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Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Farmworkers Say “Us Too,” Demanding Freedom From Sexual Violence

By Michelle Chen - In These Times, November 21, 2017

Ahead of the Thanksgiving feast, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) hit midtown Manhattan on Monday to face down the suits with chants of “Exploitation has got to go!” CIW was there to demand humane working conditions on their farms.

Peppered with brass-band musicians and street puppets, the protesters rallied at the New York, N.Y. offices of the fast food giant Wendy’s.

CIW members hoisted tomato and bucket-shaped picket signs with slogans like “freedom from sexual violence” and “Justicia” to face off against Wendy’s cheery, red pigtails. They demanded fair wages and freedom from violence and exploitation.

This week’s march, part of the coalition’s multi-city tour to promote its Fair Food labor protection program, put women workers at the frontlines, protesting the epidemic of sexual assault in agricultural labor, which affects as many as eight in ten women.

Decades before labor-relations courts and bureaucracy-laden contract negotiations, workplace disputes with powerful corporations were resolved with fists and clubs. And in Trump’s America, CIW workers are turning Florida’s vast tomato fields into the latest frontline in the struggle for the rights and dignity of immigrant communities.

“As farmworker women, this experience poses an incredibly hard choice; we don’t have another job, we have to suffer this abuse, because we have a family to maintain,” said organizer Lupe Gonzalo, speaking on the violence that stalks women working the fields, at an October gathering at a Minnesota theater. “Our silence is something we must grow accustomed to every day.”

Voices like Gonzalo’s rarely take the public spotlight in conversations on sexual violence and discrimination, but her words resonate deeply on the edges of the economy. As a minority in a male-dominated workforce, working in brutal, isolated conditions, women are exposed daily to sexual violence, be it coworkers’ harassment or rape by supervisors.

Although agribusiness corporations have historically failed to address sexual abuse in their supply chains, CIW members say they’ve virtually eliminated sexual harassment from the fields they’ve organized via targeted enforcement, broad-based monitoring and worker education efforts. Additionally, strong community support and the group’s pioneering Fair Food Program (FFP) has helped break the culture of silence in the fields by making women’s rights everybody’s business—from coworkers and neighbors all the way up to multinational restaurant chains.

Wendy’s is now the lone holdout among the large restaurant chains that CIW has pushed over the years to sign onto its FFP code of conduct. Since the 1990s, the group has marched on college campuses, rallied at corporate offices and lobbied on Capitol Hill to promote an innovative form of collective worker protection that has evolved into FFP's worker-led social responsibility system.

Though not a formal union contract, the program's model, which now protects some 35,000 workers, essentially provides a bill of rights for thousands of laborers in Florida’s heavily consolidated agribusiness sector to promote structural change at all levels of the industry. The binding agreement mandates that all companies in the supply chain—including growers and retailers—provide an additional penny-per-pound premium that is passed through to pickers. This adds a considerable amount to workers’ annual wages. Meanwhile, the agreement ensures enforceable standards for fair working conditions, job security through direct, long-term employment and due process for abuse complaints.

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.

Living Autonomy: Anarchists Organize Relief Efforts in Florida

By Rigole Rise - It's Going Down, September 20, 2017

Recently we spoke with Dezeray about her organizing with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR) in the weeks since Hurricane Irma and how spaces such as the hub in Tampa are crucial sites for building solidarity and stability during times of crisis. They’ve had an overwhelming amount of support from the local community, especially those who have realized the practice of mutual aid is a part of the work of anarchist, anti-fascist, and anti-racist struggles. The Reverend Dr. Russell Meyer from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Tampa—the church that has provided the building now known as “the hub,”—noted during a sermon following Hurricane Irma, “a week ago these people were known as Black Lives Matter, Antifa, Terrorists. Have you ever seen a terrorist show up to a child with Pedialyte in their hand?”

Although this has not deterred the actions of neo-Confederate groups such as Save Southern Heritage from standing outside across the street taking pictures, filming, and documenting those who enter the space. In the days following Hurricane Irma Alt-Right 4chan users trolled the MADR hotline by making false rescue reports to take away time and resources from those actually in need. 3% Percenters have tried numerous times to call or show up in the space and say there was an emergency, state multiple people were coming to collect all of the supplies, along with a number of other faulty narratives all trying to disrupt their work because of the power that it holds.

With a visit by Richard Spencer in Gainesville, Florida at the University of Florida set for October 19th, a number of Alt-Right white supremacists have already been discussing on 4chan how they are going to use “Stand Your Ground” laws as an excuse to slaughter anti-fascists and turn it into a bloodbath. It is crucial to see how we can learn from and support projects such as these, as the organizers involved are experiencing repression, threats of physical violence, and doxxing for doing this crucial work and need our solidarity now more than ever.

Autonomy in Tampa, Solidarity in Immokalee: Love Letter to the Future

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, September 17, 2017

Thankfully, Tampa did not get “punched in the face” as much as anticipated. Still, if you are in the Tampa Bay area and need medical assistance or food/water/debris cleanup, or want to act in solidarity with your neighbors, or both! you can come to 5107 N. Central Ave, right next to St. Paul Lutheran Church. We are facilitating debris cleanup crews, providing first aid, engaging in mobile supplies distribution and more. We have cut down trees, removed debris, comforted neighbors, bought life saving medications, cleaned out fridges, put a family that didn’t have one up in a safe home. No Bureaucracy. No red tape. In St Pete, community-based relief efforts are coalescing at St Pete Community Acupuncture.  And similar efforts are underway throughout Florida. If you are coming from out of the area, you are welcome at these locations, but know that Tampa itself is back to “normal” for most of its residents – very far from an apocalyptic atmosphere. But we are using the Tampa convergence center to do relief efforts throughout the state focusing on harder hit, historically marginalized communities, including migrant farmworker and indigenous communities.

The Mutual Aid Disaster Relief convergence center in Tampa is growing by the hour. The first aid station has grown into a wellness center, including acupuncture, trauma counseling, peer support, herbal medics, and other alternative medicine modalities. Local community members know to drop off hurricane supplies that they didn’t need. Community members also know to come here if supplies are needed. And that these supplies can be received with dignity. Here, there are no powerful givers of aid and powerless receivers of aid. We are undermining that dynamic in a process that contributes to the liberation and consciousness-raising of everybody involved. Mobile distros base out of the space, channel their inner Robin Hood, and reach across Florida with supplies, especially to historically marginalized communities. We have funneled over 10 tons of food, water, diapers, and other supplies to hard-hit Immokalee, FL. a migrant farmworker town.

In Immokalee, we are working at the request of and in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human rights, farmworker justice movement with deep roots in the community. Immokalee expects to be without power for weeks to come and food in the city is scarce. Other needs are self-standing already functional photovoltaic solar arrays, solar generators, other solar equipment, phone battery packs, large tarps, screening for windows, bug spray, mobile kitchens, and medics to staff the first aid station we constructed. In Tampa, we have partnered with Tampa Black Lives Matter, Tampa Food Not Bombs, Love Has No Borders, Islamic Relief, Suncoast Antifa, Tampa DSA, The Refuge, Tampa Bay Dream Defenders, Organize Now, POCA Clinics, Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition, and many other organizations with decades of community organizing experience in the Tampa Bay area to not only effectively and efficiently address the disaster of Irma, but also the ongoing disasters of social and economic inequality. Speaking of which, anti-refugee Floridians who crossed the border into other states to escape disaster: think about what this would be like if we weren’t allowed access to safety. That is a reality for many trying to flee war, natural disaster, and poverty. Borders are violent.

Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes

By Michael Colby - CounterPunch, July 21, 2017

It was twenty years ago last month that Food & Water published our report on Vermont’s atrazine addiction, a toxic herbicide that is banned in Europe but continues to be used in abundance on Vermont’s 92,000 acres of GMO-derived feed corn – all for dairy cows. We used the report to get the attention of Ben & Jerry’s, and it worked. We thought when the doors swung open to the offices of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield themselves that we’d be able to make the case to them.

Our plea at the time was the same as it is today: Ben & Jerry’s should practice what it preaches and help transition its farmers to organic production. If they took the lead, we argued, the entire state could begin a transition away from the kind of industrial, commodity-based dairy system that is wreaking so much havoc with Vermont’s agriculture – and culture. It’s a system that is doing exactly what it was designed to do: chase small farmers off the land by de-valuing production. And so it has been, for decades, an economic death spiral in which less and less is paid for more and more of the commodity product, in this case: milk.

We thought the obvious imbalance – and even direct, outright hypocrisy – between what Ben & Jerry’s was doing and what they were saying would be enough to get these do-good hippies to do the right thing. We were using logic. Because, certainly, the corporation that wanted to “save the planet” and “put the planet before profits” would want to stop being one of the state’s top polluters, right?

Wrong.

We were told at the time, by Ben himself, after a year’s worth of meetings and even an offer of a job to me “to work with us instead of going after us,” that Ben & Jerry’s was not going to transition to organic because it wouldn’t allow them to “maximize profits.” Quick, throw another tie-dyed shirt to the crowd! Or launch a new flavor! Send some ice cream to the schools! Anything, just get the attention off of what Ben & Jerry’s is doing to its homeland, and our homeland – all to maximize its profits.

This was all before they sold out to Unilever, when Cohen and Greenfield still had all the power they needed to do the right thing. But, even then, the harsh reality of profits over ideals was firmly in place, with the belief that if they could convince people that eating ice cream would bring world peace, they could convince them of anything. There was nothing that a little groovy marketing couldn’t fix.

It has, of course, only grown worse under Unilever in terms of corporate accountability and transparency. All the big decisions regarding Ben & Jerry’s are now made from Unilever’s London headquarters, where it also shepherds more than a dozen other billion-dollar-plus brands. But its corporate stand on most everything associated with the gross injustices of its dairy sourcing – from migrant labor exploitation to cow abuse to rural economic plunder – remains exactly the same: stay wedded to cheap, commodity milk, reject an organic transition, and keep relying on marketing to trump the nasty realities. Free cones!

Turns out, those free-cone days that Ben & Jerry’s rolls out every year for Vermonters aren’t so free, nor are the grants they provide to so many environmental and economic justice groups. With each lick and each cash of the foundation check, Ben & Jerry’s expects loyalty to its carefully orchestrated charade: the consumption of high-fat, pesticide-laden, climate-threatening, cow-abusing ice cream produced with the labor of exploited migrant workers all leads to social and ecological justice for all! Come on, people, really?

But let’s keep looking behind the curtain.

Poverty Wages, Deportations, Wage Theft, Cockroaches: Farmworkers Demand Dignity From Ben & Jerry's

By Jonathan Leavitt, Truthout - July 12, 2017

More than 200 farmworkers and allies marched on the Ben & Jerry's factory Saturday, June 17, to demand that the ice cream corporation with $600 million in annual revenue implement "Milk with Dignity." On their 13-mile march from Vermont's statehouse to the tourist-laden ice cream factory, farmworkers told of illegally withheld wages in the Ben & Jerry's supply chain, 40 percent of farmworkers not getting minimum wage, 40 percent not getting a day off a week, exhaustion from insufficient sleep, a lack of clean water and cockroach-infested housing.

"Take our 30-minute guided factory tour and learn how we make ice cream and how we put our values into action at every step of the process," beckons Ben & Jerry's. Yet, just past the police SUVs, the discontinued ice cream "flavor graveyard," families of out-of-state tourists, and Ben & Jerry's employees in their corporation's iconic tie-dyed t-shirts, Migrant Justice members told subaltern stories of hardship -- once invisible labor made visible. Victor Diaz, a farmworker in the Ben & Jerry's supply chain, says the hugely profitable ice cream giant has a responsibility to do something for farmworkers like him who work 13- to 14-hour days. "I can tell you there's still no dignity and justice in the Ben & Jerry's supply chain."

Since the Milk with Dignity campaign began in 2015, farmworkers have streamed into Migrant Justice's assemblies deep in rural Vermont, having heard of the promise of "the bonus" -- the funding which Ben & Jerry's would pay to ensure dignity in their supply chain. That promise has turned to frustration with a corporation as famous for its social justice image as its Cherry Garcia ice cream that has yet to implement Milk with Dignity, the "worker defined social responsibility" program, which the multinational ice cream giant pledged to enact in July 2015.

"The three weeks I was detained [by Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and the time my compañeros were detained affected me personally, but we've come out of it even more committed to keep fighting," said Miguel Alcudia, a member of Migrant Justice, walking beside Vermont's bucolic Route 2.

An ancillary benefit of the march for Alcudia is, "to let consumers know that inside Ben & Jerry's supply chain, there's injustice and exploitation of workers." Like so many Vermont migrant farmworkers, Alcudia had his wages illegally withheld. Redolent with pest infestations and cockroaches, Alcudia's precarious housing is just above the dairy cows themselves.

With individual farm owners being subject to monolithic ice cream and cheese corporations' milk pricing, farmworkers are left to organize not just inside a single workplace but on an industrial scale to win justice, a classic example of what labor journalist Josh Eidelson describes as the "Who's the Boss" problem. Just as fast-food strikes have brought about joint employer liability for McDonald's for the labor conditions inside its franchise restaurants, so too, farmworkers have used direct actions in an attempt to leverage the largest corporation in the Vermont dairy industry to raise standards across the supply chain.

Farmworkers' capacity to win justice is complicated by a racialized exclusion from the National Labor Relations Act, the bureaucratic legal framework which regulates the labor movement. Following the Trump administration's executive orders on immigration, emboldened Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have used the mass deportation infrastructure created under the Obama administration to target prominent Migrant Justice organizers.

Migrant Justice has a history of people-powered victories which expand rights for farmworkers, of developing transformative leaders, and defending their leaders from ICE deportation proceedings.

EcoUnionist News #114

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 27, 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 #113

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 19, 2016

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

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

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An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

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Wobbles:

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EcoUnionist News #112

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 12, 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:

EcoUnionist News #107

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 7, 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:

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