Posts tagged Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Welcome, Reasoners

Since my article on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Walmart, and alt-labor is appearing this morning at Reason.com, a fair number of y’all passing by may be readers who are more or less new to the blog.

Free-Market Labor Wins Wage-Boost Victory

Economic liberty shouldn’t simply assume a pro-business stance, or discuss only the privileges government extends to unions.

Charles W. Johnson @ Reason.com | January 28, 2014


So—welcome! I’m Charles W. Johnson; often, I write online under the handle Rad Geek. (Not because I’m trying to hide who I am, but because it suits me, and because sometimes it helps me avoid being confused with some folks I am not.) I’m an individualist anarchist, living in Alabama. I write this blog, I co-edited (together with Gary Chartier) the left-wing market anarchist anthology, Markets Not Capitalism (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia: 2011). I write occasional columns for libertarian and anarchist outlets including The Freeman, Reason.com, Free Voices, and The Industrial Radical. I publish a lot of small-press anarchist and left-libertarian literature through the Distro of the Libertarian Left. If you’re new to the blog here, and trying to get oriented, here’s some things you might find interesting to read, which will give you some broad idea of where I’m coming from, and what I care about.

I’ve written a lot over the years about the C.I.W., both basic event coverage of some of their main campaigns, and also a fair amount of my own commentary on what I take to be the significance of their use of social protest and state-fere, market-based methods in their activism.[1] If you’ve come here from the article and you want to read more about the C.I.W. or the context of its campaigns, I have some links, both to my own writing and also to a number of other sources that I consulted while preparing the column on the recent Walmart victory. Those are at the bottom of the post, though, so feel free to scroll right down past the following, which is mostly just orientation on me and where I’m coming from.

Speaking generally, I am a market anarchist: I am radically opposed to any invasion of economic liberty and to the state as such, and I am in favor of freed markets, free exchange, voluntary association, open competition and individual ownership of property. But, unlike many pro-capitalist libertarians, I argue that one of the likely and important features of freed markets is their tendency to cut against socioeconomic inequalities, to provide a space for economic alternatives to status-quo corporate capitalism, and to undermine and replace traditional top-down firms or employer-employee relationships. The kind of things I believe are often called free market anticapitalism or left-wing market anarchism. For more on what I mean by all that, and why I believe it:

I also think that rambunctious nonviolent social activism, worker-owned enterprises and radical labor unions, based on voluntary association without government privilege, and an anti-authoritarian culture of worker solidarity, are all an important part of a flourishing free market.

Since Walmart is at the center of the story, I should say that, while I am immensely pleased to see Walmart signing an agreement for the Fair Food Program, I think that many of the common criticisms of Walmart’s business model, exploitative labor practices, and economic dominance are justified, and that I would be quite happy in general to see Walmart constantly confronted and challenged with some really vigorous and uncompromising competition, social criticism and alt-labor organizing and activism. I say this not because I object to business, or to low prices, or whatever, but because I object to highly centralized state-capitalist business models that depend on, and heavily exploit, corporate welfare, eminent domain, and other favors from corporatist local governments.

More broadly, much of my writing on economic questions aims to focus attention on the relationship between the economic privileges granted by the State, class, poverty, and corporate power.

I am an Anarchist. I don’t care about smaller government, or limited government, or about Constitutions, or about electing libertarian candidates to political office. I am the farthest thing possible from a conservative. I believe in abolishing the State as such, and in doing so through the practice of education, solidarity, and direct action.

As an Anarchist, and as a human being, I am utterly and irreconcilably opposed to all forms of government warfare.

I believe that the nationalistic violence of the warfare State is closely linked with the paramilitary patrols, police state, and nationalistic violence of government border controls — which are nothing other than international apartheid. See for example:

I also believe that the violence of the U.S. government’s imperial military abroad is closely linked with the repressive violence of (increasingly militarized) paramilitary police forces within the U.S. See for example:

And as a feminist I think that the violence of men’s wars and of men’s law enforcement are closely linked with the violent ideals of masculinity and patriarchy that men are brought up with in our society. For more, see:

I’m against all forms of Intellectual Property restrictions, which represent not genuine forms of property, but a grant of monopoly privileges over the minds of other people — which I view both as tyrannical in themselves and also as immensely, lethally destructive in the effects of the coercive monopolies that they grant:

Thanks for coming on down; I hope you stay a while, do some reading, and enjoy the blog. So, come, let us Reason together … .

Further reading on C.I.W., the Fair Food Program and Alt-Labor

As I mentioned, I’ve been following the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program for over a decade now. Here are some other articles that I’ve written on C.I.W.:

And here are a bunch of things that other people have written, which I consulted at some point or another recently while preparing my column, and which you might find useful as elaboration, context or backdrop about C.I.W., the Fair Food campaign and the creative activism used to win it, or the development and direction of alt-labor groups in general.

  1. [1] Full disclosure: besides having written frequently about the C.I.W., many years ago I was also indirectly involved in setting up an organizing workshop for C.I.W. that led to an impromptu radical cheerleading picket at our local Taco Bell in Auburn.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers victory in Denver; struggle in Miami

This month brings a couple of big news updates from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their ongoing wildcat labor campaign to raise wages and improve conditions for Florida tomato-pickers. First, an important victory — the CIW has won an agreement with Chipotle. Second, a reminder about interconnections, alliances and new campaigns in Florida, with the ongoing pickets and migrant farmworkers now joining the struggle against the School of the Americas.

From Denver — victory in the long-running Chipotle campaign:

CHIPOTLE SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH CIW TO JOIN FAIR FOOD PROGRAM

DENVER, October 4, 2012 – Chipotle Mexican Grill and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker-based human rights organization, have reached an agreement that brings Chipotle’s commitment to sustainable food to the CIW’s Fair Food Program. The agreement, which will improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers in Florida who pick tomatoes for Chipotle, comes in advance of the winter tomato-growing season, when most of the nation’s tomatoes come from growers in Florida.

The Fair Food Program provides a bonus for tomato pickers to improve wages and binds growers to protocols and a code of conduct that explicitly include a voice for workers in health and safety issues, worker-to-worker education on the new protections under the code, and a complaint resolution procedure which workers can use without fear of retaliation. The Program also provides for independent third party audits to ensure compliance.

With this agreement, we are laying down a foundation upon which we all – workers, growers, and Chipotle – can build a stronger Florida tomato industry for the future, said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. But more than this, today’s news marks a turning point in the sustainable food movement as a whole, whereby, thanks to Chipotle’s leadership, farmworkers are finally recognized as true partners — every bit as vital as farmers, chefs, and restaurants — in bringing ‘good food’ to our tables.

. . .

Chipotle becomes the 11th company to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, which is designed to create a sustainable tomato industry through respect for the rights and concerns of all involved. The Fair Food Premium paid by participating buyers like Chipotle is used to help participating growers improve wages and working conditions for Florida farmworkers.

— Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Chipotle Mexican Grill, joint press release, October 4, 2012. Emphasis added.

CIW announced that with this agreement, all plans for upcoming actions against Chipotle have been cancelled. Chipotle is now participating in the penny-per-pound program through its agreement with CIW.

From Miami:

CIW, allies join forces in Miami to protest Publix, School of the Americas, in support of human rights!

More Publix actions in the pipeline…

All too many CIW members came to this country years ago fleeing widespread political oppression in their home countries at the hands of military dictators and their subordinates who had one thing in common — they were trained at the School of the Americas (SOA),[1] an infamous military training facility located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia. The SOA boasts a long track record of graduates responsible for brutal human rights violations in CIW member home countries including Haiti, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Because of this deep connection, and because the struggle for human rights is without borders, the CIW has joined with members of the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) for nearly a decade in their untiring efforts to end human rights abuses throughout Latin America. This past weekend in Miami was no exception, as CIW members and their families joined SOAW members for a march in Miami . . ., then continued from there, with the support of the SOAW marchers, to a march on a Miami-area Publix store that stretched a full city block:

There are many more Publix protests in the weeks ahead, including a picket at the grand opening of the Dunedin Publix (902 Curlew Rd) this coming Thursday morning, Oct 18th, at 7:30 AM. We’ll be there bright and early for the ribbon cutting, so don’t miss it!

You can contact us for more details on how you can join us at the Dunedin picket, and other Publix protests in the month of October, at workers@ciw-online.org.

— Coalition of Immokalee Workers, October 15, 2012.

As I said in 2005, after the CIW’s first big groundbreaking victory in their Taco Bell campaign:

This is a major victory for the CIW and for farmworkers as a whole. There’s a lot that organized labor can learn from it: how CIW won while overcoming barriers of language and nationality, assembling a remarkable coalition in solidarity (from students to fellow farmworkers to religious organizations and onward), drawing on the dispersed talents of agitators and activists in communities all across the country, and making some brilliant hard-nosed strategic decisions (e.g., the decision a couple of years ago to begin the Boot the Bell campaign—which hit Taco Bell where it hurts by denying it extremely lucrative contracts with college and University food services). I only know a bit of the story from following the boycott, and I already know that it’s a pretty remarkable story to tell. I look forward to hearing more.

It’s also — although you won’t hear this as much — a major victory for government-free, syndicalist labor organizing. The CIW is not a bureaucratic government-recognized union; as a form of organizing it’s far closer to an autonomous workers’ syndicate or a local soviet (in the old sense of a democratic, community-based workers’ council, not in the sense of the hollow state apparatus that the Bolsheviks left after the party committees seized power at bayonet-point). Of course, not having the smothering comfort of the US labor bureaucracy to prop them up has often made things harder on the CIW; but it’s also made them freer, and left them free of the restraints on serious and innovative labor activism that have held the government-authorized union movement back for the past 60 years. (Example: the strategic decision to target Taco Bell in the first place—that is, the whole damned campaign that allowed the Immokalee workers to win such a huge improvement in their standard of living—was a secondary boycott, and so would have been illegal under the terms of the Taft-Hartley Act and the Landrum-Griffin Act. But since the CIW doesn’t need a permission slip from the NLRB to engage in direct action, they won the day—not in spite of, but because of their freedom from government restraints on labor organizing.

— Charles Johnson, El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,, Rad Geek People’s Daily, March 23, 2005.

As I wrote a few years later, after their victory in a campaign to win an agreement from Subway:

The Blockheads of the world may insist that unions survive only through violence, and win only through either the intervention of the State or vigilantism against non-unionized fellow workers. Yet somehow, today, I find this message from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers — and a similar e-mail from their allies in the Student/Farmworker Alliance — a southern Florida farmworker’s union that uses nonviolent protest, secondary boycotts, and other creative pressure campaigns on behalf of Florida tomato pickers, and which (because it is a farmworkers’ union) has no access at all to the government labor relations bureaucracy. Somehow, they have survived. Somehow, they have won — again. . . . Fellow workers, the C.I.W.’s ongoing series of inspiring victories for Florida farmworkers are both an inspiration and a reminder. We should never forget the power of creative extremism and wildcat unionism — a power that needs no government, no ballot boxes, no political bosses, no Officially Recognized labor bureaucrats, no lawyers, and no Changeling political parties. It’s the power that fellow worker Joe Ettor reminded us all of, as he and his fellow workers struggled to a hard-won victory in the great Bread and Roses textile strike of 1912, when he said:

If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists. As long as the workers keep their hands in their pockets, the capitalists cannot put theirs there. With passive resistance, with the workers absolutely refusing to move, lying absolutely silent, they are more powerful than all the weapons and instruments that the other side has for attack.

Yes, we can do it—ourselves. And we will.

— Charles Johnson, Victory to the Farmworkers!, Rad Geek People’s Daily, December 2, 2008.

It’s great to see CIW’s radical presence and their ongoing victories in campaigns that highlight the deep connections between neo-imperialism, military statism, and the deep, artificial, violently-backed inequalities of state capitalism. They know what’s up, and they have been an inspiring example in the kind of creative extremism that gets the goods.

Also.

  1. [1] SOA was rebranded as WHINSEC, the Western Hemphisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, in 2001.

Victory to the farmworkers! Coalition of Immokalee Workers announces that Subway has signed on to the penny-per-pound pass-through agreement

Fellow workers,

The Blockheads of the world may insist that unions survive only through violence, and win only through either the intervention of the State or vigilantism against non-unionized fellow workers. Yet somehow, today, I find this message from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers — and a similar e-mail from their allies in the Student/Farmworker Alliance — a southern Florida farmworker’s union that uses nonviolent protest, secondary boycotts, and other creative pressure campaigns on behalf of Florida tomato pickers, and which (because it is a farmworkers’ union) has no access at all to the government labor relations bureaucracy. Somehow, they have survived. Somehow, they have won — again.

From: Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Date: 11:29 AM
To: announce@lists.ciw-online.org
Subject: [CIW News] SUBWAY SIGNS!

Subway, the third largest fast-food chain in the world and the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes, reached an agreement this morning with the CIW to help improve wages and working conditions for the workers who pick their tomatoes!

Be sure to visit http://www.ciw-online.org for a photo of the signing and check back soon for more details about this exciting development in the Campaign for Fair Food.

If you are planning a protest as part of the Northeast tour, we ask you to stand down. The tour will still be hitting the road to visit Northeast with news of this newest victory and information on where the Campaign for Fair Food will head next. An updated schedule of events will be posted on the website soon.

Thanks,

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers

For those keeping track at home, here’s the timeline of C.I.W. victories in the penny-per-pound campaign:

  • April 2001: C.I.W. launches the Boycott the Bell campaign against Taco Bell, the first campaign to pressure a fast food restaurant into joining the penny-per-pound pass-through program to improve the piece rate for Florida tomato pickers.

  • March 2005 — 4 years later: The C.I.W. announces victory in the Taco Bell campaign after four years of negotiations, boycotts, protests, and, finally, a hardball campaign to enlist sympathetic student groups to Boot the Bell by pressuring their colleges and high schools to cancel or call off food-service contracts with Taco Bell. Taco Bell now becomes the first fast food provider to voluntarily pass through money to increase farmworkers’ wages. The C.I.W. announces that it will now turn its attention to getting similar agreements from other large fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King.

  • April 2007 — 2 years after that: The C.I.W. announces victory with a penny-per-pound agreement from McDonald’s. It takes two years of negotiations and a low-intensity pressure campaign; just after the C.I.W. announces it is about to escalate with another Taco Bell-style boycott and Truth Tour, McDonald’s signs on for the agreement. The C.I.W. announces that it will organize its next campaign, focusing on Burger King.

  • May 2008 — 1 year after that: The C.I.W. announces victory with a penny-per-pound agreement from Burger King after a year of negotiations, some very dirty dealing by Burger King (most of which came back to haunt them when it was exposed), public protests by the C.I.W. and its allies, and national press attention from journalists who supported the C.I.W. and opposed Burger King’s union busting tactics. 13 months after the C.I.W. began its Burger King campaign, Burger King announces that it will sign on for the penny-per-pound agreement. The C.I.W. announces that it will organize campaigns to get new agreements from fast-food restaurants and grocery stores like Whole Foods, Subway, and Chipotle, which sell themselves as healthy, sustainable businesses.

  • September 2008 — 4 months after that: The C.I.W. announces victory with a penny-per-pound agreement from Whole Foods. The C.I.W. announces that it will turn its attention to escalating their campaigns to win similar agreements from Subway and Chipotle.

  • December 2008 — 3 months after that: After seven months of negotiations, and three months of a low-intensity pressure campaign (focusing on getting supporters to send postcards to Subway’s CEO), the C.I.W. announces plans to launch a multi-city protest Truth Tour in the northeast. Just before the tour begins, Subway agrees to sign on to the penny-per-pound agreement.

If the accelerating trend continues, we can expect the next C.I.W. victory to be announced some time around late January or February. (Except for Whole Foods being two months early, the time it takes for each new victory has consistently followed a geometric decay curve. That can’t last forever, but here’s hoping it holds for a while yet.) In any case, this is a big win, and it’s hardly the end. The C.I.W. is still fighting to get an agreement from Chipotle, and is preparing to organize pressure campaigns for other supermarkets and food service outfits. There’s a lot more yet to come.

Fellow workers, the C.I.W.’s ongoing series of inspiring victories for Florida farmworkers are both an inspiration and a reminder. We should never forget the power of creative extremism and wildcat unionism — a power that needs no government, no ballot boxes, no political bosses, no Officially Recognized labor bureaucrats, no lawyers, and no Changeling political parties. It’s the power that fellow worker Joe Ettor reminded us all of, as he and his fellow workers struggled to a hard-won victory in the great Bread and Roses textile strike of 1912, when he said:

If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists. As long as the workers keep their hands in their pockets, the capitalists cannot put theirs there. With passive resistance, with the workers absolutely refusing to move, lying absolutely silent, they are more powerful than all the weapons and instruments that the other side has for attack.

Yes, we can do it—ourselves. And we will.

¡La lucha sigue—victory to the farmworkers!

See also:

¡Sí se puede! Coalition of Immokalee Workers announces another victory in penny-per-pound agreement with Whole Foods

Fellow workers,

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based union in Central Florida that has been winning a series of remarkable victories on wages and conditions for Florida farmworkers, with no government recognition and through the creative use of secondary boycotts and other forms wildcat unionism, has just announced another major victory in the struggle. After the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ hard-won victory in the struggle to make Burger King sign on to the penny-per-pound passthrough agreement, here’s what C.I.W. organizer Lucas Benitez had to say about the future of the campaign:

Dr. Martin Luther King said it best when he said, The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Social responsibility in this country’s food industry is inevitable, and though the exploitation of Florida’s farmworkers remains unconscionable today, company by company we are building a path toward justice. The next steps are up to those companies that stand before us in the road ahead.

There are companies — like Chipotle in the restaurant world and Whole Foods in the grocery industry — that already make claims to social responsibility yet, when it comes to tomatoes, fall far short of their lofty claims. It is time, now, that those companies live out the true meaning of their marketers’ words.

And there are companies — like Subway and WalMart — that, by the sheer volume of their purchases, profit like few others from the pernicious poverty of workers in Florida’s fields. They, too, must step up now. After eight years of this campaign — and the very public commitment of the three largest fast-food companies in the world to the principles of Fair Food — they can no longer claim ignorance of the problem nor can they say that the solution is not possible.

So to all of you who have marched with us, organized petition drives with us, prayed with us, and struggled with us, today is a day to celebrate this hard-fought victory. Tomorrow, with renewed energy and purpose, we begin our work again to make respect for fundamental human rights in Florida’s tomato fields truly universal.

— Lucas Benitez, quoted in Coalition of Immokalee Workers Breaking News (2008-06-09): The Road Ahead in the Campaign for Fair Food!

And yesterday, the C.I.W. announced the first victory in these new campaigns: they have won an agreement for Whole Foods to participate in the penny-per-pound campaign, and to begin crafting purchasing standards for labor conditions in the fields.

Whole Foods Market Signs Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to Support Penny-per-Pound Tomato Program in Florida

Company Also Exploring Program to Help Guarantee Ethical Sourcing and Production in the U.S.

AUSTIN, TX (September 9, 2008) – Whole Foods Market, the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Florida-based farm worker organization spearheading the growing Campaign for Fair Food, announced today that the two will work in partnership to help improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers.

According to an agreement signed this week, Whole Foods Market will support the CIW’s penny-per-pound approach for tomatoes purchased from Florida, with the goal of passing these additional funds on to the harvesters.

With this agreement, the Campaign for Fair Food has again broken new ground, said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. This is not only our first agreement in the supermarket industry but, in working with Whole Foods Market, we have the opportunity to really raise the bar to establish and ensure modern day labor standards and conditions in Florida.

We commend the CIW for their advocacy on behalf of these workers, said Karen Christensen, Global Produce Coordinator for Whole Foods Market. After carefully evaluating the situation in Florida, we felt that an agreement of this nature was in line with our core values and was in the best interest of the workers.

Additionally, Whole Foods Market is exploring the creation of a domestic purchasing program to help guarantee transparent, ethical and responsible sourcing and production, using the company’s existing Whole Trade Guarantee program as a model. Whole Trade Guarantee, a third-party verified program, ensures that producers and laborers in developing countries get an equitable price for their goods in a safe and healthy working environment. The goal is to purchase Florida tomatoes from growers that will implement a similar program. We are especially excited about working with the CIW to develop this domestic Whole Trade-type program, said Christensen.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers Press Release (2008-09-09): Whole Foods Market Signs Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to Support Penny-per-Pound Tomato Program in Florida

This is a big win, and it’s hardly the end. The C.I.W. is still fighting to get an agreement Chipotle; there’s a lot more yet to come.

Fellow workers, the C.I.W.’s series of inspiring victories for creative extremism and wildcat unionism are both an inspiration and a reminder. We should never forget that the workers have more power standing with our hands in our pockets than all the wealth and weapons of the plutocrats and politicians. Yes, we can do it—ourselves. And we will.

¡La lucha siguevictory to the farmworkers!

See also:

Slavery in Florida’s tomato fields

(Via the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.)

The Florida Tomato Growers’ Exchange is a cartel and legislative lobby which represents more than 90% of Florida’s tomato growers. Over the past year or so, the F.T.G.E. has moved aggressively to discredit the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and to destroy their penny-a-pound pass-through system, through which tomato buyers can volunteer to pass along one penny per pound of tomatoes bought, which would go directly towards increasing the wages of the farmworkers who picked those tomatoes. Since these bonuses are paid directly by the tomato buyers, and not by the farm bosses, it costs nothing for the farm bosses to implement, so I’m not entirely clear what the F.T.G.E.’s interest is here — but, if I had to guess, I would suspect that the campaign is mainly just part of a larger scorched-earth campaign against the C.I.W. as such and anything that they do, for fear that widespread success here would strengthen the organization, embolden them in their campaigns against exploitative and brutal treatment by growers, raise worker’s expectations about pay and conditions, and raise their hopes about what can be accomplished by uniting together. Along the way the F.T.G.E. has teamed up with Burger King (who later broke ranks and struck a penny-per-pound deal with the C.I.W.) and with a Republican state congressman, repeatedly making unfounded insinuations that the C.I.W. was skimming graft off of the penny-per-pound system (actually, payments are held in an escrow account and audited by an independent, third-party firm), and denouncing nonviolent protest and consumer boycotts as extortion, apparently on the claim that plantation owners have a God-given right to have their tomatoes bought, on terms set by the plantation owners and not by the buyers, and that any peep of protest or suggestion that buyers might freely choose not to buy tomatoes grown and picked under certain kinds of labor conditions is tantamount to a threat of violence. They’ve also made a special effort to spread a number of exculpatory distortions, obfuscations, half-truths, evasions, and lies about wages and conditions for tomato pickers in central Florida. For example, trumpeting the hourly wage rate that tomato-pickers can make during picking hours in the peak harvest season — about $12-$13/hour — without mentioning such minor details as the number of hours available, the unreliability of work, the fact that workers can only make that much for half the workday or so, that a few months of backbreaking work usually have to last the workers all year, and that, as that the annual income of farmworkers comes out to about $10,000/year or so, which is to say, that most farmworkers live in extreme poverty.

Then there’s the issue of working conditions, and the accusations of slavery in the tomato fields. The C.I.W. has already, several times in the past, been directly involved in busting up slave rings on Southeastern U.S. produce farms. Thus, they have focused a lot of their rhetoric on exposing the use of violence and coercion against farmworkers. But, the F.T.G.E. insists on their Industry Facts webpage:

Myth: Farmworkers are denied their fundamental labor rights by being held and forced to work in slave-like conditions.

Facts: Florida’s tomato growers abhor and condemn slavery. Charges that growers have enslaved workers are false. On numerous occasions, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has asked for evidence that would substantiate allegations of slavery and have received none. The Exchange stands ready to help authorities prosecute any instance of slavery.

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

Five Immokalee residents pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to charges of enslaving Mexican and Guatemalan workers, brutalizing them and forcing them to work in farm fields.

The 17-count indictment in the case — one of the largest slavery prosecutions Southwest Florida has ever seen — was originally released in January. It alleged that, for two years, Cesar Navarrete and Geovanni Navarrete held more than a dozen people in boxes, trucks and shacks on the family property, chaining and beating them, forcing them to work in farm fields in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina while keeping them in ever-increasing debt.

Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy called it slavery, plain and simple.

One of the six original defendants, Jose Navarrete, pleaded guilty in May to five charges.

The two ringleaders, Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete will likely serve 12 years and face fines between $750,000 and $1 million each. Sentencing is set for December.

Although the case was set to go to trial Tuesday, the defense and the government reached plea agreements at the last minute.

In federal court, if you go to trial and lose, the sentences are extremely severe, said Geovanni Navarrete’s attorney, Joseph Viacava of Fort Myers. We were happy to negotiate a resolution that caps our client’s liability and puts him in a favorable position come sentencing.

Molloy is happy too.

This is an excellent resolution, he said. The bad guys go to jail and the many victims get to go on with their lives.

Plus, he said, every time there’s a slavery conviction, We get two or three more reports of similar cases. So getting the word out about these prosecutions is extremely important, Molloy said.

Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has helped prosecute six slavery cases (including this) that freed more than 1,000 workers, also were pleased with the outcome.

The facts that have been reported in this case are beyond outrageous — workers being beaten, tied to posts, and chained and locked into trucks to prevent them from leaving their boss, said coalition member Gerardo Reyes.

How many more workers have to be held against their will before the food industry steps up to the plate and demands that this never — ever — occur again in the produce that ends up on America’s tables?

— Amy Bennett Williams, Ft. Myers News-Press (2008-09-03): Five plead guilty in Immokalee slavery case

And what did the ever-helpful, standing-ready, slavery-abhorring F.T.G.E. do about all this? Not a god-damned thing. Well. That’s not entirely true. They did do something. Specifically, on November 20th of last year, while they were busy going on a high-profile press junket with Burger King to smear the C.I.W., their yellow-dog auditing agency, S.A.F.E., did stop in to visit Immokalee and issue a public statement declaring that their audits have found no slave labor. As it happened, on the very same day that statement was issued — November 20th, 2007 — three tomato pickers reached the Collier County sheriff’s office on foot, and reported that they had just escaped out of the ventilation hatch of a box truck where they had been held against their will by the Navarette gang. So while workers were first telling the world about the violence and enslavement they had suffered, the F.T.G.E. and its agents did go out of their way to publicly declare that all those abuses simply did not exist.

The farmworkers’ struggle is one of the most important labor struggles in the United States today, and the way that the C.I.W. is carrying it on, in the face of tremendous opposition, nasty smear campaigns, repeated threats of legal coercion, and still managing to get so much done by so many workers, for so many of their fellow workers, in a really remarkably effective bottom-up, worker-led community workers’ organization, is nothing short of heroic. And inspiring. But, well, I’m sure that all of the F.T.G.E.’s verbal abhorring and condemning of slavery is also greatly appreciated.