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Justice in the Fields: A Report on the Role of Farmworker Justice Certification and an Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Seven Labels

By Kerstin Lindgren - Fair World Project, October 2016

A growing number of eco-social certifications are available on food products at a variety of retail locations. These certifications cover a range of environmental and social values and include claims like fair trade, humane, and environmentally friendly. As the historically invisible contribution of farmworkers in the agriculture system gains more attention, so too do the dangerous, often unsanitary conditions and low pay of farm labor. In recent years, eco- social certifications claiming to benefit farmworkers have emerged in response to this growing recognition. This has coincided with the decreasing prominence of and membership in labor unions, the traditional tool for addressing labor issues. The emergence of farmworker labels has also coincided, especially in the U.S., with the surge of wage victoriesat the state and local level, led by the Fight for $15 labor activists. Political advocacy, collective bargaining through worker associations, and social certifications can serve to reinforce each other to achieve the broad goals of fair pay and decent working conditions. This report looks at the role that certification can play and compares seven certification schemes.

Read the report (PDF).

EcoUnionist News #122

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 20, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Whistle Blowers:

EcoUnionist News #121

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 13, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

An Ecologically Sound and Socially Just Economy

By Fred Magdoff - Monthly Review, September 2016

Two weeks ago I returned from my fiftieth class reunion at Oberlin College in Ohio. The brief discussions I had there with environmental faculty and students left me feeling a bit dazed. So many good and intelligent people, so concerned, and doing what they think and hope will help heal the environment—this college has one of the best environmental education programs in the country. However, I was left disappointed and profoundly discouraged by the lack of discussion—or even interest in having a real continuing discussion and debate—regarding the root causes of our environmental disasters. Not just climate change, but also pollution of the air, water, soil, and living organisms, the loss of biodiversity both aboveground and in the soil, the extinction of species, and the overuse and misuse of both renewable and nonrenewable natural resources.

It is as though there is a flat tire with perhaps a thousand holes and people are working on the best way to patch this hole or that one. No one there seems to consider that the problem might be the tire itself—that the design and materials utilized are not appropriate to the way it is being used. And, if that is the case, then no amount of patching can solve the flat tire problem. It is of the utmost importance to be able to distinguish between symptoms (that most people call “problems” or “crises”) and underlying causes.

I ran into this confusion between symptoms and underlying causes time and time again in agricultural science and farming practices. Soils may be prone to erosion, store little water, grow crops that are susceptible to diseases and insect attack, become compacted, or have low fertility. Farmers (and extension specialists), usually think of and deal with these as individual problems—using pesticide applications, lots of commercial fertilizers, irrigating more frequently, using heavier equipment, and so on. In fact, I spent a significant portion of my career as a soil scientist helping to deal with the negative side effects of one of these responses—excess fertilizer use, especially nitrogen and phosphorus.

(As an aside, as I was preparing this talk, an unbelievable thirty-five tons of nitrogen in the nitrate form, worth approximately $35,000, flowed down the Raccoon River past Des Moines, Iowa, on the way to the Mississippi and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. This flushing of nitrate out of the soil by prolonged spring rains, partially the result of nitrate left over after last year’s drought [2012], was mainly a consequence of an ecologically damaging, but profitable, emphasis on growing corn and soybeans without an ecologically sound crop rotation.)

However, what I learned over time was that in reality these are symptoms of an unhealthy soil and a simplified approach to soil and crop management. The same is true of never-ending unemployment, inequality and poverty, the systemic necessity of perpetual growth, and pollution of air, water, soil, and organisms. As harmful as each of these is, they are all only symptoms—of an economic system that is essentially unmanaged. Of course large corporations and politicians that represent them try to manage national and international laws, regulations, and markets in such ways that it becomes easier for them to make more money. But with individual corporations and other private capital making decisions which consider only their own interests, the system as a whole alternates between periods of growth (that nowadays are pretty lackluster) and periods of recession. Addressing individual symptoms alone is not sufficient for the tasks we need to undertake—either to create healthy soils or to create an ecologically based and humane society.

One of the neglected issues regarding thinking and acting about the environment—perhaps the most critical of all—is, to borrow a phrase from the first President Bush, the vision thing. The environmental movement is lacking any kind of meaningful vision as to what a truly ecologically sound and socially just society would look like and how it might operate. I am not talking about a blueprint with all sorts of details, but rather an agreement on essential characteristics of such a system. Without a vision—including some conception of the essential parts of such a system, the chances of actually getting to such a society are essentially zero. Or, as James Baldwin put it in a commonly cited but still very appropriate passage, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” It is my contention that we are not facing the root cause of our problems, and until we do, there is no hope of solving the social and ecological problems confronting the world.

The Dark Side of Local

By Margaret Gray - Jacobin, August 21, 2016

We live in the shadows,” explained Javier, a Hudson Valley farmworker, while describing his life to me. “We are treated like unknown people . . . We are not paid well and cannot ask for more.” A worker on another farm said, “They treat us like nothing; they only want the work . . . Whether we like it or not, we have to like it.”

Some of today’s liveliest political conversations concern agricultural production and distribution. But these discussions are also among the most confused.

Exploitative conditions on factory farms have rightly drawn the attention of academics, activists, and journalists. Indeed, the vast majority of research on farmworkers focuses on the largest farming sites. Consumers are offered countless reasons to avoid produce from them — but few alternatives other than to “buy local.”

Much contemporary food writing argues that when we buy locally grown food directly from farms, we not only secure fresher, more seasonal produce, but we also create an intimate, trusting relationship with the farmer. This supposed bond reinforces the common understanding that the local food production process is more wholesome than the industrial agricultural system.

Food writers and scholars have highlighted the many positive aspects of local food systems: economic and social justice, the sense of community facilitated by face-to-face interactions with food producers, and the civic engagement and democracy promoted by alternative agri-systems.

For example, as Barbara Kingsolver argues in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “‘locally grown’ is a denomination whose meaning in incorruptible.” Later in the book she addresses the poor pay and conditions of workers on factory farms, citing their average annual income of $7,500. Clearly, she intends readers to feel grateful that local farms offer a more just and well-paid alternative.

Or take another prominent example: in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a landmark in the new food literature, Michael Pollan describes two types of farming — industrial and pastoral — and offers no in-between.

In promoting local diets as healthy and righteous alternatives to the capitalist-industrial monoculture food system, such writers have sold us an idea premised on a false dichotomy.

On one hand, they demonize factory farms for poisoning the land and local waterways, for confining and mistreating animals, and for exploiting their workers in the name of earning profits. On the other hand, they promote local agriculture as the antidote to the factory farms’ corporate ills.

By shopping at the farmers market or joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, consumers support smaller (though not necessarily small) farmers, keep food dollars local, encourage limited pesticide use, and ensure animals are treated humanely.

EcoUnionist News #111

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 6, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

EcoUnionist News #110: No Coal in Oakland Prevails and other Green Union news

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 29, 2016

Image, right: Alameda County AFL-CIO Central Labor Council president, Josie Camacho, flanked by dozens of Bay Area union leaders and members, representing 21 Bay Area unions (including the Bay Area IWW), join in with Oakland residents to oppose coal handling, storage, shipment, and exports in the Port of Oakland at a special City Council hearing, held June 27, 2016. At the conclusion of the meeting, the City Council voted unanimously, 7-0 with one member absent, in support of the coal ban. Image by Brooke Anderson.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

From Uniformity to Diversty: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems

By Emile A. Frison - International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems - June 2016

Today’s food and farming systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of foods to global markets, but are generating negative outcomes on multiple fronts: widespread degradation of land, water and ecosystems; high GHG emissions; biodiversity losses; persistent hunger and micro-nutrient deficiencies alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases; and livelihood stresses for farmers around the world.

Many of these problems are linked specifically to ‘industrial agriculture’: the input-intensive crop monocultures and industrial-scale feedlots that now dominate farming landscapes. The uniformity at the heart of these systems, and their reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and preventive use of antibiotics, leads systematically to negative outcomes and vulnerabilities.

Industrial agriculture and the ‘industrial food systems’ that have developed around it are locked in place by a series of vicious cycles. For example, the way food systems are currently structured allows value to accrue to a limited number of actors, reinforcing their economic and political power, and thus their ability to influence the governance of food systems.

Tweaking practices can improve some of the specific outcomes of industrial agriculture, but will not provide long-term solutions to the multiple problems it generates.

What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods, i.e. ‘diversified agroecological systems’.

There is growing evidence that these systems keep carbon in the ground, support biodiversity, rebuild soil fertility and sustain yields over time, providing a basis for secure farm livelihoods.

Data shows that these systems can compete with industrial agriculture in terms of total outputs, performing particularly strongly under environmental stress, and delivering production increases in the places where additional food is desperately needed. Diversified agroecological systems can also pave the way for diverse diets and improved health.

Change is already happening. Industrial food systems are being challenged on multiple fronts, from new forms of cooperation and knowledge-creation to the development of new market relationships that bypass conventional retail circuits.

Political incentives must be shifted in order for these alternatives to emerge beyond the margins. A series of modest steps can collectively shift the centre of gravity in food systems.

Read the report (PDF).

EcoUnionist News #105

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 25, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

EcoUnionist News #104 - Special #BreakingFree 2016 Edition

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 17, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Whistleblowers:

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