Over 200 immigrant farmworkers have been on strike for almost a month at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Washington State, one of the nation’s largest berry farms. The strike was initiated in protest of what was believed to be an unjust firing of a worker. The workers are now addressing other basic human rights issues as they craft their list of demands, including right to a fair wage, freedom from wage theft and improvements to the expensive and substandard housing they are provided.
Under US law, farmworkers–one of the most marginalized and abused groups in the country–are prohibited from organizing to better their conditions and are not protected from retaliation by employers if they decide to do so. In Washington, the farm owners have tried repeatedly to break the strike through intimidation and hiring new workers, but so far these tactics haven’t succeeded.
The strike is organized entirely by the workers, who are mostly indigenous families from Oaxaca, Mexico. One recent report about their strategy says, “[t]he workers are still non-unionized but are in effect acting as a union and taking bold actions that are rarely seen in the trade union movement today,” including translation of all interactions into the three languages the workers speak and building transparent democratic decision-making processes. WhyHunger‘s longtime friend and US Food Sovereignty Alliance co-founder Rosalinda Guillen and her colleagues from Community to Community Development have been working with the strikers for the last several weeks.
This is not just about the money, this is about something much more fundamental, this struggle is about dignity. This is what all of us as farm workers have also been asking for, the difference is they took a courageous action and risked all for their dignity. When is the last time we risked our comfort for dignity in a public and organized way?
At the workers’ camp, writer Tomás Madrigal has been spending time with eight-year-old Marco. He writes:
Astute observers, after everyone goes home, the youth roleplay the behavior that was modeled by those who came to their camp from the outside. Whether that behavior was charity, disrespect, racism, or perhaps, dignity. On my way out last night, I saw Marco and his friends play in the empty grass field at the entrance of their home, where an encampment had been erected earlier that day. The youth were waving picket signs that read “respect,” pumping their fists, and chanting “ˇSI SE PUEDE!” — “Yes we can!” This is what is at stake.
Photo Credit: Star Angelina Murray
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