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agricultural workers and peasants

Victory against Manchin’s “Dirty Deal”!

By Larry Williams, Jr. - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 30, 2022

Dear friends,

We’re celebrating the recent defeat of US Senator Joe Manchin’s “Dirty Deal.” This was a proposal to undermine environmental reviews and fast-track fossil fuel projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Today, we’d like to lift up the board members of the Labor Network for Sustainability who fought tooth and nail to oppose this Dirty Deal. LNS Board Members Jennifer Krill and Edgar Franks recently joined an action in the Hart Senate Building in Washington DC, in which Jennifer was arrested in an act of civil disobedience to oppose the deal.

Jennifer Krill stated: “Prioritizing the climate crisis means prioritizing environmental justice. Legislation that leads to more drilling and mining is precisely the kind of political side-dealing that has set us back from meeting our urgent climate goals. We’re grateful that members of Congress have taken action to stop the exploitation of frontline communities and stand up to the fossil fuel and mining industries. Congress has sacrificed people for corporate profits for far too long.”

Edgar Franks stated: “We as a farmworker union want to stand on the side of environmental justice. We are one of the communities that are bearing the brunt of climate change and also some of the most disenfranchised politically. The Dirty Deal was filled with mechanisms that further widen the divide where we will continue to be sacrificed for profits to the fossil fuel industry. We look for the time where we will not have to pit environment over jobs. As unions we need to be present and demand real solutions that are led by affected communities.”

But of course, this victory does not belong to us. It belongs to the many environmental justice leaders from across the country who’ve taken a stand against the Dirty Deal. It belongs to the communities in the Gulf of Mexico and coastal Alaska and everywhere in between. And it belongs to you.

To every member of the Labor Network for Sustainability—thank you. Whether you signed a petition, emailed or called your Senator, marched in a rally, risked arrest, or donated to support the cause, this is your victory.

We know the fight’s not over. Manchin will stop at nothing to cater to the fossil fuel industry, and we expect him to try to force through a similar deal later this year. But in the meantime, we can celebrate this moment and take stock of all we hold dear.

Thanks for being part of this movement.

'Incredible Victory': California Gov. Newsom Signs Farmworker Unionization Bill Into Law

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, September 29, 2022

After vetoing similar legislation last year and threatening to do so again last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed Assembly Bill 2183 into law, making it easier for farmworkers in the state to participate in union elections.

The Democratic governor's about-face on the measure represents a major victory for labor leaders. It follows a monthslong push by United Farm Workers of America (UFW) and the California Labor Federation (CLF) and comes in the wake of pressure from President Joe Biden and two high-ranking national Democrats with California ties—Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"This is an incredible victory," said UFW president Teresa Romero. "Starting next year, farmworkers can participate in elections free from intimidation and deportations. ¡Sí se puede!"

A.B. 2183, which the CLF called "the most consequential private sector organizing bill in our state's history," gives farmworkers a streamlined way to unionize without having to cast a ballot at a polling place on or near growers' property following a monthslong anti-union campaign.

Three Workers Dead in Grain Silo, Including a Child. OSHA Can Do Nothing

By Jordan Barab - Confined Space, September 22, 2022

In what may be the largest mass casualty workplace event this year, three workers were killed after being trapped in a grain silo in Pennsylvania. The workers included a 47-year-old, a 19-year-old and a 14-year-old. A 16-year-old boy died at the same farm in March when he was trapped under a horse-drawn manure spreader that weighed more than 10 tons.

And despite the high death toll and age of the workers, neither OSHA nor the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division (which enforces child labor laws) can do anything about it.

The Center Daily Times reports that Andrew Beiler, 47, and his two sons — a 19-year-old and a 14-year-old whose names were not released — died of asphyxiation from “silo gas.” Apparently, “One of Beiler’s sons was working in the silo when his father checked on him, Michael said, citing first responder reports. The eldest Beiler jumped in to help, but was overcome by the gas. His second son followed, but was also overcome.”

Rescuers dying when trying to rescue the original victims is not uncommon in confined space or trenching incidents. Before OSHA’s confined space standard was issued in 1993, more rescuers died in confined spaces than initial victims.

Grain silos are well known death traps that kill dozens of workers, often children, every year. When grain gets stuck, workers often go in at the top of a silo to loosen the grain or “walk it down.” But when the grain starts flowing, it can suck the worker down like quick sand causing suffocation. Often multiple workers die when others go into the grain in an attempt to rescue the first victim. Although there has been no investigation yet, these deaths are currently being blamed on “silo gas” (usually carbon dioxide or nitrogen dioxide) which forms when grain decomposes and can result in a person collapsing and dying within minutes, either due to oxygen displacement or toxicity.

OSHA’s grain handling standard requires employers to protect workers by training them, stop the conveyor system that moves grain at the bottom of the silo, use safety harnesses and provide a trained observer to respond to trouble. The standard also requires the air to be tested before entry and that the silo be ventilated.

Global Climate Jobs Conference: Food and Farming

The Youth in Peasant Agroecology: Peasant Agroecology Achieves Climate Justice

Nyéléni Newsletter: Food Sovereignty and Agrobiodiversity

By staff - La Via Campesina, September 12, 2022

The new edition of the Nyéléni newsletter is online! 

At a time when the media is sounding the alarm on high prices and shortages due to the war in Europe, even if there is not always an exact correlation, we are once again questioning the information that places large corporations as the suppliers of most of our food. Anchored to this fabricated image, the industrial agri-food system pushes a new assault on agriculture with the digitalisation of its processes, promotes “carbon sequestration” based on so-called “nature-based solutions”, continues its drive to control and regulate supply chains to benefit its interests, and even seeks to supplant the attempts of peasants in many parts of the world by sponsoring an “agroecology” that is now promoted by the same corporations and investment funds that for centuries have stripped peasants of the possibilities of an independent agriculture.

We are therefore committed to defending our Food Sovereignty: the possibility of being able to reproduce our seeds on our terms and in our spaces, i.e., in full freedom, and to maintain our total independence in producing our own food. For this, it will remain crucial to challenge land grabbing and to insist on autonomy and on the defence of peasant and Indigenous territories and even urban spaces of popular self-management within neighbourhoods.

IPC for Food Sovereignty, FoEI and GRAIN

Click here to download the English edition or read it directly in the website at www.nyeleni.org For any further information, contact info@nyeleni.org

Circulate it!

“It’s time to transform” LVC welcomes the UN Special Rapporteur’s report on COVID-19 and the right to food

By staff - La Via Campesina, September 6, 2022

After more than two years, the COVID-19 pandemic is still a reality in our daily lives. More people today still bear the brunt of the pandemic with health restrictions, limited access to markets, worsening hunger and poverty, inequality, and also repression to people’s fundamental rights. During this period, hundreds of millions of people have contracted COVID-19, and over six million people succumbed to death. For peasants and other people living in rural areas, the pandemic has shown the importance of local, peasants’ food systems that are feeding the people and preventing widespread hunger. It is time to transform. The rights of people, dignity, and solidarity, not profits, should be the foundation of the new society post-pandemic.

In similar notes, Michael Fakhri, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, examines the emerging issues concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and the right to food. The report, entitled “The right to food and the coronavirus disease pandemic” (document A/77/177, available in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian).

In this report, Fakhri summarizes the current situation of pandemic and framing the problem during pandemic times: especially the lack of concerted actions by governments all over the globe and the exacerbated situations done by corporations in putting profits first before humanity. The Special Rapporteur goes further showing the fragility of our general food systems in these pandemic times, highlighting that “[The pandemic] has underlined the value of sharing and solidarity, and the importance of the application of traditional, local knowledge in times of extreme hardship. Communities persevered when they were not exclusively dependent on food value chain operations for their food security. Resilient solutions included localized markets, public food reserves and associated public food distribution systems, mutual assistance and the sharing of food, as well as jut transition to agroecology [as a means for adapting to climate change].”

The report benefited from a series of regional consultations with civil society and inputs from Member States of the United Nations. Therefore it is worth to mention that just transition for workers was raised as one of the solutions for immediate response to the pandemic and the current food crisis, along with upholding land rights and genuine agrarian reform, curtailing corporate power, developing action plans on the right to food based on the principles of solidarity, self-sufficiency, and dignity, addressing debt crisis and financial needs, and ensuring that international trade law and policy create fair and stable markets.

The important report also makes good references to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), provisions from International Labour Organization (ILO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), also the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

What It Will Take to Build a Broad-Based Movement for a Just Transition: Environmental and labor organizers reflect on hard-won lessons

Images and words by David Bacon - Sierra, August 31, 2022

In 2020, Washington State passed the Climate Commitment Act, and when it went into effect on January 1, 2022, Rosalinda Guillen was appointed to its Environmental Justice Council. The appointment recognized her role as one of Washington's leading advocates for farmworkers and rural communities.

Guillen directs Community2Community Development, a women-led group encouraging farmworker cooperatives and defending labor rights. She has a long history as a farm labor organizer and in 2013 helped form a new independent union for farmworkers, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Guillen agreed to serve on the council but with reservations. She feared that the law's implementation would be dominated by some of the state's most powerful industries: fossil fuels and agriculture. 

"Its market-based approach focuses too much on offsets,” she says. “Allowing polluting corporations to pay to continue to pollute is a backward step in achieving equity for rural people living in poverty for generations." Just as important to her, however, is that while the law provides funding for projects in pollution-impacted communities, it doesn't look at the needs of workers displaced by the changes that will occur as the production and use of fossil fuels is reduced.

The impact of that reduction won't affect just workers in oil refineries but farmworkers as well. "The ag industry is part of the problem, not just the fossil fuel industry," Guillen says. "They're tied together. Ag's monocrop system impacts the ecological balance through the use of pesticides, the pollution of rivers and clearing forests. As farmworkers, this law has everything to do with our miserable wages, our insecure jobs, and even how long we'll live. The average farmworker only lives to 49 years old, and displacement will make peoples' lives even shorter." 

The key to building working-class support for reducing carbon emissions, she believes, is a commitment from political leaders and the environmental and labor movements that working-class communities will not be made to pay for the transition to a carbon-free economy with job losses and increased poverty. But the difficulties in building that alliance and gaining such a commitment were evident in the defeat of an earlier Washington State initiative, and the fact that the Climate Commitment Act lacked the protections that initiative sought to put in place. 

In Washington State fields, at California oil refineries, and amid local campaigns around the country, this is the big strategic question in coalition building between the labor and environmental movements: Who will pay the cost of transitioning to a green economy? 

Some workers and unions see the danger of climate change as a remote problem, compared with the immediate loss of jobs and wages. Others believe that climate change is an urgent crisis and that government policy should protect jobs and wages as a transition to a fossil-fuel-free economy takes place. Many environmental justice groups also believe that working-class communities, especially communities of color, should not have to shoulder the cost of a crisis they did not create. And in the background, always, are efforts by industry to minimize the danger of climate change and avoid paying the cost of stopping it. 

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.

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