Another Victory for Farmworkers

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers -- a group organizing low-wage workers in southwest Florida -- won a major victory in their battle with Taco Bell and its parent company, Louisville, KY-based Yum! Brands this week, as Reuters reports:
Florida farm workers ended a three-year boycott of fast food chain Taco Bell on Tuesday after the company agreed to force its suppliers to pay a penny-per-pound surcharge on Florida tomatoes.

Taco Bell owner Yum! Brands Inc. said it had also agreed to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a South Florida-based workers rights organization, to improve basic conditions and wages in the state's tomato industry.

Coalition representatives hailed the company's decision as a significant step in their quest to improve the lives of thousands of farm workers, many of whom earn less than $7,500 a year.

"This is an important victory for farm workers, one that establishes a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry," said Lucas Benitez, a leader of the coalition, which has led a campaign of hunger strikes and nationwide protests against Taco Bell.
Ever since they formed in 1993, the Coalition has been an inspiring case study in patient and effective organizing. They've built a strong base among Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants, developing grassroots leaders and bridging cross-ethnic divides, while also launching an effective public relations offensive to leverage consumer power -- a combination reminiscent of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in the heyday of the grape boycott.

The Coalition's win is the second major victory for Southern farmworkers in recent months, coming on the heels of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee's contract victory for 8,000 farm laborers in North Carolina last September.

The impact of these agreements can't be underestimated. They will improve the lives of tens of thousands of farmworkers and their families, who find themselves toiling at the bottom of a new plantation economy in the South and beyond -- including a system of modern-day slavery.

These victories also signal to corporations eager to exploit immigrant and undocumented labor that these workers cannot be scared into accepting attacks on their livelihood and dignity.