Why I stand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Ajamu Baraka and Lucas Benitez, CIW

Ajamu Baraka with Lucas Benitez, one of the founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Why I stand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

When asked by an African-American politician why I was heading down to Florida to support the CIW fast and mass-action against Publix, I had to remind my friend – who’s memory of mass struggles that created the conditions that allowed him to become an elected official was dimed by too many years of being disconnected from the unbearable conditions that working people and the poor face in this country – that like the struggles to maintain the human right to organize in Wisconsin, the battle by IWLU in Seattle, the fight back against the decimation of Public Sector workers and their unions, The fight by CIW is a fight for all of us who believe in social justice and human rights, and so I could not be any place but in Florida, standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women of CIW.

As a Southern based African-American working class human rights activist and organizer who has been organizing in the South since the late 70s, I know the history and have experience directly the devastating consequences of experienced by a people who have had every ouch of value squeezed from their labor by a rapacious ruling elite only interested in profit and the maintenance of white supremacy.

It is in this region with its brutal legacy of slavery, genocide and the super-exploitation of labor, both Black and White, that serves as the backdrop and context for the contemporary struggles of the CIW and indeed, for the struggles of the African-American and broader Latino and migrant/immigrant working class. This region where the working class is the most politically oppressed, systematically disenfranchised and suffer the most brutal racist treatment is now home to the fastest growing Latino community with the predictable backlash. But it is in this region, like no other, where the transformative potential inherent in the unity of all oppressed nationalities could constitute a major political force and foundation for a new movement to lead the people in the territory known as the United States toward the realization of human rights and societal transformation.

But we understand that the forging of unity is not easy. Efforts by the corporate media, certain spokespeople in both parties and other retrograde social forces to divide the African-American and Latino working class are no accident and should not be ignored. But our common interests and histories of struggle against all forms of national oppression will counteract those attempts. When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, it banned slavery throughout its country. Thousands of enslaved Africans went to Mexico to escape slavery and were welcomed. This angered Southern plantation owners and the US government who declared that white supremacy should be the law of the land – promoting “Manifest Destiny” as its imperialist slogan and was one of the issues that precipitated the eventual US military invasion of Mexico and annexation of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming. And even in defeat, Mexico refused to include a provision to return runaway Africans in the “peace treaty’ negotiated between the US and Mexico. The story of this “underground railroad” to Mexico is a story that more people need to be aware of. And the solidarity work carried out by African-American activists in support of the people’s’ struggles in Guatemala, El-Salvador and Haiti provides a solid ground for reciprocal solidarity that must be developed as we rebuild a powerful, unified social movement in the South!

So we head to Florida to put our bodies on the line with the more than 50 workers from the Caribbean, Guatemala, El-Salvador and Mexico, who have chosen to fast for a week for freedom, so that one day we can all sit down at the table of freedom and share a feast that has not been gathered as a consequence of anyone’s suffering.