Thanks to Alicia Maldonado, James Bautista, Marilyn DeLaure and the Communication Studies department at USF for organizing and hosting an inspiring event earlier this month. And special thanks to Max Perez (former Immokalee organizer and now SF resident) and Mike Miller (whose resume is impossible to identify briefly) for being panelists. Mike and Max wonderfully complimented each other -- Max giving a history of how the Immokalee workers managed to take down TACO BELL and Mike putting Max's story in the context of why it is so hard to organize today.
Highlights for me:
Max: In order to increase wages and conditions, they went on three failed strikes against the growers. They didn't have enough resources for a sustained strike. So, they brainstormed alternative strategy. They realized that the corporations that bought the tomatoes that they picked were extremely defensive about their brand. That allowed them to go after Taco Bell (first) with the demand that the company pay an extra "penny a pound" for tomatoes from the growers (the middle men) and that they would insure that penny made it down the chain to the pickers themselves, as well as insisting on the ability of the workers to take bathroom and water breaks during the hot work days. They were able to threaten the "good name" of the Taco Bell brand with an obvious-to-all reasonable request by enlisting students on college campuses, who did much to get out the word.
Mike: Explained, through a short fable, how many nonprofits have unwittingly been co-opted -- he calls this, "The Plague of Nonprofits." From a draft of an upcoming article he will publish:
The step-by-step process of building power—get people together; win something small; use the victory to train leaders and create confidence in the efficacy of collective action; reflect on the meaning of what was collectively done from the perspective of basic democratic principles and the social and economic justice teachings of the world’s great religious traditions; use the victory to recruit skeptics (either individuals or organizations) who now see that this organization might know what it’s doing; take on a more recalcitrant target because now you have more people power to negotiate, boycott, disrupt, get-out-the-vote or otherwise affect institutional power—all this is necessarily abandoned by organizations that are focused now on the competent design of programs. Instead of looking at the different self-interests of those with institutional power, self-interests that have to be adversely affected if change is to come about, the focus becomes one of convincing decision-makers “on the merits” of the case.