Sunday, October 19, 2008

Food Crisis Solution Starts With Farmworkers

This Meeting on the International Food Crisis Highlighted the Key Factor: Workers Who Farm the Land

Florida Immokalee Workers Lead the Way

by Phil E. Benjamin

On Friday evening, October 16, The Great Hall of Cooper Union in NYC hosted a major meeting/rally to continue the struggle of ending hunger around the world. Entitled, "Step Up to the Plate: ending the World Food Crisis," this gathering had all the ingredients of the struggle to win: the world wide perspective, the regional arena; and, the focus on farmworkers and food unions.

Ben Malor the chief executive Producer of United Nations Radio chaired the evening and kept the links between the seemingly very disparate, yet very linked, speakers harmonizing toward the goal of the evening.

Raj Patel, a British borne academic writer and political activist, keynoted with a stirring attack on the international food industry and the main culprits, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Patel spoke from direct experience. Earlier in his life he actually worked at The Bank and learned first hand of its dangerous methods and goals. He left The Bank and continued his academic work in California where he earned his PHD at Berkeley. He played a significant role in the battles which took place in Seattle, Washington in 1999. His book, "Stuffed and Starved: the Hidden Battle for the World Food System" [Melville House Publishing; 398 pages, 2007, $19.95], has been widely acclaimed. It is reminiscent of Fast Food Nation, and takes the level of the struggle to a higher level. [Watch for a PA review on the Patel book.]

Family Farm Coalition leader Ben Burkett discussed the plight of the small farmers. As director of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives he spoke with force about the importance of small farmers against the agribusiness. A representative from the Wisconsin family farmers, the National Family Farm coalition and Grassroots International, buttressed the words of Burkett.

Alice Waters the nationally known and internationally recognized chef and restaurant owner of Chez Panisse from Berkeley, California, spoke about her efforts to take the "slow food" movement which promotes the use local farmers by restaurants and also the use of organic foods to a higher stage. But, her main passion has grown to be the converting of public schools to the use of organic and good foods in their cafeterias. [This is reminiscent of the efforts of the major of Barjac, France where Mayor Edouard Chaulet is converting his public school foods; and, those of the Catholic Schools, to organic foods. The film French film by Jean-Paul Jaud, "Nos Enfants; Nous Accuseront" just released documents that effort. This is truly an international effort.

Workers and Unions

But, the truly different and advanced aspect of this evening was the highlighting of workers and unions on this struggle.

The revolutionary element of this meeting was met by Gerardo Reyes a leader and organizer for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers of Southwestern Florida. Reyes described its Campaign for Fair Food that seeks to eliminate sweatshop conditions and modern day slavery in the agricultural fields. Reyes descriptions of worker solidarity were truly remarkable. He described the Immokalee Workers successful work in forcing Taco Bell, McDonalds and Burger King to only use products from their fields that paid decent wages and working conditions. His talk brought the hundreds of those at the meeting to applause.

The Coalition first major victory was to win over $100,000 in back wages for farmworkers. It has lead over 3,000 strikes. He said that workers must be part of any solution to this crisis.

Pat Purcell from Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union that presents over 22,000 workers in the NYC area rose to support the works of the speakers of the evening. He especially called for repeated attention to the work of Reyes. He said that food workers in supermarkets are part of this struggle, also; and the UFCW is pledged to participate and contribute to these efforts.

Food Crisis

The meeting did not lose sight of the worldwide, astronomical increase in the price of basic foods with the world facing devastating hunger and food insecurity.

Sign up and Get Active

The organizers of the meeting called on all of those assembled to "step up to the plate" and get active through its call to action. They asked everyone to visit: