Posts Tagged ‘Familias Unidas Por La Justicia’

We make the road by Walking: Part IV – DV Prevention in Organizing

October 2, 2013

by Tara Villalba

If you have come here to help me, you are
wasting your time. But if you have come
because your liberation is bound up with
mine, then let us work together

— Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s

Burlington, WA - Why don’t vulnerable people report their experiences of violence? It is partly because in some real ways reporting violence increases harm rather than ends it.

In my own experience, the violence meted out by the state dwarfed the violence at home. This made me acculturated to violence as if it were just a part of life that I made worse when I challenged oppression.

Whether the violence is institutional, gendered, or domestic violence, those of us who have experienced violence as a reality in our daily lives have become experts at weighing the degrees of violence in every encounter and taking risks with our lives, and/or the lives of our children that most people can’t understand or explain, much less support.

It is a myth that we can keep violence out of our homes, when almost every institution that we encounter – the schools, the church, law enforcement, the corporations, the government itself, engage in multiple kinds and levels of violence that both pound our bodies and relationships, and seep into homes poisoning our food, our love, and our dreams.

Migration and the forced separation that families endure have been aptly described as the experiences of economic refugees. Many migrants and immigrants take refuge in the United States and other developed economies, after the devastation of our home countries’ economies through war, resource extraction, foreign debt and its accompanying structural adjustment programs.

Migrating to escape the resulting poverty is not only an act of autonomy and will to survive, it is also a desperate attempt at resource re-distribution by people who don’t have the institutional power to redistribute wealth that was siphoned out of our home communities.

For immigrant and migrant workers from the underdeveloped world, the additional abuse of low wages, little or no access to safe and secure housing, education, health care, transportation resources, nutritious food, due process and guaranteed rights in the legal and justice systems, all compound the isolation, fear, stress, and poverty that many of us continue to live with.

With this as the toxic background, most people still have the audacity to expect that men will not be violent against women, that straight people will not be violent against LGBTQ people, that people with documents will not abuse people without documents, and that adults will not be violent against children and youth.

When most people hear of instances of domestic violence in impoverished migrant and immigrant communities, they are surprised and quickly conclude that educating women about “their rights” will somehow end violence eventually.

It is a myth that we can keep violence out of our homes, when almost every institution that we encounter – the schools, the church, law enforcement, the corporations, the government itself, engage in multiple kinds and levels of violence that both pound our bodies and relationships, and seep into homes poisoning our food, our love, and our dreams.

Domestic violence prevention in migrant and immigrant farmworker communities, like at Campo 2 at Sakuma Brothers Farm, MUST also address root and structural causes of all violence, if we want a real chance to mitigate the terrible upheavals that come with the long history of displacing indigenous communities from their homes.

Domestic violence in this farmworker communities have clear connections to NAFTA’s effect on the corn dependent economies of Mexico, to the H2-A program that pits groups of workers against each other, and to the depressed wages and abusive work conditions that dehumanize each berry picker at Sakuma Brothers Farm.


Violence is so rampant in our present society that we, literally, aren’t thinking about violence clearly, much less acting effectively to end it.

This U.S. society has been at war for most of its existence as a nation state. We are currently involved in several wars, and communities of people living in poverty, people of color, and immigrants, experience violence as if we lived in different kind of war zones as we do daily battle to survive against racism, poverty, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.

Violence is used as a tool not only to police people of color in impoverished communities but also to police a rigid gender binary that places increased value and protection for masculine privilege at the price of women and feminine identities.

Violence in corporate agriculture spans poisoning the earth with toxic chemicals, to believing that farmworkers are a sub-human disposable work force whose humanity doesn’t equal the humanity of either the consumers or the farmers who hire them.

Farmworker women routinely get paid less than their male colleagues, and often bear the brunt of reproductive work after working in the fields. Any labor organizing women do are done on top of field and reproductive work, and their organizing challenges not only the systemic sexism at work, but also patriarchal arrangements at home in the labor camps.

In order to achieve justice for the victims, liberal feminist advocacy requires, after domestic violence occurs, protecting the “victims” and prosecuting the “perpetrators” (to the fullest extent of the law).

The knee-jerk and customary reaction from liberal feminists is to agree that because institutional power runs along patriarchal lines, it makes sense that we protect women and children. But it seems counter intuitive to believe that to truly end violence, we would all have to be invested in protecting everyone, not only women and children.


farmworkers are expected never to express their frustration and righteous anger at the rightful causes of that indignation: the farm owners and their team of supervisors and guards who benefit from this set up that drains the life and youth of the migrant workers, and disciplines their children to accept these working and living conditions.

Domestic violence in farmworker communities cannot be adequately addressed as “personal issues”. At Sakuma Brothers Farms, farmworkers live in:

  • “Larger” family cabins with a total 15×10 feet living area, or smaller 6×9 feet ones where the workers and their families cook, eat, play, and sleep
  • sub-standard cooking and washing facilities,
  • Cabins that aren’t insulated – so it’s really hot and really cold depending on the weather. Roofs leak when it’s raining. There are no toilets or showers in these cabins.
  • The closest toilets are at least 50 meters from cabins, walking in the dark at night
  • The closest showers are twice as far.
  • Mattresses are bug-infested
  • Plumbing is leaky and often backed up

Bathrooms, and trash are often overflowing and not fixed or disposed of by the company adequately.

Each family is on its own to look for childcare, so almost all the children are outside their cramped living spaces playing with whatever they can find to amuse themselves, often without adequate adult supervision, or at the fields with their parents, while their parents are working at breakneck speed, struggling to reach Washington state’s $9.19 minimum hourly wage.

In the meantime, they are all exposed to pesticides and supervisors who scream at them throughout their long workdays, yelling for them to work faster, and calling them lazy and worthless.

When farmworkers organize for better wages and for a more respectful working environment, they are fired. Those who weren’t fired are under surveillance by hired security guards who watch the migrant housing camps, intimidate workers and follow women around, including the restrooms, even at night.

Cramped in their makeshift homes, working their bodies as fast and as hard as they can and still failing to reach the state’s minimum wage, let alone a living wage, worried for the safety of their families, farmworkers are expected never to express their frustration and righteous anger at the rightful causes of that indignation: the farm owners and their team of supervisors and guards who benefit from this set up that drains the life and youth of the migrant workers, and disciplines their children to accept these working and living conditions.

Instead everyone is completely surprised that domestic violence happens under these conditions. Worse, most people rely on the widespread stereotype that domestic violence primarily happens in families of color: that men of color are somehow more violent than other men and that women need to be protected from men of color.

In a press release last week, Sakuma Bros. Farms claimed that they take domestic violence seriously and were responsible to “provide a safe environment” for the adults and children in the farmworker community at Campo 2 and therefore fired Ramon Torres because he is a “potential threat”.

The company was eager to activate stereotypes of the dangerous Latino man who uses drugs and beats his wife, without ever addressing the living and working conditions at the Farms.

Some community supporters have also shown hesitation in continuing support for Ramon’s leadership, not wanting to support someone who has been accused of committing an act of domestic violence. And even though the charges against Ramon have been dismissed, some community members who opposed the organizing and decisions by Familias Unidas are using this as proof that farmworkers indeed cannot be trusted to lead their own liberation.


The incident surrounding Ramon Torres at Sakuma Brothers Farms is an illustrative example of this complicated relationship that many women of color and impoverished families have with violence.

The struggle to end domestic violence in the farmworker communities cannot be separated from either the struggle to end male supremacy, or from the struggle to improve the living and working conditions of low wage farmworkers.

The members of Familias Unidas have decided to risk their low-wage jobs and their families and speak out against the structural violence in corporate agriculture in Skagit County as they have experienced it in the corporate Sakuma Bros. Farms.

Ramon and Deanna Torres are on the front line of this struggle. And in the process Familias Unidas is leading the way towards a more just local food system. This IS farmworker action to end structural violence that create the conditions to make domestic violence possible.

If Sakuma Bros. Farms were truly invested in the wellbeing of the whole agricultural community in Skagit County, the company would sign a legally binding contract with Familias Unidas. The biggest contribution Sakuma Bros. Farms could make to ensure the safety and security of the farmworkers living in Campo 2, would be to end the dehumanizing living and working conditions that attack the wellbeing of each worker and child at the labor camps.

The struggle to end domestic violence in the farmworker communities cannot be separated from either the struggle to end male supremacy, or from the struggle to improve the living and working conditions of low wage farmworkers

The work to end all forms of violence requires individual work on our own internalized messages about the worth of women and children and the expectations of what “real” women and men do. And it requires collective social movement that challenges the structural oppressions of poverty and rigid gender binaries.

Ending domestic violence in rural farmworker communities must follow the lead of the women themselves, whom advocates have to trust are making the right decisions for themselves at all times. Women may take risks that some people couldn’t imagine, because our lives are structured by impossible choices.

As an eco-feminist organization, Community to Community is bound by the commitment that we, women, are the best agents of our own liberation.

Women are not up for saving. We know when, where, and how to act to midwife our own liberated lives. We must believe that this is true even in cases of domestic violence, that there is sound reasoning behind our decisions to stay quiet and not involve our allies, or to surrender to law enforcement and the legal justice system, but to always re-make our lives to stop violence or at least limit its impacts on our lives.

In this case, Familias Unidas por la Justicia has decided that even after this incident, Ramon Torres will continue as their president.

When Deanna called the police, she expected that they would talk to Ramon but not arrest him. Deanna Torres has decided to rescind the no-contact order, so that she and her daughter could reunite with her husband.

No one outside of Familias Unidas has the ability, or the right to demand and expect the resignation of Ramon Torres. Deanna and Ramon both decided on their family’s best course of action. And as supporters of farmworkers and their liberation, we must liberate our own selves from our internalized messages about the decision-making abilities and values of ALL farmworkers of every gender.

They get to decide where in the matrix of everyday violence at Sakuma Bros. Farms this particular experience fits. And we get the honor of supporting their decisions towards their own liberation, if we are to work together to build a truly just and sustainable local food system.

About the Author:

I am an interdisciplinary scholar and an eco-feminist community health worker in Bellingham WA, working towards a just food system locally and building a solidarity economy that respects the dignity of all. I am writing my dissertation entitled “Locating Memory: Recovering Indigenous Healing Practices in the Filipin@ Diaspora”.

I see my work as supporting the work to heal from the legacies of colonization, and to nourish community power to create and sustain autonomous and sustainable communities. Along with family members, I am also raising two daughters and two sons, teaching each other that our love is so much bigger than the distances that separate us.

Familias Unidas por la Justicia President Fired by Sakuma, 300 pickers walk out

September 12, 2013


Over 300 pickers rally after walking off the fields. Photo by Maru Mora.

Burlington, WA (September 12, 2013): This past week, Familias Unidas por la Justicia farmworkers held two separate strikes at Sakuma Bros. Farm, one with 150 blueberry pickers and another with 200 blackberry pickers. Both strikes gained wage increases of $1.00 and $0.75 respectively.

On Thursday September 12, 2013, committee member Filemon Piñeda reported that Familias Unidas por la Justicia President Ramon Torres was summarily fired for his role in the strikes. Farmworkers contend that Torres was fired for refusing to negotiate proposed minimum productivity requirements that grower Ryan Sakuma sought to implement as a condition of the wage increase. Torres saw this as a productivity “speed up” that not all pickers would be able to meet, putting at risk their ability to work.

Piñeda reported that he was there when the Skagit County Sheriff arrived to escort Torres to meet with the Sakumas and to remove him from the property. Piñeda said, “this is why they fired him, they [Sakuma executives] didn’t want to see him in the fields.”


Farm Workers Rally at Sakuma Field Office. Photo by Maru Mora.


Maru Mora reported that over 300 farmworkers rallied today, they had walked off the fields when they heard that Ramon Torres was fired and evicted. At noon, these farmworkers were rallying at the Sakuma business offices demanding Torres’ reinstatement.

Even with the gravity of the situation, the farmworkers were in good spirits. As they rallied, the committee members asked, “¿Nadie va trabajar?/is everyone going to stop work until this matter is resolved?” to which the crowd unanimously answered “Si!/ Yes!” as they cheered each other on for encouragement.

In Torres absence, the ability of the eleven member negotiation’s committee to lead has become obvious. The farmworkers understand that this theater by the corporation has no grounds and is little more than a scare tactic, of which the farmworkers are sick and tired of.


Farmworkers Rally. Photo by Maru Mora.


This farmworker struggle has many similarities with early efforts in California to fight for farmworker dignity. For example Cesar Chavez’s first attempt to organize farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley was met with similar repression and collaboration between growers and law enforcement:

“In September 1965 the NFWA launched their first strike in an effort to unionize grape workers. The picket was promptly declared illegal (Matthiessen 1969), convincing the union of the near impossibility of relying on the strike as a viable tactic. The collusion between growers and law enforcement, and the large supply of unemployed workers, compelled the NFWA to consider the boycott. Soon after, the AWOC and NFWA merged to create the United Farm Workers’ Organizing Committee (UFWOC). (Pulido, 1996, 71)

Federal Labor Law prohibits certain types of strikes that it considers to be unlawful strikes. California growers used an incorrect interpretation of this to try to limit the ability of farmworkers to strike. However, as Laura Pulido points out in regards to the aftermath of this attempt to bust the union, “The situation was somewhat ironic. If workers were not protected under the law, neither were they subject to its limitations. This situation allowed the UFWOC to conduct the first successful boycott, which was instrumental in bringing growers to the table” (70).

Familias Unidas por la Justicia migrant berry pickers are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) of 1935 nor the amendments in 1947 (Taft-Hartley Act) because they are agricultural workers. CATA a farmworker organization in New Jersey argues,

Section 2 of the act plainly states:

  • (3) The term “employee” shall include any employee, and shall not be limited to the employees of a particular employer, unless the Act [this subchapter] explicitly states otherwise, and shall include any individual whose work has ceased as a consequence of, or in connection with, any current labor dispute or because of any unfair labor practice, and who has not obtained any other regular and substantially equivalent employment, but shall not include any individual employed as an agricultural laborer, or in the domestic service of any family or person at his home, or any individual employed by his parent or spouse, or any individual having the status of an independent contractor, or any individual employed as a supervisor, or any individual employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act [45 § 151 et seq.], as amended from time to time, or by any other person who is not an employer as herein defined. (CATA Policy Manual, 3)

  • Because agricultural workers are exempt from these protections, they are also not subject to their limitations that govern strikes and boycotts. Sadly, this lack of recognition also excludes agricultural workers from basic worker rights like overtime pay, and other benefits most have come to take for granted including “whistle blower” protections making workers susceptible to reprisals by their employer that are unheard of outside of agriculture and domestic work.

    The solution that the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee struggled for and won in California was the passage of a California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 that extended many of those rights denied to agricultural workers by federal law via local state legislation.


    Historian Matt Garcia in his book From the Jaws of Victory (2012) argues that the UFWOC creatively changed the way boycotts were used in three fundamental ways, “First, Chavez expanded the use of the boycott by appealing to consumers to participate in the pursuit of social justice…Second, although initially Chavez and a handful of union leaders started the boycott to occupy volunteers’ time between harvests, he and union leaders eventually came to regard the boycott with at least as much respect as they did strikes and marches….Third, the United Farm Workers pursued a strategy not available to most labor unions: the secondary boycott.”

    Garcia contends that within these three innovations, that the road to victory for the UFWOC was forged. He argues convincingly that by shifting the goal of the farm workers from a specific labor dispute and into a social movement for farm worker dignity and social justice the UFWOC was able to rally sufficient support from U.S. Civil Society to bring the growers to the negotiation table. Garcia also notes that the “by any means necessary” approach to the boycott by volunteer cultural workers and organizers, allowed for a tremendous creativity on behalf of the campaigns, the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF -Originally Rebel Chicano Art Front) for example produced a tremendous amount of art for the boycott campaigns.


    Don’t Eat Grapes. Designed for the United Farm Workers.

    This creativity was not limited to art, which varied depending on the norms of the region. In Los Angeles, great murals were created, in the bay area poster art was pioneered for the boycott and in Seattle, the human billboard was introduced as a boycott tactic.

    UFW Solidarity_ Queen Anne Safeway_ 1969 WSFT Convention_ ph

    UFW Solidarity, Queen Anne Safeway, 1969 WSFT Convention. Photo by Ross Rieder.

    According to Garcia, one of the most crucial innovations that was made possible precisely because of the exemption of farmworkers from the amendments made by Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 had to do with the ability to hold “secondary boycotts”, “In 1947 the Taft-Hartley Labor Act amended the National Labor Relations Act to restrict labor unions from running campaigns against companies that were not abusing workers but were selling products of companies that were. In 1959, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act strengthened the restriction against this practice, which was known as a secondary boycott.” (ibid)

    This is why it is possible for Familias Unidas por la Justicia to call for a boycott Sakuma Bros. Farm Berries and its major distributors, Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream, Driscoll’s Fresh Market Berries, and Yoplait yogurts at multiple grocers.


    You have a unique opportunity to support farmworker families AND the work of Community to Community! Join or organize a boycott picket line in your own community. You can keep up to date on the Boycott at There you will find the contact numbers and addresses where you can call Sakuma Bros. Farms and Sakuma Berry distributors to let them know that you demand that the company settle with its berry pickers by signing a contract. Consider funding both Familias Unidas por la Justicia and Community to Community as farmworkers lead us towards a sustainable and equitable food system with dignity and respect!

    To support the workers directly, please make checks out to Familias Unidas por la Justicia and send to:

    Familias Unidas por la Justicia
    P.O. Box 1206,
    Burlington, WA 98233

    justicia para todos

    As this struggle continues, it is vital that the workers know they are supported by the community. Please send cards, notes of encouragement and of course financial support which is tax deductible.

    To support C2C directly for ongoing administrative support, leadership development, research, organizing support, networking, and media go to:

    click on the “donate” button to the right of the screen or send checks made out to:

    Community to Community Development
    203 W. Holly Street, Ste. 317
    Bellingham, WA 98225.


    Pickers Strike in Sakuma Bros Berry Fields, gain wage victories

    September 11, 2013


    Blackberry Supervisor calling Ryan Sakuma to the fields to negotiate with workers who stopped picking. Photo by Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

    Burlington, WA-September 11, 2013–Familias Unidas por la Justicia held two strikes this week, resulting in wage increases at Sakuma Bros. Farms for over 350 workers that they democratically represent.

    On Tuesday September 10, over 150 blueberry pickers under the leadership of Familias Unidas por la Justicia committee members Francisco Eugenio Paz, Francisco Martinez and Librado Ibañez halted production in the blueberry fields and demanded a raise in price per box of cannery bound blueberries from $4.50 a box to $6.00 a box. The work stoppage lasted for one hour, after which they gained a $1.00 wage increase to $5.50 a box of blueberries.

    Today, Wednesday Sept. 11, 2013 at 8:00am, Over 200 blackberry pickers under the leadership of Familias Unidas por la Justicia President Ramon Torres also stopped production in the blackberry fields to demand a better price per fresh market box of blackberries. The supervisor had announced a price of $4.25 a box – the workers demanded $6 a box and negotiated with Ryan Sakuma a final price of $5.00 per box.


    In Industrial Production

    The sit down strike is a labor tactic where workers take control of the place of production by “sitting down” and stopping work on site. This differs from the traditional “walk out” strike tactic in that staying at the place of production prevents the employer from replacing them or resuming production by other means (other workers or a machine harvester).


    Strikers guarding window entrance to Fisher body plant number three. Photo by Sheldon Dick (1937).

    Sit down strikes have a long history in the United States and are most easily associated with the United Auto Workers Flint Sit Down Strike in Michigan that lasted forty days in 1936-1937. The first recognized industrial sit down strike in the United States occurred on December 10, 1906 where the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) led 3000 workers to stop work at General Electric Works in New York. Since then, Sit Down strikes have been the realm of autonomist worker movements in Italy, Poland, Yugoslavia and France.

    In The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was made possible by disperse and multiple sit down strikes, that together formed part of a nationwide general strike, that brought the nations production to a halt. The shop floor democracy of the workers councils, that formed the Central Worker’s Council of Greater Budapest was forged in local factory committees (James, Lee & Chaulieu, 1974, 7-19).

    In the late 20th and early 21st century, the sit down strike tactic was used numerous and uncountable times by Mexican Maquiladora workers, Devon Peña documented the strategy in his book The Terror of the Machine (1997).

    In Reproductive Spaces


    The Greensboro Sit-Ins Feb. 2, 1960. Photo by Greensboro News Record.

    In the 1960s, student and civil rights movements also began to use the tactic in the form of “sit ins” and “teach ins” effectively moving the tactic out of the arena of production and into consumer and reproductive spaces.


    Wages for Housework c.1975. Designed by B. Warrior.

    By the 1970s Wages for Housework campaign in the U.K. and Italy, the sit down strike was used en masse by housewives and working women to fight against the double shift and against unwaged labor.

    In Agricultural Production

    Historically speaking, the sit down strike was a key form of resistance to Slavery in plantation agriculture in the 17th and 18th century. Indentured servants and African slaves brought to the United States engaged in sit down strikes, acts of sabotage, ran away and saw through many uprisings. This type of rebellion was so common that plantation owners had to develop brutal and inhumane ways of disciplining slaves, as depicted in the Willie Lynch Letter: The Making of a slave that is based upon a speech delivered in Virginia in 1712.

    According to Paul Taylor, by the middle of the 18th century the crisis in U.S. plantation agriculture caused by the frequency of slave rebellions came to be so great that, “southern planters were obliged to seek another labor system” (Taylor, 1954, 143). As they were “denied the right of holding slaves,” because of the results of the civil war and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, “they [Plantation owners] turned quickly to…sharecropping and wage labor” (Ibid). Even so, the tactic remained valuable as it found new life in industrial production in the early 20th century.

    In 20th century industrial agriculture, Mexican farm workers have engaged in sit down strikes more often than traditional “walk out” strikes. 1917 was a busy year for Mexican farmworkers in California with “several farm strikes…hit the Corona, Riverside, Colton, Redlands and San Bernadino areas of California”(Acuña 171). According to Ernesto Galarza (1964) a 1928 a strike led by Mexican farmworkers in the Imperial Valley California, “was defeated by arrests and deportations”(39; Acuña 196-97). A 1930 strike in the Imperial Valley was broken when the Sheriff conducted raids and arrested 103 farmworkers and eight union leaders sentenced to between 2-28 years each at San Quentin (Acuña 215). A 1933 cotton strike in California was “broken by organized violence”(Galarza 39). A 1936 strike in Orange County was put down by “Sheriffs deputies and special guards numbering more than 400”(Ibid).

    Later in the mid 20th century, in 1943, Burlington was the site of one of many sit down strikes by Mexican Bracero’s in Washington State over wage ceilings and piece rates. Here, according to Erasmo Gamboa (1990), “a local Mexican American, with the help of a priest, convinced the braceros to halt work because farmers were paying higher wages to Anglos doing similar work”(80).

    In the present era, Familias Unidas por la Justicia also in Burlington, reported that work stoppages are the only tactic they as pickers have been able to use effectively for short term gains for more than 10 years, though only two strikes were recognized by Sakuma Bros. Farms, one in 2004 and another in 2008, these strikes also resulted in temporary or no gains.

    The farmworkers report that they have had spontaneous strikes at Sakuma Bros. Farms almost every year for over a decade. Many of those small worker uprisings resulted in the termination and eviction of the instigator, and the majority resulted in no gains. This pattern changed this year and it is the reason that Familias Unidas por la Justicia are asking for consumer support through a boycott to achieve what they have not been able to achieve over ten years of struggle.


    One of the prerequisites of wage labour and one of the historic conditions for capital is free labour and the exchange of free labour against money, in order to reproduce money and to convert it into values, in order to be consumed by money, not as use value for enjoyment, but as value for money. Another prerequisite is the separation of free labour from the objective conditions of its realization—from the means and material of labour. This means above all that the worker must be separated from the land, which functions as his natural laboratory. This means the dissolution both of free petty landownership and of communal landed property…(Marx 2007 [1965], pg 67)

    The class politics of abstract labor is the “struggle over capital’s attempts to shape abstract labor and working class efforts to gain autonomy from its reduction to labor power” (Peña, 1983, 188). The struggle for control over production is on the one hand a struggle over the value of an individual worker’s labor and on the other hand a refusal of the imposition of work (Marx, 1976; Cleaver, 1979).

    It is also a struggle to reclaim land. Through the “separation of peasants from their land (their means of production)” that “is the most critical precondition for the development of capitalist production and the imposition of wage-labor exchange relations” (Peña, 1997, 29). Many U.S. migrant farm workers have been displaced from their land by U.S. trade policy such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Mexican National policy changes that undo land reform gains made in the early 20th century. That is the experience documented with the majority of Mixtec and Triqui-speaking farm workers I interviewed at Sakuma Bros. Farms and this is also supported by Seth Holmes findings in Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies(2013) regarding the experiences of Triqui farmworkers in the Skagit Valley.

    On the packing house floor and in the fields this struggle for control over production takes specific forms including struggles over the speed of production, quality of production, wages, the length of shifts, the workday and work week (Marx, 1976; Cleaver, 1979; Peña, 1983). The majority of the demands that have not been met by Sakuma Bros. Farms are these types of “managerial” or “control over production” issues in regards to Berry production.

    This struggle also extends to the struggle over how the workforce is reproduced. This manifests in struggles over water, land, housing, sanitation, childcare, education, leisure, culture, benefits, and over the value of unwaged labor and against the gendered division of labor (Dalla Costa and James, 1979).

    The struggle in the sphere of reproduction is fought primarily over a capitalist imposed wage divide between waged and unwaged sectors of the working class (Cleaver, 1979, 70-71). This is why Familias Unidas por la Justicia have sought relief in regards to access to childcare, limits or compensation for “overtime” because of the time young children are left unsupervised or in the care of another person, sick leave and better sanitation and living conditions free of bed bugs in Sakuma Bros. Labor Camps.



    Committee Members celebrate victory. Photo by Rosalinda Guillen.

    Similar to farmworker struggles in California in the 1960s, Familias Unidas por la Justicia are negotiating beyond small and temporary wage increases because they also want “to remedy the great power imbalance between growers and field-workers” by demanding “recognition plus participation in management” (Pulido, 1996, 71). Also similar to the 1965 farmworker struggle in California, they are in an ironic situation where they are not protected under federal labor laws, agricultural workers are exempted, and therefore they are also not subject to its limitations (70).

    The pickers contend that these disruptions in otherwise peaceful and efficient work would not be happening if the management of Sakuma Berry farms would re-establish the joint test picking process that the company previously agreed upon with the organizing committee on July 25, 2013.

    This is why the Sakuma Bros. Farms workers are demanding a written contract – to guarantee that all gains made for their families through Familias Unidas por la Justicia are respected and implemented without losing them at the whim of management.

    We make the road by walking: Part II – Autonomy

    August 24, 2013

    “A los compañeros del CNI y La Otra: Unir y no dividirnos. ¡Hoy es el tiempo de luchar! ¡No estan solos! De San Juan Copala, lo hacemos desde donde estemos.”

    –Josefina, Triqui Elder, San Juan Copala, Oaxaca

    Seattle, WA — I first had the privilege of listening to a Triqui elder as a witness to The First Forum in Defense of Water and Territory, in Vicam, Sonora, Mexico on November 20-21 2010.

    Her words were filled with a deep hurt, she had been part of the group of Triqui women who had been forced off of their land in San Juan Copala, Oaxaca because of the rich mining deposits underneath the soil that they toiled for subsistence. A paramilitary group was responsible for their removal through extreme violence and force.

    Even still, with that immediate pain in her voice, her words above were for unity and struggle, they were for life and against death.

    Over the last month I have had the privilege to witness in my own territory, where I grew up, a similar act of self-lessness on behalf of a community of mostly Triqui and Mixteco migrant farmworkers.

    This struggle for life in the face of death has profoundly moved me and the team from Community to Community Development that has followed their lead because we saw in them, the future in the present. We saw ourselves in them. And because they asked us to walk with them.

    The Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle was another moment where an indigenous group from the south asked the world to walk with them. To do so is to go beyond charity, even to go beyond solidarity: it is to truly see and value each other, and to see ones own liberation tied to that of another group of beings.

    The Zapatistas explain that capitalism is death, that the Fourth World War is about the complete destruction of the fabric of the community.

    In Vicam, Sonora, Tata Juan Chavez Alonso a Purhepecha elder from Michoacan and a founder of the National Indigenous Congress of Mexico, who has since passed away, said the following about this problem, “Los proyectos de mal gobierno se trata de privatizar todo. Son proyectos de muerte. Va contra todo./ The projects of the bad government are invested in privatizing everything. They are projects of death. It goes against everything in the natural world.”

    Tata Juan in this strategy session encouraged us to, “retomar los proyectos de vida, es el trabajo que hacer./ To take up once again the projects that give life, that is the work ahead of us.”

    He explained that these projects for life and against death were linked to our heritage as indigenous people: “Modas de vida, organización, cultura./lifestyles, organization, culture.” He continued, “A defender y apoyar esos proyectos de vida./We must defend and nurture those projects that give life.” These include Autonomia/Autonomy, which he defined as, “cuando un pueblo toma su derecho de cuidar su territorio./when a community exercises its ability to be stewards of the territory in which they live.”

    He linked the concept of Autonomy with self-determination, saying that the road ahead are our own communities defending ourselves, no matter what unjust laws or bad governments rule.

    In many ways, the struggle that is being forged by the indigenous migrant community of over 300 in Burlington, WA is exercising their autonomy in an attempt to deal directly with their employer.

    U.S. journalists scoffed at their demand that they wanted to have overtime pay during the harvest, which during peak season can be as long as eleven hours. But the farmworkers made their demands based on what they needed for self-determination, to spend time with their families and recuperate after working so hard for their employer. They do not want to stop at compliance, that is not enough, they want justice and the ability to determine for themselves what justice is.

    In Vicam, Sonora another Purhepecha elder, Tata Francisco, explained that we should not limit ourselves to a struggle over the wage in our struggle against death. He didn’t deny its importance, but emphasized a larger view that resonates with the current struggle of the Triqui and Mixteco farmworkers in Burlington, WA.

    Tata Francisco said, “ahora los demandas no son por sueldos altos, sino autobasto. Es una ganancia./ Today our demands are not for higher wages, but for self-sustainability. This is a victory in and of itself.” He explained that the ongoing struggles in Michoacan have been fought on two arenas, the first was legal battles and the second was community struggles to exercise their own autonomy and self-defense.

    He explained that bio-tech was having a major impact upon the communities ability to exercise their autonomy because the introduction of modified seed made many farmers dependent upon the corporations that produce them.

    Tata Francisco urged the other indigenous farmers to exercise and invest in traditional agricultural practices, even in the face of Monsanto and biopiracy.

    He said, “our communal knowledge is being privatized and we need to take it back! We need to recover our old ways and reject corporate agriculture,” that “en ves de pedir salarios altos, debemos pelear por control sobre la forma de producción!/ instead of asking only for higher wages, we should fight for control over the modes of production!”

    A struggle over the modes of production (and reproduction) on a vertically integrated berry farm is exactly what is happening with Familias Unidas por la Justicia at Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. a 1,500 acre, $6.1 million earning firm just north of Seattle, WA. The firm has desparately tried to come into compliance, not because of the law, but because of three distinct farmworker strikes this summer. But even with those strikes, farmworkers were not able to secure beyond what the law already says is the bare minimum for the industry.

    That is why they have organized themselves as families, as an organization Familias Unidas por la Justicia (United Families for Justice) to struggle for life and not death, and that is why the most important work that they have been busy doing over the last month has been to rebuild the fabric of their communities, the result is that unity in struggle that Tata Josefina said in the epigraph of this essay.

    As the farmworkers take the next step in their struggle for dignity and the ability to live off of their labor, they recently asked, Will you walk with Familias Unidas por la Justicia? They have taken the first step, inviting you as a consumer to join a struggle against an unfair food system, knowing that their liberation is bound with everyone elses in a food system that is no longer sustainable in the United States or the rest of the World.

    We are what is at stake.

    Farmworkers authorize consumer BOYCOTT of Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc.

    August 19, 2013


    Boycott Sakuma

    Contact: Rosalinda Guillen
    Community to Community Development
    Phone (360) 738-0893
    203 W. Holly, Ste 317
    Bellingham, WA 98225

    Burlington, WA, August 19, 2013: The leadership of Familias Unidas por la Justicia and 246 members authorized a consumer boycott against Sakuma Brothers Farms on Friday, August 16, 2013. This difficult decision was reached after the company broke its verbal agreement to conduct a collaborative picking test that determines the price per pound based on a minimum wage of $12.00 per hour.

    On August 14, 2013 Ryan Sakuma refused to pay 48 cents per pound that was determined by the test pick. He said that he would only pay 40 cents per pound. This piece rate was .08 cents lower than what the field testers and supervisor calculated for the blueberry field in question. For the farmworkers .08 cents is the difference between a living wage that they had negotiated and the sub-poverty wages that caused them to stop work. Committee President Ramon Torres said, “This is why we are going to boycott, because we had made an agreement and they did not honor that agreement.” Farmworker employees at Sakuma Brothers Farms insist that the law guarantees them equal pay with the H-2a guestworkers. Due to this breech of verbal agreement, the elected worker committee has broken off negotiations with the management of Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. The committee now is calling for a mutually agreed upon contract that recognizes the worker committee and includes fair wages, better treatment, a grievance process, seniority, and better living conditions.

    Farmworkers will be organizing boycott information for consumers on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 10:00am until 1:00pm at the three following locations:

    Save Max
    1515 N. 18th Street
    Mount Vernon, WA

    The Market
    1030 Lakeway Drive
    Bellingham, WA 98229

    Town and Country Markets
    Ballard Market
    1400 NW 56th Street
    Seattle, WA 98107

    Sakuma Brothers Farms employees and Farmworker leaders calling for the boycott will be available to speak to the media at length at all locations.

    Look for important updates about Familias Unidas por la Justicia and press releases at and on Community to Community Development’s facebook page:!

    See Also:

    Al Jazeera America: David Bacon, “Stand off in the Strawberry Fields,” 8/19/2013:

    Seattle Times: Lornet Turnbull and Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, “Striking farmworkers afraid of guest-worker program,” 7/23/2013:


    Press Release: Familias Unidas por la Justicia Leaders refuse to work today to protest against Wage Theft in progress.

    August 16, 2013


    Contact: Rosalinda Guillen
    Community to Community Development
    Phone (360) 738-0893
    203 W. Holly, Ste 317
    Bellingham, WA 98225

    August 16, 2013, 9:00AM PST

    Familias Unidas por la Justicia Leaders refuse to work today to protest against Wage Theft in progress.


    Familias Unidas por la Justicia members who are protesting Sakuma breech of faith. Photo by Rosalinda Guillen.

    Burlington, WA, August 16, 2013: Several brave members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia refused to work today at Sakuma Brothers Farms in protest of what they consider to be a breech of faith against a recent agreement signed by Sakuma Brothers Farms director John Sakuma and Familias Unidas por la Justicia president Ramon Torres on August 14, 2013. The farm workers see this as a lack of recognition of the worker’s voices and negotiation for a living wage.

    Some of the farmworkers who are part of Familias Unidas por la Justicia were so desparate that they could not afford not to work. Rosalinda Guillen stated on August 15, 2013, “The families are broke! There’s no amount of support we can give them that can make up for lost wages due to the labor dispute.” The families were forced to accept a lower wage than they were promised in order to survive, this according to the committee is a breech of agreement. Ramon Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia claimed, “Refusing to pay .48 cents a pound as determined by the test pick with the suprevisors is like taking food from our childrens mouths.”

    The agreement states that no farmworker would “receive reduced work hours or receive reduced opportunities in the current or any following season.” In a previous agreement on July 25, 2013, the owners of Sakuma Brothers Farm agreed to base the price per pound on $12.00 an hour minimum wage beginning on August 5, 2013.

    The committee claims that Ryan Sakuma breeched this good faith written agreement facilitated by former federal mediator Richard Ahern, when Ramon Torres and two other members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia completed a field test with a supervisor at 2:00pm on August 14, 2013. By 3:00pm the field test crew and the supervisor had collaboratively calculated a piece rate of .48 cents per pound using a process established as company policy by the committee and Ryan Sakuma on July 25, 2013. Ryan Sakuma refused to agree to pay the piece rate of .48 cents per pound, saying that he was only obligated to pay .40 cents per pound.

    Ryan Sakuma argued that he was only obligated to pay Familias Unidas por la Justicia based upon the state mandated $9.19 per hour minimum wage. This calculation is the difference between the .48 cents per pound and .40 cents per pound piece rate for blueberries. For the farmworkers this is the difference between a living wage that they had negotiated in good faith, equal to the pay of H-2a guestworkers.

    Current long-time farmworker employees of Sakuma Brothers Farms reported that the H-2a guest workers arrived Wednesday night and on Thursday were escorted by private security. They also reported that a barbed-wire fence has been erected by the company between Labor Camp 1 that houses some migrant workers and Labor Camp 3 where the H-2a guest workers are being housed.

    Familias Unidas por la Justicia are available to talk to the media, please call president Ramon Torres at (360)610-9666 or Rosalinda Guillen at (360)381-0293 or leave a message at (360)738-0893.



    Familias Unidas por la Justicía delivers blow against Wage Theft, continues to struggle for farmworker dignity!

    August 4, 2013


    Luis Jimenez with his recovered minimum wage check from Sakuma Brothers Farms. Photo by Rosalinda Guillen.

    Burlington, WA – July 31, 2013 –In a bittersweet victory for Familias Unidas por la Justicía, several farmworkers who are minors (12-16 years old) received backpay settlement checks on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. According to a previous Karani report “Minors, who are paid $7.81 per hour according to a Sakuma Brothers Farm Administrator, were being paid less hours than they actually worked, resulting in dismal paychecks.” According to Ramón Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicía, Luis Jimenez (15 years old) had earned a meager $52.00 in one pay period because he was being paid by piece rate during the strawberry harvest.

    On Friday, July 19, 2013, Familias Unidas por la Justicía had demanded that their employer, Sakuma Brothers Farms, make corrections to all of the farmworkers disputed paychecks. At that meeting, the payroll supervisor apologized, stating “we are processing 700 checks a week, and if a mistake is made, you should bring it in and we can fix it.”

    That is precisely what Familias Unidas por la Justicia did following up on their ongoing negotiations with the firm over wage disputes and mistreatment at the workplace and in their homes. At that meeting, the payroll supervisor agreed to, “audit 4500, all of the kids.” When the committee pressed for all of the worker’s paychecks to be audited for wage discreptancies, Ryan Sakuma intervened and said that he would commit only to a “sporadic check” of the adult farmworkers and do more should they find major discreptancies.

    An overview of the Sakuma Brothers Farm Labor Dispute

    Sakuma Labor Dispute Timeline 1

    On July 10, 2013 farmworker Federico Lopez was fired and his family was evicted from labor camp 2 at Sakuma Brothers Farm for voicing a grievance against a low piece rate. On July 11, 2013 over 200 farmworkers, mostly of indigenous heritage, began a work stoppage that lasted six days. Two of their demands were met in that time, Federico Lopez was reinstated and a hostile supervisor was removed from overseeing the striking farmworkers. The farmworkers returned to work in good faith upon a promise by Sakuma owners to participate in the process of determining future piece rates for the berry harvests.

    Sakuma Labor Dispute Timeline 2

    On July 22, 2013 the farmworkers began a second, three day work stoppage, over differential pay that the farmworkers viewed as retaliation for their first work stoppage. On July 24, 2013 the crisis escalated when the striking farmworkers were given an ultimatum by Ryan Sakuma to accept $3.50 per flat or leave. Solidarity community leadership intervened on July 25, 2013 to bring both parties back to the negotiation table, on July 26, 2013 the farmworkers ended their second work stoppage in good faith that direct negotiations would continue. On July 31, 2013, after having been harassed via surveillance by hired security guards for four days, the Sakuma Management hired a former federal mediator who met with Familias Unidas por la Justicia for four hours. At this negotiation, Sakuma executives agreed to retract said security guards and return to the negotiation table with the mediator. Farmworkers have been discussing whether or not they will accept a third party negotiator, as they have made many statements of their preference for direct negotiation with their employer.



    Wage Theft Online Resource Center

    Familias Unidas Por La Justicia

    July 26, 2013

    A Photo Essay by Star Angelina Murray

    Artist Bio:

    Star Angelina Murray is an artist from the South Sound region of Washington State.In honor of her musical daughter, Star’s photography emphasizes the musicality of labor, forced migration, Mexican American identity and dispossession. Star is dedicated to images that represent the search for human dignity.

    Raul Merino Camp 2 Cabin 66

    Ramon y Diana Torres

    Federico Lopez Camp 2 Cabin 69

    Francisco Eugenio Paz Camp 2 Cabin 46

    Antonio Jimenez and Ana Lopez Camp 1 Cabin 24

    Carmen Juarez Vasquez Camp 1 Cabin 22

    Rogelio Dionicio Camp 2 Cabin 45


    Camp 2 Cabin 45

    Camp 2 next to basketball court


    Ramon Torres Extended Family


    Josefina Pineda Camp 2 Cabin 48

    Juana Sanchez Camp 2 Cabin 49

    Lopez Camp 2 Cabin 69

    Luisa Milagro Camp 2 Cabin 47

    Marcelina Vasquez Camp 2 Cabin 34

    Maura Vasquez 20282 Lafayette Rd Apt 225


    Striking Families Camp 2

    Teofino Eugenio Camp 2 Cabin 68


    What’s really at Stake?

    July 25, 2013

    (Co-Authored by Marco)
    Amigo. Photo by Marco.

    Bow, WA- July 25, 2013 – How do we negotiate a false dichotomy that pits better working and living conditions for farmworkers against a call for viable local farms? For many of the farmworkers who are currently on their third day of their second work stoppage at Sakuma Brothers Farms, this false dichotomy ignores the simple truth, that the fate of the growers and the farmworkers are bound together.

    Niño. Photo by Marco.

    The farmworkers contend that if they are treated poorly, and offered low wages, their performance as highly skilled pickers will also suffer, negatively impacting the growers. This is the core of their appeal, that their dignity should be made whole through fair trade wages along with common decency and respectful treatment at their workplace and homes at the hands of company representatives.

    White shirt. Photo By Marco

    To gain a better perspective, it is important to understand what is at stake in this particular farmworker struggle. This past week Marco, an 8 year old resident of Labor Camp 2 has been keeping me company. The photographs featured in this article are taken from his perspective.

    Káráni author Tomás Madrigal. Photo by Marco.

    According to Marco and his friends, what they enjoy about living in the labor camp are simple things. They like that there is a forest behind their camp, and a park for them to play in. They like that they have the ability to pick blackberries to eat whenever they feel the urge. They also enjoy the food vendors who come directly to the camp as well as the “gabachos” who come to give away food and trade candies for hugs. They like living in the labor camp, they just wish that their cabins came with bathrooms, because the out door latrines are scary in the dark. The youth said that when the summer harvest ends, they usually go to live in an apartment where they spend their time indoors, and that some families go far far away.

    Self-portrait. Photo by Marco.

    Marco reports that his parents are not working at the moment. He claims that it is because there is a problem. He said that his parents are not treated nice, that some people are mean.

    Vecinas. Photo by Marco.

    The treatment that the parents of these youth receive at the workplace and in their homes shapes in turn the way that the youth are treated, and the way that the youth treat each other.

    untitled. Photo by Marco.

    Astute observers, after everyone goes home, the youth role play the behavior that was modeled by those who came to their camp from the outside. Whether that behavior was charity, disrespect, racism, or perhaps dignity.

    Entrevista. Photo by Marco.

    On my way out last night, I saw Marco and his friends play in the empty grass field at the entrance of their home, where an encampment had been erected earlier that day, the youth were waving picket signs that read “respect,” pumping their fists and chanting “¡SI SE PUEDE!” yes we can!.

    Photo by David Bacon.

    This is what is at stake.

    Photo by Marco

    FIOB Denuncia contra Sakuma Brothers Farms

    July 24, 2013

    DENUNCIA de Migrantes WA page 1

    DENUNCIA de Migrantes WA page 2


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