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'Farm workers feed the world'

By Bill Massey

The National Taco Bell Boycott Caravan arrived here March 3, the fourth stop on a 15-city tour. Some 45 members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, from the town of Immokalee in Florida's southwest Collier County, made it to Chicago. An equal number were delayed due to snowstorms and icy roads. The grit of the south Florida workers was evident as they marched despite an arctic blast of weather that kept most Chicago residents indoors.

Some 120 community residents from Latino organizations, unions, political, student and religious groups greeted the caravan. The Mexico Solidarity Network carried out much organizing work. Women workers who are striking the Chicago-area Carousel Linens because of low pay and horrific conditions rendered their support to the farm workers. This touching solidarity showed the national scope of conditions workers face. It also demonstrated how Latino, African American, immigrant and women workers are oppressed and exploited many times over.

Following greetings and solidarity statements, the lively group of more than 160 people braved the weather to march--with drums beating--to two north-side Taco Bell restaurants. Protesters surrounded the fast-food restaurants, chanting "Taco Hell, shut it down!"

Chicago's Radical Cheerleaders added their talents: "Exploitation doesn't sell, acknowledge us or go to hell; another worker to rebel. Support the boycott of Taco Bell." And "Hey Taco Bell you better listen, listen to what we are saying, saying, 'cause you ain't paying, paying a living wage for our sweat, blood and tears."

Later in the evening various Latino bands and rappers performed at a boycott festival at the A Zone Collective.

'A national disgrace'

Coalition representative and organizer Lucas Benitez, vowed, "We will continue the boycott of Taco Bell until all of our grievances are met. The tomatoes that Taco Bell buys for its tacos are produced in what can be described as sweatshop conditions. Twenty years of picking at sub-poverty wages is a national disgrace."

South Florida farm workers are paid the same amount per bucket picked today as they were in 1978. Workers picking for Six L's are denied the right to organize or to overtime pay and receive no health insurance, sick leave, paid holidays, paid vacation or pension.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush refuses to intervene and support these workers, while at the same time he gives all sorts of support and tax breaks to the corporate rich and lazy. No wonder he is so anxious to intervene in Cuba. The revolution has ensured that farm workers have unions, free medical care, free education, paid holidays, pensions and a one-month vacation every year.

Taco Bell is part of Tricon Global Restaur ants, Inc. Together with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, these three major chains control more than 30,000 restaurants around the globe. These form the "world's largest restaurant system in terms of units," according to Tricon's 1999 Annual Report. The same report states that Tricon's system-wide sales reached $22 billion in 1999. Taco Bell alone reported sales of more than $5.2 billion that same year.

But the median income for farm workers is less than $7,500 a year.

Romeo Ramirez, another CIW leader, said that a recent issue of the trade journal "Nation's Restaurant News" reported that "the major fast-food chains are getting together to draft requirements for their meat suppliers that set guidelines for the humane treatment of farm animals. If Taco Bell and other fast-food giants can require their suppliers to treat farm animals humanely, they should be able to understand our call for humane working conditions for the farm workers."

Southwest Florida is the state's most important center for agricultural production and Immokalee is the state's largest farm worker community. Recently the CIW held a Jan. 29 protest against attempts by Collier County officials--led by their sheriffs--to access U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service data in order to take workers into custody for deportation.

The CIW quickly saw that this was an attempt to use the anti-immigrant atmosphere created by the Bush brothers and John Ashcroft for an anti-worker offensive. It is not accidental that it attacks the most militant and poorest workers. More than 1,000 Latinos took their militant protest to the steps of the county courthouse. They charged that County Sheriff Don Hunter would use any "special powers" for racist profiling and harassment of undocumented workers.

When Hunter, head of the regional "Anti-Terrorism Task Force," said he was doing this for national security, he was loudly booed. CIW members and supporters weren't buying his pig slop. He was continually interrupted with shouts of "Racista."

Sandra Costilla, a farm worker from Mexico, said, "Everything he is doing with the INS is wrong. We just want a decent living for ourselves and our children."

As a caravan banner here stated: "Farm workers feed the world." And someday the workers shall own it.

Reprinted from the March 14, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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