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Thousands Pay Tribute to Cesar Chavez - 2003-04-01

In California, thousands have paid tribute to Cesar Chavez, a celebrated labor activist, who died 10 years ago. State officials declared Monday Cesar Chavez Day in California, and events around the state honored the late labor leader.

Thousands took part in weekend marches in San Francisco and San Jose, and there were celebrations Monday in Oakland and Los Angeles.

Cesar Chavez founded the United Farm Workers Union, which promoted the rights of the migrant workers, mostly from Mexico, who traveled from farm to farm through the Southwest.

Dolores Huerta, a labor organizer, worked with Mr. Chavez for 30 years. She attended a march and service at the Los Angeles Catholic cathedral, where politicians and union members came to honor the activist. "This means that they really believe in what Cesar stood for," she says. "They believe in justice for workers. They believe in sacrifice, and they believe in non-violence. They believe in peace."

Some marchers carried signs opposing the war in Iraq. Most focused on the legacy of the union organizer, who improved the lives of those at the lowest end of the wage scale. Chavez had served in the U.S. Navy at the end of World War II.

The United Farm Workers Union, which he headed, was formed in 1966 out of the merger of two smaller labor organizations. Mr. Chavez embraced the tactics of nonviolent resistance taught by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

A successful five-year strike and boycott against California grape-growers led to improved wages for the workers who harvested crops in California's central valley.

Chavez died in 1993 at the age of 66, and today, has near cult-status in the U.S. labor movement. The U.S. postal service will issue a commemorative stamp in his honor next month.