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McDonald’s Campaign Escalates

Marc Rodrigues
Date Published: 
February 01, 2007

¡Ya cayó! ¡Ya cayó! ¡Ronaldo ya cayó!” So was the chant—adapted from the popular movements of Oaxaca—that closed out the 2006 Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) Encuentro in Immokalee, Florida in late September. The “Ronaldo” referred to is, of course, the all-too-ubiquitous symbol of fast-food giant McDonald’s—the main target in an escalating campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community-based, migrant worker-led organization fighting to secure better wages and working conditions for farmworkers in the McDonald’s tomato supply chain.

During the Encuentro, over 60 young organizers from across the country gathered in Immokalee for three days of reflection, discussion, and strategizing about the struggle for “fair food.” Youth and student leaders from more than 15 states, representing more than 30 organizations and campuses, a sample of the breadth of support that the CIW can count on in the months and years ahead, participated in the Encuentro. From personal conversations with CIW members who had left their families in regions on the frontlines of resistance to neoliberalism, to workshops that wove together the struggle in the fields of Florida to larger global realities, the Encuentro made it clear that this is not simply a struggle to increase wages for farmworkers, but one that sees itself as part of larger efforts to bring about another world.

“Solidarity in a World on Fire” was the title of the large group anti-oppression session held during the Encuentro, a name borrowed from This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. We chose this text to frame our discussion because, although written 20 years ago, its discussion of “recently-immigrated people of color” in the US as “refugees of a world on fire” resonates with the on-the-ground realities of Immokalee. The discussion was our attempt to take anti-oppression conversations off of its formulaic and disconnected pedestal that much of the movement has put it on, and make it relevant to our work.

Everything we did over the course of the weekend came back to Immokalee and the McDonald’s campaign. In essence, McDonald’s is actively seeking to undermine what the CIW has been able to achieve through a decade of community-based struggle and the successful Taco Bell boycott. Our ability to provide an effective response as a student/youth movement—a movement of the very demographic referred to by McDonald’s as its marketing “sweet spot”—could have very serious implications for the CIW and Immokalee’s farmworker community. In the end our commitment to running an effective campaign and achieving victory over McDonald’s is the single best way in which we could put accountability into practice.

In October, the CIW conducted a tremendously successful Midwest Mini-tour from Immokalee to Chicago that included presentations and protests to help build local networks of allies who will continue the fight in their own communities. At the Encuentro, two national days of action were approved to immediately follow on the momentum of the tour and be a “1-2 punch” to McDonald’s.

So on October 27 and 28, people in 40 communities across the US joined together in protests and educational activities in support of the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food. A clear signal was sent to McDonald’s: Immokalee’s workers are not alone in this fight.

There remains much work to be done, but events in the past couple months have laid the groundwork for what lies ahead. In response to the CIW’s campaign, McDonald’s released a series of well-funded public relations stunts designed to isolate the CIW from its allies and take wind out of the campaign. But just as students and youth are beginning to see the brutal reality behind the glossy images of McDonald’s $1.5 billion annual marketing budget, they are also rejecting its PR campaign and taking action to demand that McDonald’s work with the CIW to address the human rights crisis in the fields of Florida. While the CIW has yet to officially call for a national boycott of McDonald’s, once the truth about farmworker poverty that lies behind the Golden Arches was discovered, people couldn’t help but begin to whisper the “B” word.

Decades of grinding poverty, stagnant sub-poverty wages, lack of basic legal protections and rights, abuse and violence, substandard housing, and, in extreme cases, conditions of modern-day slavery endured by farmworkers have padded McDonald’s tremendous profits. But enough is enough. As CIW members declared in a particularly moving moment outside McDonald’s global headquarters in suburban Chicago with their arms outstretched toward the mammoth building: “With these hands we demand the future that sub-poverty wages have stolen from us.”

There is no doubt that what is at stake is tremendously serious, and as students and youth working in partnership with the CIW in this struggle, the road ahead will not always be easy. But there is little doubt that a victory against McDonald’s, and the far-ranging improvements for workers in the Florida-based agricultural industry that will result, is less a question of if and more a question of when. As the chant with which we closed the Encuentro says, Ronald has already fallen.

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