Florida march demands farmworker rights
St. Petersburg, FL – Over 3000 farmworkers and supporters from around the country gathered at Bartlett Park, March 21, then marched to demand workers’ rights. Some chants heard during the march were, “Up, up with the fair food nation! Down, down, with the exploitation!”, “One, we are the people! Two, a little bit louder! Three, we want justice for farmworkers!” and “J-U-S, J-U-S-T-I-C-E is what we want, is justice for Immokalee!”
Sam Beutler of the Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society attended his first-ever Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) event. “This great event was led by mostly Central American, Haitian and Mexican farmworkers,” says Beutler. “Events that are actually led and organized by those whom are affected are perfect examples of what we all should be trying to do in our own groups. The Immokalee, Florida workers are at the forefront of the fight against the slave-like conditions that many farmworkers all over the U.S. experience and they are fighting back! I as a student am here to fully, support their fight for justice and equality.”
Formed in 1993, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers teamed up with the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) to demand basic worker rights for farmworkers like bathroom breaks, portable toilets on job sites, water, an end to harassment and even implemented a punch-card system for farmworkers. This year's event was titled Concert for Fair Food and organizers were able to book Grammy-award winning bands like Ruby Velle and the SoulPhonics, Ozomatli and La Santa Cecilia.
Dr. Heidi Castañeda, an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida and an immigration researcher was one of the marchers. Castañeda says, “The principles for fair food and worker justice continue to be issues that people around the nation can rally behind. This weekend is both a celebration of previous victories in addition to calls for further action, and the CIW continues to energize the movement for farm-worker justice.”
Among the supporters present were Tampa and Gainesville groups like Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, local UPS workers, Freedom Road Socialist Organization and Raíces en Tampa.
“As a member of the community and as an activist I believe that everyone deserves a fair pay,” says Alicia Gazga of Raíces en Tampa. “Publix and Wendy's should be ashamed for not joining the fair food program. I grew up in Collier County, Florida which is about 45 minutes form Immokalee city. I spent many weekends helping the CIW with anything they needed for events like this. These are the types of actions we all should support!”
A call to action was made by the SFA and the CIW for all who attended the Concert for Fair Food. Three major tasks people are urged to take on are to pressure the chain Publix – which is the biggest grocery company in the Southern U.S. – by publicly asking for them to support the Immokalee Workers. The second tasks is to schedule a public showing of the movie made by the CIW and SFA titled Food Chains (now available on Netflix) and to use it as a way to launch an action. And finally, to organize a protest in solidarity with the Immokalee Workers – demanding justice for those who experience the everyday effects that corporate America has on the lives of the undocumented.
Marisol Márquez, of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization says, “It is no surprise that the majority of farmworkers are of Central American and Mexican descent and these are the same people are the ones who have all the worst living conditions put against them. Central Americans and Mexicans are almost always, undocumented and as things currently are, they are the same immigrants who will never be given the chance to apply for legal status. This concert, this march this weekend is them fighting back! As a Chicana who grew up in the fields who fully supports the fight for self determination, I am here supporting the efforts of these farm-workers. After all, we want liberation!”