BY JESSICA NEWMAN
The fast has always been a powerful tool of protest, making an effective statement through the personal sacrifice of the sustenance most of us take for granted.
Now, like Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez before them, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are fasting to erase the gap between farm and supermarket, specifically the gap that corporations like Publix like to create in order to avoid cooperation with the farm workers.
The CIW is a grassroots, community-based organization of approximately 4,500 immigrants (mostly Haitian, Mayan Indian and Latino) fighting for farm worker justice in the fields.
On March 5, approximately 50 farm workers and their allies will start the Fast for Fair Food (ingesting only liquids) outside the Publix headquarters in Lakeland, Fla., that will endure though March 10.
On March 10, the biggest day of action, there will be a silent protest outside of the Publix located at 3636 Harden Blvd. in Lakeland, followed by a three-mile march to the grocer’s headquarters at Airport Road and Publix Corporate Parkway in Lakeland where the demonstrators will break their fast. Consumers, organizers and friends from around the state are welcome. For more information, visit www.ciw-online.org/fast.
“Are they going to continue to turn their backs, or are they going to do the right thing?” asked Joe Parker of the Student/Farm Worker Alliance.
Why Publix? Because the Florida-based megagrocer has refused to come to the table with the CIW after more than two years of actions and efforts by the farm workers and their allies to negotiate. Because the CIW just wants Publix to agree to pay a penny more per pound for its tomatoes and to sign onto the Code of Conduct for fair treatment of farm workers in the fields.
“Publix continues to say this is a labor dispute between the farm workers and the employers,” said Oscar Otzoy, a member of the CIW in a translated interview. “But we as workers know, and the community knows, that it’s not a labor dispute.”
In fact, 90 percent of the farm workers’ employers – the tomato growers who sell their crop to Publix – in Florida have already signed an agreement with the CIW through the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. Beyond that, 10 additional corporations have also signed agreements with the farm workers, signing on to both the penny more per pound of tomatoes purchased from the growers (which is transferred to the workers) and a Code of Conduct preventing abuse and exploitation in the fields. Even more interesting is the fact that the most recent corporation (Feb. 10 of this year) to give into the CIW’s demands is Trader Joe’s, a megagrocer just like Publix, proving it is possible and that this struggle is not a labor dispute.
“This is not just about higher wages,” Otzoy said. “It’s about having a voice and having respect.”