Wanted! Ronald McDonald: Santa Cruz Solidarity with the CIW

'the year that was' in the struggle for fair food...

On October 29, 2006, allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers demonstrated in front of the McDonald's on Mission Street / Highway 1 in Santa Cruz, California during coordinated days of actions and solidarity with the CIW. Activists played music, held signs calling on McDonald's to support justice for farmworkers and also delivered a signed letter to the Manager at McDonald's. You can learn about the Student Farmworker Alliance, CIW and the campaign for fair-food by reading the SFA's 2006: Year in Review which has been re-published below.

December 21, 2006 - The past year saw a flurry of activity by the SFA and other CIW allies as the Campaign for Fair Food demanding that McDonald's and the rest of the fast-food industry implement fair wages and real rights for farmworkers in their tomato supply chains picked up steam. In the face of the best (or worst) public relations maneuvering that money could buy, student and youth allies of the CIW remained steadfast in their commitment, helping to build consciousness and draw new participants to the movement while continuing to pressure McDonald's to address the human rights crisis in the fields. Major actions held throughout the year by the CIW and SFA highlighted this commitment and were just a hint of what is to come in the months ahead.

Taco Bell was just the beginning

After the precedent-setting victory over Taco Bell, the CIW and allies knew that other large purchasers of tomatoes would have to be brought to the table if these improvements for farmworkers were to be expanded and sustained. It was in this vein that the CIW reached out to McDonald's, another major purchaser of Florida tomatoes and supposed industry leader in 'social responsibility.' After this attempt at dialogue proved fruitless, an action alert was launched in late 2005 in which the CIW urged consumers to call on McDonald's to take responsibility for the farmworker poverty which had padded its billion-dollar profits for decades. Thousands of emails, calls, and letters soon flooded the inbox of McD's CEO Jim Skinner.

McDonald's strikes back

It didn't take long for McDonald's to "respond." A much-ballyhooed initiative dubbed "SAFE" (Socially Accountable Farm Employers) was put forth by McDonald's as the solution to the farmworkers' demands (and, it hoped, the growing clamor for fair labor conditions in the fields where its tomatoes come from).

Closer scrutiny of this hollow code of conduct, however, revealed what a callous and blatant attempt it was to sidestep the legitimate concerns of workers and drive a wedge between them and their allies. Partnering with the growers and its own public relations firm — which coincidentally specializes in "activist response management" — McDonald's was insulting the intelligence and dignity of workers and consumers alike.

Read the excellent analysis of SAFE and its "tangled web" of deception here and the CIW response here.

United Students Against Sweatshops, all too familiar with corporations trying to skirt responsibility for brutal conditions in their supply chains, fired off this powerful statement in response to SAFE, and was joined in its indignation by the National Latina/o Law Student Association. (Later in the year, NLLSA would present SFA with this award in recognition for our work.) Meanwhile, this article questioned if SAFE was just McDonald's attempt to "avoid Immokalee's crosshairs."

Slavery beneath the golden arches?

Ironically enough, just as SAFE was being launched we were jolted by another reminder of why real reform in the tomato industry is so desperately needed. This time, a scandal involving a crew leader once convicted of of holding workers in conditions of modern-day slavery pointed to McDonald's tomato supplier Ag-Mart. The CIW analysis connects the dots. Unfortunately, this would not be the last time in 2006 that we would hear of abuse and mistreatment at this key McDonald's supplier.

Click here and here for more information on working and living conditions at Ag-Mart.

In light of McD's recalcitrance and these new revelations, however, public pressure continued to mount. The McDonald's Manager Letter was launched and groups of students and young people soon came together to form their own mini-"human rights delegations" to deliver the letters to their local McDonald's, calling on managers to make the widespread support for the CIW's campaign known to McD's corporate HQ outside Chicago. The Notre Dame chapter of MEChA was one of the first groups to deliver the letter.

The manager letter remains an effective way to support the campaign today.

Click here for more actions you can take today.

The Alliance for Fair Food

Speaking of public pressure, the aforementioned USAS, NLLSA, and MEChA became among the first national student/youth organizations to endorse the newly-formed Alliance for Fair Food (of which SFA is a founding member) in March. This powerful new alliance will be instrumental in bringing together students, youth, community members, and labor and faith organizations to stand in partnership with the CIW. By the end of 2006, dozens of additional individuals and organizations had signed-on as members of the AFF, including United States Student Association, Student Labor Action Project, United Students for Fair Trade, Student Environmental Action Coalition, and activist/musician Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine (who was presented with a human rights award by SFA in April).

No one is illegal

As the Spring arrived, CIW and SFA members joined with millions of immigrants and supporters across the U.S. in the historic mobilizations demanding dignity, legalization, and full human rights for immigrant workers and their families. Check out the photo reports from historic marches in Ft. Myers and Immokalee.

Truth tour 2006: the 'real rights' tour

Meanwhile, the campaign continued to grow by leaps and bounds. March and April saw the hugely successful Student/Labor Week of Action, Farmworker Awareness Week, and CIW Real Rights Tour.

The Real Rights Tour in late March/early April, hitting 17 major cities throughout the South and Midwest in just 10 days, raised the consciousness of thousands of consumers about the reality of farmworker exploitation in McDonald's tomato supply chain. It culminated in two days of fiery action in the Windy City: a picket in the freezing rain at the Golden Arches' global headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois; and an electrifying 500-person march on "Rock 'n Roll" McDonald's in downtown Chicago.

At the end of the five-mile march -- which took place on the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Taco Bell boycott -- the CIW announced a new "aggressive public education campaign" aimed at McDonald's and Chipotle. The CIW noted that McDonald's has the choice to choose between dialogue and partnership with the CIW on one hand, or more conflict on the other. McDonald's apparently has yet to heed this warning.

See the SFA press release from the Tour here, and click here for a full photo report.

'Sweet spot' or sore spot?

Not-so-coincidentally, McDonald's committed what would soon become two major mistakes around the time of the Real Rights Tour. The first was to openly refer to 18-to-24 year-olds as their new marketing "sweet spot" in an article referring to their new "Forever Young" marketing strategy, one that seeks to "appeal to a new generation of diners through a new "attitude" appealing "to everyone who is young at heart." This, while literally robbing the youth of thousands of farmworkers toiling under brutal conditions to pick the tomatoes in its salads and burgers. We were quick to respond and point out that young people will understand the reality of farmworker exploitation hidden behind McDonald's logo and billions of marketing dollars.

McDonald's, Chipotle, and other corporations who invest so much into their brands and images want not only our money as young people, but perhaps more importantly, our loyalty. And to secure either, they must first capture our minds. If, as the marketing executive quoted in the above article states, consumers will abandon a brand that loses its "relevance" and "go somewhere else," they will also surely do so when that brand is undeniably linked to the worst types of exploitation imaginable. As more and more young people learn about this reality, McDonald's "sweet spot" will rapidly become its "sore spot." (It's worth mention here that a Chipotle spokesperson recently referred to "college students" with the same "sweet spot" language. Keep reading for more information on Chipotle's place in the struggle for Fair Food.)

McDonald's 'study' fails

The second major gaffe by McDonald's was the "study" on farmworker wages and conditions that it paid for and timed to coincide with the Real Rights Tour. Like the SAFE initiative before it, the study was quickly picked apart by the CIW and its allies in the student and academic communities and revealed as the worthless piece of public relations it really was. In our response, signed by SFA and other organizations representing McD's supposed "sweet spot," we asked McDonald's if their $1.2 billion annual advertising budget couldn't at least have bought them a better study, and also reminded them that it was not too late to reverse their hitherto course of deception and impunity. Another warning, it seems, that has gone unheard.

(Click here for a point-by-point comparison of the Taco Bell agreement vs. McDonald's various "offers.")

In response to the study and McDonald's apparent "expertise" about farm labor conditions, the CIW made this video. Look closely, you might recognize the main character.

As we made our preparations for the 2006 Encuentro, yet another terrifying story of abuse and debt bondage further reinforced the urgent call for real reform and farmworker rights in the agricultural industry. On August 25, a federal jury in Jacksonville, Florida, returned a guilty verdict on 57 of 58 charges against Ron Evans, Sr. – a crewleader accused by federal prosecutors of luring farmworkers, many of them recruited from homeless shelters, into "a form of servitude." Evans, it just so happens, was a favorite crewleader of the chairman of FFVA - the same grower's lobby that McDonald's partnered with to create "SAFE." As the CIW analysis points out, McDonald's can no longer seriously rely on such hollow, "fox guarding the henhouse"-type approaches to social responsibility. Public relations is not social responsibility, and responsibility is all or nothing, especially when people's freedom and lives are at stake.

Chipotle campaign heats up

This was the same message brought to Chipotle in September when a delegation from the CIW and SFA visited Denver--Chipotle's home town--to call on the company that supposedly believes in "Food With Integrity" to also guarantee "Work With Dignity" in its tomato supply chain. Chipotle has carved out a niche for itself by building up an image of being health- and socially-conscious. This, and its relationship with its former "rich uncle" McDonald's, has allowed Chipotle to quickly grow and expand. Unfortunately, this vision of integrity does not extend to the workers picking the produce that ends up in Chipotle's burritos. Until it does, we, and Chipotle's largely socially-minded consumer base, have no reason to believe it's anything more than another clever, and ultimately hollow, marketing slogan.

You can't have partial integrity.

Click here to delve deeper into the Chipotle campaign, with a report from our September trip, our responses to Chipotle's arguments in the defense of the conditions in its tomato supply chain, and more. Check out the article "Immokalee Workers Tell Chipotle to Walk its Talk" here.

From encuentro to '1-2 punch'

As the school-year and tomato season in Immokale simultaneously jumped off, SFA continued to grow and develop its network and leadership to carry forward this crucial work. In September, we held our second-annual and hugely successful Encuentro. Three days of reflection, discussion, and strategizing about the struggle for fair food and building a more just world took place at the Encuentro, which also served as a true springboard for action.

One of the concrete proposals made during the Encuentro was to hold two national days of action to immediately follow the CIW's Midwest Mini-Tour. Dubbed the "1-2 Punch," October 27 and 28 saw students, youth, and other community members in 40 communities across the U.S. holding educational and protest events in solidarity with the CIW. The Days of Action were successful in sending a clear message to the Golden Arches: that Immokalee's workers are not alone in this fight.

Check out reports from the 1-2 Punch here and here, plus the world premiere of Chicago's own Rolando--someone we will be hearing much more from in the months ahead--here.

Local Fair Food Coalitions and networks were instrumental in carrying out the Days of Action, and will be crucial as the campaign moves forward. Using the Alliance for Fair Food as a living example, students and young people have joined together with community organizers, people of faith, union members, and others to unite in local education and action to advance the Campaign for Fair Food.

From New York City to Carbondale, Illinois; From Chicago to the Twin Cities; from California to Kansas, communities are uniting around this common cause.

Click here to connect with other fair food activists in your area.

Rolando the clown makes another appearance...

As the days grew shorter and the traditional harvest season arrived, we received word of another Rolando sighting--this time crashing the McDonald's-sponsored Thanksgiving Day Parade in Chicago. There are also rumors afloat that this fair-food loving clown and half-brother of a certain ubiquitous symbol of fast food will soon be settling down with Rolanda. We may even see some fair-food Rolandit@s running around in Chicago sometime soon...

...and the year draws to a close

The year also closed off with several high-profile AFF endorsements, including the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church and Chicago Jobs With Justice.

In Immokalee, the community celebrated the third-year anniversary of the CIW's own low-power radio station Radio Conciencia. In exciting news, Radio Conciencia and the CIW's consumer coop as well as the CIW itself and ally organizations SFA and Interfaith Action will soon have new digs in Florida's first-ever Farmworker Community Center, currently being renovated just a stone's throw from the cozy confines of the CIW office. Read more about the importance of the new center and how to contribute here.

Looking ahead: the campaign continues

In just a few short weeks, the new SFA Steering Committee will have its first face-to-face meeting in Immokalee, strategizing around the campaign and their role as animators for the rest of the SFA network.

In the months ahead, SFA organizers will be spending considerable time in the Chicago area, building support for the campaign in McDonald's own backyard. There will be a Midwest Encuentro of student, youth, and community-based supporters of the CIW in Chicago during the weekend of February 24th, and discussions are underway for other regional gatherings in the next year. Stay tuned for more information.

Be on the lookout in the coming year for a redesigned SFA website and a new and improved SFA Sustainer Program, as we continue to work hard to build a sustainable and self-reliant movement.

Also, mark your calendars today for major actions in the Chicago area on April 13 and 14, 2007, when the CIW's 2007 Truth Tour culminates in historic mobilizations for farmworker justice. You won't want to miss it!

For more coverage of the campaign and CIW/SFA activities over the past year and beyond, check out our video and audio pages as well as our news and features archive. And don't forget to keep the pressure on McDonald's in your own community today by organizing an action.

We hope this summary of the past year was useful. Many times we become so flustered by our day-to-day work that we don't pause to remember what got us here, or remind ourselves of the victories and accomplishments of the past. We know that all of the amazing and improbable things the CIW, SFA and this movement has been able to accomplish over the past year (or five or ten) has laid the groundwork for the future victories that will inevitably come.



Crossposted at Indybay.org.