Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

CIW 6-mile march protesting Publix declares “New day for farmworkers”

By staff

Marching for rights of farmworkers

Lakeland, FL – About 1000 people took to the streets here, March 17, marching six miles to the Publix Supermarket headquarters.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), which represents farmworkers in South Florida, organized the “March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food” to pressure Publix into signing an agreement called the “Fair Food Program.” This agreement includes higher wages and better working conditions for farmworkers.

During the past two weeks, CIW workers and community allies marched 200 miles from Fort Myers, Florida to the Publix Corporate Headquarters in Lakeland.

Hundreds of people came together at the Southgate Publix Supermarket in Lakeland. Organizers and activists handed out yellow and red flags that read, “New day for farmworkers” to the protesters. Spirits were high as the march grew by the minute, with people coming from Washington D.C., New York, California and all over Florida. They chanted, “ONE, we are the people. TWO, a little bit louder. THREE, we want justice, FOR farmworkers!”

The police consulted with Publix management and looked for opportunities to arrest protesters. Several farmworkers who marched from Fort Myers noticed that police became more strict and intimidating when the CIW arrived in Lakeland. The Polk County sheriff’s office, which includes Lakeland, has the second-most complaints and lawsuits of any sheriff’s office in the U.S. – behind Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the infamous racist and architect of Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws.

The CIW is pushing for Publix to sit at the negotiating table. Publix is reluctant to join the eleven corporations, including McDonalds and Aramark, that have signed on to the Fair Food Program since 2010. However the CIW’s campaign is growing stronger every year with critical support from community members, religious organizations, student groups and labor unions. Publix is feeling the pressure.

Victor Yengle, President of CHISPAS, the Chicano-Latino student group at the University of Florida, marched with the CIW at the March 17 event. Yengle fasted for a week with the farmworkers last March as a part of the same Publix campaign. When asked about the progress that the CIW is making, Yengle said, “This was an escalation. Activists started off doing regular, individual protests by city. Now, the CIW is able to call for a national day of action, where people will gather from every part of the country.” He added, “It signifies that there’s growing commitment from individuals. Last year, we fasted. This year was the march. It’s only a matter of time before Publix has to meet the farmworkers’ demands.”

After walking the picket line in front of the Southgate Publix for an hour, protesters filed into three-by-three columns and began the six-mile walk to the headquarters. Energetic chants rang out in both English and Spanish: “Publix, escucha, estamos en la lucha!” meaning “Publix, listen, we are in the fight!” Other chants included, “Oh Publix you, you got what I need. So just pay one penny more, just pay one penny more,” to the tune of Freddie Scott’s classic R&B hit, You Got What I Need.

The protesters’ energetic voices continued for the five-hour long march. Even when the CIW’s sound system blew out within a mile of the destination, the protesters grew even louder and eager to send Publix a message of justice.

When the protesters arrived outside the Publix Corporate Headquarters, they congregated in front of a stage for a rally. The CIW provided refreshments for the crowd while a few musicians played favorite progressive anthems, like Tracy Chapman’s Talkin’ Bout A Revolution.

The farmworkers then gave speeches about their experience on the two-week walk and on working conditions in the fields. They held up eight signs, each signifying a victory won by the CIW since their founding in 1993. These signs included “The right to work free of sexual harassment” and “The right to work free from slavery,” which speak to the horrible conditions that farmworkers face. Women now have the right to report sexual harassment when it happens in the field, and all workers can access legal structures through the CIW program to deal with abuses by overseers.

Other signs noted gains in “Health and security” and “The right to report abuses without fear.” At least one farmworker spoke about each of the eight signs.

Religious leaders from many faiths – Muslim, Judaism, Christianity and others – joined the farmworkers on stage. Each of the religious leaders talked about the importance of social justice and uniting around the farmworkers’ struggle. One speaker thanked the 45 different religious congregations that provided shelter and food for the marchers after each day.

Allied students and youth held a banner painted with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Hundreds of hands pointed at the Publix headquarters building as the crowd read the quote together and chanted for Publix to sign an agreement with the CIW.

After the march, Tefa Galvis, an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society at the University of South Florida, said, “If my feet hurt this much after six miles, I can only imagine how the farmworkers who work every day in the fields and walked all 200 miles feel.” Galvis continued, “They have shown dedication to a movement that seeks equal justice for not only men, but also women who have been harassed in the fields. This movement will not stop here, or even when Publix decides to sign the contract. The CIW knows that there are many injustices that still need to be fought and it will only grow bigger as an organization of workers and allies.”

Farmworker demands

Banner at March 17 rally for farmworker rights

Marching on Publix Supermarket headquarters

Musicians on stage at March 17 rally

Banners with farmworkers demands

#LakelandFL #CoalitionOfImmokaleeWorkers #Publix #CIW #Farmworkers