Florida's tomato pickers are the most exploited workers. They have to wake up for a 5 AM bus to the fields and work in the blistering heat for less than minimum wage. None of the New Deal reforms apply to agricultural workers including overtime pay and the right to organize. These farmworkers must find a way to get by on $10,000 a year with no health insurance. There have even been 8 federal cases of modern day slavery, that's right I said slavery. But things are starting to change.
Fair trade is finally coming to the tomato fields of Florida, where farmworkers have won a remarkable victory in a 15-year struggle for better pay and working conditions. Last month, they struck a deal with growers to raise workers’ pay and to create an industry code of conduct, a health and safety program and a system to resolve worker complaints. NY TIMES
The farmworkers didn't do this by calling their senators or voting for the right politicians. They did this through persistent independent activism and organizing. And there's a lot that we can learn from these workers about how to fight for change for the broader working class.
At first they tried to heir grievances to the farm owners themselves, but these complaints fell to deaf ears. So the Coalition of Immokalee Workers brought together farmworkers, students, church groups, and many others in their "Campaign for Fair Food." Instead of going to the growers, they targeted corporations that purchase tomatoes in bulk to use their buying power to raise wages and working conditions. Through boycotts, pickets, protests, and campus activism, they have been able to force 9 major corporations (Subway, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Whole Foods, Aramark, Sodexo, Bon Apetit Management, Burger King) to sign on to a deal to raise wages by one penny per pound of tomatoes picked and give workers a way to address abuses in the fields. While a penny per pound might not sound like a lot it amounts to $7,000 a year for these workers.
After years of resistance, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (a group representing 90% of tomato growers) agreed to pass down the raises and implement reasonable working standards. Unfortunately this is only for the 9 corporations who signed on to the deal, and the fight goes on to the supermarket industry.
Earlier this year I wrote a diary asking people to go to the Farmworker Freedom March, a 3 day 25 mile march against the Publix Supermarket Corporation. I'm sad to say I didn't see any Kossacks at the march.
There was so much positive energy and such a diverse coalition of people. I saw people of every race, I saw groups from churches, temples, and mosques, I saw kids as young as 5, I saw people as old as 70, I heard chants in spanish and english. Despite our many differences we were all brought together in the same fight.
Direct Action is often the only way to fight back against greedy Corporations and a corrupt Government. Protest build a social consciousness, and often force politicians to respond and take a side. We need to start building independent social movements with clear goals. If we can begin winning victories on our own, the democrats may begin to respect us and be more willing to push through progressive legislation.
So I urge you to support progressive social movements. Here's a few upcoming actions
*The CIW has big marches planned in Quincy, MA on February 27th and in Tampa, FL on March 5th of next year against Publix and Stop & Shop, 2 corporations fighting against fair wages for farmworkers. I hope you'll show up and spread the word to friends.
*Next Monday the 13th, there will be an action in Boston in support of Union Hotel Workers who were laid off after years and replaced with an entry (click here for more info)
*If you guys wanna do something simpler, you can print off a manager letter in support of the CIW to bring to your local supermarket. Letters for Kroger, Stop & Shop, Giant, Publix, and Trader Joe's are available here.
And please, if you know about any other planned protests big or small local or national issues, please put something up on DKOS.