The surge of emotion that welled up within me, as I looked at the vast line of hundreds of people marching through the streets of Lakeland, FL this past Sunday, was one of admiration, pride and humility. As if I hadn’t already greatly respected the members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), my admiration for them grew as I saw how many came from south Florida to the Tampa Bay area to demand fairer pay and humane working conditions in the tomato fields.
I was proud to have been among the many supporters they marshaled for the Farmworker Freedom March, a series of events April 16-18 calling attention to the fact that Publix, the largest privately held supermarket chain in the country, has not entered into an agreement with the CIW to foster a pay increase of a penny per pound of tomatoes picked and to ensure humane conditions. (It should be noted that, after CIW mobilizing over the years, McDonald’s, Burger King, Whole Foods, Bon Appetite, Aramark, and Yum!, owners of Taco Bell, have, indeed, entered into agreement.) I was humbled to have been invited to be a part of the leadership of the weekend, as co-MC of the events.
There was, however, also the feeling of anger—at the continued slavery in the fields, and at corporate complicity with the oppression of farm workers. Publix, in typical corporate avoidance of addressing injustices taking place, stated that “there are countless opportunities for these labor disputes to take place, so we have a policy of not intervening,” and further maintained that the “issues need to be addressed by the government and their employers, not the local grocery store.” Notice how the food retail giant conveniently excused itself from any role in ensuring food justice. The CIW knows that, unless food retailers pressure the growers to improve wages and conditions for the pickers, income for the pickers will continue to be paltry, and both near-slavery conditions and actually slavery will persist.
For more information on the oppression of tomato pickers in Immokalee, and information, pictures and video on the mobilization for justice, read the report on the Farmworker Freedom March and the linked press articles.