Hunger strike for Taco Bell boycott
Chicago--I am Francisco Martinez and I have worked as a
farmworker for the last five years in Immokalee, Fla. In 1998, I had an
opportunity to come and work in the U.S. Because conditions in Mexico are
screwed, I came to the U.S. But I never imagined what it would be like crossing
the border and passed from one trafficker to another as if I were merchandise.
And that's how I landed in the fields of Florida.
I was brought to a ranch and worked three months for a
rancher on his farm. We were 40 workers being controlled by about eight of the
rancher's henchmen. But with all of the intimidation and fear, people were
afraid to do anything. So I had to draw on my inner strength and decide: Did I
want to die incarcerated on this farm or escape? I planned with five other
workers and we decided to escape. After this, the ranchers were trying to track
us down and we had to hide from them.
When the rancher found us, the woman who was giving us a
place to stay called the police. The police chased the rancher away. When the
police were filing the report, one of the witnesses called the Coalition of
Immokalee Workers. Some members of the Coalition, basically all farmworkers,
came over to find out what was happening and called the FBI. They arrested those
ranchers over the enslavement and sent some to jail for six years, others for 10
I decided to commit a little bit more time to the CIW
because the unjust working conditions on the ranches are about the same as
slavery. In one case they have you in captivity. In the other you can move
freely, but they are still screwing you.
The CIW is a grassroots organization. Our members are
Latinos, primarily Guatemalan, Mexican and Haitian, and some African Americans.
But we don't make distinctions based on race. We are fighting for just salaries
for the work that we do, better working conditions from the ranchers, and better
TACO BELL AS TARGET
We started with four farmworkers and now have 2,000
members. We've been struggling for the past 10 years to dialogue with the
growers. We have done marches, strikes, hunger strikes to grab public attention,
but nothing changed. So we decided to focus on Taco Bell. Taco Bell, as a major
buyer from the companies we work for, can tell the growers to change working
conditions or Taco Bell would change suppliers.
We have really focused the boycott on students, the
principal market for the Taco Bell chain. We have focused on educating them
through presentations at universities, explaining to them that we put so much
sweat into this food and they are eating these tacos without realizing what goes
into the making of them.
Now we have a Student-Farmworker Alliance. We had an
exchange of ideas on how to proceed. Students have taken action on campuses
across the country. I have traveled to Chicago to meet with students and others
who have been helping us.
We had a caravan of 60 farmworkers go from Immokalee,
Fla. to Irvine, Cal. to promote the boycott at the doors of Taco Bell's office.
Until now they have always said they didn't have anything to do with the
treatment of farmworkers. That was the ranchers' business. But we said, you have
the power to influence on our behalf because you are the major buyer of tomatoes
from those companies.
Taco Bell makes $5.2 billion per year. The tomato
growers are making $120,000 per year, while a farmworker makes only $7,500 a
We organized another big protest. We will begin a hunger
strike in front of Taco Bell's offices that will end March 5. During this time
there are going to be actions by workers throughout California and the U.S.
Even with the majority of farmworkers afraid of the
immigration police and of not being heard, we have more than 60 farmworkers
committed to traveling to Taco Bell's offices. If possible, the majority will
participate in the hunger strike. Feb. 28 is a national day of protest to
support the hunger strikers. This struggle continues.
(Interviewed and translated for NEWS & LETTERS by Jason Wallach)
Published by News and Letters Committees