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agricultural workers

How Milk with Dignity got a historic agreement

Enrique "Kike" Balcazar interviewed by Owen La Farge - Socialist Worker, October 19, 2011

WHAT WERE the most important victories that came with the signing of the Milk with Dignity agreement Ben & Jerry's?

FOR MANY years, the priority of dairy workers here in Vermont has been to improve working and living conditions on the farms. We had to build our way up to winning this agreement. First, we organized to secure things like drivers licenses for immigrants in Vermont and stopping the collaboration of police with immigration authorities.

In 2014, we started to speak with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream about how they could behave more responsibility and lead the way in improving working conditions. The workers designed a program called "Milk with Dignity."

The program was created and led by dairy workers in Vermont. It has five essential elements, including a code of conduct that sets out standards that establish respect and dignity for workers in the areas of decent wages, hours of work, health and safety, and dignified housing.

AND ALL of this is included in the agreement that Ben & Jerry's signed?

YES. IN addition to the code of conduct, the program establishes a plan to educate workers when they start so they can learn about their rights and how to defend them.

Another important element of Milk with Dignity is that an independent third party will interview the workers and oversee the execution of the program. Farmworkers will also be able to call a 24/7 hotline to make complaints and to improve communication inside the dairy farms.

WHY DID Ben & Jerry's sign the agreement two years after initially saying that they supported the agreement?

WE ORGANIZED well, and we defined what we wanted clearly, and we knew that Milk with Dignity represented a new day for the workers. So we never stopped organizing, and with the support of students, faith groups, sister organizations, consumers and workers, we pushed Ben & Jerry's to sign the deal.

Ben & Jerry's has taken steps towards social responsibility in areas such as the environment and animal rights. So I believe Ben & Jerry's understood it was time to do right by the workers.

Agroecology, a way of life, struggle, and resistance against capitalism!

By staff - La Via Campesina, October 17, 2011

Synthesis

Agroecology: a way of life, struggle and resistance against capitalism. Agroecology is the basis for peasant agriculture and food sovereignty. Agroecology continues to be open to debate and dispute; from the perspective of our movements, it is the guarantee, care and protection of our Mother Earth. For that reason, it is transversal in all the spaces of the land, subsoil, territory, water and space.

The cosmovision and epistemology of our peoples tell us that agroecological practices are the center of our ancestors’ production, since they are the coexistence of all living beings. The land does not belong to us; we belong to the land. We are balance and equity, solidarity, integrity, diversity, territorial defense, the ‘buen vivir’, the dialogue between ways of knowing, expressed through the peasant-to-peasant method.

We do not want sustainable development, we want sustainable life. Agroecology gives our identity back to us. Women played a historic role in the evolution of peasant and indigenous agriculture.

Our processes of agroecological training make use of the Latin American Agroecological Institutes (IALA) training centers, through the learning routes that CLOC-LVC has built in the continent. Agroecology is a multidimensional space of social processes, sharing, culture, and art that we can only find in our territories.
All support processes for agroecology should be led by organizations of peasant families, indigenous peoples, farm workers and family farmers, including men and women, with the greatest possible participation of young people.

Agroecology and peasant seeds are mutually dependent, because agroecology is incompatible with genetic engineering, there can be no agroecology with agrochemicals or with the transnational agribusiness corporations.

The theories of Marx and Engels (including the division between the countryside and the city) and indigenous cosmovisions are similar and complementary in agroecological thought and in the unity between culture and the dialogue of ways of knowing. Our agroecological proposal regenerates agroecosystems, including plant, animal and soil biodiversity, as well as indigenous cultures with their diverse ways of producing in harmony with Mother Earth.

Tea Plantation workers in Sri Lanka march for Food Sovereignty!

By staff - La Via Campesina, October 17, 2011

As part of the mobilisations to mark the International Day of Action for Peoples’ Food Sovereignty and against Transnational corporations, plantation communities in Sri Lanka has requested and demanded successive administrations to ensure that they have land rights, which is essential for dignified living. In this regard, Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) and the people of the estates organised a People’s Caravan for Food Sovereignty from 8th to 13th October 2017. The caravan drew attention to a number of issues.

  • Ensuring the rights to own land

It’s been 150 years since tea plantations were established in the country. A few months ago the country celebrated this landmark with great pageantry, however the estate sector workers who have shed blood, sweat and tears to ensure that the tea production goes on, still live like slaves, stuck in squalid rooms of 400 square feet. This practice has to end. These workers must be granted at least a plot of 20 perches, by a deed, so that they can build a house, to farm and to raise a cow.

  • Stop the sale of properties that belong to estates

The government has commenced an initiative to sell the assets of Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SLSPC), Elkaduwa Plantations and Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) cheaply and to close down the operations. Those who depended on work provided by these estates will soon lose their livelihoods.

By 1972 -75 the tea yields have dwindled and plantation companies started making losses due to mismanagement. Thus these estates were nationalized; however the export and sale of tea were left at the hands of private entities, which had earlier destroyed the plantations by mismanagement. This, coupled with state mismanagement and the world economic crisis, the estates continued to make losses and they were privatized again between 1992 -94.

Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SLSPC) and Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) were left with 39 midland tea estates which yielded little harvest. Instead of taking steps to develop these estates, the administrators had continuously attempted to sell off the assets of these and that process has sped up under this administration. While the tea plantations are making losses, the workers are not responsible for the results of mismanagement by administrators.

Given the current economic trends and the nature of the ‘investors’ we have, it is obvious that they are not interested in developing these estates. They are more interested in converting the estate bungalows to tourist hotels, cutting down trees in the estates, selling the machinery for scrap metal, extracting granite and other mineral resources and the sale of land. After these resources are exhausted they will sell the land.

On ‘Food Sovereignty Day’ La Via Campesina launches publication that calls for a massive change in the current agro-food systems

By staff - La Via Campesina, October 16, 2017

Harare, 16th October 2017: Today, on the International Day of Action for Peoples’ Food Sovereignty and against Transnational corporations, La Via Campesina officially launches its new publication “Struggles of La Vía Campesina for Agrarian Reform and the Defense of life, Land and Territories” that argues for a massive change in the current agro-food system, if we have to overcome the food, climate, poverty, financial, economic and democratic crises facing the planet and its people.

With the aim of strengthening the convergence of struggles, we will demonstrate in this publication that this change must be based on an integral and popular agrarian reform within the framework of Food Sovereignty.

The concepts, strategies and struggles have undergone many changes within La Via Campesina, partly as a result of the current context, but also as a result of collective processes at the grassroots level in territories that are rich in historical, cultural, political and economic diversity. In this respect, it is evident that integral and popular agrarian reform is understood to be a process for the building of Food Sovereignty and dignity for the people.

Working on the basis of this conceptual framework, in which agrarian reform is presented as a defense and a recovery of land for Food Sovereignty, and as a people’s process, this publication will be structured as follows:

Firstly, chapters 2 and 3 present La Via Campesina’s analysis of the global context we are currently facing and the form in which capital is appropriating territories. What developments have led to this unprecedented level of land grabbing, land concentration and eviction of people from their territories? To which actors do we refer when we speak of “capital”? What is the political framework that favours these processes on a global level? What are the consequences for the food and agricultural system? And how is that reflected in our territories?

La Via Campesina’s concept of integral and popular agrarian reform, developed in this context, will be presented in Chapter 4. How has the concept been modified from a vision of land distribution to a territorial vision? What were the most important milestones? Beginning with the question “How, in today’s world, can we achieve a change in the paradigm towards Food Sovereignty and agrarian reform?” we will present, in chapter 5, the strategies of La Via Campesina, which include direct actions and bottom up praxis, alternative communications and research, and political intervention on a national and international level.

While the analysis focuses more on global processes, the interviews held with leaders of La Via Campesina’s member organisations from different continents and regions show the multidimensional mechanisms which specifically affect territories. They also reflect the way in which the diversity of cosmovisions in territories which are so historically, culturally, politically and economically diverse (which can also be seen in their terminology) has enriched and extended La Via Campesina’s construction of visions.

Because the aim of the publication is to summarise these aspects as a whole from the perspective of La Via Campesina’s organisations, it is not possible to enter into each issue in depth. Therefore, at the end of each chapter we provide suggestions for further reading, which will be a useful starting point for acquiring more in depth knowledge of the issues discussed here.

The Seeds of Agroecology and Common Ownership

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, October 10, 2017

The increasingly globalised industrial food system that transnational agribusiness promotes is not feeding the world and is responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises. Localised, traditional methods of food production have given way to globalised supply chains dominated by transnational companies policies and actions which have resulted in the destruction of habitat and livelihoods and the imposition of corporate-controlled, chemical-intensive (monocrop) agriculture that weds farmers and regions to a wholly exploitative system of neoliberal globalisation.

Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina or palm oil production in Indonesia, transnational agribusiness and global capitalism cannot be greenwashed.

In their rush to readily promote neoliberal dogma and corporate PR, many take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. There is the premise that water, seeds, land, food, soil and agriculture should be handed over to powerful, corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible.

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot notes the vast wealth the economic elite has accumulated at our expense through its seizure of the commons. A commons is managed not for the accumulation of capital or profit but for the steady production of prosperity or wellbeing of a particular group, who might live in or beside it or who created and sustain it.

Unlike state spending, according to Monbiot, a commons obliges people to work together, to sustain their resources and decide how the income should be used. It gives community life a clear focus and depends on democracy in its truest form. However, the commons have been attacked by both state power and capitalism for centuries. In effect, resources that no one invented or created, or that a large number of people created together, are stolen by those who see an opportunity for profit.

We need only look at how Cargill captured the edible oils processing sector in India and in the process put many thousands of village-based workers out of work.  Or how Monsanto conspired to design a system of intellectual property rights that allowed it to patent seeds as if it had manufactured and invented them. Or how India’s indigenous peoples have been forcibly ejected from their ancient forest lands due to state’s collusion with mining companies.

As Monbiot says, the outcome is a rentier economy: those who capture essential resources seek to commodify them – whether trees for timber, land for real estate or agricultural seeds, for example – and force everyone else to pay for access.

While spouting platitudes about ‘choice’, ‘democracy’ and ‘feeding the world’, the corporate agribusiness/agritech industry is destroying the commons and democracy and displacing existing localised systems of production. Economies are being “opened up through the concurrent displacement of pre-existing productive systems. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished” (Michel Chossudovsky in The Globalization of Poverty, p16).

As described here, for thousands of years farmers experimented with different plant and animal specimens acquired through migration, trading networks, gift exchanges or accidental diffusion. By learning and doing, trial and error, new knowledge was blended with older, traditional knowledge systems. The farmer possesses acute observation, good memory for detail and transmission through teaching and story-telling. The same farmers whose seeds and knowledge were stolen by corporations to be bred for proprietary chemical-dependent hybrids, now to be genetically engineered

Large corporations with their proprietary seeds and synthetic chemical inputs have eradicated traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers. Genetic diversity among food crops has been drastically reduced, and we have bad food and diets, degraded soils, water pollution and scarcity and spiralling rates of poor health.

The eradication of seed diversity went much further than merely prioritising corporate seeds: the Green Revolution deliberately sidelined traditional seeds kept by farmers that were actually higher yielding.

We have witnessed a change in farming practices towards mechanised industrial-scale chemical-intensive monocropping, often for export or for far away cities rather than local communities, and ultimately the undermining or eradication of self-contained rural economies, traditions and cultures. We now see food surplus in the West and food deficit areas in the Global South and a globalised geopoliticised system of food and agriculture.

In India, Green Revolution technology and ideology has merely served to undermine indigenous farming sectors centred on highly productive small farms that catered for the diverse dietary needs and climatic conditions of the country. It has actually produced and fuelled drought and degraded soils and has contributed towards illnesses and malnutrition, farmer distress and many other problems.

What really irks the corporate vultures which fuel the current industrial model of agriculture is that critics are offering genuine alternatives. They advocate a shift towards more organic-based systems of agriculture, which includes providing support to small farms and an agroecology movement that is empowering to people politically, socially and economically.

The MST and the Fight to Change the Brazilian Power Structure

Gilmar Mauro interviewed by Brian Mier - The Bullet, September 15, 2017

During the 1960s, legend has it that governor José Sarney sat down at a table with a group of cattle-ranching cronies and aerial photographs of Maranhão state, in Northeastern Brazil. They marked boundaries on the photos with pencil and divided up the land. In the decades that followed, these ranchers committed what Brazilians call grilhagem, altering documentation to illegally appropriate land. Sarney and his henchmen fenced off millions of hectares of land, then either kicked out the peasants who were living there, forcing them into mud hut settlements between the road and the fences, or keeping them on as labourers, often paying them with vouchers for use at their own stores and patrolling the grounds with armed guards so that no one can escape. Under Sarney’s control, Maranhão state was deforested, and roughly half of its majority Afro-Brazilian and indigenous population migrated to big cities in the Southeast, some of which, like São Paulo, saw their populations increase fivefold over a period of a few decades.

The case of José Sarney, who would become the president of Brazil (1985-90) and three-time Senate President, is just one chapter in the 500-year-old story of how large rural landholders dominate Brazilian political and economic life, which is represented today in the largest political caucus in the Brazilian Congress, the ruralistas, whose majority recently voted to throw out massive corruption charges against current President Michel Temer.[1]

Unlike other former European colonies in the Americas, Brazil has never implemented agrarian reform. With the world’s most unequal land division, three per cent of the population owns approximately 2/3 of the arable land.[2] When former president João Goulart attempted to enact agrarian reform in 1964, he was thrown out of office in a U.S.-backed military coup.[3] As the resultant dictatorship approached its end in the early 1980s, a new peasant-based social movement arose in Rio Grande do Sul state, called the Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Worker’s Movement, MST). Incorporating theories from liberation theology and intellectuals like Paulo Freire, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci into practice, landless rural workers organized in groups to occupy fields of stolen land, resist eviction (sometimes fatally), and farm.[4] Using an innovative organizational structure of upwards and downwards democratic accountability through voluntary assemblies at the family, village, regional, state and national levels, the MST quickly spread across the country and now operates in all 26 Brazilian states, with “Friends of the MST” groups operating worldwide.

Although it has yet to reach its goal of enacting agrarian reform and building a socialist society, there are currently 400,000 families living and farming in MST agrarian reform villages across the county and the movement has successfully pressured the government to create a series of innovative policies, such as the Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos (Food Acquisition Program/PAA), ratified by former President Lula, which requires all public schools and hospitals in rural areas to purchase all food for their meal programs at subsidized prices from local family farmers.

The MST has a gender-balanced national directorate of 52 individuals, with two people elected periodically in each of its 26 state assemblies. Gilmar Mauro is a member of the national directorate, representing the state of São Paulo. I caught up with him at the MST national secretariat in São Paulo on August 25th, 2017, to talk about the current political context and its ramifications for small farmers.

What we sow is what we eat

By Michael Yates - Climate and Capitalism, September 19, 2017

I am lying in a meadow high in the Rocky Mountains. The sun is warm and comforting. I watch the clouds, puffy white in the blue sky, but soon pull a cap over my eyes and enter that state where thoughts swirl through your head and you don’t know if you’re sleeping or not.

While I rest, Karen is looking for wild strawberries. She has a remarkable eye for them, and has found the delicate plants everywhere from along the ocean in Nova Scotia to the volcanic highlands of the Big Island in Hawai’i. She remembers as she is searching the hard labor of picking the tiny berries as a girl, gathering enough for her mother to make jelly. No easy task as I have learned when she finds a patch big enough for me to collect some too.

When all you have ever eaten are the overly large and often woody and tasteless strawberries sold in grocery stores, putting a wild one in your mouth is a revelation. A gift from the earth, sweet, tart, wonderful, perfect. They leave your fingers smelling like, well, strawberries.

We’ve found many fruits on our hikes. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries sweet and sour, currants, huckleberries, apples, plums, even liliko’i (passion fruit), guava, lemons, and limes. Some like the berries grow wild. Others have flourished long after they were planted and then abandoned.

Seeing and tasting these gifts of nature can’t help but make you think of the foods most of us eat.  Heavily processed and full of salt, hydrogenated oil, and high fructose corn syrup; loaded with chemicals; laden with pesticides; grown on factory farms; treated like any other mass-produced products, aimed for the market with costs per unit low and profits high. Our crops are planted and harvested in this country by a largely black and brown workforce, poorly paid and forced to live in shacks and tents. They are poisoned, along with their children, every day they labor, and their life expectancy, in the United States, is barely fifty years. What it was when Edward R. Murrow’s documentary, Harvest of Shame, was shown on television in 1960. Much the same can be said about farm laborers anywhere in the world.

We depend on immigrants to feed us; and then blame them

By Jim Goodman - Capital Times, May 8, 2017

Resentment of immigrants in America probably began in 1492 when European explorers began the process of taming the wilderness in this “newly discovered” land. The Americans who were living here at the time always knew exactly where they were and, I am sure, had a decidedly different view of who needed taming.

Immigrant resentment has progressed ever since, with different ethnic groups targeted in different times for different reasons. Currently, Hispanics are targeted because they supposedly take our jobs and Muslims are targeted because many people cannot accept diversity.

Without a doubt, immigration issues affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The “big, beautiful” border wall, immigrants stealing American jobs, immigrant crime (immigrant crime rates are actually lower than the general population’s rate) — these lies had their intended effect.

Perhaps the current, intense resentment of immigrants began in the late 1980s when, as the U.S. economy faltered, Mexican immigration to the U.S. was increasing. The passage of the North American Free Trade agreement in 1993 and the subsequent dumping of subsidized U.S. corn into Mexico further hastened the migration of Mexican farmers to the U.S.

I remember driving in Phoenix Arizona, in 2006, a time when immigration had again become a hot button issue. I noted the Hispanic workers paving streets, building houses, working on power lines, mowing lawns, working in stores and restaurants — and wondered who would take care of these Arizonians if the immigrants were deported?

During this current wave of immigrant hatred, I again wonder: Who will do the work if immigrants are deported? The dairy industry is built on the shift to fewer and larger farms that depend on low-wage immigrants to produce the cheap food Americans demand.

People ask, “Why don’t farmers just pay more and hire American workers?” Wouldn’t this eliminate the need for immigrant workers?

It’s not that simple.

Transforming Society as Capitalism Crumbles: Lessons from Brazil’s Peasant Movement

By Rafael Soriano and Débora Nunes - In These Times, September 14, 2017

Brazil is facing a profound political and economic crisis since a coup d’etat overturned Dilma Roussef’s government in March of 2016. The new government is unrolling austerity policies that are eroding working families’ political gains by dismantling labor protections and social services and unleashing human rights abuses, including escalating assassinations of peasants and indigenous people. This political context—which shares characteristics with the U.S. climate under Donald Trump—is defined by a crisis of capitalism that resurfaced with the economic meltdown in the Global North that was initiated in 2008. 

Rafael Soriano, a member of MST’s Communications Collective, discussed this political climate with Débora Nunes, member of the National Directory of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, widely known by its Portuguese acronym MST. This social movement of peasants, rural workers and landless families reclaims land rights and struggles for a genuine agrarian reform that would benefit all Brazilians—and strives for deep social and political transformation.

In this interview, Nunes reflects on the danger and potential of this current moment, highlighting opportunities to build alternatives to capitalism as the current economic system flounders. Nunes underscores that people in Brazil “have great challenges to face the coup and its consequences,” and it is necessary to “better communicate and organize the masses."

Indonesia: global trade unions and NGOs back PepsiCo-linked palm oil workers in their fight for labour rights

By Nithin Coca - Equal Times, August 9, 2017

Research into palm oil plantations in Indonesia reveals that workers and their families are paid illegally low wages, are exposed to dangerous pesticides and face routine abuse so that the US food and beverage giant PepsiCo can make world-famous products such as Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, Cheetos and Lay’s potato chips. Now international trade unions and environmentalists have joined forces in their fight for workers’ rights.

The US-based International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a 1.4 million-member multi-sector union has, along with the International Union of Food Workers, mobilised in the battle against widespread labour and human rights violations on plantations run by Indofood, a major Indonesian partner of PepsiCo.

“Solidarity between workers in the United States and on plantations in Indonesia is very important because we need support to pressure PepsiCo to force Indofood to improve labour conditions,” says Herwin Nasution, executive director of the Indonesian union OPPUK (Organisasi Penguatan dan Pengembangan Usaha-Usaha Kerakyatan, which loosely translates to Organisation for the Strengthening and Development of Community Enterprises).

The Teamsters represent the approximately 20,000 PepsiCo workers at Pepsi beverage, Frito Lay and Quaker production facilities in the US, who were consulted on the decision to send letters to PepsiCo’s board and CEO Indra Nooyi.

“When our members hear stories about palm oil plantation workers in Indonesia - there being the presence of child labour, or illegally low wages and hazardous pesticides – [they understand],” Timothy Beaty, director of global strategies at the Teamsters, tells Equal Times.

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