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At FLOC conference

Farmworkers review historic struggles

Published Oct 5, 2006 7:53 PM

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee celebrated its 10th triennial Constitutional Convention in Toledo, Ohio, on Sept. 30. This was the first convention with delegates from North Carolina, who attended under the banner “From North to South, Justice Has No Boundaries.”

WW photo: Cheryl LaBash

The convention not only celebrated the victories won through 37 years of struggle, but expressed the needs and issues of FLOC’s membership today. Primary among these issues are immigrant rights and expanding union organizing in the South.

Special tribute was given to workers who died from heat stroke this summer. After the convention, FLOC members and supporters marched to the Lucas County Courthouse to demand immigrant rights.

In 2004, FLOC—which began battling for justice in the tomato fields of northern Ohio in 1968—won union recognition for more than 7,000 migrant workers in North Carolina. These workers enter the United States from Mexico with temporary H2A visas to harvest a wide variety of crops, from sweet potatoes and tobacco to Christmas trees.

The agreement, won through a five-year boycott of Mt. Olive Pickles, called for “the country’s second-largest pickle producer to give [North Carolina Growers] association members 10 percent more for their cucumbers, which is to be passed on to workers.” (Toledo Blade, Oct. 3, 2004)

This union strategy of targeting the corporations that set the prices instead of individual farmers also led to FLOC’s victory 20 years ago at the Campbell Soup Co.

The immigrant farm workers’ union victory in North Carolina came just before the massive immigrants’ rights movement that has swept through large and small cities and towns in virtually every state this year.

FLOC explains the connection this way: “When FLOC opened its office in Monterrey, Mexico, on March 17 of this year it was in response to the realities of NAFTA and the global economy as much as it was to the contract needs in North Carolina. Workers from depressed rural areas must come to the American Consulate in Monterrey en route to jobs on the farms in North Carolina.” (www.floc.com)

Frequently the corporate media report that [email protected] immigrants will become the “largest minority” group in the United States. But FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez rejects this attempt to pit African-American and [email protected] workers against each other. He said, “We are not overtaking the African Americans—we are joining with them to make the struggle for justice stronger.”

When Velasquez introduced Black Workers for Justice speaker Ajamu Dillahunt, he recognized the important support and assistance BWJ gave when FLOC went to North Carolina to take on Mt. Olive, including participating in a delegation to Mexico.

Dillahunt said that FLOC’s 2004 victory was “a victory not only for farm workers but all workers. All workers need collective bargaining, including public employees.”

Describing how BWJ is working for a Black-Brown alliance, he said: “We support each other. We learn history. We fight against backward ideas. Martin Luther King and Fannie Lou Hamer are our heroes—Baldemar Velasquez and [FLOC Vice President] Letitia Zavalla are 21st Century freedom fighters.”

Noted Latina author Sandra Cisneros told the delegates, “You are the heroes of the new millennium.”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney presented a $60,000 contribution. He said FLOC is “an example for the entire labor movement. The victory in North Carolina is particularly significant because it is the most ‘union-free’ state in the U.S. We are committed to helping this union continue to organize in the southern United States and all across this country.”

Resolutions passed at the FLOC convention supported the right to legal residence in the United States; better housing and bathrooms in the fields in Ohio; creating a fund for humanitarian support; increasing workers’ participation in the movement; recognizing the right to a driver’s license; bilingual education; establishment of a pension plan; pesticide safety and education; telephones and washing machines in the camps; negotiated rest periods during the work day; establishment of a free clinic in North Carolina for union members; support for young people and unionizing other industries, among others.

One resolution that lifted the delegates to their feet recognized that the shortage of workers in Ohio has caused the loss of acres of cucumbers. It invited the “Minutemen” and other anti-immigrant groups to come to the fields to harvest the crops.