In March 2005, I started a weekly feature called “Sweet Victories.” Theidea was to chronicle progressive victories –electoral wins, protestsand boycotts, the launching of new ideas, fresh organizations andinitiatives, and successful organizing efforts. I hoped that thesestories would serve not only as a source of information, butinspiration. The victories might be small, but they were always sweet.
On May 23, we celebrate a sweet victory for social justice. Sen. BernieSanders (I-VT.) will join representatives of the Coalition for ImmokaleeWorkers (CIW) and the Burger King Corporation at a press conference inthe U.S. Capitol to announce that the corporation has agreed to workwith CIW to improve wages and working conditions for the farm workerswho harvest tomatoes for Burger King.
This victory is testament to the tenacity and discipline of theCoalition,a community-based worker organization, which has exposed ahalf-dozen slavery cases that helped trigger the freeing of more than1000 workers. It has also advocated for better wages, living conditions,respect from the industry, and an end to indentured servitude. In thislast year, CIW scored victories in negotiating a penny-per-poundsurcharge–so workers would receive about 77 cents per 32-poundbucket–with McDonald’s and Yum! Brands (owner of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell,KFC). (The corporations also agreed to work with the Coalition toeliminate slavery from the fields.) And the corporations –not thetomato growers–agreed to pay the 40 percent salary increase.Astonishingly, Burger King, until today, refused to go along with a dealthat will cost them less than $300,000 annually; last year, thecorporation raked in $2.23 billion in revenues.
The Coalition won this agreement because it had the facts on its side;it never exaggerated or distorted the truth. As a result, none of thelies told by Burger King or the growers could stick. In patiently hewingto the high road, its members were finally rewarded.
In April, Sanders chaired a Senate Labor Committee hearing devoted toexposing the low wages and harsh working conditions faced for decades byfarm workers in South Florida. (The hearing came on the heels ofSanders’ fact-finding trip to meet with the workers–a trip in which hesaw first hand the grueling and brutal conditions of their lives.) Atthe April hearing, investigative reporter and author of Fast Food NationEric Schlosser, who traveled with Sanders to visit the Coalitionworkers, laid down a marker: “The exploitation of farm workers shouldnot be tolerated in Florida. It should not be tolerated anywhere in theUnited States. There are many social problems that are extremelydifficult to solve. This is not one of them.”