Saturday, April 24, 2010

Coalition of Immokalee Workers--On the march for the rights of immigrant workers

Like the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights marchers back in 1965, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is on the march for the civil rights of immigrant workers in Florida and elsewhere.

A three-day, 23-mile march from Tampa to Lakeland took place April 16-18 to put pressure on the Publix supermarket chain to stand up for the workers who pick the tomatoes sold in the aisles of its stores.

Theirs was an encouraging labor action when you consider the anti-immigrant law that recently passed in Arizona, the latest act of politicized xenophobia that we've been seeing in this nation.

The CIW wants Publix to pay more for its tomatoes as a demonstration of its commitment to fair treatment of field workers. Thus far, Lakeland-based Publix has refused to negotiate with tomato growers, saying that’s not its role.

CIW is also asking Publix to stop doing business with growers who mistreat workers. One of the central missions of the 4,000-member immigrant organization is to bring an end to the slave-like conditions that many workers have been forced to endure across the South and nation. Two Florida tomato farms that did business with Publix were convicted on charges of slavery two years ago, according to the CIW.

The CIW and its charismatic leader Lucas Benitez, winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award in 2003, have been pushing the U.S. Department of Justice for years to prosecute agriculture slave rings in the South.

The CIW has already won agreements from Whole Foods, Subway, and McDonald’s to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes. It has also made agreements with Burger King and the food service company Aramark.

More than 500 people participated in a December protest against Publix.

In 1965, the three Selma-to-Montgomery marches became galvanizing events in the civil rights movement due in part to the intense media coverage that once again showed the nation the need for true civil rights in the South that applies to all people, whether white or black.

The Tampa-to-Lakeland march did get media attention from Florida newspapers and other news organizations. In the past, most of the coverage of the CIW and its efforts has come from publications such as the New York Times, Mother Jones, and National Geographic.

Of course, the CIW marchers didn't encounter the violence that the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers did. However, they shared the same goal: human justice.

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