The culmination of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) “2007 McDonald’s Truth Tour” and celebration in Chicago April 13-14th demonstrated the moving solidarity that a social justice movement can achieve. The CIW, which represents the interests of primarily migrant tomato pickers in Florida, reached an agreement with McDonald’s for a wage increase of one cent per pound of tomato for its workers (this should raise farm workers pay by more than ten dollars per day). As farm workers still are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, their ability to gain collective bargaining rights in most states is severely limited. Thus, the CIW had to achieve this victory by organizing and building a national coalition of community, religious, and union activists that threatened McDonald’s with a national boycott if the corporation did not treat their tomato pickers with justice.
The gathering in Chicago reflected the diversity of American social justice movements. The crowd of nearly one thousand included African-African human rights workers from Mississippi, Industrial Workers of the World activists from Detroit, Presbyterians church activists from of Louisville, trade unionists from the AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions, and scores of Latino activists representing various organizations. The ability of Floridian migrant workers to work with such diverse allies and achieve their demands provides a striking example for today’s labor movement of the power of community-based coalition organizing.
Even as neo-liberal economics still remains the consensus in Washington, these workers were able win economic gains despite their being denied the legal right for a union and bargain collectively. Many of the tomato pickers are also undocumented workers who risk the retribution of deportation if they stand up for their rights. But by building a powerful coalition both within and without the labor movement, the CIW workers gained an impressive victory while also protecting themselves from corporate retribution. Democratic socialists understand that only by building a broad coalition that goes beyond organized labor’s own ranks can pro-union forces defeat a virulently anti-union corporate America. By engaging in union support work with a broad range of community supporters, YDS can educate the broader public as to the central role trade unions have played around the world in limiting the injustices of corporate power. Through the solidarity, and social diversity of coalitions similar to the CIW progressive activists can demonstrate that through democratic collective action even the most powerful of corporations can be brought to the bargaining table.
The battle for justice for the Immokalee workers is far from over. Lucas Benitez of the CIW urged rally participants to re-energize ourselves for further struggle on behalf of these embattled tomato pickers. As the CIW turns its focus from McDonald’s to Burger King, Benitez reminded us that this is a long term struggle. It took four years for CIW to win the Taco Bell campaign. A swifter victory came against McDonald’s and the coalition remains confident that Burger King can be brought to justice. But, there are many more fast-food chains that continue to demand that their suppliers follow unfair labor practices. Members of the Democratic Socialists of America and Young Democratic Socialists remain ready to meet this challenge.
In addition to the YDS members who traveled to the Chicago rally from across the country, several prominent DSA members spoke from the podium. On Friday, DSA Honorary Chair Delores Huerta addressed about the need to build unity and stop the deportations that mercilessly divide immigrant families. At the House of Blues on Saturday, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney made a surprise appearance followed by SEIU Executive Vice-President and DSA Honorary Chair Eliseo Medina. They spoke of the pride we should take in over victory and what we can learn from the work of the Immokalee tomato pickers.
Eliseo Medina reflected on DSA’s long term commitment to the struggle for farm worker rights in is his keynote address to the 2001 DSA National convention. He reminded convention delegates that “…it was the DSA chapter that adopted me in Chicago, that got us food, found me a place to live…And so I want to thank you, 35 years later, for what you did for me and for what you did for farm workers, because, I think, thanks to that help, we were successful, and we did stop the sale of grapes, and we did build a farm workers union.” Decades later, a revived YDS continues this socialist tradition with our National Immigrant Rights Project and our mobilization for events such as the “CIW 2007 Truth Tour.” Si se puede!