Farmers demonstrated the strength of their solidarity with pro-union forces in Wisconsin through the creative force of a “tractorcade,” and the inspiring power of their words and actions. Grassroots International allies from the Family Farm Defenders and the National Family Farm Coalition played prominent roles in the effort to show support to Wisconsin workers.
The tractorcade arrived on the heels of a March 14 rally in Madison, Wisconsin, where more than 85,000 people participated just days after Governor Walker signed a bill into law to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Legislators supporting the governor removed spending provisions from the bill in order to avoid the requirement for a quorum – something that had eluded them for weeks as Democratic legislators purposefully avoided the session. After a three-week-long people’s struggle against the governor’s efforts to silence workers’ voices, the March 14 rally made it clear that not only would workers’ voices remain loud and strong, but also that community groups and farmers would continue to stand together with unions towards a democratic vision for a positive future.
What do workers’ rights have to do with farmers? Dairy farmer Joel Greeno, vice president of Family Farm Defenders and member of the National Family Farm Coalition (a Grassroots International grantee, and member of the Vía Campesina), explained, “Eighty percent of our nation’s dairy farmers market their milk through co-ops, [which] use collective bargaining to establish prices for co-op members. To lose collective bargaining for teachers and workers in unions is a hit on the collective bargaining practices of our co-ops. So for that we are here to stand with our fellow workers in solidarity, to tell our governor that he needs to change course.” Tony Schultz, a vegetable and beef farmer from Athens, Wisconsin (also a member of Family Farm Defenders), gave a rousing speech describing the historical and current-day connections between workers and farmers struggles. Below is an excerpt: I came back to the family farm after college because of my values – values that I think overlap entirely with the values of the labor movement. Family farmers, like the labor movement, value the dignity of being able to have some control over your work and your life – to be empowered by your work and not alienated by it. Family farmers, like the labor movement, value the means to have a beautiful and constructive setting to raise a family. Family farmers like the labor movement value economic democracy. Solidarity between workers and farmers is an old and sacred alliance of producers that dates back beyond the populist movement, when workers and farmers came together to struggle for a progressive income tax, for a financial system that serves the people, for unions and the 8-hour day. For over 100 years, we’ve been fighting together…and we are going to take this state back! And yet there are those who tell us this isn’t a farmers’ issue…and then there are groups that represent this evil. The Dairy Business Association was here… saying “Hooray for Walker’s Budget.” I want you to know that those aren’t farmers! They are agribusiness corporations with a few factory farmers in front… It’s a farmers’ issue because our rural schools are getting decimated by this budget, and they are the centers of small towns and rural communities. In my home town of Athens, 14 of 44 teachers got pink slips – they will be laid off because of this budget. It’s bad for our town, it’s bad for the very school district…and we say no! It’s a farmers’ issue because Scott Walker wants to hack Badger Care [the state health insurance program]. 11,000 family farmers depend on Badger Care because of the exclusivity of for-profit health insurance companies, and because of the pathetic and volatile prices we receive for milk and other commodities that don’t meet the cost of our production. We depend on this, we support Badger Care! It’s a farmers’ issue because we’ve been battling corporate power for more than a century. This budget could not be a clearer manifestation of corporate power, and we say “No!” It’s a farmers’ issue because public workers are our friends, and our neighbors, and our family members, and we stand in solidarity with them! It’s a farmers’ issue because we know that we’re all in this together – we go up together or we go down together. The way I see it, we have two choices. I can have my unions busted and stand alone and be pitted against my neighbor in a desperate and unequal economy – or WE can come together to say this is what our families need, this is what our communities need, this is what a just wage is, This is what democracy looks like! It’s a farmers’ issue because we understand that an injury to one is an injury to all – Solidarity! All of us at Grassroots International are inspired by the clarity and unity that comes through in these words and actions. We know that it will only keep growing, as a powerful manifestation of the motto of our partner the Vía Campesina: “Globalize the Struggle – Globalize Hope!”