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Posts tagged Lucas Benitez

Even better than I thought: victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers against the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, too

On Friday I mentioned that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers had just announced victory in the Burger King penny-a-pound pass-through campaign. It turns out that the news is even better than I thought. The news reports that have come out since the announcement reveal that not only did Burger King agree to join the penny-a-pound, but the Florida Tomato Growers’ Exchange (the cartel and legislative lobby which represents 90% of Florida tomato farm owners) has also substantially caved in the face of pressure from the CIW and its supporters. Although they are still saying that member farms should not participate, they’ve given up on the hardball tactics they were trying to use to enforce cartel discipline.

Whether workers actually get the increase hinges on tomato growers’ participation.

McDonald’s and Yum! Brands, the world’s biggest fast-food chain and restaurant company, respectively, already have agreed to the raise; Yum!, parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and more, signed on in 2005; McDonald’s in 2007.

Workers got the extra money for two seasons, then the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange threatened $100,000 fines to any grower member who participated, which stalled the payouts. They’ve since been collecting in escrow. About 90 percent of the state’s tomato growers belong to the exchange.

But the exchange announced Thursday it would no longer threaten members with those fines, said executive vice-president Reggie Brown, in response to inordinate and inappropriate focus on the (fines) by the media.

— Amy Bennett Williams, Ft. Myers News-Press (2008-05-24): Tomato pickers celebrate deal with Burger King

Brown is still muttering baseless and murky threats about federal antitrust laws and how participating in the pass-through program could somehow subject growers to lawsuits. (Subjected to lawsuits by whom? Is that supposed to be a prediction or a threat?) So there is still a danger of some very dirty pool and government union-busting here. But the FTGE looks like it’s on the ropes, and their retracting the threat of fines makes it much more likely that individual farm owners will begin participating in the pass-through program again, if nothing else as an incentive for attracting workers away from non-participating farms — an incentive which it costs the farm owners nothing to offer.

In the meantime, the fast-food participants have announced that they will continue to honor the penny-per-pound agreement and pay into the escrow account in case growers change their minds:

McDonald’s and Yum Brands, the world’s biggest fast-food chain and restaurant company, respectively, have agreed to the raise …. Yum, parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and more, signed on in 2005; McDonald’s in 2007.

Workers received the extra money for two seasons, but then the threatened fines from the exchange stalled payouts. Both companies have been honoring the agreement with the raise amount collecting in escrow.

They say they will continue to honor the agreement.

It’s the right thing to do, and we encourage others to follow our lead, said Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch. While we continue to set aside monies for the affected workers, we’re disappointed that the intended recipients are being penalized.

Now that the threat of fines is gone, members and supporters of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are wondering what it might mean.

If the (threats of fines) are in fact being lifted, that would be good news, said coalition co-founder Lucas Benitez. We hope our agreements with Yum and McDonald’s will be allowed to again function as they had in the past and workers received a fairer wage.

— Amy Bennett Williams, Ft. Myers News-Press (2008-05-23): Tomato growers' group relents on imposing fine for giving pickers raise

Eric Schlosser, who has been doing some very good work in reporting on the C.I.W.’s struggle, offers an analysis that combines some incredibly muddled history with some admirably clear-sighted analysis of the current position of the C.I.W. within the farmworkers’ struggle:

This may be the most important victory for American farmworkers since passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975. That bill heralded a golden age for farm workers. But the state government apparatus it created, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, got taken over by the growers in the 1980s and watered down the reforms. In Florida, the Coalition has chosen a different path, avoiding government and putting pressure on the corporations at the top of nation’s food chain. The strategy clearly works and can be emulated by other workers in other states. In the absence of a government that cares about the people at the bottom, here’s a way to achieve change.

–Eric Schlosser, quoted by Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation (2008-05-23): Sweet Victory: Coalition for Immokalee Workers Wins

The muddle, of course, has to do with the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board and the mythical golden age for farmworkers. Actually the ALRB is exactly what strangled the dynamism of the once-vibrant United Farm Workers, by pulling California farmworkers’ unions into the smothering embrace of bureaucratic patronage, which had strangled the dynamism of the rest of the labor movement for decades under the Wagner/Taft-Hartley system — thus capturing a once revolutionary movement and converting it into just another arm of the State-domesticated labor establishment. It should be no surprise that within a decade the ALRB had been completely captured by the farm bosses; government boards are always captured by the most powerful and best-connected players. Any look at history or at the basics of political economy should quickly demonstrate that Schlosser’s in the absence of is really a statement of universal truth, not a remark on the sad state of affairs today: there will never be a government that cares about the people on the bottom. It’s the State that largely puts them on the bottom in the first place and then keeps them there. Any scraps that it may throw down from the master’s table are intended to keep the rest of us just barely fed enough to keep begging, instead of giving up and taking matters into our own hands.

What Schlosser is right about is that the C.I.W.’s strategy works, and deserves emulation. What I’d want to add, and stress, is that it works not despite the fact that they have avoided entangling themselves in the government labor bureaucracy; it works because they have. The C.I.W. has won all these struggles precisely because they have used creative fight-to-win tactics (especially secondary boycotts) that would be completely illegal if they were subject to the bureaucratic discipline of the NLRB. It’s precisely the freedom that they enjoy as a wildcat union, ineligible for NLRB recognition, which has allowed them to disregard the usual modesty in demands and politeness in means that the Taft-Hartley rules demand.

These victories with the FTGE and Burger King are not the end. The C.I.W. has announced that it will now challenge grocery stores and other fast food restaurants to join Yum Brands, McDonald’s, and Burger King in the pass-through agreement. Every victory in this campaign has made the next victory come quicker: the Taco Bell boycott took four years for victory (from 2001 to 2005); the C.I.W. won an agreement from McDonald’s after two years of active campaigning (from March 2005 to April 2007); and these victories in campaigns against Burger King and the FTGE took just over one year (from April 2007 to May 2008). Lucas Benitez has indicated that the C.I.W. will most likely target Chipotle and Whole Foods next — that is, major tomato buyers who each have a significant stake in maintaining a brand image of corporate social responsibility. There’s good reason to hope that the trend will continue and these campaigns will lead to a speedy victory.

Fellow workers, this past week’s 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.

See also:

¡Sí se puede! Victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in the Burger King penny-per-pound campaign

It’s a busy day today, especially on the activist front, so I won’t have much to add by way of comment until I’ve had a bit of time to sit down and breathe. But I just got this news via e-mail and it made me so happy that I had to post something to share the good news as soon as possible:

WASHINGTON – May 23, 2008 – The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Burger King Corp. (NYSE:BKC) today announced plans to work together to improve wages and working conditions for the farmworkers who harvest tomatoes for the BURGER KING® system in Florida.

BKC has agreed to pay an additional net penny per pound for Florida tomatoes to increase wages for the Florida farm workers who harvest tomatoes. To encourage grower participation in this increased wage program, BKC will also fund incremental payroll taxes and administrative costs incurred by the growers as a result of their farmworkers’ increased wages, or a total of 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes.

BKC also joins other fast-food industry leaders and the CIW in calling for an industry-wide net penny per pound surcharge to increase wages for Florida tomato harvesters.

Together, BKC and the CIW have also established zero tolerance guidelines for certain unlawful activities that require immediate termination of any grower from the BURGER KING® supply chain. The BKC/CIW collaboration additionally provides for farmworker participation in the monitoring of growers’ compliance with the company’s vendor code of conduct.

John Chidsey, chief executive officer of Burger King Corp., said, We are pleased to now be working together with the CIW to further the common goal of improving Florida tomato farmworkers’ wages, working conditions and lives. The CIW has been at the forefront of efforts to improve farm labor conditions, exposing abuses and driving socially responsible purchasing and work practices in the Florida tomato fields. We apologize for any negative statements about the CIW or its motives previously attributed to BKC or its employees and now realize that those statements were wrong. Today we turn a new page in our relationship and begin a new chapter of real progress for Florida farmworkers.

For more than 50 years, BKC has been a proud purchaser and supporter of the Florida tomato industry. However, if the Florida tomato industry is to be sustainable long-term, it must become more socially responsible. We, along with other industry leaders, recognize that the Florida tomato harvesters are in need of better wages, working conditions and respect for the hard work they do. And we look forward to working with the CIW in the pursuit of these necessary improvements. We also encourage other purchasers and growers of Florida tomatoes to engage in dialogue with the CIW in support of driving industry-wide socially responsible change.

Lucas Benitez of the CIW added, The events of the past months have been trying. But we are prepared to move forward, together now with Burger King, toward a future of full respect for the human rights of workers in the Florida tomato fields. Today we are one step closer to building a world where we, as farmworkers, can enjoy a fair wage and humane working conditions in exchange for the hard and essential work we do everyday. We are not there yet, but we are getting there, and this agreement should send a strong message to the rest of the restaurant and supermarket industry: Now is the time to join Yum! Brands, McDonalds, and Burger King in righting the wrongs that have been allowed to linger in Florida's fields for far too long.

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (IL-D): I applaud Burger King for announcing today that it will be providing an extra penny per pound to the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida and establishing a zero-tolerance policy for worker abuses in the region. Today’s announcement is a major step forward in improving the wages and working conditions of the Immokalee workers. I call on other purchasers of the region’s tomatoes and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to join Burger King and do the right thing for these workers.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (VT-I): I have been to Immokalee and seen first-hand the conditions for farm workers there, perhaps the most exploited workers in America. I am very pleased that Burger King has agreed to help the tomato pickers who have worked for too long for too little. I know that this has been a long and hard road for Burger King, and I believe the American people will appreciate what they are doing. I hope now that other corporations will join Burger King, McDonalds and Yum Brands in doing the right thing.

The CIW has ended its campaign against BKC and its franchisees and will work with the company to further foster improvements and sustainable changes throughout the Florida tomato industry. The CIW and BKC will also work together toward development of an industry-wide vendor code of conduct and increased worker wages through encouragement of full buyer and grower participation.

— Coalition of Immokalee Workers Breaking News (2008-05-23): Burger King Corp. and Coalition of Immokalee Workers to Work Together

See also:

¡Sí se puede! The CIW wins a groundbreaking wages and conditions agreement with McDonald’s

Victory to the Farm-Workers!

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has scored another major victory in their ongoing campaign to improve wages and conditions for Florida tomato-pickers.

McDonald’s USA, the largest fast-food burger business in the nation, Monday reached agreement with a Florida farmworkers organization to pay about 75 percent more for the tomatoes it buys from state farms.

According to McDonald’s and the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, which waged a two-year campaign for the increase, laborers who now receive 40 to 45 cents for a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes will earn about 72 to 77 cents for that measure, a 1 cent per pound increase.

The company said the hike would not cause it to raise its prices at the counter.

The workers coalition said the agreement would affect between 1,000 to 1,500 workers who labor for several Florida tomato growers. It is the second major victory for the farmworkers – similar to a pact reached in 2005 with Yum! Brands, the owner of Taco Bell and other fast food chains. That agreement, according to the coalition, affected about 1,000 workers

This is a very good day for us, Julia Perkins, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said Monday. What it represents is a glimmer of hope that things can change across the country, with Burger King, Wal-Mart and Subway too.

Those chains also are large buyers of tomatoes, and the coalition is pressing them to raise payments to tomato pickers. The farmworker organization announced that the next company it will target for higher wages for pickers is the arch rival of McDonald’s, Miami-based Burger King.

Lucas Benitez, leader of the farmworkers coalition, was participating in a protest caravan heading for the corporate headquarters of McDonald’s in Oak Brook, Ill., near Chicago, to stage demonstrations when the agreement was reached. He said he would continue the caravan.

When we get up there to Chicago we will announce the good news of the agreement with McDonald’s, he said.

Farmworkers are some of the lowest paid workers in the country. According to Perkins, before the Taco Bell agreement, wages for tomato pickers had hardly moved in 25 years.

Taco Bell, which resisted the coalition demands for about four years, was the object of a nationwide boycott until it reached its agreement. During the boycott, several universities ordered Taco Bell franchises on their campuses to close their doors.

No boycott had been called yet against McDonald’s. Perkins said the campaign had included some picketing outside McDonald’s franchises, a letter-writing effort and meetings on university campuses and at churches. But she made it clear that the campaign had been heading toward a possible boycott.

Yes, it was looking like the campaign was going to get more aggressive, she said.

Perkins said the details of the agreement had not been completed, but she expected it to work much like the Taco Bell pact. She said that Taco Bell pays the extra penny per pound directly to the workers, who receive a separate, second check — a bonus check — for those Taco Bell tomatoes.

She said the increase did not represent a 75 percent increase in total wages for pickers because many of the tomatoes they pick are destined for other buyers who have not agreed to the increase.

But it can make a difference of 15, 30 or even 100 dollars per week for some workers depending on how many of the tomatoes are heading for McDonald’s, she said.

Benitez said the McDonald’s pact, like the Taco Bell agreement, will ensure that all workers picking McDonald’s tomatoes also will have their human rights and civil rights respected and that a system for protesting workplace violations will be instituted between the coalition and McDonald’s.

Benitez identified three growers the pact would affect: Six L’s of Immokalee and Pacific Tomato and Taylor & Fulton, both of Palmetto.

— John Lantigua, Palm Beach Post (2007-04-10): McDonald’s agrees to increase pay for workers who harvest its tomatoes

The CIW isn’t done yet. Taco Bell held out for four years of a long and bitter struggle; the CIW won with McDonald’s after two years of low-intensity pressure that was about to be stepped up into a major campaign. They have already begun to organize their next campaign — to bring Burger King into a similar agreement — and every victory that they win will make the next one faster and easier than the last.

While establishmentarian unions in the AFL-CIO and Change to Win [sic] are fighting (punch-drunk) for their very survival, and begging the political class for yet more government protections, the CIW has won agreements with two of the biggest corporations in their industry — first Yum Brands (owners of Taco Bell) and now McDonald’s — with no government privileges to wield and with members speaking several different languages, organizing across barriers of culture and nationality, amongst workers who are constantly moving and who are amongst the poorest and most exploited workers in the United States. But they’ve won precisely because they aren’t restrained by the smothering patronage of government-approved labor relations: without government recognition, there are no government strings attached, and that has allowed the CIW to make use of fight-to-win tactics — such as secondary boycotts — that are simply illegal for NLRB-recognized unions to use. This win is, in other words, another inspiring example of the real power of wildcat unionism and creative extremism.

Fellow workers, you have both my congratulations and my thanks. Yes, we can do it–ourselves. And we will.

Further reading:

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

Victory to the Farm-Workers!

It’s been a good two weeks since I meant to put up a post on some great labor news–the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ have won the Taco Bell boycott after four years of ground-breaking organizing and agitating for and by the migrant farmworkers of southern Florida in the Taco Bell Boycott and Boot the Bell! campaigns. You can read more about it from the CIW themselves.

March 8, 2005 (IMMOKALEE/LOUISVILLE) – In a precedent-setting move, fast-food industry leader Taco Bell Corp., a division of Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM), has agreed to work with the Florida-based farm worker organization, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), to address the wages and working conditions of farmworkers in the Florida tomato industry.

Taco Bell announced today that it will fund a penny per pound pass-through with its suppliers of Florida tomatoes, and will undertake joint efforts with the CIW on several fronts to improve working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields. For its part, the CIW has agreed to end its three-year boycott of Taco Bell, saying that the agreement sets a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry.

Taco Bell has recently secured an agreement with several of its tomato-grower suppliers, who employ the farmworkers, to pass-through the company-funded equivalent of one-cent per pound directly to the workers.

With this agreement, we will be the first in our industry to directly help improve farmworkers’ wages, added Brolick, And we pledge to make this commitment real by buying only from Florida growers who pass this penny per pound payment entirely on to the farmworkers, and by working jointly with the CIW and our suppliers to monitor the pass-through for compliance. We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership. Yum! Brands and Taco Bell will also work with the CIW to help ensure that Florida tomato pickers enjoy working terms and conditions similar to those that workers in other industries enjoy.

The Company indicated that it believes other restaurant chains and supermarkets, along with the Florida Tomato Committee, should join in seeking legislative reform, because human rights are universal and we hope others will follow our company’s lead.

— CIW / Taco Bell Press Release 2005-03-08: Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Taco Bell reach groundbreaking agreement

The penny-per-pound increase means a cost increase of only $100,000 / year for Taco Bell. Here’s what it means for migrant farmworkers:

As part of the agreement announced Tuesday, Taco Bell will pay an extra penny paid per pound — about $100,000 annually — that will be funneled to about 1,000 farm workers through a small group of suppliers, Yum! spokesman Jonathan Blum said. Taco Bell buys about 10 million pounds of Florida tomatoes a year, Blum said.

Lucas [Benitez], co-director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, said farm workers earn about $7,500 a year, without health insurance or paid vacations. The extra penny added per pound picked will almost double the yearly salaries of the roughly 1,000 farm workers employed by Taco Bell suppliers, [Benitez] said.

— Miami Herald 2005-03-09: Taco Bell agrees to pay extra pennies for tomatoes

Update 2005-03-24: As has been pointed out to me, the numbers here need a bit of explication. The best I can make of it is this: there was a misstatement somewhere along the line–either by Benitez, or by the translator, or by the reporter when summarizing what he said. Yes, about $100,000 per year over about 1,000 workers means about $100 each per worker per year. But the piece rate for tomato-picking in Southern Florida ranges between 40 and 50 cents for a 32 pound bucket–about 1.5 to 1.25 cents per pound picked. So the Taco Bell program will almost double the effective piece rate for the portion tomatoes that the workers pick that goes to Taco Bell. Since the tomatoes they pick go to places besides Taco Bell, the piece rates they get for the portion of the tomatoes bought by Taco Bell was about $125–$150 per worker per year; now it will be about $225–$250 per worker per year. If all the tomato buyers instituted a program like Taco Bell’s, then that would mean a near-doubling in total annual salary, all other things being equal. As a labor victory that’s a lot less exhilerating than a doubling of their annual salary; but $100 more means a lot when you’re only making $7500 a year, and it sets a precedent for future campaigns.

Which the CIW is planning as we speak.

So, feel free to eat at Taco Bell again. In fact, I’ll be going out for dinner at Taco Bell tonight to thank them now that they have given in to farm workers’ demands, and I’ll be contacting them to be sure that they know why I’m buying food from them again.

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.

Unfortunately, some of my libertarian comrades haven’t been quite so willing to celebrate. In fact, I first heard about the victory from Daniel D’Amico’s post lamenting the development. D’Amico wrote a misguided attack on the campaign before and so did Art Carden. The problem is that the arguments given in these articles seem to proceed from a double confusion: first, a confusion about the nature of CIW; and second, a confusion about economics and the nature of market processes.

Both Carden and D’Amico seem to make the initial mistake of thinking about the CIW campaign entirely by analogy to either (a) the student anti-sweatshop movement or (b) government-authorized trade unionism, and so feel free to lift boilerplate from the standard arguments against those (e.g.: that it is the misguided effort of patronizing college students who ought to pay more attention to the real interests of those they claim to act on behalf of; that it courts the coercive power of the State in order to achieve its goals) when it is in fact completely alien to how CIW actually works. They’ve never requested government assistance against Taco Bell, and they couldn’t legally get it if they asked. And whether the standard accusations against student-driven anti-sweatshop organizing are apt or inapt (I think they are apt in some aspects and unfair in others), they don’t apply to CIW. It’s certainly true that they’ve been more than willing to draw support from anti-sweatshop organizations and to draw comparisons between their struggle and the anti-sweatshop movement in order to curry support on college campuses (and did so very intelligently); but this isn’t the anti-sweatshop movement. It’s not directed from college campuses; the shots are called by a community organization of immigrant farmworkers in Southern Florida. You might try to argue that they’re acting foolishly against their own interests, or avariciously at the expense of other people’s legitimate interests, but to simply try to lift the standard Where are all the third world workers in the anti-sweatshop movement? objections won’t hold water for anyone who has actually met (as I have) CIW organizers.

Carden and D’Amico’s articles are both mostly about their economic complaints against the CIW strategy; they may think that they can simply dismiss any mistakes about how CIW organizes as marginal to the main point. That’s fine, but the economic complaints are also unfounded. D’Amico, for example, complains that CIW is interfering with the market processes that set wages for labor:

CIW expects the boycott to put pressure on Taco Bell to pay more for its tomatoes and thus more for migrant laborers. But this would not be a sustainable market scenario. Prices are not set by arbitrary moral standards, but rather by available levels of supply and demand in the market.

Stopping the market transactions of mutually benefiting exchange in the name of moral obligations does not produce anything of lasting value to assist in capital accumulation or increasing standards of living.

But the entire complaint presupposes two things which are in fact false: first, that the moral demands on Taco Bell to improve its contracting for tomato-picking so that farmworkers are paid a better wage are arbitrary; second, that moral obligations are not part of what people take into account when they determine which transactions count as mutually beneficial in the first place. Let’s bracket the first presupposition for a moment in order to clear away the second: prices and markets are not mechanistic systems; they are the results (both intended and unintended) of people’s choices. Notice how little attention this point gets when D’Amico offers the following weirdly primitive picture of how someone decides whether or not to buy a taco:

The value of a chalupa is not imputed through the sweat equity of the Immokalee migrant workers. When the typical college kid is watching his favorite episode of The Simpson’s and a Taco Bell commercial comes on, he does not pause and reflect on the condition of the plighted migrant laborer; rather he sees a funny Chihuahua that speaks Spanish, standing next to a greasy bundle of cheesy goodness, and his stomach growls accordingly.

Of course, I’m sure that some people do think like this about their meals, but there is no reason that they have to. When you are trying to figure out how people will make the choices they make, you always need to refer to a notion of benefit. But the judgments of benefit that people make don’t just issue from some hydraulic system of inborn drives and aversions; they are the result of deliberation, and involve answers to a lot of questions about not only hunger, thirst, low-grade humor, etc., but also decisions about what kinds of pleasures are worth the cost, what sort of life you want to live, what sort of society you want to live in, and so on. Sure, not everyone thinks about those things when they deliberate over whether to go to Taco Bell or not; and the fact that they don’t ponder them had heretofore meant that wages would be as low as they were. But what the hell were CIW doing if not trying to educate people about the conditions that people picking the tomatoes they eat face, and so encouraging them to think about whether a marginal decrease of less than a penny per chalupa is really worth it to them? That’s as much a part of the free market as deliberations which issue in decisions to seek the lowest price at any cost are.

What about the first issue? Is it right to think that workers deserve more than they get paid, or is it foolish? D’Amico might try to push his point here by arguing: sure, given that you can convince people of those values, that’s as much a part of market processes as anything. But it shouldn’t be a part of people’s values; it’s foolish and economically destructive to act on the preference that people deserve extra money just for being hard workers that you feel sorry for, and not for any marginal increase in the valuable material output that they produce. So the campaign has gotten people to agree to giving the farm workers more than they should get if our aim is greater economic prosperity and higher standards of living. Which it should be.

But again, this seems to presuppose a weirdly mechanistic picture of the economic concepts involved. Prosperity and higher standard of living are irreducibly evaluative terms no less than mutually beneficial; and you have to ask whether it’s possible to exclude basic considerations of fairness and solidarity with our fellow workers from a reasonable conception of what counts as a prosperous commonwealth and what doesn’t. Furthermore, even if you grant D’Amico his principle, it’s unclear why he’s as certain as he is that it applies here. He points to the backward imputation of value and seems to be taking for granted the standard economic argument that at equilibrium, wages are set by the worker’s marginal productivity. Since workers were making sub-poverty wages from the tomatoes for tacos before sentimental comparisons of their yearly income to the average came into play, it must be that those sub-poverty wages reflect their marginal productivity to the consumers of tacos when consumers of tacos are thinking only about the factors that D’Amico thinks they ought to think about.

But that conclusion rests on at least two unargued premises: (1) that farmworkers’ wages are set in a free market for labor, and (2) that farmworkers’ wages are at the equilibrium point. But why should we believe either of these? As CIW itself has repeatedly demonstrated, farmers and caudillos in Southern Florida have repeatedly been willing to use violence, coercion, and fraud against their laborers, up to and including outright slavery; and since many of the workers in Immokalee and elsewhere are undocumented, they also have to face the constant threat of violence from La Migra. All of these factors use coercion to undermine farm workers’ wages and bargaining positions. Further, even if the market were completely free, that wouldn’t be any guarantee at all that it would be no guarantee that wages would be set at marginal productivity given how consumers evaluate the taco; that argument depends on the kind of neo-classical anti-economic argument that I think Roderick Long rightly criticized as the doctrine of Platonic Productivity.

All of this is too damn bad. Not just because it makes for mistaken conclusions, but also because the willingness to make those mistakes tends to paint 21st century libertarians as court intellectuals for the bosses of the world, and it puts them directly at odds with their 19th century forebearers. Radical individualists like Benjamin Tucker, for example, defined their position as both the most consistent form of free market economics, and the most consistent form of the labor movement. Sure, part of that position was based on economic and philosophical error–e.g., commitment to the Smithian labor theory of value–but part of what I hope to show in all this is that corrections to their economic premises don’t require abandonment of their economic conclusions. In fact, if you want to learn something about how people can get together and make their lives both freer and happier in the course of just a few years, without the false help and bureaucratic meddling of the State, you’d do well to look at what the CIW has accomplished over the past several years.

So here’s to libertarian labor organizing and state-free struggle. ¡Si se puede!

Further reading

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