Raleigh-Durham Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST)

Revolutionary socialist youth in the US South

Farm workers to R.J. Reynolds: Si, se puede!

Posted by raleighfist on November 8, 2007

A powerful demonstration of more than 300 farm workers, labor unionists and community supporters here on Oct. 28 opened up a new struggle against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) led the demonstration, which marked the beginning of a campaign to demand that the tobacco company meet with the union to address the oppressive and deadly conditions facing farm workers in the fields of North Carolina.

Farm workers with FLOC march in<br>Winston-Salem, N.C.

Farm workers with FLOC march in
Winston-Salem, N.C.

FIST photo: Peter Gilbert

The streets of Winston-Salem were filled with red and black FLOC flags as marchers wove through downtown and past a number of buildings owned by Reynolds, chanting “¡Sí se puede!” and “¡El pueblo, unido, jamás serán vencido!” (“Yes we can!” and “The people united will never be defeated!”) In front of the company’s headquarters, marchers placed flowers on a makeshift coffin to memorialize workers who have lost their lives or become sick harvesting tobacco destined for Reynolds, the second-largest tobacco company in the U.S.

Many were on hand to demonstrate solidarity with the farm workers and FLOC in their fight for dignity and respect. A large representation came from unions along the East Coast, including the Teamsters, Letter Carriers, Seafarers, Mine Workers, Steel Workers, Auto Workers, Machinists, Postal Workers and AFSCME, among others. Various religious groups, such as the National Council of Churches, were also present to lend support to the workers and show solidarity, along with a number of community organizations including Student Action with Farmworkers, Students for a Democratic Society and Fight Imperialism-Stand Together (FIST).

The opening of the campaign came as CEO Susan Ivey of Reynolds American, the parent company of R.J. Reynolds, refused to meet with FLOC over the oppressive conditions on the tobacco farms that supply the company. A FLOC statement outlines what these workers must face: “In the past two years, six field workers have died in North Carolina tobacco fields, most of them due to heat stroke. In addition, most of these farm workers suffer slave-like hardships, including racism, long hours of stoop labor in the fields, harassment in their work, abject poverty, staggering debt, exposure to lethal nicotine and pesticides, poor health, miserable housing in labor camps, and denial of basic labor and human rights protections.”

CEO Ivey claims that because the farms that supply the tobacco and employ these workers are not owned directly by R.J. Reynolds, the company can do nothing to improve their conditions. But FLOC argues that this system of layers of subcontractors is designed for exactly this purpose—to defer responsibility. Because of the control R.J. Reynolds has over this procurement system, as well as its excessive wealth, it has the power to change the conditions faced by workers in the field. However, it chooses to ignore the suffering of workers in exchange for profit.

In this case, Big Tobacco faces big opposition from a broad range of progressive forces. In a statement read at the demonstration, AFL-CIO President John Sweeny committed the support of the national union federation to the struggle being waged by FLOC. “We will stand with you, organize with you, and struggle with you until justice is won in the fields. … Together, we will win.”

National Council of Churches President Rev. Michael Livingston echoed this sentiment. “We all deserve the right to work with dignity and the right to organize. … When Susan Ivey will not meet with you, she turns her back on all of us.”

R.J. Reynolds is a giant, even among Big Tobacco, manufacturing one of every three cigarettes and controlling six of the top 10 brands in the U.S. It will undoubtedly be a long and hard fight. But the fighting spirit and solidarity exhibited by farm workers, FLOC, other unionists and community supporters in this opening of the campaign demonstrates the willingness of a broad range of forces to commit to victory and win dignity and respect in the fields for North Carolina’s farm workers.

The writer is an organizer with the youth group FIST (Fight Imperialism-Stand Together).


One Response to “Farm workers to R.J. Reynolds: Si, se puede!”

  1. http://petitiononline.com/up1nlove/petition-sign.html

    To: Dr. J. Bernard Machen, President of the University of Florida
    This is a petition of love for the health of all humanity and
    for ethical living.

    Tobacco is by far the leading cause of preventable death, disease
    disability, and property damage in the world. Nicotine is one of the
    most addictive substances on the planet. People typically “decide”
    to start using it when they are teenagers who are unaware of the true

    Tobacco executives like Susan Ivey know this and make their living by
    what they benignly call “marketing,” which is really just convincing
    vulnerable people to make a decision that, once made, is extremely
    difficult to reverse, and will eventually kill or seriously disable
    more than half of them. What Susan Ivey celebrates as “success” means
    that she is very adept at providing false rationalizations to those
    who might otherwise fight their addiction before it kills or disables
    them. When Susan Ivey and others like her “succeed,” measures that
    would prevent addiction, help addicts achieve freedom, and protect
    those the addicts would otherwise drag down with them and the property
    they would destroy are delayed and more lives are permanently destroyed.

    Tobacco may be a legal product, but at other times in history so were
    slavery, child labor, wife-beating, and denying women the right to vote.
    People who opposed these were ridiculed as zealots and extremists. If
    what is right and what is legal were the same thing, history would
    remember Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela as criminals
    and Judas Iscariot, Caligula, and Adoph Hitler as heroes.

    What Susan Ivey does may be legal, but it is not by the wildest
    stretch of the imagination ethical or worthy of being honored or
    celebrated. Please spare a thought for how history will view people
    like her and those who, like the University of Florida Alumni
    Association, supported what she stands for: willful deceit of
    the vulnerable,death, disease, and destruction.

    We ask that you, as President of the University of Florida, please
    take the courageous action to remove the CEO of RJ Reynolds Tobacco
    from the Board of Directors of the University of Florida Alumni
    Association, and renounce the professorship in international business
    recently endowed by this tobacco industry CEO who makes her living by
    destroying the lives of others.

    With tobacco predicted to painfully slay one billion this century, how
    can an outstanding place of learning such as the University of Florida
    allow a death trader to cast such a prominent dark shadow?

    We sign this petition out of love and respect for those whose lives
    have been and will be devastated by tobacco.


    The Undersigned

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: