Saturday, July 9, 2011

Guest Post by the Hubster: Part 3

They got their break in 1999 when an industry journal briefly mentioned a long term contract between Taco Bell and the Six L’s Packing Company, one of the growers in Immokalee paying the sub-poverty wages (Murthy, “The Battle Fields”).  They now had a face behind the contract.  They wrote two letters to Taco Bell which stated their need for help, but heard nothing back.  Realizing that this, too, was going to get them nowhere, they changed their tactics.  History shows that for systemic and social change to take place, the tactics must be non-violent and coercive.  “Whether it be as sweeping as sanctions against apartheid in South Africa or as basic as a public demonstration against the inaction of an elected official, nonviolent action to create social change that is powerful is usually coercive” (Jacobsen 41).  This is the route they chose as they decided to take to the local Taco Bell chain stores and boycott the company (Murthy, “The Battle Fields”).

What the workers were boycotting for seems insignificant: a 1¢ per pound raise.  That does not seem like much, but could double a workers wage.  Each bucket they carry weighs thirty two pounds.  If they get an extra penny per pound, that would raise the price per bucket from 40¢ a bucket to 72¢, almost doubling their wages.  “Pickers would like to see Taco Bell pay growers an additional penny a pound. If that were passed on to workers, it would double their wages. Even if Taco Bell passes labor costs onto the finished product, at the cash register, consumers would see little difference” (Bacon, “No Quiero”).
(http:/ This would only cost Taco Bell $100,000 a year, a drop in the bucket for a corporation their size (Murthy, “The Battle Fields”). 

However, another hurdle was that the general public had no clue this struggle for justice and living wages was happening.  As Jacobsen states, “Organizers say that moral suasion does not create social change.  Social change is the product of power applied effectively in the public arena” (Jacobsen 39).  So the Immokalee workers, with the organization of the CIW as their support, took the boycott to the streets and cities all across the country.  This move in itself created another obstacle.  For the workers to be on the road publicizing this tactic, it meant that they had to leave behind their wages as well.  As I mentioned before, they had no vacation time, sick leave, or even the right to organize.  They had to do this all on their own.  The CIW and their community had to support them and their families to make this possible.

They began by protesting outside selected Taco Bell restaurants across the country.  They wanted the customers to realize that their low food costs came at the price of injustice.  “‘Their tremendous revenues are based on cheap ingredients, including cheap tomatoes picked at sub-poverty wages,’ says Benitez. ‘We are tired of subsidizing Taco Bell’s profits with our poverty’” (Bacon, “No Quiero”).  After a year’s time, Taco Bell seemingly began to recognize the CIW and their efforts (Murthy, “The Battle Fields”).  They sat down with them to hear their demands, but the CIW never heard back from Taco Bell (Murthy, “The Battle Fields”).

The longer the protests and boycott continued, the larger it grew.  “Students started their own campaign called ‘Boot the Bell’ to kick Taco Bell products, sponsorships and restaurants off their campuses” (PBS, NOW Video).  Students are “some of the largest consumers of fast food tacos and chalupas,” says Lucas Benitez (Bacon, “No Quiero”).  They are also the target audience of Taco Bell (Murthy, “The Battle Fields”).  “Boot the Bell” spread to over three hundred campuses and twenty of them had managed to get the restaurants removed (Murthy, “The Battle Fields”.)  However, this was still not making Taco Bell budge.

According to Rev. Noelle Damico, from the Presbyterian ministry Campaign for Fair Food, the tactic that began to sway the Goliath-type corporation was a ten day hunger strike in 2003 by fifty workers, students and church members that took place on the front step of the Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, CA (Murthy, “The Battle Fields”). 

“The Taco Bell executives and employees needed to drive by these workers every single day.  I still say that what the company had to take away from that was that the workers and their allies were determined.  That they were not some fly-by-night people, that they took this with utmost seriousness.  I think that was a turning point.” (Murthy, “The Battle Fields”)
Not only had the workers given up their paychecks to make the journey to California, but now they were giving up food altogether. 

Part 2

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