Global Unity for Social Justice

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Miami Workers Center

A few weeks ago Miami Workers Center participated in the Grassroots Global Justice Congress in North Carolina. We sent a delegation of 5, an organizer and 2 members each from Miami in Action and LIFFT. The Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) is a national alliance of grassroots organizations building a popular movement for peace, democracy and a sustainable world. Miami Workers Center is actively working with GGJ and several other organizations in solidarity toward a shared vision of building a global transformative social justice movement, or Grass Roots Internationalism.

”One of the biggest lessons for me and the members was learning about the issues that other organizations are engaged in out side of the United States and how these issues are impacting our world as a whole.”  - Sarai Portillo, lead organizer at MWC

This year’s proposed initiative at the GGJ congress was No War! No Warming! Build an Economy for the People and the Planet. This was a proposal for the various participating groups to work on for the coming year. During the congress participants marched to the N.C. Republican Headquarters where they called for more jobs and for help for the thousands of public sector workers who have lost their jobs. They also took part in a rally for the release of the report “State of Fear” written in collaboration with OXFAM about the unjust and inhumane conditions that exist for tobacco farm workers in North Carolina, where they spend hours in the sun, exposed to toxic chemicals. Many absorb nicotine through their skin and suffer from nicotine poisoning. The report found that one in four tobacco workers are paid less than minimum wage.

On their first day in North Carolina our members were taken on a tour of a local hog farm. The farms are predominantly white owned and organizing is strictly prohibited. Small groups meet in secret because of this, reminiscent t of the early civil rights organizing. These farms have severe water pollution, which in turn is yielding serious health threats to the farm workers. The landlord keep close reins over there workers and use fear o intimidate them. For most if not all of the workers this is their only livelihood, their way of life.

”We were not allowed to get out of the van during this tour. The fear and need for extreme caution was palpable. We quickly realized that there is a very real threat for people here in terms of what could happen to them if anyone found out they were trying to organize. We were both startled and alarmed as we drove through this rural area. It felt like we had traveled back in time to the old racist south” – Martina Bryant, a member if MWC and LIFFT

Despite the danger of being discovered and the fear of what might be the outcome if they were, our members went on to the next farm, a tobacco farm. Most of these workers are season workers, six months in North Carolina then six months elsewhere. Most of these men migrate to Florida to pick other crops in the off-season. An interview with Justin Flores, the lead organizer for FLOC –farm labor organizing committee, the group learned about the local campaign against the tobacco corporations. There are only four members but they represent several hundred farm workers. The major fight is against the tobacco companies is for human work environments that do not pose lethal health threats to the workers and livable wages.

Our delegation visited the living quarters at one of the tobacco fields. Each field has 2 or 3 long slender buildings, each with 5 small rooms, where 3 or 4 share a room, sleeping in bunk beds. All the men in this housing area share one bathroom. The men are picked up and dropped off by the contractor, called a ranchero before 5 am. These men work 7 days a week, 8 to 10 hours a day. Rancheros have the contracts with the white land-owners, the ranchero takes care of hiring and paying the men. The men have there own culture in these rural parts and are not in favor of having women in the fields with them. The general sentiment is that it is not a place for women for many reasons. The men, some old some young, pick chili peppers, cucumbers and pumpkins in other seasons. Most of the men were single, from either Mexico or Central America. These men really have no other options.

The tour of the hog farm was provided by REACH, a local organization that focuses on the health issues that farm workers face. REACH is part of Black Farm Workers for Justice.

by Lori Danley

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