Since the end of slavery in America, no workers have been more exploited than the men and women who bend to the earth in backbreaking labor, picking fruits, vegetables, and tobacco. Despite miracles of agricultural progress and innovation over the decades, the harsh lives and working conditions of migrant laborers have changed very little. Their cause has been championed in the past by Edward Murrow, Cesar Chavez, and the United Farmworkers. But that list is incomplete without Baldemar Velásquez . Velásquez was among hundreds of thousands of children who joined their migrant parents working long hours in the fields. Inspired by that early experience, Velásquez founded the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in 1967.
In 1978, Velásquez led more than 2,000 FLOC members in Ohio and Michigan in the largest agricultural labor strike in the history of the Midwest. His organization also worked on behalf of North Carolina workers who pulled tobacco for the suppliers of RJ Reynolds; the workers not only sought higher wages, but better working conditions and protection from pesticides and nicotine absorbed from handling tobacco plants.
Velásquez — a 1989 MacArthur Fellow — joins Bill to talk about the ongoing David vs. Goliath struggles to ensure fairness for American farmworkers.
We’ve been working with FLOC and many other organizations to help empower farmworkers here in North Carolina, especially in their campaign with RJ Reynolds. You can check out our latest collection of faith-based resources on farmworker issues here: www.ncfarmworkers.org/resources.