Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Season of Hope

Happy New Year to all! We wanted to share this new year's message from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers with you which beautifully captures how their long, hard struggle is flourishing and the fruits of justice are ripening.

Chipotle CEO Steve Ells has still not responded to the "Chipotle Challenge," apparently lacking the integrity to defend in public debate his skewed perceptions about and cynical response to the Campaign for Fair food. We hope he takes a moment to read this message.

A season of hope...

Holidays perfect time for a news round-up with a theme of hope for the new year!

A dozen years ago -- shortly before Christmas, 1997 -- a small group of farmworkers in Immokalee began a 30-day hunger strike that would forever transform the struggle for justice in this country's fields. Their excruciating month-long fast cast an unblinking light on the cruel reality facing tomato pickers -- slipping sub-poverty wages, rampant wage theft, and even violent modern-day slavery rings. But more than that, it also exposed the Florida tomato industry’s deeply-rooted, unregenerate resistance to dialogue with farmworkers and to improving farm labor wages and conditions.

In short, the CIW's month-long hunger strike made the case for the Campaign for Fair Food that was to come, for the urgent need for intervention by the multi-billion dollar corporations that purchase Florida tomatoes to demand more modern, more humane conditions in the fields where their tomatoes are grown and picked.

Over the next twelve years, the Campaign for Fair Food grew into a national movement, and the Florida tomato industry continued its stubborn resistance to progress. Even after workers in Immokalee reached landmark agreements with the world's two largest fast-food corporations -- Yum Brands and McDonald's -- to help fund long-needed changes in Florida's tomato fields, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange threatened to fine any tomato grower willing to pass on the additional funds to improve their workers' wages. Yet the Campaign for Fair Food persevered, patiently building a critical mass of food industry leaders pledged to use their power as major tomato buyers to demand that Florida tomato growers help end poverty and abuses in the fields.

And this year, as the direct result of the collaboration of farmworkers and consumers through the Campaign for Fair Food, true transformation has begun: Three Florida tomato growers are now working with the CIW to implement the Fair Food agreements, including a substantial wage increase, a real voice for farmworkers, and a code of conduct for fair conditions in the fields.

Go to the CIW site today,, where you'll find three stories from the end of this year that capture this pivotal moment in the Campaign from different perspectives. If you have a moment, take a look at the stories and, as you do, savor the fact that these changes can be traced -- day by day, battle by battle -- back to the small, storefront office in Immokalee where six workers took on the trillion-dollar food industry by refusing to eat until their demand for justice was heard.

Thanks - and Happy New Year from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers!

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