By Chris Jadallah — Food Policy Research Intern
Boycotts have always been an important tool in progressive activism, with roots tracing back far and wide throughout history. Boycotts give consumers the collective power to “turn the heat on” and pressure powerful entities like corporations and nation-states to change unfair and unjust policies. In the mid-1960s, civil rights leaders Dolores Huerta and Caesar Chaves led the United Farmworkers Union (UFW) in using boycott as a tool to promote fair pay and fair working conditions for farmworkers employed in the table grape industry in California. This boycott connected consumers around the country with struggling farmworker families in California vineyards. By saying no to buying table grapes, consumers stood in solidarity with the hardworking men, women, and children who put food on their tables. After several years of boycott pressure, table grape growers finally signed their first union contracts guaranteeing workers better pay, benefits, and protections. “¡Sí se puede!” became the slogan that still incites support for workers rights across the country.
Huerta and Chavez showed the country that consumers could come together to demand and enact change through simple action. Their calls for justice are particularly relevant today as another boycott is growing in prominence- that of Sakuma Berries in Washington and their largest distributors, Driscoll’s Berries and Nestle, sellers of goods like Haagen-Dazs & Yoplait. Organized by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice), the boycott aims to secure better working conditions for over 400 farmworkers, the majority of whom live in overcrowded, poorly ventilated, poorly equipped, and un-weatherized shacks in company-owned labor camps. The farmworkers allege that Sakuma Brothers Farms have engaged in a systematic scheme of wage and hour violations against farmworkers in violation with the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and Washington employment law. These poor living conditions combined with sub-poverty level wages keep farmworkers living as second-class citizens.
Farmworkers in the United States have traditionally suffered marginalization and disenfranchisement. In his book The Conquest of Bread, Richard Walker argues, “that lack of rights is hardly accidental, since it is systematically maintained by agro-capitalists through labor recruitment, union busting, and lobbying in the halls of government.” As people of conscience, we must stand with the workers who put food on our plates and help nourish our country. As Chavez said, “the fight is never about grapes or lettuce [or berries]. It is always about people.” CFJC believes that we must support people working to make the systemic change we need for a more equitable society; which is why we stand with Familias Unidas por la Justicia in their struggle for fair treatment and justice. Visit boycottsakumaberries.com for more information on how to join their fight.