Boston 5th Graders to Trader Joe’s: You “might have snazzy Hawaiian shirts and tasty snacks…”

… but your refusal to support the Fair Food Program “is neither stylish nor appetizing!”

Boston’s Workmen’s Circle Center for Jewish Culture & Social Justice is a great place. We just can’t say it any other way. The people there are great and they raise great kids.

Founded in 1900 by Jewish sweatshop workers, the Workmen’s Circle was established by immigrants who, according to their website, faced “Poverty wages. Long hours. Hazardous conditions. No unemployment insurance, no health or disability benefits, no security.”

So it’s hardly a surprise that, for the past two years, this “multigenerational community… where Jewish identity is rooted in cultural heritage and the pursuit of a better world,” has made common cause with farmworkers in Immokalee and the Campaign for Fair Food.

This past weekend, and for the second year in a row, the fifth graders from the Workmen’s Circle held a protest at a local Trader Joe’s, and here’s an excerpt from a post on the protest on their website:

“Every year, our Hey class (fifth graders) takes to the streets to protest a labor injustice. After learning about the textile sweatshops where many of their ancestors toiled after immigrating to the US, the students learn that similar injustices still exist today. Sorry, kiddos – we haven’t perfected the world yet! But as we teach our fifth graders, there’s something you can do to make the world a better place, and it’s called organizing.

This year and last, the Hey class has joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to fight for better working conditions in the tomato fields of Florida, where workers earn sub-poverty wages and no benefits whatsoever…

Launched in 2001, the “Campaign for Fair Food” has celebrated numerous victories, including last year’s monumental declaration of support from the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. Over the years, nine multi-billion dollar food retailers, including Whole Foods Market, McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, and Taco Bell, have also signed on to the campaign.

But the campaign is not over. Without the full participation of corporate buyers, the CIW will not have the leverage it needs to guarantee that all workers gain the justice they deserve. Several supermarkets have stubbornly refused to work with the CIW, including this year’s target, Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s might have snazzy Hawaiian shirts and tasty snacks, but their refusal to sit down with the CIW farm workers is neither stylish nor appetizing…” read more

You can read more about the Workmen’s Circle protest, and about their center more broadly, at their facebook page. We are honored to count them among our allies and are inspired by their deep and sincere commitment to justice and human rights for all workers.

And speaking of a deep and sincere commitment to human rights, the fine folks at Community/Farmworker Alliance in NYC were back in the streets themselves earlier this month, this time with a little street musician, Angry Tomatoes rap action in front of the Union Square Trader Joe’s store. Here’s a photo, to paint the picture a little better (words can’t hardly do this kind of action justice):

In their report-back they say that the action was a big hit, with people stopping to “make little videos of us on their phones” before signing cards to Trader Joe’s calling on the company to join the Fair Food Program. They added, “A retired shop steward from 1199 took cards to get signed at a union meeting and a woman who graduated from Eckerd College (FL) after the Taco Bell boycott signed up for emails.” Take notes all you Fair Food Committees to be out there, that is how to organize!

Read more about the NYC action here: “Protesters are sour on Trader Joe’s tomatoes,” Chelsea Now, 12/14/11.

Finally, we close this update with a quick visit to the fields in Immokalee, where the Fair Food Program’s worker-to-worker education process is in full swing. Here below is a picture from an educational session that took place yesterday on a farm near Immokalee, where CIW members Oscar Otzoy, Lucas Benitez, and Santiago Perez (on the far right of the picture) talk to workers about their new protections under the Fair Food Code of Conduct:

Speaking of new protections, note the shade under which the meeting is being held, one of the key new provisions of the Fair Food Code of Conduct. Worker-to-worker education and shade are just two of the many changes underway in the fields today, thanks to the Campaign for Fair Food, the same campaign that companies like Trader Joe’s, Publix, Stop & Shop, Giant, and Kroger so steadfastly oppose.

Even a fifth grader can see that opposition to these long-overdue advances is indefensible. And if the kids at the Workmen’s Circle have anything to say about it, it will be fifth graders that finally make the executives of our country’s largest retail food corporations recognize the injustice of their opposition and support the Campaign for Fair Food!