Farm workers march for justice
On March 4th a rally of farmworkers and their supporters gathered at the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association office in Orlando to demand "Dignity, Dialogue and a Fair Wage." It was a rally to end the 230-mile march that began in Ft. Myers back on February 19th. The large crowd consisted of the farmworkers and their supporters. It was a mixed group of young and old, and a wide range of races, classes, and political agendas; patriots and radicals alike. People took turns one after the other ranting about the unfair labor conditions. Standing on a refreshment cooler, speaking into a microphone and then passing it to a translator, in both English and Spanish the frustration vented out was quite moving. People from religious groups, community groups, anarchist groups, union members, and farmworkers themselves spoke out to the crowd but the Fruit and Vegetable Association office was closed. Some people played music and others waved flags. We all wore shirts that told of the march and the struggle itself. Held up on the shoulders of the workers was a tall recreation of the Statue Of Liberty with a tomato held high in one hand and the other hand holding a bucket of tomatoes."
Farmorkers who pick Florida tomatoes are generally paid by the piece. The going wage is about 45-cents for every 32-pound bucket they pick. At that rate, you have to pick nearly two tons of tomatoes a day to earn just $50. That leaves farmworkers with an average annual income today of only $8,500. What's worse, the piece rate has remained virtually unchanged for over twenty years. The piece rate would have to be 75-cents today just to have kept pace with inflation over the past two decades."
The goals of the people also ranged wide in political beliefs. Some workers spoke about their goals of achieving their pay raise and others went for a more direct attack at the root of the problem, "We will not be machines anymore." Whether you were there to demand a pay raise for the farmworkers or to point out the unjust arrangement of property ownership and the wage-slavery system overall that affects nearly everyone alive today the solidarity with the farmworkers was overwhelmingly obvious.
A good amount of the crowd was young faces. Many of them were activists that I knew personally from organizing within the past couple years. But although the farmworkers struggle is new to me and many others the struggle has been going on for years."
About two years ago, farmworkers in Immokalee organized to ask their employers for a meeting on the issue of the piece rate. One company did meet with the workers, and following a constructive dialogue, that company agreed to a 10-cent raise per bucket."
The remaining companies, however, have to this day stubbornly refused to meet with representatives of the workers. Since then, three major companies have raised their piece rates by 5-cents, but still will not extend their workers the simple respect of sitting in talks on their wages and working conditions.
"That is why we are marching. We believe that, by virtue of the hard and dangerous work they do, Florida's farmworkers have earned the right to talk to their employers about conditions in the fields."
These are the people who pick the food we eat. Without them the tomatoes would rot in the fields. On a larger scale, these people clean our streets, drive our buses, and haul our trash, and they are the lowest paid people we know. The struggle for well-deserved and long overdue pay raises is not over. For us it may be once every few months but for these workers it is every day. The struggle for a more just structure that serves the people not profits is not over. For us it is every day and for you it should be too.
Most of my information I got from the CIW, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. They are the organization working with the workers for more humane conditions in Florida's fields. In Gainesville you can contact Brian Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact the CIW at CoaImmWkr@aol.com. Call or fax them at (941) 657-8311. Check out their web page and learn the history and the current issues at www.geocities.com/coaimmwkr/. They ask you to call Governor Jeb Bush at (850) 488-6936 and let him know that you stand with Immokalee's farmworkers in their fight for simple economic justice and to ask him to use his influence to move industry leaders to join with representatives of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in constructive dialogue.
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