The Coalition of Immokalee Workers stands with the people of Ukraine as tanks roll again in Europe…

Picasso’s anti-fascist, anti-war masterpiece, Guernica, re-imagined in the colors of the flag of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, February 27, 2022: “This is the beginning of a war… against democracy, against basic human rights, against a global order of law, rules and peaceful coexistence.”


The Fair Food Program, and Worker-driven Social Responsibility more broadly, are 21st century models for worker voice and participation in the enforcement of fundamental human rights in the workplace.  For their expansion and their success – for their very existence – they depend on the presence of a viable civil society and the rule of law.  Below is our reflection on the growing contest between autocracy and democracy on the world stage, and on what that contest holds for all of us.


To paraphrase Faulkner, the past century’s authoritarianism isn’t dead, it isn’t even past…

Eighty-five years ago, in April of 1937, a civil war raged in Spain between left-leaning Republican forces and right-wing Nationalists.  The Nationalist leader, General Francisco Franco, called on Germany’s Adolph Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini to support his troops with a brutal bombardment of the rural town of Gernika in Spain’s Basque Country.  Franco timed the bombing for market day, which ensured that the town would be full of civilians, particularly women and children, when the bombs fell.  Hundreds were massacred, and the attack marked the first bombing of a major civilian population in Europe’s modern war history, launching an era of what would be known as the “total war” strategy.  The attack on Gernika presaged the unprecedented brutality of the Second World War that would soon follow, a war that saw millions of civilians killed in countless carpet-bombing campaigns of civilian centers, from the Nazi’s Blitzkrieg of London to the Allies’s firebombing of Dresden.  

The attack inspired the painting of Guernica (re-imagined in the image at the top of this post to reflect current events in Ukraine), perhaps the greatest political mural of the modern era by the 20th Century’s most celebrated artist, Pablo Picasso.  The video below, by the BBC, is an excellent short study of Picasso’s masterpiece and its significance:

The bombing of Gernika is widely viewed by historians as a critical turning point in the rise of fascism in Europe.  Spearheaded by Hitler’s Nazi party in Germany — and driven by a narrative of grievance after the settlement of the First World War decades earlier left German pride wounded — European fascism would ultimately bring about the invasion and occupation of countries across the continent and the massacre of millions of more innocent civilians in the Holocaust, the most horrific genocide of the 20th Century, a century filled with genocides, from the Armenian Genocide in Turkey in 1915 to the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.

The history of Hitler’s vision of a humbled Europe under the brutal control of a triumphant Aryan race is well known.  What isn’t as well known is the history of widespread sympathy for the Nazi’s vision here in the US, of the “America First” movement that openly praised Hitler, called for many of the same objectives here in this country that the Nazi party championed in Germany, and took a clear stand against US involvement in the growing conflict in Europe.  Its supporters included many of the country’s most famous names at the time, from the hero of modern aviation Charles Lindberg to the father of the American automobile industry Henry Ford and Father Coughlin, a sort of early Rush Limbaugh figure who kept radio audiences of tens of millions captivated with his weekly broadcasts.

Picasso painted Guernica in June of 1937.  Two years later, 20,000 Americans gathered in New York’s Madison Square Garden for a massive rally of American Nazi sympathizers, the stage adorned with massive banners of George Washington draped side by side with the swastika, the crowd proudly and repeatedly hailing speakers with the infamous Nazi salute.  The whole surreal scene was captured in six minutes of archival footage that was shaped into an Oscar-nominated short documentary.  Here below is that six-minute nightmare, a film that has somehow been largely lost but should be mandatory viewing in schools across the country today:

History didn’t take long to assign the American Nazi movement to its proverbial dustbin.  Two years later, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, and support for the America First movement’s platform of isolationism and praise of Europe’s fascists quickly evaporated.  America entered the war.  With the US joining the battle, Europe’s beleaguered Allied Forces rallied and within a few years, Germany and Italy were routed, Hitler killed himself in a bunker in Berlin, and the banner of liberal democracy championed by the US and the countries of Western Europe — as flawed as it was at the time — flew over the continent and spread over much of the globe.  

The rest of what would come to be called “The American Century” was a history of constant struggle and slow progress as the boundaries of democracy, here and abroad, were challenged by those excluded from its freedoms and benefits.  The 2oth century idea of Universal Human Rights was born in the rubble of a war-weary Europe, one of the first major initiatives of the newly minted United Nations, and made gradually more real, from “every city and every hamlet” of the American South to Europe’s vast colonial empires.  Fascism was defeated, humiliated in its loss, and its pale reflections in the endemic racism and colonialism that remained stubbornly entrenched across the globe were under attack and on the retreat in its wake.

The CIW’s Fair Food Program, and the broader Worker-driven Social Responsibility model for protecting workers’ fundamental rights in corporate supply chains, represent one humble front of recent progress in the ever-expanding battle for universal human rights joined in the wake of Europe’s last “Great War” — a ripple that took 70 years to arrive on the distant shores of Florida’s fields.

But today’s events in Ukraine remind us that while democracy may have won the day in 1945, humanity’s war against fascism is never truly won.  Indeed, to borrow the words of the great William Faulkner, writing of the American South in 1951, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” 

Just as it was 80 years ago, authoritarianism is on the march again.  Its standard bearers may have changed — with Russia, behind Vladimir Putin, and China, behind Xi Jinping, both effectively autocratic leaders-for-life of countries of significant geopolitical import, leading the way today — but if anything they are more powerful, militarily and economically, than their predecessors.  And, just as it was 80 years ago, the forces of authoritarianism and autocracy are not without their allies across the globe, especially, and most disconcertingly, here in the US.  

Even as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, influential voices in the US were quick to praise the man who gave the order for the first invasion of a sovereign European country since Hitler invaded Poland in the lead-up to WWII, and even quicker to plant the flag of isolationism.  Indeed, history wasn’t even satisfied with rhyming, but actually repeated itself when the Congresswoman from Georgia, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, addressed a rally of the America First Political Action Committee, organized by Nick Fuentes, described by the Anti-Defamation League as a “well-known white supremacist pundit.”  The USA Today reported from the February 26th rally:

… In his address to his conference, Fuentes joked about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “Now they’re going on about Vladimir Putin and Russia, and Vladimir Putin is Hitler – and they say that’s not a good thing.”

Smiling, Fuentes added that “I shouldn’t have said that,” then laughed.

The crowd at the America First conference chanted, “Putin, Putin.”

Greene defended herself following criticism of her decision to speak at the America First rally, saying:

“I talked about God and Liberty,” Greene said. “I’m also not going to turn down the opportunity to speak to 1,200 young America First patriots because of a few off-color remarks by another speaker, even if I find those remarks unsavory.” 

That same day, Greene was supported by former President Donald Trump, who was speaking to a much larger audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).  Accordant to the same USA Today report:

At the CPAC event, former President Donald Trump gave a shout-out to Greene, joking that she is “very shy” and “doesn’t like speaking her mind, but she does it anyway.” The CPAC crowd gave Greene a loud cheer.

In separate remarks, Trump himself praised Putin’s “genius” on multiple occasions, and dismissed the significance to the US of Russia’s breaching of Ukraine’s borders, as the tanks rolled, the bombs fell, and the invasion unfolded.

The Authoritarian Century? 

Democracy has been in retreat across the globe since the very first years of this century.  According to Freedom House, a think tank in Washington, DC, “that “conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights”, the advance of liberal democracy on the world stage following the defeat of fascism in WWII has not only been halted, democratic principles and practice have in fact lost ground.  In 2018, Freedom House reported:

… The Wave of Democratization Rolls Back

The end of the Cold War accelerated a dramatic wave of democratization that began as early as the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World dropped by almost 14 points (from 37 to 23 percent), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36 to 46 percent). This surge of progress has now begun to roll back. Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent…  (read more)

The rate of change of the movement away from democracy and toward authoritarianism has only accelerated since 2018.  Earlier this year, Freedom House reported:

… As a lethal pandemic, economic and physical insecurity, and violent conflict ravaged the world in 2020, democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny. Incumbent leaders increasingly used force to crush opponents and settle scores, sometimes in the name of public health, while beleaguered activists—lacking effective international support—faced heavy jail sentences, torture, or murder in many settings.

These withering blows marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006. The long democratic recession is deepening… (read more)

The picture of a dangerous reprise of history is coming into focus, its pieces — autocratic leaders, backed by powerful armies and driven by grievance and wounded pride, testing the resolve of democracies reluctant to join a battle being fought mainly by one side to date, with influential voices in the democratic camp offering praise and comfort to the forces of authoritarianism — falling into place.  The pace is quickening, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — with hundreds of Ukrainians dead in the first days of the assault, and hundreds of thousands more seeking asylum in the west — the boldest move on the chessboard to date.  

At the point of the spear aimed at democratic Europe, however, the voices of resistance are making themselves heard above the shelling and destruction, none perhaps more eloquently than that of the President of Ukraine himself, Volodymyr Zelensky.  His comments this past weekend captured the crisis — the existential challenge facing all those who would fight for human rights and democracy there in Ukraine, and at home in their own countries — in the starkest terms.  Addressing leaders of the European Union this past Sunday, Zelensky made a powerful appeal to resistance, laying bare the stakes of this all too familiar moment:

“Ukrainians have manifested the courage to defend their homeland and save Europe and its values from a Russian onslaught,” he said.

“This is not just Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is the beginning of a war against Europe, against European structures, against democracy, against basic human rights, against a global order of law, rules and peaceful coexistence.”

In 1937, as German bombs fell on Gernika, few could imagine the horrors of the war — the “most destructive war in history… [with] estimates of those killed vary[ing] from 35 million to 60 million” — that was to consume the world just a few years hence.

Eighty-five years later, as Russian missiles slam into Ukrainian cities, once again raining death and destruction on civilian targets, the world cannot afford to forget.