Monday, February 19, 2007

Zapatismo vs McDonald's

Florida's Coalition of Immokalee Workers Puts Global Justice Back on the (US Kitchen) Table

First things first: Find some way to get yourself to Chicago this April 13th & 14th to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and their allies from around the world, in what will be an historic mobilization and gathering for "Fair Food, Real Rights, and Dignity" in the USA!

There's more information on how to do that below, but first a couple questions:

How did a small group of Mayan indigenous people armed with machetes, sticks, and a few guns-certainly no military threat to the Mexican regime-force the then-ruling PRI to make more concessions to the political opposition of their country in the three weeks following the Zapatistas' 1994 uprising than they had in the 50 years prior?

How did the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a 2,500 member organization of farmworkers with no legal rights to organize in the USA, bring the world's largest restaurant corporation, Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, A&W, Long John Silver’s, and Pizza Hut), to its knees in an age of rising corporate power and declining worker unionization?

Well, neither of them did it alone for one, so see below for how you can join the CIW this April in Chicago and support them in the meantime. You'll also find below a few connections between the CIW and the Zapatistas...not the least of which their statement of adherence to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, translated into English (for the first time?) here at

For starters, and to give credit where credit's due, you can check out this article from the October 2005 Monthly Review that breaks down specifics of the "who, what, where, when, how, and why" of the CIW and their struggle...and the zapatismo connections.

The connections between the CIW and the Zapatistas are not difficult to make. As Melody Gonzalez of the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) discovered, they may even have overlapping membership...
the SFA is an ally formation to the CIW and as a representative for them at an early meeting of the Other Campaign in September 2005, Melody encountered a Zapatista compa who had been working in Immokalee's fields until 1992 when he returned to Chiapas to participate in the uprising!

Immokalee's farmworkers, coming mainly from Mexico and Guatemala (also with significant membership who are either Haitian or African-American), earn sub-poverty wages that have been stagnant for almost thirty years. They are denied the right to overtime pay, the right to organize and, in some cases, endure violence and abuse at work; and, in some extreme cases, conditions of modern-day slavery.

Employing the secondary boycott, the most successful tactic in labor movement history (and one that formal unions are denied by the federal government through the Taft-Hartley Act), these workers have forced Taco Bell to meet their demands (and more!) and are now going after McDonald's.

They are demanding that McDonald's take responsibility for the poverty and inhumane working conditions that it directly contributes to through its mass-volume, low-cost tomato purchasing practices. They assert that it is farmworker poverty that has contributed in no small measure to the wealth of McDonald's.

This struggle is about worker's rights, immigrant's rights, human rights and the struggle for fair food. It's also about being compañeros to our fellow adherents to the Sixth Declaration!

Join the CIW this April 13 in Oak Brook, IL, for a major rally outside McD's global headquarter and April 14 in downtown Chicago for a "Carnaval and Parade for Fair Food, Real Rights, and Dignity." This is a global justice struggle led "from below and to the left" in the USA! There are CIW allies organizing transportation to Chicago from cities across the country, you can contact organize[@]sfalliance[.]org to get connected locally.

You can also work to get the CIW's PSAs played on radio stations and they are in English and Spanish.

If you are in NYC, you can check out Celeste Escobar of the SFA presentating at Bluestockings in the Lower East Side at 7p on March 5th.

And without further ado, here's the statement of adherence to the Zapatistas' Sixth Declaration from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers...

At a September 2005 gathering of the Other Campaign in the Zapatista Autonomous Municipality “Javier Hernandez” in Chiapas, Mexico:
My name is Melody Gonzalez and I am a Xicana from Califaztlán, the stolen Mexico. I am the daughter of immigrants from the state of Michoacán. I am representing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community organization of immigrant farmworkers in southwest Florida.

Neoliberalism, the freed trade agreements, and the large corporations have forced many people to leave their lands and come there, many times they end up working for miserable wages for the very same corporations. These workers don’t only represent cheap labor, they are also the most vulnerable, least protected, and represent production and profits at a minimal cost for agroindustry and fast food.

In Immokalee, a community that for many years did not exist on the map, a large part of the farmworkers are from the south of Mexico, especially the south, and from Guatemala and Haiti. They arrived knowing they would have much work but many didn’t imagine the conditions they would face. They didn’t imagine that they would receive a wage that’s been the same since 1978. Picking tomatoes is the largest industry in Florida and all of the East coast, in this industry a worker has to pick 2 tons of tomatoes to make just $50. At the end of the year, they’ve earned $7,500. Meanwhile, the rent in Immokalee averages $400 per week for a trailer. With these miserable salaries, the people are forced to live in trailers with up to 16 people. It’s the only way to have money to survive and to send money to the family that stays in Latin America. In addition to this, there is no form of benefits.

We describe these conditions of ours as sweatshop conditions but in the fields, but there is another reality even more extreme—slavery. These are the cases of workers that are put in isolated labor camps, forced at gunpoint to work against their will, and many times threatened and violently attacked. Many of these workers are tricked when coming to the United States and end up in debt bondage to their bosses. In the past 7 years, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have freed more than 1,000 slaves.

All of this drove us to organize ourselves to fight for our rights and in 1993 we began, organizing ourselves first against the violence that was happening in the fields and against the miserable wages. One of our mottos is "Consciousness + Commitment = Change". Together, we began to analyze our situation to understand why wages were stagnated and why slavery still existed in the 21st century. We realized that there were large fast food corporations and supermarkets that, in demanding the cheapest price from their suppliers, had pushed wages down. And so they sell their cheap product to the consumers, who for many years did not ask from where their food came and under what conditions, and they made their profits. As it says in the Sixth [Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle], in the market we see products but we don’t see the exploitation from which they came. And they are sweatshop conditions that are fertile ground for slavery.

After analyzing the situation, we committed ourselves to this struggle and launched a national campaign for just food, leading a boycott against Taco Bell, that is a part of Yum Brands, the largest fast food company in the world; and one of the biggest purchasers of tomatoes. After 4 years of boycott, and nearly 11 years of struggle, making alliances with religious people, students and awakening the conscience of the consumers, the boycott ended when Taco Bell and Yum Brands accepted the demands of the Coalition. Today our struggle continues, because this victory is just one step. We are analyzing how we can struggle against the other corporations that also benefit from our poverty, to impact in this way the rest of the food industry and so that farmworkers receive the respect and dignity that they deserve. We continue fighting against slavery at the root of the problem and not simply helping with the investigation and prosecution of case after case because as it says in the Sixth, we fight to be free people, not to change our master.

We understand that although our struggle for better wages and conditions in the fields is one struggle of one grassroots organization, it is, without a doubt, connected to the global struggle for justice and peace. The same forces that oppress us are the ones that oppress so many communities in Mexico and in many other countries.

A struggle that we have already taken on is the struggle against the FTAA [Free Trade Agreement of the Americas]. We organized in 2003, along with various other grassroots organizations, a 34 mile march against the FTAA in Miami, Florida. Each mile that we marched represented a country that would be a part of the agreement. Today we continue our struggle and do not want free trade that exploits human beings, but fair trade that respects the dignity of all. We have made alliances with other organizations locally, nationally, and also internationally. We are going to continue forming alliances, sharing experiences, and organizing ourselves as one force against the free trade pacts.

We understand that our struggle is already part of the Sixth thus we commit ourselves to the Sixth continuing the work we are already doing. And we also wish to strengthen our paths of communication and dialogue with the organizations and people in Mexico that also struggle against free trade and in favor of fair trade. We see this trip to Chiapas as an opportunity to learn what is being done and what is going to be done in Mexico. We are constantly learning from other struggles and this is part of our consciousness-raising. Many of our friends there [in Immokalee] are from Chiapas and since back in the day they have talked of the struggle here. We commit ourselves to continue learning from the struggle here and in all parts of Mexico, and also to assure ourselves that the Zapatista word continues being expressed in our work. We also wish to leave some materials from our struggle to share our experience with you. My compañeros in Immokalee send their greetings and brotherly hugs to the Zapatista communities and say that although you don’t know them in person, they know that work, commitment and consciousness converts us into compañeros. We are with you and the Sixth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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