 2013, her biography was adapted into a television miniseries and we’ve posted a brief video on her life on our website at dclabor.org
In today’s labor history, on this date in 1930, at the height of the Great Depression, 35,000 unemployed workers marched in New York’s Union Square. Police beat many demonstrators, injuring 100.
Today’s labor quote is by Harry Bridges, the Australian-born dock union leader, who died on this date in 1990. Harry helped form and lead the International Longshore and Warehouse Union for 40 years. Harry Bridges, who said:
“The most important word in the language of the working class is ‘solidarity’”
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