From the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Throughout history, the act of fasting has been a show of faith, a form of political protest, a weapon of the powerless.

Virtually all the major faiths include long-held traditions of fasting as a spiritual discipline, a way to seek the holy amidst the temporal, through sacrifice and prayer. Social movements throughout modern times — from the women’s suffrage movement of the early 1900’s to Mahatma Gandhi and his use of non-violent protest to challenge British colonial rule — have also turned to fasting when other forms of protest have failed to produce change.

US farmworkers in particular have fasted — including Cesar Chavez’s famous fast in 1968 (right), which drew global attention to the plight of California farmworkers — as a means to underscore the urgent need for more humane labor conditions in the fields.

The CIW’s own organizing history is founded, in part, on a seminal hunger strike by six of its members, a month-long fast that stretched from December 1997 to January 1998. The fasting workers’ only demand was for dialogue with Florida tomato growers, and though the growers refused to meet with the workers at the time, the call for dialogue drew the support of then-Florida Governor Lawton Chiles and former President Jimmy Carter.

Despite the growers’ rejection, the energy created by the workers’ courageous sacrifice was not lost. Their 30-day fast sparked what would become today’s Campaign for Fair Food, and twelveyears later, Florida growers would not just sit with farmworkers in Immokalee, but agree to forge an historic partnership that is changing the very nature of farm labor relations in Florida (right, Jon Esformes of Pacific Tomato Growers shakes hands with Lucas Benitez of the CIW following the signing of the first of what would become industry-wide Fair Food agreements with Florida tomato growers).

This coming month, workers from Immokalee — men and women who put food on tables across the country — will go without food again, this time to demand that Publix support that groundbreaking new partnership, that Publix support the fundamental human rights for farmworkers that are taking root today in Florida’s fields thanks to the CIW’s Fair Food Program.

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