“If people give you food, they’ll give you their hearts.” –César E. Chávez
Bow, WA – July 28, 2013 – Nineteen days into the Sakuma Brothers Farm, Inc. labor dispute the negotiation committee of Familias Unidas por la Justicia was able to distribute the emergency relief aid that the solidarity community delivered to the striking migrant farmworkers at Labor Camp 2 on Sakuma Brothers Farm.
When the farmworkers began their first work stoppage, they had no idea that they would be involved in a struggle for such a long period of time. From the very beginning, and consistently thereafter, over 240 Mixteco and Triqui speaking farmworkers and their families signed their names as proof of their consent to stop work twice and to declare their support of the 11 person, democratically elected, negotiation committee to resolve their 14 grievances with Sakuma Brothers Farms executives. When asked why, negotiations committee president for Familias Unidas por la Justicia Ramon Torres said:
We had a strike because the price they gave us was too low, and another crew had a better deal, we were on strike Wednesday and Thursday and returned to work on Friday, came back with an agreement, but that does not signify that this struggle is over, we have a list of 14 demands, we have been dealing with 5 and have 9 left to address.
Raul Merino, the chair of the public relations sub-committee of Familias Unidas por la Justicia in charge of documenting and distributing relief aid and worker relations said,
We want to finish those negotiations, in particular with Steven Sakuma because he is a reasonable man, because the chain of command does not work at the firm and we want to talk directly with him. So that next year we can just come back and work and not have to do this again.
EMERGING FARMWORKER LEADERS
Familias Unidas por la Justicia has been very active, on top of trying on the new process of determining piece rates collaboratively, the negotiations committee has developed their self-organization to reflect the demands and subtle and not-so-subtle attacks on their community’s self-determination and unity. One area that had to be developed almost immediately was to figure out how they were going to distribute the tremendous amount of relief aid that the solidarity community was contributing towards their struggle.
President Ramon Torres delivered the following statement at a Skagit and Whatcom Farmworker Community forum on July 29, 2013 on behalf of Families:
Thank you to everyone who has supported us. All of the people who have donated, we have a record of who you are, we had many of you provide signatures when you dropped off aid. We [the committee] stopped by each cabin to do a census of how many people needed food and supplies, we broke up into 4 teams to do this, Raul Merino is the one who is in charge of distributing the food. We have a report of all of the people who have received food, and all of the people who are in agreement with the strike. An important aspect regarding Rosalinda, she is not the head of this committee. I am the president of the 11 person committee, and I am the one who makes our decisions known. Rosalinda Guillen and Angelica Villa are witnesses, they can make an opinion, but the only ones who can make decisions are the 11 of us, with the backing of the 240 farmworkers. We have our own bank account, and Rosalinda is reporting to us what money is coming in. In the news and some members of the community are saying that Rosalinda is governing over us. And that is not so. That is why we didn’t want third parties to meddle in our negotiations.
The farmworkers take hospitality very seriously. When it comes to sharing food, the community leaders make sure that there is enough for everyone before proceeding to serve themselves. The farmworkers also offer all that they can, during the picket line of the second work stoppage, the committee pooled their own personal funds to buy water for those picketing, before relief aid began to arrive from the solidarity community.
Samaritan José Ortiz, whose food bank sponsored 4,000 individual solidarity meals during the second work stoppage, observed, “farmworkers jumped right in there to make sure that everyone was receiving something,” he continued, “one of the most amazing things that I saw was that the community came together, we brought a big pot of molé [mexican chili sauce], and all the farmworker women came out with beans and tortillas, it was beautiful!”
Cornelio, one of the committee members followed up, “we contributed, just as many of you did. Meanwhile the Sakumas were trying to buy off the scab workers with free sodas. You cannot buy a human being, that is not right!” Comida in this sense, has a very intimate and personal significance for the migrant farmworkers. This is why they chose to wait until there was enough food to distribute to everyone, before proceeding.
In an effort to be more transparent to the solidarity community about where their relief aid has gone, the committee authorized the distribution of photographs by Community to Community Development of the egalitarian distribution of resources to their community as well as logistical tools that they have purchased to help keep accurate records and to communicate with the world.
ON WORKPLACE DEMOCRACY
Rosalinda Guillen recently described the emerging “workplace democracy” by Familias Unidas por la Justicia in a recent statement as,
a deep democratic process practiced by Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, based upon transparency, mutual respect, and face to face communication. Not only were major decisions about the negotiations made in front of the entire community, but they were also translated from Spanish to Mixteco and Triqui to make sure that everyone understood. Furthermore, Triqui and Mixteco speaking farmworkers practiced recording Spanish language conversations on their cellular phones in order to document and play back important decisions for people who were not present.
The core of this workplace democracy has been wrought in the experiences of transnational migration, displacement, and “usos y costumbres” (cultural practices) unique to the Mixteco and Triqui speaking people of Oaxaca and Guerrero.
The Tequio, for example, is the cultural practice of community collaboration to accomplish a task for the public good. The tequio has been traditionally used to erect schools, or hospitals, in communities for the entire community to use. In an unprecedented act of transnational placemaking in this strike, this cultural practice has become the basis for workplace democracy in particular through the distribution of food and other aid.
Full transparency and face to face communication on the berry fields is another tradition that has been deployed. In Oaxaca, your word is your bond. Contracts between people are made face to face. This is one of the reasons that the farmworkers have demanded to meet directly with the Sakuma executives and not with third party mediators. Disrespect for this tradition “uso y costumbre” is also a legitimate cause for offense, which according to documenation of past labor disputes, is something that the Sakuma owners have known about for quite some time, at least 10 years.
One of the most interesting redeployments of community protocol, “usos y costumbres,” is the community delegation of an introlocutor, non-Mixteco or Triqui speaking Mestizo, from Guadalajara, Ramon Torres. He was chosen because of his trustworthiness, his ability to speak and communicate effectively in Spanish, and because he is a migrant farmworker himself. Following a deep revolutionary Mexican tradition in the example of Miguel Hidalgo, Emiliano Zapata and Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, these Triqui and Mixteco migrant farmworkers from California, have placed for the public eye, an introlocutor, who regardless of his background is beholden to the community because of their shared struggle. That he may communicate clearly the demands of the many with no excuses for misunderstandings due to poor translation.
They have done this not because they cannot speak for themselves, they have spoken for themselves on many occasions, but because they know how deeply anti-indigenous racism permeates the public perception. They have struggled for over ten years without gains, and here, according to Ramon Lopez, they are trying something new, “For you [the public] to pay attention about what is happening to us, we are being discriminated as mexican familes, please help us get that out on the radio and television, and that would be very supportive.”
As Rosalinda Guillen argued in her recently released statement, “this is not about money, this is about something much more fundamental, this struggle is about dignity.” It is in this struggle for dignity and against the destruction of the fabric of the community, that the struggle of Familias Unidas por la Justicia is indeed, an international struggle.
THE GLOBAL STRUGGLE FOR DIGNITY
The struggle at Sakuma Brothers Farm has a lot in common with several other simultaneous contemporary movements that have emerged on the international scale at the same time. The California inmate’s Hunger Strike for dignity, the Yaqui tribe’s dignant struggle against the “Independencia“ aqueduct, and the Lummi Tribe’s struggle against the Gateway Pacific Terminal share some commonalities.
TRANSNATIONAL CAPITALIST MEGAPROJECTS
All are struggles for dignity and against different types of transnational capitalist megaprojects. The development of Industrial Agriculture, the Prison Industry, and the service sector in the United States along with more specific hemispheric infrastructural development projects (e.g., Independencia Aqueduct and Gateway Pacific Terminal) are examples of transnational capitalist megaprojects made possible by “(neo-)colonial and imperial relationships, coupled with internal transformations such as the implementation of (neo-)liberal economic policies (as well as one common outcome of those policies—civil unrest)”(Krissman 1996).
In many ways, they define our present reality on a global scale. The policies that Krissman describes include but are not limited to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Most people, however, do not understand that current legislation such as the Immigration Reform bill (S 744) currently in debate in the House of Representatives, or the Farm Bill which recently passed in the House of Representatives without allocations for food stamps, are the way that private transnational capitalist industries operating in the U.S. profit from federal allocations of your tax dollars.
The Immigration Reform Bill for example allocates $5.5 Billion to enforcement of the border alone, but will also extend to expanding the infrastructure (e.g., Prisons, Surviellance technology, and personnel) of the prison industry, that those apprehended can be held and processed on a massive scale. Furthermore, the Agricultural Industry and Service Industries will have access to more federally subsidized guest workers through the reform and expansion of agricultural labor visas to include “migrant visas,” and the introduction of a new “W-visa” which will funnel guest workers into the service and construction industries. In labor alone, there are billions of dollars being funneled into these industries from our federal income taxes.
The Farm Bill of 2013 introduces new austerity measures, cutting allocations to food stamps and other nutrition programs from the bill, which if passed will also serve to make many workers, especially those who work in the agricultural and service industries, more vulnerable, forcing them to be “unfree” laborers at the mercy of their employer when it comes to wages and treatment.
In California and Washington state, both border states, migrant and settled farmworkers have experienced first hand state oppression based on race and ethnic identity. Immigration check points, workplace raids, mass incarceration, and street level harassment often occur systematically at a higher rate in communities of color and poor neighborhoods and labor camps. Scholar Fred Krissman argues that, “State oppression of immigrants actually furthers the principal goal of labor-intensive firms—to lower the cost of labor by increasing the vulnerability of immigrant workers”(Krissman 378). Transnational Capitalist Megaprojects depend upon the state to pave the way for the mass accumulation of capital via renewed primitive accumulation (e.g., Coal, Water, Oil), and the segmentation of the working classes to secure low wages.
These transnational capitalist megaprojects and the state policies that help bring them about also lead to geographic displacement. Like the Lummi and Yaqui tribes, the Mixteco and Triqui speaking migrant farmworkers have experienced “despojo” (displacement).
The Lummi Nation was removed from their ancestral lands by force via treaty in 1855 and have been struggling to hang on to the little land they were left, filing legitimate grievances and claims over the last hundred years.
The Yaqui tribe continued to fight a guerrilla war against colonial occupiers since the 1500s until the early 20th century, when they were bombed by air raids and the survivors were forced to work on hennequen plantations in the Yucatan and Sugar cane fields of Oaxaca by the Mexican government.
Mixteco and Triqui indigenous people were displaced from their ancestral lands by the Spanish imposition of a “Republic of Indians,” where people were resettled on the outskirts of land owning hacenderos, as a source of temporary labor during harvests and to discourage the hacenderos from breaking ties with Spain. In the 20th century, continued U.S. imperialism and foreign intervention into Mexico caused the small gains to land reform made by the Mexican revolution to be rescinded, often by U.S. educated Presidents like Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox and by government officials like Jorge Madrazo and Arturo Warman.
The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 made it lucrative for transnational corporations to set up shop in Northern Mexico, drawing labor pools from distant places like Oaxaca northward, and infringing upon the water and land rights of Northern Mexican indigenous people like the Yaqui Tribe. People struggled in a multitude of ways, from armed rebellion as did the EZLN, to the union organizing of Educators all over Mexico, as well as internal and international migration by many poor indigenous peasant farmers.
It is the development of transnational capitalism on the global scale that has broken the fabric of the community and has forced people like Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the Lummi Nation, the Yaqui Tribe, and California Inmates, fast food workers, and Youth of Color around the nation to risk their lives in order exercise their Dignity in the face of impossible odds. To create life in the face of death because they have all reached the breaking point, the moral economy has been broken, “¡Ya Basta!” (enough is enough).
Solidarity with California Inmates on their ongoing hunger strike since July 8, 2013, in our shared struggle for basic human dignity! Billy “El Guero” Sell, ¡Presente!
Solidarity with the Lummi Nation in their ongoing campaign against the Gateway Pacific Terminal and in defense of ancestral territory and water rights!
Solidarity with the Tribu Yaqui of Vicam, Sonora in their fight against the “Independencia” aqueduct and in defense of their territory and water rights!
Solidarity with young black and brown youth and their families, in our shared struggle to make a world where our lives matter! Trayvon Martin, ¡Presente!
Solidarity with the striking fast food workers across the United States, in our shared struggle against wage theft and poor treatment in the workplace!
May we learn from the living, and honor the dead.