Farmworkers at Forefront of the Struggle for Food Sovereignty
Farmworker resistance and organizing is increasing. In September of 2014, the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers was awarded the Global Citizen Award for defending the human rights of farmworkers across the United States. [1. “Clinton Global Initiative Honors Coalition of Immokalee Workers with Global Citizen Award,” Gandhi’s Be Magazine, Accessed Oct. 15, 2014, http://www.bemagazine.org/?p=10149.] Today, October 15th, the Bellingham, Washington-based farmworker organization Community to Community (C2C) will receive the Sixth Annual Food Sovereignty Prize along with the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC). If we are to build a genuinely sustainable and just food system in the United States and globally, those most affected by the food system’s injustices must be at the forefront of the struggle. Thus, it is fitting that this year’s food sovereignty prize be awarded to C2C—a women-led, place-based, grassroots organization working towards restoring justice to food, land, and cultural practices.
Food and farm workers are often rendered voiceless within the current food system—particularly the hundreds of thousands of primarily Mexican and Central American immigrants who seek employment in the United States. Yet our food system is dependent on the hard work of undocumented immigrants, and exploits their vulnerability to keep production costs low. The lack of economic opportunities in their home countries—often stemming from free trade agreements like NAFTA that undermine their local economies—brings these workers to US farms, where they work long hours for little pay, under conditions of insecurity and isolation:.“[they] don’t have the ability to see friends or family, go to the store, go to church, or go see a doctor as needed. They don’t go anywhere out of fear of being seen. They’re invisible.” [2. Eric Holt-Giménez, “Vermont’s Invisible Farmworkers,” Food First, June 25, 2014, http://foodfirst.org/vermonts-invisible-farmworkers/.]
In honoring Community to Community, the USFSA honors indigenous farmworkers in the US. Displaced by NAFTA, these peasant farmers from Mexico are practicing a tradition of struggle for justice. – Rosalinda Guillén, Executive Director, Community to Community
But farmworkers, documented and undocumented, are coming together—they are organizing. The CIW designed their own social responsibility program to defend their human rights—a program defined and enforced by workers in coordination with growers and retail food companies, bringing about huge changes in farm labor in Florida: an almost complete reduction of sexual harassment and violation against women in fields; over $15 million into farm labor payrolls; and the elimination of modern-day slavery. [3. “Clinton Global Initiative Honors Coalition of Immokalee Workers with Global Citizen Award.” Op Cit.] Community to Community (C2C), co-recipient of this year’s Food Sovereignty Prize, seeks to develop projects and social movements based on their belief that everyone should have equitable access to fundamental democratic processes affecting their everyday lives. [4. C2CWP, “Who We Are,” Community To Community Development, Accessed Oct. 15, 2014, http://foodjustice.org/who-we-are/.] They cultivate leadership among marginalized immigrant farmworkers so that they can influence the legislative and policy decisions that directly affect their lives. To that end, C2C has incubated worker-owned cooperatives and promoted domestic fair trade to help farmworkers have greater control over working conditions.
Most recently, C2C partnered with Families United for Justice (Familias Unidas por la Justicia, FUJ), an emerging farmworker union organizing in resistance to Sakuma Berry Farms in Washington State. C2C patterns its mission and work on Cesar Chavez’s community-organizing model and the counter-hegemonic values and principles of the World Social Forum process developed in Porto Alegre Brazil. [5. C2CWP, “Who We are” Op Cit.] Like Cesar Chavez’s National Farm Workers Association before them, Familias Unidas is using a boycott as an organizing tactic, calling on businesses and community members to avoid Sakuma berries and the Driscoll’s brand. Additionally, hundreds of workers went on a series of strikes starting in July of 2013, protesting sub-minimum wages, racial discrimination, poor living conditions, and workplace discrimination. This ultimately led to a suit being brought against Sakuma farms for failure to pay wages, denial of rest breaks, and inaccurate wage and hour information. Sakuma and the farmworkers agreed to a class action settlement, which includes changes in unlawful employment practices and a payout of $850,000. [6. “Farmworkers, Sakuma Brothers Farms Agree to Class Action Settlement” Op Cit.] Given the rarity of farmworker union contracts, the Sakuma fight has the potential to set an important precedent, bolstering farmworker rights in other parts of the country as well.
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Rosalinda Guillén, Executive Director of C2C and a board member of Food First, grew up on a berry farm in Skagit County herself and recognizes the importance of the Food Sovereignty Prize for keeping C2C’s causes like the Familias Unidas struggle in the spotlight. She says:
In honoring Community to Community, the USFSA honors indigenous farmworkers in the US. Displaced by NAFTA, these peasant farmers from Mexico are practicing a tradition of struggle for justice. Together, C2C and Familias Unidas are promoting food sovereignty in rural Washington State and challenging the corporate agricultural interests that are controlling our food system. C2C works to address the exclusion of women, people of color, and people of poor and low-income communities from accessing their basic human rights. [7. “US Farmworkers and Palestinian Farmers Share 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize,” Food First, accessed October 15, 2014, http://foodfirst.org/press-releases/us-farmworkers-and-palestinian-farmers-share-2014-food-sovereignty-prize/.]
To honor an organization such as Community to Community is to honor the work of food and farm workers everywhere, who are so crucial to our food system and yet so marginalized within it. Honoring C2C and FUJ with the most important movement-led and -oriented food prize shines a light both on their successes and their ongoing struggle. Indeed, it highlights the critical role of workers—and of forging alliances with laboring classes—in the global fight for food sovereignty.