University News

Students head to Boston, rally for tomato pickers

Contributing Writer
Monday, February 28, 2011

BOSTON —Joining a crowd of almost 1,000, more than two dozen Brown students traveled to Massachusetts on Sunday to protest the low wages and poor working conditions of Florida tomato pickers in the “March to Stop Sweatshops.” The march, organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the national Student/Farmworker Alliance, kicked off an East Coast tour that goes through March 5.

The protest began with a rally in Copley Square in downtown Boston. “The food movement and the workers’ rights movement cannot be separate,” one speaker said to the crowd.

Brown’s relationship with the coalition dates back to the early 1990s, when Greg Asbed ’85 and Laura Germino ’84 helped found the group, said Kate Cielinski ’12, who has worked with the organization since last year.  The coalition, based in Immokalee, Fla., was formed in 1993 to fight the sub-poverty wages, violence and abuse the workers are subjected to. The organization’s work has led to an agreement by many major chains — including Subway, Whole Foods Market and Taco Bell — to pay one more penny per pound for tomatoes and sign code of conduct agreements.

The coalition’s next step was to start the Campaign for Fair Food, which targets supermarkets such as Stop and Shop. “If management of Stop and  Shop decides they will pay a penny a pound, they’ll be able to influence Ahold,” Cielinski said. Stop and  Shop is a branch of Ahold, an international supermarket conglomerate.

The speeches and music performances included words of encouragement and prayers in both Spanish and English.

Spirits ran high despite the cold weather. “We have the sun in our hearts,” a speaker shouted to the crowd.

After the rally, participants marched two miles from Copley Square to the Stop and  Shop store at Brigham Circle. During the march, people danced, played drums and sang in Spanish and English. Once the protesters reached Stop and Shop, their most popular chant was “Stop and  Shop, shame on you — farmworkers deserve rights, too!”

“This is just the beginning. We will be back,” one protester told the crowd.

“It was exciting to see people from all around the region mobilized with a focused target,” said Haley Kossek ’13, a member of the Student Labor Alliance. The protesters were from all demographics — college students, workers and parents with toddlers walked side by side.

“As consumers, (students) have a vital role to play in this whole thing,” Cielinski said. “We have the ability to demand highest ethical standards.”