LAKELAND, Fla. - Recently, on March 10, more than 1,000 farm workers and their allies solemnly marched three miles to the corporate headquarter of the grocery store giant Publix.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization composed of primarily Haitian, Mayan, and Mexican immigrant workers, has been engaged in a campaign with the Florida-based Publix grocery store chain for about three years. CIW is asking for the Fortune 500 grocer to agree to pay $0.01 more per pound for the tomatoes they purchase from the growers. In turn those growers would pass the penny on to the farm workers. According to CIW's website, "A major reason for farm workers' low wages is that companies such as Publix do high-volume, low-cost purchasing."
Many large food industry companies such as Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, McDonald's, and recently Trader Joe's, have signed onto CIW'S Campaign for Fair Food. However, Publix still refuses to work with them. Kristofer Rios of the New York Times reported that Maria Brous, the spokeswoman for Publix Super Markets, said that the $0.01 extra farm workers want should come from the growers who employ them.
The march marked the end of a six-day fast that began March 5. More than 60 fasting activists and farmworkers were posted at the main entrance to Publix corporate office. Those who could not attend were asked to hold their own fasts, many participating from home, and emailed letters of support, which were read daily to the fasters in Lakeland. Many of the solidarity messages were written out and posted on the fence that guarded the office property.
The three-mile march began with a picket line that stretched almost a quarter mile in front of a Publix store in Lakeland. After 30 minutes of picketing and hundreds more people arriving from around Florida, some from as far as Oakland, Calif., and Detroit, Mich., the quiet two-by-two procession began. Along the march, volunteers held up banners that gave a progressive history of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the farmworker struggles in Florida. A detailed video released by CIW can be seen below.
At the head of the march were Mrs. Ethel Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (who himself joined Cesar Chavez to break his fast 44 years ago to the day), and her daughter Kerry Kennedy. Many faith-based organizations were represented, along with labor unions and student organizations.
Photo: Joshua LeClair/PW