(UR) Portland, OR — Nothing levels a playing field like mutual understanding. For Driscoll’s, one of the world’s largest suppliers of strawberries, a growing list of grievances are bringing laborers together in ways the multinational corporation might not have expected: multinationally. With objections ranging from wage theft to coercive work conditions, the Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ, Families United for Justice) have been organizing in concert in Mexico and the U.S. with the goal of forcing the berry giant to respect workers’ rights through an international boycott.
Since they first went on strike in 2013, workers in Washington State and San Quintín, Mexico have been gaining momentum. Most recently, FUJ and their supporters have taken to the streets on both sides of the border. Last week the protest spread to California, where FUJ demonstrated in front of a Santa Cruz, CA Costco, calling for an international boycott of Driscoll’s products. The boycott, organizers say, will help to raise public awareness of Driscoll’s “Border to Border” exploitation and policy of retaliation.
Like most problems of this magnitude, there is nothing singular about the Driscoll’s example. In 2013, workers were not even earning minimum wage, and the conditions in Driscoll’s labor camps were deplorable. Despite growing social justice campaigns, conditions and wages have not improved. This is due to the system that regulates labor at companies like Driscoll’s. Problematically, many of the workers who make up the labor force on the Sakuma Brother’s Farms, a farm that supplies Driscoll’s, are brought in from Mexico on H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker visas and tend to be treated much harsher than American workers.
In 2011, Farmworker Justice, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, published a report detailing how H-2A Visa Workers are systematically abused, underpaid, and receive next to no protection from government officials. With the Temporary Agricultural Worker system being referred to as “close to slavery” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it is no wonder that it is the workers, themselves, fighting for a fair wage — and a little respect.
Unfortunately, it is not only a system dependent on no oversight and cheap labor that is against temporary migrant agricultural workers — even the United Farm Workers (UFW), one of the largest agricultural unions in the U.S., is rallying against the FUJ and their boycott. With open and obvious connections to Driscoll’s, the UFW seems precariously placed in the conflict, particularly as the FUJ is obviously working towards goals that the UFW claims central to its existence.
Even facing an uphill battle, the FUJ’s ability to organize in two countries, focused on specific issues, is something of a conceptual victory. Conditions, sadly, do not appear to be improving for Temporary Agricultural Workers in the U.S.; though the FUJ is doing their very best to, at the very least, increase awareness of the realities of temporary, seasonal trades.
A boycott, particularly of Driscoll’s strawberries, in two countries, through concerted efforts of dedicated activists, is definitely a good place to start.
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