A Struggle for Migrant Worker Justice

Ken Barger, a current professor of anthropology at Indiana University, spoke at convocation on Monday. He was asked by the SST department to introduce students to different Latino issues that will be studied in the domestic SST unit.
Barger quoted from former field hand and labor organization president Baldemar Velásquez to begin his speech, saying, “Crossing a border without papers is a misdemeanor- not a felony. Just like running a red light.” Barger went on to talk about the injustices migrant workers face and what can be done in response.
Barger explained that many migrant workers suffer from the “most deprived conditions” of any group of laborers such as: long hours of hard labor, hot temperatures in the fields, minimum working wage, substandard housing, and no medical benefits for workplace injuries.
Yet above all, Barger says the greatest injustice farm workers face is when they are “denied a direct voice” in response to these conditions. These marginalized people have no way to stand up to the large agricultural corporations that decide upon their wages, hours, and working and living conditions.
So what can be done? Barger suggests that agricultural corporations should be encouraged to pass on the benefits they enjoy to their workers. Also, public assistance programs could grant migrant workers the same rights as other workers.
Barger talked about a labor union called the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) that was founded in the 1960s by Baldemar Velásquez, now the president of the organization. FLOC seeks to fight for migrant workers’ rights by uniting the workers themselves and connecting them with unions, advocates and corporations who have similar goals for migrant worker justice.
In 1983, FLOC members held a protest march from the fields of northwest Ohio to Campbell Soup’s headquarters in New Jersey, 560 miles away. A boycott followed the march and lasted for the next eight years in objection to the power taken from migrant workers when they are denied their own voice.
After a major demonstration outside of Philadelphia National Bank, one of Campbell’s large creditors, the business’ reputation began to suffer. Soon after, agreements were made to secure wage increases and health insurance and investigate housing, safety, and healthcare.
FLOC continues to advocate for migrant workers’ rights. The organization recently held a convention in Toledo, Ohio. At the meeting, migrant workers from northwest Ohio discussed resolutions on the issues of immigration, wages and work conditions, worker involvement in the union and gaining essential services such as health care and translation assistance for workers.
Barger also raised the point that these issues of injustice affect each student, faculty and staff member at Goshen College. He says that if migrant workers are able to attain their rights, they will reach their full potential, benefitting everyone in society.
To learn more about how to get involved with FLOC, visit  HYPERLINK “http://www.floc.com” www.floc.com.

Kelsey Shue
Written by Kelsey Shue

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