Many of the people who harvest our food can’t afford to buy it. Familias Unidas por la Justicia, an independent labor union of over 500 indigenous Mixteco and Triqui farmworkers in Whatcom and Skagit Counties, hope to change this.
About 70 farmworkers were recently fired for going on strike after being denied a $1.50 raise, as well as toiletries, soap and water. Five of them were given recognition by Ramon Torres, president of the union, at a fundraiser in Academic West Thursday, March 2.
Nearly $6,000 was raised to support Familias Unidas por la Justicia during the fundraiser. Donations flooded in from students, community members and various organizations such as the Skagit Labor-Democrat Work Group.
The union will use the money to open its own office and establish an administrative system. Currently, it operates from the homes of its members and other free spaces.
During the fundraiser, Torres expressed his concern for the children and elders working in the fields.
Sophomore Greta Merkel is president of the Students for Farmworker Justice club at Western, which helped host and plan the fundraiser.
“They’re fighting for rights that aren’t just for themselves, but for all workers across the state.”
Sophomore Greta Merkel
“It’s important to recognize the most disenfranchised people in our community deserve as many rights and workers’ rights as we do,” Merkel said. “They’re fighting for rights that aren’t just for themselves, but for all workers across the state.”
The fundraiser featured guest speaker Mark McDermott, an economic justice and labor educator. McDermott gave an interactive presentation on economic justice and labor history called “Making the American Dream Real for Everyone.”
McDermott usually charges a $600 fee to speak at events, but he volunteered to speak at the fundraiser for free because of his admiration for Familias Unidas por la Justicia.
“It is humbling to stand in the presence of courageous fighters like the brothers and sisters of Familias,” McDermott said. “I didn’t have an easy life growing up, but compared to the struggles they’ve been through, I am truly humbled and moved almost to tears.”
Rosalinda Guillen is the executive director of Community to Community Development, a local nonprofit organization focused on empowering underrepresented peoples.
“The union movement is strong and there’s a strength and solidarity among workers,” Guillen said. “No matter what kind of work they’re doing or how much money they’re earning, it’s the fact that everybody is a worker.”
Sophomore Emma Bigongiari said she enjoyed when Torres acknowledged the strong female members of the union.
One of the women was given recognition for standing up when workers on her farm were denied access to bathrooms, and forced to use garbage bags and cover up with umbrellas instead.
“Globally, women are most of the world’s agriculture workers and do most of the work feeding the world,” Bigongiari said. “They often go unrecognized so I really appreciated that moment. I thought it was really cool and beautiful.”
On April 15, the Students of Farmworker Justice club and Community to Community Development will host another fundraiser for Familias Unidas por la Justicia.