"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
View Kathy Emery, PhD's LinkedIn profileView Kathy Emery, PhD's profile

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reflections on CIW and SFA class visit

Recently Max Perez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Liz Fitzgerald of the Student Farm worker Alliance came to speak at Kathy's Critical Social Thought class at SFSU. CIW is based out of the agricultural town of Immokalee, Florida. Workers and allies have been organizing since 1996 to campaign for fair food and just labor practices. Max told us that CIW began out of harsh work and living conditions in Immokalee and, in particular, of an incident in which a man working the fields stopped to get water and was beaten. The town then organized and marched to the contractors house with the message that "to beat one of us is to beat us all." After that march change came. Their was a realization of the power of the collective and strength of empowered workers. According to Max, CIW still has the bloodied shirt of the beaten worker. What stood out vividly to me in this talk was Max describing the conditions of the workers in 1000+ acre fields: men and women waiting early in the morning for buses to the fields, waiting for tomatoes to dry before harvest, waiting in lines to turn in over-filled buckets of produce for a single wage chip, waiting to cash in wage chips for 40 cents each, waiting for liberation, waiting, working, waiting. For me the idea of waiting for justice brings King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" to mind. King states, "there comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair." The beating of a fellow worker set off organization which led to failed strikes but other huge successes with a modified organization plan. The role of the student in this movement has been great, as Liz and the SFA have directly worked with and supported CIW to achieve significant change. To fight back CIW and SFA have campaigned to gain the support of food service corporations to pay 1 cent more per pound of tomatoes to be allocated to pickers. The most recent big success has been the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange agreeing to a code of conduct. This code of conduct enforces labor laws, implements the penny per pound increase, protects worker health, etc. SFA has engaged in direct actions that targets food chains and supermarkets to sign on to the penny more per pound agreement.
Listening to Max and Liz and hearing the conditions that sparked this movement, as well as the strategies they are using to gain great success in their struggle inspires me to see the connections to our country's past and future. CIW has documented several cases of slavery which most people in this country believe no longer exists but is, in fact, thriving. I envision the waiting and despair that slaves endured, the waiting that our black and other citizens of color did in the 50s and 60s for desegregation, and the waiting that workers in our agriculture fields are doing for fair conditions today. So much waiting for liberation. Max and Liz called their struggle "collective liberation." As I write there is revolution and uprising in the middle east. I can not help but think what an uprising in America would look like? With the assault on labor unions in Wisconsin and the protests of workers defending their negotiations rights I wonder if these days are one of the historical moments so many have been waiting for. As I learned in Freedom School, we need to be prepared to take action at the right historical moment and it gives me hope envisioning CIW workers marching, with everything to lose, to the home of their contractor to tell him that they had rights and that their collective was a community not easily broke

1 comment:

Kathy Emery said...

thanks Alicia!!!!! Three of the students are now working with Liz and the SFA to plan an action at Trader Joe's' in SF this April