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agricultural workers and peasants

Climate Change at Work

By NRDC - Grist, July 19, 2022

Last summer, the Pacific Northwest was hit by a once-in-a-millenium heat dome. While temperatures were higher than ever recorded, L.A.* was outside, working Washington’s blueberry harvest. (Fearing potential work repercussions, L.A. did not wish to be identified by her full name.) Soon, she was dehydrated, dizzy, and vomiting. Her minor son, who was also working in the field out in the heat, got a bloody nose and headache. When the harvest was moved to the middle of the night to avoid the most intense heat—”to protect the fruit, not the workers,” L.A. says—her friend cut herself badly laboring in the dark. 

Whether it’s heatwaves, wildfire smoke, or attempts to adapt that create new hazards, the climate crisis is exacerbating risks for America’s workers. From home health aides and school teachers to construction and farm workers, people across the country are now facing compounding challenges on the widening frontlines of the climate crisis. Yet federal protections for the workplace have not kept pace.

During California’s recent wildfires, shocking photos emerged of farmworkers harvesting grapes in California vineyards under an orange-tinged sky. That may be one of the most visible examples of people being forced to work in dangerous conditions, but it’s far from the only climate-related health risk employees regularly face. “The reality is that millions of workers—across our society—are being exposed to multiple environmental stressors all at once, including searing heat and toxic air pollution,” says Dr. Vijay Limaye, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 

For instance, Limaye explains that the formation of ground level ozone—air pollution formed in the atmosphere from building blocks including emissions from burning coal, oil, and gas—is intensified by hotter temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting exposure limits, but the agency’s models often don’t account for compounding circumstances or cumulative impacts. While the EPA sets some legal limits for ozone, for example, outdoor workers are frequently exposed to smog and extreme temperatures simultaneously. From a health risk perspective, “the sum is often greater than the parts,” Limaye says.

New Zealand-EU: another free trade agreement against European farmers

By Morgan Ody, Andoni García Arriola, and Antonio Onorati - La Via Campesina, July 4, 2022

The European Commission concluded negotiations on a free trade deal with New Zealand on Thursday 30th of June. The European Commission is talking about a deal that “contains unprecedented sustainability provisions and that takes into account the interests of EU producers of sensitive agricultural products”.

But for the European Coordination of Via Campesina (ECVC), the voice of peasant’s farmers in Europe, this deal is still based on the obsolete trade paradigm, in which agricultural products are used in exchange with other commodities, disregarding the climate crisis and the income crisis European farmers are facing. With this additional free trade agreement the Commission loses all credibility in its proposals for the European Green Deal and the F2F by continuing to prioritize the agro-export business and the elites that benefit from it over the necessary changes that farmers, citizens and the planet need.

It is well known that New Zealand has much lower production costs than Europe for some animal products, such as milk, sheep and beef meat, which tend to depress world market prices. Opening new markets with New Zealand will impact even more the agricultural price crisis and farmers’ income crisis in Europe. Furthermore, New Zealand does not apply environmental, animal welfare and climate standards in the same way as European farmers do.

“How can such an agreement that includes sensitive agricultural products which can be sustainably and agroecologically produced in our territories be compatible with the Paris Agreement? Today, such kinds of agreements do not make any sense anymore” says Andoni García Arriola member of the coordinating committee of ECVC. “Agricultural trade should be considered as a sensitive sector and dealt separately from other trade commodities. The priority should be the construction of market regulation mechanisms that allow farmers everywhere in the world to get a fair income for producing for local sustainable food systems.”

“In the context of the current international food crisis and in order to reach the Farm to Fork objectives the EU should instead be engaging at an international level to promote a new Global Multilateral Framework for Executing International Trade, based on Peoples’ Food Sovereignty principles and per the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP)”, says Morgan Ody, General coordinator of the peasant international movement La Via Campesina. For more information on La Via Campesina’s position, you can read this statement following the WTO negotiations here.

As heat rises, who will protect farmworkers?

By Bridget Huber, Nancy Averett and Teresa Cotsirilos - Food & Environment Reporting Network, June 29, 2022

Last June, as a record-breaking heatwave baked Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Sebastian Francisco Perez was moving irrigation lines at a large plant nursery in 104 degree Fahrenheit heat. When he didn’t appear at the end of his shift, his co-workers went looking for him, and found him collapsed between rows of trees. Investigators from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division determined that Perez died of heat-related hyperthermia and dehydration. 

They also found that Perez had not been provided with basic information about how to protect himself from the heat. It wasn’t the farm’s first brush with regulators; it had previously been cited for failing to provide water and toilets to its workers. Later, in a closed conference with Oregon OSHA, an Ernst Nursery & Farms official blamed Perez for his own death, claiming that employees should “be accountable for how they push their bodies.”

This year, in a move to avert similar deaths — and force employers to take responsibility for protecting workers during hot weather — Oregon adopted the most stringent heat protections for outdoor workers in the country. The rule kicks in when temperatures reach 80 degrees F and requires employers to provide cool water, rest breaks and shade, as well as to make plans for how to acclimatize workers to heat, prevent heat illness and seek help in case of an emergency. 

The new standard has been praised by advocates, but industry is already pushing back. On June 15, the day the rule took effect, a coalition of Oregon business groups representing more than 1,000 companies filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the heat standard and another new rule governing workers’ exposure to wildfire smoke, arguing that they are unconstitutional. But the rules stand for now, making Oregon the third state to enact such standards for outdoor workers, after California and Washington. 

In the rest of the country, as climate change drives increasingly brutal heat waves, farmworkers lack protection. How they fare will largely depend on whether their employers voluntarily decide to provide the access to water, shade, and rest breaks that are critical when working in extreme heat. There are currently no nationwide regulations that spell out what employers must do to protect workers from heat and, while efforts to draft a federal rule recently began, it will likely be years before the standards are in place.

La Via Campesina calls on States to exit the WTO and to create a new framework based on food sovereignty

By staff - La Via Campesina, June 15, 2022

La Via Campesina, the global peasant movement representing the voices of more than 200 million small-scale peasants from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, has been mobilizing all week against the WTO. The food crisis that is currently hitting the world is further proof that free trade – far from bringing about food security – is making people starve.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has once again failed to offer a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security purposes. For more than eight years, rich countries have been blocking concrete proposals from African and Asian members of the G33 in this regard.

Jeongyeol Kim, from the Korean Women Peasant’s Association and an International Coordination Committee (ICC) member of La Via Campesina, points out that:

“Free Trade Fuels Hunger. After 27 years under the rule of the WTO, this conclusion is clear. It is time to keep agriculture out of all Free Trade Agreements. The pandemic, and the shock and disruptions induced by war have made it clear that we need a local and national food governance system based on people, not agribusinesses. A system that is built on principles of solidarity and cooperation rather than competition, coercion, and geopolitical agendas.”

Bankers Are Driving the Wheat Price Explosion, Not the War in Ukraine

By Matteo Tiratelli - Red Green Labour, May 19, 2022

In late March, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that the war in Ukraine risked unleashing a “hurricane of global hunger”. With climate change-induced droughts in east Africa and intense heatwaves in India, they feared that a war in Europe’s most fertile and productive region could compound the situation and lead to food shortages on an unprecedented scale. The UN’s concerns were made terrifyingly concrete earlier this month, when the World Food Programme estimated that “44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation”.

The problem is, this narrative – that war and climate change are leading to mass starvation – is wrong.

The recent news cycle has been driven by the explosion in the price of wheat, which has gone from $7.58 per bushel at the start of the year to nearly $12 a few months later. But the prices of basic commodities are extremely volatile. And these spikes have little to do with the amount of food going around, or how much people are eating. Instead, they are driven by financial speculation.

Engineers and Technicians at Nitricity Inc., a leader in fertilizer production, unionize

By Max Baru - IWW.ORG, April 30, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO, California — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is proud to announce that a team of engineers and technicians building the future of sustainable fertilizer production have recently organized with majority support. On February 7, 2022 they filed for union certification under the banner of the IWW and began the election process.

Nitricity Inc., whose mission is to decarbonize the fertilizer industry, is building solar-fertilizer production assets to electrify one of the world's most important industries.

The chemical sector is highly unionized in every industrialized country in the world, except the United States. Experience shows that the improved levels of communication and organization which result from a unionized workforce lead to greater competitiveness, productivity, and innovation.

The workers at Nitricity are excited to collaborate to build a workplace with equitable treatment, benefits, and pay for all employees.

“One thing that really drew me to Nitricity is that the technology is much more mature than other startups I've seen. It's proven tech with a lot of potential, and an exciting project to work on. I also feel that the company's goal is an important one, since 5-8% of all global emissions are caused by fertilizer production and application. I think unionization is the right move, because it streamlines workplace interactions and frees us up to focus on the company's mission.” - Isaac Jackel

Nitricity Workers Launch Rare Union Drive at Start-up

By Shelby N - Indusrtial Worker, April 29, 2022

The fight for unionization continues at Nitricity, a San Francisco-based start-up company that produces fertilizer. A union election held on April 6 split 5-5 between supporters and opponents, with a single, currently uncounted vote remaining.

A variety of unsafe working conditions and lack of health insurance initially led the workers of Nitricity to begin organizing their union with the Industrial Workers of the World. Early attempts to negotiate with management prior to the unionization effort were met with limited success. Workers’ input on suitable healthcare plans, for example, was ultimately ignored.

Soon after launching their union drive with the IWW, workers also discovered unfair pay disparities. Their efforts continue to be supported by the San Francisco Bay Area IWW, which helped prepare them for anti-union attacks and to organize their own pro-union actions, such as marching on management.

Nitricity workers have endured an array of anti-union tactics. Talk of how workers and management are a team, warnings that the union is a “third party” that won’t actually represent workers and threats that the business may be unsuccessful if a union is formed were all deployed to dissuade workers from organizing. Management even hired anti-union consultants to help quash the workers’ efforts.

“They claimed that if we unionize — and if we unionize specifically with the IWW, with its very anti-capitalist stance — then venture capitalists will be more hesitant or outright deny providing funding,” says Jackson Wong, a research and development technician and union member at Nitricity.

Workers, however, don’t believe these threats to be credible, due to the continued interest from investors that they have observed firsthand.

Nitricity workers attribute the split union vote to management misclassifying one of their coworkers as a supervisor. The worker was allowed to vote, but it does not count toward certification of the union at this time.

“This person does not have hiring-firing power,” says Wong. “They don’t have the power to control salary, take disciplinary measures — anything that’s listed in that part of the National Labor Relations Act.”

#8March – Declaration of the Peasant Women of La Via Campesina Southern and Eastern Africa

By staff - La Via Campesina, March 31, 2022

Declaration of working women of La Via Campesina and Allies during the two days’ workshop held at MVIWATA Headquarters, Morogoro, Tanzania

We women, representing our fellow working women from the smallholder farmers’ organizations from 10 countries under the umbrella of La Via Campesina, Political parties and Social movements from various African countries including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Ghana and Eswatini.

Our two days meeting aimed to advance our struggles and we have identified the following:

  1. Despite the differences we have in terms of cultures, geography and environmental conditions, together we have similar challenges that require our unity and solidarity in addressing it including the right to acquire, own and use land, commercialization of women bodies and social services including education, water, and health; the increasing violence against women and children and the general oppression of the working class, especially working women. This manifest itself in various forms of economic, social, physical and psychological.
  • These challenges are systemic and are indicative of the system’s failure to recognize and protect working women and their rights in economic, social, political and cultural spheres.
  • The existing women and men relationship are the product of a wide-ranging system of exploitation and oppression whose signs and symptoms manifest themselves in the face of increasing sexual violence especially against women, exploitation of one sex by the other, mistrust between the two sexes. The rising assumption that these two sexes are enemies, the collapse of family values ​​and the disintegration of families with the aim of pursuing employment.
  • That oppressive systems, hidden within neo-liberal policies and that use a man as a tool to abuse women through patriarchy that manifests itself through various economic, social, cultural and political relations in our society have continued to affect us and our society as a whole.
  • Gender-based violence has long and deep roots rooted in the patriarchal system that has been plagued, created and expanded over the years and so the revolution of that system is the solution to violence against women.
  • The solution to these challenges is a systematic change to create equal rights that require strategies built through unity and solidarity of peasant women and men, activists and all friends who support the struggle to overthrow the abusive, oppressive and perpetual system of violence against women.

#8M2022: Break the Bias, says National Farmers Union, Canada

By staff - La Via Campesina, March 10, 2022

Women grow much of the world’s food, often on small scale farms and often to feed our own local communities, but too often the word farmer is associated with men. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Break the Bias. Under this theme we are all asked to imagine and work towards a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. We are asked to come together to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive world where difference is valued and celebrated.

To Break the Bias, we as women farmers need our stories and experiences told and shared, not just among ourselves but with the wider community. We need to hear and celebrate the stories of a diversity of women farmers and food growers, including from those of us who are part of BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. 

But we are aware that increasingly in Canada and around the world, the journalists who can help us Break the Bias by learning about and better understanding each other as well as the power struggles and structures which aim to maintain the bias, are facing intimidation, abuse and harassment. In Canada in the last few months, we have seen female photojournalists, reporters and opinion writers arrested, subjected to online hate and threats of violence, and sent death threats. Around the world women journalists and journalists from Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) and 2SLGBTQ+ backgrounds are too often subjected to intimidation, online harassment and threats of violence. Journalists from diverse backgrounds have important experience when it comes to understanding and sharing our diverse stories and experiences. As women farmers and women from rural communities our stories and experiences are already too often not told and too often deemed unimportant.

As we strive to Break the Bias, on this International Women’s Day, we are calling on each of us to speak out against the initimidation, online harassment and threats of violence against women jounalists in Canada and around the world. The National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling for support for a diversity of women journalists across alternative and mainstream media, in the hope these women will help us tell our stories as women farmers and food growers committed to food sovereignty.

Farmworkers and Firefighters Are on the Front Lines of Climate-Fueled Catastrophe

By Lin Nelson - Labor Notes, February 14, 2022

Despite the short flurry of support (it seems so long ago) for workers on the front lines, many of the folks who help hold our health and the economy together feel abandoned and used up. The Covid calamity and the escalating climate crisis are creating worker sacrifice zones.

In December, more than 700 workers and allies from across the country made their way (online) to the 10th annual Council on Occupational Safety and Health conference, where they shared stories about the conditions that make going to work a risky affair.

Heat and climate were major threads. We might be in the chill-blast of winter now, but we remember the summer’s heat, from fires in British Columbia to evacuated towns in Oregon to the blistering heat in Washington farmlands.

Outdoor workers were at the center of risk this year. Many were sent into floods and fires—to harvest food, to fight the infernos in the West, or to do dangerous storm cleanup throughout the South and Midwest.

These workers grappled with urgent but often inaccessible health alerts about temperature, air quality, signs of heat stress and fire risk. Many didn’t have the benefit of unions, protective legislation, or functioning public agencies, and faced reprimand or firing if they spoke up about their concerns.

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