On Saturday, July 13th, over 200 people participated in the Walk for Farmworker Justice in Woodburn, Oregon. The event was intended to call attention to the plight of migrant farmworkers in the state, the majority of whom are Latino, mostly Mexican. The day was put together by the Farmworker Justice Coalition, which includes many churches, some labor organizations. The most prominent group was Piñeros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), the Treeplanters and Farmworkers Union of the Northwest, which represents over 4,500 farmworkers in Oregon. This was the second year the Walk was held and organizers are planning for it to be an annual event. Last year's walk was a week-long event focused on "bringing NORPAC to the table" to negotiate with PCUN, a struggle that evolved in favor of the farmworkers.
Participants in Saturday's Walk met at Legion Park in Woodburn and the day started with food, speeches and songs. Eric Nicholson, a long-time PCUN organizer, explained that the day would focus on two issues: amnesty for migrant workers, and the right of those workers to bargain collectively. The morning was spent visiting fields where farmerworkers were picking fruit and vegetables under the hot sun. At each location, a hundred people lined the side of the road with a proliferation of signs and chanted supportive slogans in Spanish.
The early afternoon brought an unscheduled stop at the Smucker's Plant in Woodburn. On Tuesday, July 9th, the workers at the plant--who are members of Teamsters Local #670--went on strike to protest forced 12-hour days and steep hikes in their monthly health care insurance costs. Picketing outside the plant gates, they were joined by Walk participants, who took up the Teamsters' signs among their own and stood with them in a gesture of solidarity. Smuckers buys some of the berries that the farmworkers pick. (The company has also been taking part in predatory business practices buying up organic juice companies and diluting the products by decreasing the juice content and increasing the sugar.)
Many of the Teamsters joined the Walk that afternoon when around 200 people marched through downtown Woodburn and the residential neighborhoods around it. The crowd also grew more diverse for this event, and was roughly 40/60 Latino/Caucasian. Reactions from Woodburn residents ranged from surprise to support, with only a small number of negative responses. The chants here were the loudest of the day, and the spirit was lively.
A first-hand account from the open publishing newswire reads: "Yesterday's March for Farmworker Justice in and around Woodburn will have to go down as a smashing success!!!! The crowds increased as the day went on and as workers came off the fields... The energy was really high and we stood along the side of the road, maybe 100 people including all adult ages, from teenagers to those with heads of white hair and the eyes and experience of many previous Protests.... I heard conversations of folks, for example, who remembered voting for Roosevelt, etc. I am always proud and cognizant of the elderly at these events, and hope that some of you will remind ME in 20 years, when I am in my late 70's, to get up out of my recliner and hit the streets with a voice made more powerful than ever before, by my years and experience!" [ Read more... ]
Accounts from the open publishing newswire: [ Report on National Walk for Farm Worker Justice | Teamsters striking at Smuckers plant in Woodburn; Farmworkers show solidarity | An account of the Walk for Farmworker Justice | Songs for Farmworkers | PHOTOS: 1 | 2 ]
Background from portland indymedia: [ About the 2002 Walk | The Campesinos - Farmworkers in Oregon: History and Politics | Smuckers: from Cider to Corporate Empire | Multimedia coverage of the 2001 Walk ]
[ Farmworker Justice Coalition | Piñeros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) ]