KEITH MEADOWS: Guest commentary ... Coalition seeks social justice for Immokalee farmworkers

Meadows

Meadows

The Fair Food initiative is a legitimate campaign addressing wage stagnation and wage discrepancy for farmworkers. You may not like their tactics, but that is part of their success.

I read with interest Jeff Lytle’s earnest defense of Publix against the onslaught of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food initiative. I am sure the legal and public relations teams of Publix are now breathing a sigh of relief with the knowledge that the Daily News editorial page editor has so ardently backed their company in the campaign for public opinion.

However, on closer reading of Lytle’s column two narratives emerged that demonstrate his lack of understanding of the important struggle that CIW is waging for social justice for the very people who put food on our tables. The services and advocacy provided by the CIW to a community facing a host of marginalizing and predatory labor practices were eloquently articulated by Gerardo Reyes-Chavez of the CIW in his guest commentary. It serves as a reminder that real wages for farmworkers have not risen for the last 30 years and that CIW is the one organization in Florida that advocates on behalf of farmworkers.

These narratives were summed up in a couple of sentences. The sentence saying to the effect “be quiet because you are lucky to be here” was disappointing in its appeal to the some of the most base jingoistic attitudes appearing in our society, one that completely delegitimizes the important and hard work farmworkers do. Another criticism was the lack of education tied to the notion that most or all farmworkers do not speak English. I question the real numbers here, as talking to farmworkers, more speak English than you might think. But even if true, it also shows the failure to understand the fluidity and lack of stability of farm work. Education needs stability of place, a luxury not available when you work seasonally in the fields.

Lytle also criticizes CIW for not emphasizing education enough. While the CIW may not focus on education per se, many of the services provided are part of building a social framework where people can become educated; if not the current adult population, then their kids. Like most immigrant populations, farmworker parents focus on the next generation. Do not forget, these people are hired and paid by American companies and they are struggling in many cases with inhuman conditions outside of child labor laws. Finally, many organizations do worthy work for immigrant and poor families and do not focus solely on education. That does not mean they do not provide critical services necessary to make education possible Take the many organizations that help immigrant families with settlement services or the many organizations that focus on housing, food distribution, etc. There are many ways to make a positive change, and CIW is filling a huge void in terms of advocacy and representation.

The CIW uses a variety of tactics to bring awareness to the public domain about the struggle of farmworkers. These include demonstrations and in some cases nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience. While the overt racism confronted by the civil rights movement may not be prevalent now, the dangers faced in trying to organize labor, especially immigrant labor, are many. You fail to mention the successes in fighting human trafficking attained by CIW.

The Fair Food initiative is a legitimate campaign addressing wage stagnation and wage discrepancy for farmworkers. You may not like their tactics, but that is part of their success. They make people notice and think. Indeed, Yum Brands Inc. (owner of KFC, Taco Bell, etc.). signed a historic agreement to uphold the tenets of the Fair Food Initiative several years ago, establishing a corporate precedent. So you see, forward thinking people and companies can see the problem, while others retreat into reactionary thinking and closed-mindedness. Think of it this way: the momentary inconvenience of seeing CIW members demonstrating outside your local grocery store provides an educational opportunity, for you and for others.

But, like I said, Publix is probably pleased and you will now likely be able to keep your golf date with Ed Crenshaw, the CEO of Publix.

Meadows grew up in Naples and graduated from Naples High in 1985. He has master’s and doctorate degrees in anthropology. He writes that he “teaches in college programs geared toward helping aboriginal students achieve their educational goals.”

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