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(en) US, California, The dawn* #4 - Immigrant Farm Workers Win Contract in North Carolina! by Prole Cat

From <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(Erik egh-A-the-dawn.org)
Date Fri, 15 Oct 2004 08:17:47 +0200 (CEST)

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* Mount Olive Pickle Boycott is Over

In the face of a growing boycott promoted by activists of
many hues, but dominated by anti-capitalists and with a
large anarchist contingent, the bosses have relented. The
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) has been recognized
as representing the workers in the cucumber fields of
North Carolina.

According to a media advisory released by FLOC, the
union "will oversee the employment of over 8,000 workers
from most Mexican States who will come to work in North
Carolina with H2A visas through the U.S. Department of
Labor." The advisory refers to these workers as being
"almost exclusively undocumented." Apparently the agreement
openly acknowledges that the workers are "illegals"
(to use the racist/nationalist parlance).

While it would be an exaggeration to call the agreement
lucrative for the workers, it at least addresses the
issues of wages, housing conditions, and abuse of workers
by bosses. The contract provides for a 10% pay increase
over 3 years, creates a standing committee to address
housing improvements, and establishes a seniority system
and formal grievance procedure. (The media advisory made
no mention of protection from toxic pesticides, one of
the central demands of the campaign).

Activists across the southeast and beyond are doubtlessly
taking a deep, satisfied breath, and pausing to reflect on
the five years of struggle that brought this victory. In
the comments that follow, I will address the question
of what this victory means in terms of the prospects for
future worker struggles, and particularly for anarchist

* A Contract is not a Revolution

In the euphoria that follows a union victory, we anarchists
must remind ourselves that winning a contract is a far
cry from the self-organization of liberated workers that
is our goal. In the fields of NC as elsewhere, the union
leaders will represent the workers in negotiations with
the bosses. The world we fight for is one in which there
are no bosses, and the elected officials of any worker
organizations are directly and immediately responsible to
the rank and file. In unions, as in other organizations and
society at large, we champion the practice of delegates
with specific and limited mandates, against the American
norm of "representative democracy" (in which elected
representatives, in collusion with big business owners,
in fact rule).

Still, victory in a struggle such as this has merit on
two fronts. First, there are the benefits that accrue
to the workers. This is not to be made light of. Latino
"guest workers," among the most oppressed of the oppressed,
are not pawns to be played in games of strategy between
CEO's and leftists. As a result of this victory, people
will eat better, children will have better clothes, and
the housing of thousands of our brothers and sisters will
improve. This is no small matter, and the fight would have
been worth it for this result alone.

A further benefit is that class consciousness is
enhanced. The fact that the bosses had to be drug,
kicking and screaming to the negotiating table will be
noticed by the workers involved, their many supporters,
and (we hope) by interested observers. However Mt Olive
Pickle Company's public relations gurus may try to spin the
deal, everyone knows that they are reluctant participants
in the betterment of our Latino friends. The futility of
the reformist school of thought, that claims that the way
to improve worker's wages and conditions is by appealing
to the better instincts of the owners, is thrown into
sharp relief.

* Particulars of the Mt Olive struggle

What lessons can anarchists and other pro-worker activists
glean from this particular struggle and victory? The
circumstances are most unusual. During a period of general
union decline, that has seen the rate of unionization
in America fall to barely one in ten workers, a group of
brown-skinned workers with no social privileges whatsoever,
most of whom do not speak English and are not American
citizens, have won representation and a contract. Not
only that, but the victory took place in the heart of the
anti-union South. In fact, the agreement is "the largest
union contract in North Carolina's history." What are we
to make of all this (beyond being awed by the courage and
audacity of those who launched this effort to begin with)?

It would be a mistake to make overmuch of the
progressiveness of NC. No, the power structure has not
had a change of heart. The same white men are still in
charge. Rather, we should surmise that a persistent and
determined worker's struggle can win anywhere, and look
for what separates this effort from the unsuccessful
ones. Why is FLOC winning while the UFCW flounders in
its attempts to organize Wal-Mart, for example? Of course
Wal-Mart is a more formidable opponent than even Mt Olive
Pickle Company. But just as surely, the class solidarity
that came into play in the recent FLOC campaign, is in
large part responsible for its success. FLOC asked for
and received the support of labor activists all over the
southeast and the nation. This widespread support made
the boycott many times over more powerful than it would
have been on the strength of a FLOC press release alone.

Meanwhile, the larger and wealthier unions, those that
represent a dwindling portion of the carpenters, grocery
clerks, and electricians, continue to pursue a go-it-alone
strategy based on market-share business decisions. This
model makes no effort to call into play the concerted
effort of workers as a class. It assumes that no one ever
does anything, except as it directly impinges on their
immediate personal interest. Of course, these are the
values that capitalism promotes, and that too many take
to be the "natural" order of things. And yet, as the FLOC
struggle makes clear, there are many people who will devote
a great deal of time and energy for the betterment of their
fellows. If the business unions ignore this lesson (as
they have in the past) their decline is likely to continue,
whatever market strategies they may choose to pursue.

As anarchists, even as we champion our ultimate ideals
of liberated self organization, we should continue to
support limited tendencies in the direction of mutual
aid and solidarity, as embodied in the FLOC struggle and
victory. And we should join with rank and file militants
of all unions, in their efforts to unseat the business
managers who dominate them, and make those organizations
accountable to their memberships. Let's put some movement
back in the labor movement!

>From The Dawn, October 2004

* [Ed. note: The Dawn is an anarcho-communist journal]

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