Farmworkers Still Kicked, Still Struggling

As one of those who witnessed, and participated for three years, in the U.S. farmworker fight for justice, I always feel the slap of anger/energy when news articles appear about them. Still underpaid around the country, still living hand to mouth, still picking pesticide ladened fruit, still working the fields and raising loving families.  And still, in many parts of the country, trying out different tactics and strategy to become visible, be recognized for the work they do and be compensated as any rationally economy would do.

Steven Greenhouse, the longtime labor reporter for the NY Times, takes a tour around various communities to see what is happening.

In Vermont, workers are picketing at a surprising place. “They were demanding that Ben & Jerry’s — which prides itself on its progressive reputation — require the Vermont dairy farms that supply its milk and cream to follow a code of conduct that would guarantee their migrant workers a weekly day off, seven vacation days a year and more, including improved housing….

In North Carolina, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee is pressing R.J. Reynolds and its tobacco growers to reach a three-way agreement to speed unionization.

In California, Oxfam America, working with Costco and the United Farm Workers, started the Equitable Food Initiative to address consumer concerns that produce be safe and grown under nonexploitative conditions.

And in Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has persuaded McDonald’s, Walmart, Burger King, Whole Foods and other companies to require their tomato growers to improve pay and conditions for 30,000 workers. Its Fair Food Program has an elaborate enforcement apparatus, overseen by a retired New York judge, that has greatly reduced abuses like bullying and sexual harassment by crew leaders.

“We’re seeing a bunch of different models to help farmworkers,” said Philip Martin, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis. “The question is, Are they scalable?”

And a new book that shows how the growing “locavore” movement, with its ethic of supporting local and small has missed a big part of what makes an ethical food system:

As Margaret Gray chronicles in her remarkable new book, Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic, the small- and medium-sized family farms that the food movement has championed are often sites of appalling labor abuses. Gray shows that the locavore ethic espoused by Michael Pollan and countless imitators not only renders these abuses invisible, it actively enables them by lionizing independent farmers and romanticizing small-scale food production.

Reviewed at Dissent

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