Save the Date! 2022 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony & FFD Annual Meeting

Sat.Dec. 10thUW-Madison’s Gordon Commons

(770 W. Dayton St. in downtown Madison, WI)

In memory of legendary organic pioneer and food sovereignty advocate, John Kinsman, Family Farm Defenders is proud to celebrate beginning farmers each year with a prize in his name!

John Kinsman with Food Sovereignty Prize

12:00 Noon – 2:00 pm FFD Annual Meeting, with a year in review, action updates, and board elections – open to the general public!

2:30 pm Screening of the acclaimed documentary, the Ants and the Grasshopper, directed by Raj Patel, followed by a discussion with Jim Goodman and Jahi Chappell

5:00 pm Welcome Reception & Award Banquet – featuring native bioregional foods! Suggested donation – $30 per person (children under 12 are free). To RSVP and purchase advance tickets send a check to: FFD, P.O. Box 1772, Madison, WI 53701 or make an online donation at: www.familyfarmers.org

Keynote Speaker – Jahi Chapell

6:00 pm Keynote Talk – “Food Sovereignty as Showing Up” – with Jahi Chappell, director of the Michigan State University(MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems and W.K. Kellogg Foundation Endowed Chair in Food and Society.

7:00 pm John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Awards!

Congratulations to this year’s winners:

Naima Dhore of Naima’s Farm in Alexandria, MN

Naima Dhore

Naima Dhore began her farming journey growing food for her own family from small pots in her apartment window. She now operates Naima’s Farm near Alexandria, MN which focuses on organic food production for the broader Somali/East African community. As an immigrant she also knows the struggles that face many black, indigenous, and other farmers of color, and in 2020 she helped found the Somali American Farmer Association (SAFA). Naima credits her food sovereignty success “to her ability to connect and maintain relationships with various people in her community—always being certain to remain humble in sharing resources to see everyone thrive and not just some.”

Heather Gayton of ZanBria Artisan Farms in Friendship, WI!

Heather Gayton

Heather Gayton launched ZanBria Artisan Farms near Friendship, WI as a simple roadside stand, bartering and selling produce, but was eventually able to acquire a 20 acre farmstead specializing in native, heirloom, and herbal crops. As a cancer survivor, Heather believes strongly in “food as medicine.” She is also a leader in the Farmers of the Roche-Cri Watershed Group and a grower for the Grand Marsh food pantry. Heather’s farm dream is to “create a space that people can come to for learning about indigenous wisdom, food sovereignty, regenerative agriculture and environmental sustainability.”

Family Farm Defenders also welcomes sponsors for this year’s 2022 John Kinsman Prize! Those making a contribution of $100 or more will receive two (2) complimentary tickets to the award banquet and receive mention in publicity. All donations to FFD are tax deductible. More info? #608-260-0900 or email: familyfarmdefenders@admin

For lodging nearby, consider Hampton Inn #608-255-0360 and mention FFD!

If you wish to join the John Kinsman Prize virtually, there is a Zoom event available:

John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony
Dec 10, 2022 5:30 – 8:30 PM Central Time

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us06web.zoom.us/j/85753753451?pwd=ckZ2dWg0MW1rUUtPL043S3hrT1dEdz09

Or dial in:

1-312-626-6799 US
Meeting ID: 857 5375 3451
Passcode: 419558

Thanks for your support of food sovereignty and please spread the word!

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Farm bill offers opportunity to challenge corporate control of the food system

By: Anthony Pahnke, vice president of Family Farm Defenders, and Associate Professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University, CA.

Originally published by The Hill, 10/13/22

The Packers and Stockyard (P&S) Act was passed just over a century ago, and needs to be updated as part of the 2022 Farm Bill debate. Anti-Trust = Parity Pricing!

To his credit, Biden has been trying.

That is, the current administration has tried to make agriculture more competitive, from issuing an executive order last year calling on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to clarify and strengthen regulations on the nature of improper market conduct, to investing hundreds of millions in new meat processing ventures.

Following through with the executive order, the USDA — through its authority granted by the Packers and Stockyard Act (P&S Act) — has issued rules, or guidelines, to increase transparency in how poultry growers contract with their buyers. Another proposed rule that is open for public comment until Dec. 2 would increase protections for whistleblowers and reform contract farming in livestock.

Still, consolidation has continued apace.

For instance, Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) tried three times to convict poultry executives of price fixing, and three times they have failed. Meanwhile, mergers among poultry processors keep happening. The DOJ allowed one recent case to proceed on the condition that the firms pay $84.8 million for violating worker rights and agree to comply with antitrust laws.

While better than nothing, the agreement between the companies and the DOJ does nothing to stop concentration, where the top four firms went from controlling 35 percent to 54 percent of the industry from 1986 to 2018.

If that were not enough, there’s ongoing vertical integration in beef between retailers and processors, and horizontal mergers taking place among already large players in the sugar industry.

Overall, Biden’s “whole-of government” approach when it comes to strengthening competition in agriculture seems to lack one critical element: enforcement.

More to the point, officials struggle to effectively use the legislative tools at their disposal to stop corporate consolidation. Such tools not only include the P&S Act for poultry and beef, but also other progressive-era legislation such as the Sherman Antitrust, Clayton and Federal Trade Commission Acts.

To the detriment of farmers, few entities in control of an industry can drive down the prices paid to producers for the sake of improving margins. As much has been seen in various lawsuits that have been settled out of court, whether in dairy or beef.

Not only a problem for farmers, consumers and workers also have a lot at stake in this matter.

Specifically, concentrated markets provide opportunities for firms to collude and depress worker wages, as well as inflate prices at the grocery store.

Still, not all hope is lost.

Specifically, the ongoing debates concerning the 2023 Farm Bill present an opportunity to strengthen antitrust policies.

Now, as politicians campaign for reelection, is the perfect time to raise the matter of corporate concentration. In Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, for instance, politicians have been hearing over the past week or so from rural communities about the issues of concern.

Typical farm bill items that draw the attention of legislators and the public include subsidies and conservation, as well as nutrition. In fact, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) occupies around 75% of the legislation’s total allocation.

Still, strengthening antitrust laws can also be included.

In fact, in 2008, it was.

Specifically, the 2008 Farm Bill amended the P&S Act by requiring processors to provide more information on capital requirements, while also increasing the power of growers to cancel contracts. The bill called on the USDA to craft guidelines on how to implement these changes. After years of delay, mainly at the behest of meat industry advocates, the Obama administration issued a set of watered-down rules that the Trump administration later nixed altogether.

This time around could be different, especially for the interest that the Biden administration has shown in following through with dealing with corporate power in agriculture.

For instance, the next farm bill could include sections from Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act. Among the bill’s many ideas are amending the Clayton Act to update the standards for mergers, while dedicating more resources to the DOJ and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for enforcement.

Moreover, the farm bill, as a piece of legislation that must pass through both houses of Congress, provides a real opportunity to build legitimacy around the need to challenge corporate consolidation. The DOJ and FTC, with their nominated officials are critical to enforce antitrust law. Passing laws to empower them would strengthen their position.

For these reasons, the farm bill is an opportunity for farmers, workers and consumers to seriously build power and challenge the corporate stranglehold that exists on our food and farm system. Now is a particularly propitious time to forward this change, not only given the upcoming midterm elections, but because the current government appears interested in improving our agricultural system for the better. By including antitrust reform into the 2023 Farm Bill, perhaps they will succeed.

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The Climate Crisis and the Future of the Beef Industry – Rebuilding the U.S. cattle herd is imperative for labor standards, climate stability and a just transition for meat worker

Cargill Plant’s Last Day in Plainview, TX – Photo courtesy of Criselda Avila, posted by NPR

Guest Editorial by Dennis Olson, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)

(published online May 16, 2022)

At its peak, Cargill’s beef plant in Plainview, Texas employed 2000 workers with good paying union jobs and generous benefits, collectively bargained with the help of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 540. During the summer of 2011, Texas ranchers became increasingly desperate as drought scorched their pastures and turned their watering ponds to dust. Ranchers reluctantly began to sell off their cattle, including their valuable female breeding heifers essential for future herd rebuilding. By the end of 2011, Texas was in the grip of its worst drought in recorded history. And it was about to get worse—both for the Texas ranchers, and for the Cargill meatpacking workers in Plainview.

By 2012 the drought had deepened and expanded beyond the Southern Great Plains to the rest of North America. By the time rains finally arrived in 2013, the Texas cattle herd had shrunk by about 1.2 million head, or about quarter of its former size of five million in 2010.[1] By 2014, as the drought took effect throughout the continent, the herd had dwindled to its lowest level since 1941.

Since its passage in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had enabled beefpacking companies to acquire feedlots in Canada and Mexico, and to ship those Canadian and Mexican cattle tariff-free over the borders, to their U.S. plants

Drought had already extended from Texas into northern Mexico in 2011. Mexican ranchers, like their U.S. counterparts, had also sold their cattle and sent them north to slaughter in U.S. plants like Cargill-Plainview, keeping them open longer. But those Mexican cattle eventually ran out too, and the workers at the Plainview plant had no more cattle left to harvest. In early 2013, Cargill notified its workers that it would close the plant. The workers were out of a job; and it would be challenging to find new ones in the now parched rural economy of the Texas panhandle.

Although NAFTA had provided the Plainview plant with a short-lived but ultimately futile lifeline, for nearly two decades the agreement had been undermining the resilience of the beef supply chain. NAFTA had cleared the way for the global meatpackers like Cargill to acquire feedlots anywhere in North America and ship cattle across borders to their U.S. packing plants.  When U.S. domestic cattle supplies got low enough so that demand would normally push prices up to kickstart herd rebuilding, the meatpacking companies continued to suppress prices through shipping from feedlots to processing plants across the borders. This intentional price suppression undermined domestic demand, artificially suppressed U.S. cattle prices and removed any economic incentive for ranchers to hold back breeding cows for herd rebuilding. The meat companies used NAFTA to break the historical cattle cycle.

In the case of the Cargill-Plainview plant, UFCW successfully petitioned the Department of Labor under the Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) to grant extended unemployment and vocational training funds to those workers who were laid off to help them transition to new jobs. In its petition, UFCW proved that beef imports “contributed importantly” to the plant shutdown, which was the test that had to be met to release the worker assistance funds.[2] One pillar of a Just Transition should be to expand the TAA to assist workers who lose their jobs due to climate shocks, not just trade disruptions.

After NAFTA broke the cattle cycle, the herd never again recovered to its pre-NAFTA levels. Today, the question remains whether the herd will ever recover, or simply continue its decades long decline to oblivion under NAFTA. The rebuilding of the cattle herd is crucial not only to the ranchers who raise the cattle, but also to the workers who process them. And to the planet.

The questions regarding how much and what kind of beef we should produce is pivotal to the success or failure of any strategies around a Fair and Just Transition toward effective climate mitigation. Yes, cows have the biggest carbon footprint because of the methane they emit, but we still need them and other ruminants back out on sustainable pasture rotations, improving soil health and fixing carbon. Such a migration of cows from industrial “concentrated animal feeding operations” (CAFOs) to sustainable pastures would break up fossil-fuel monocultures, making the countryside more resilient in the face of increasingly climate volatility including severe droughts and floods, wildfires and more deadly pandemics.

We must develop and implement policies that reverse current, unsustainable neoliberal market deregulation that has unleashed the overproduction of fossil-fuel feedgrains, driving crop prices far below the cost of production. A Tufts University study[3] found that the indirect below-cost feed subsidy caused by the market deregulation of feedgrains in the 1996 Farm Bill siphoned $35 billion out of our rural economies and into the coffers of global meat packers and dairy processors. This cheap feed policy is the hidden driver of the otherwise inexplicable and relentless expansion of industrial CAFOs that everyone seems to dislike but that no one can seem to curtail.

We need supply management with strategic grain reserves to create price floors in grain markets—not only to give farmers a fair minimum price that covers their real cost of production but also to take away that $35 billion cheap feed subsidy from the industrial livestock complex by making them pay the real cost of production in the market. Such a strategic grain reserve should also have a price ceiling that triggers the release of those reserves back out onto the market whenever prices rise too high, causing hunger, and suppressing demand for meat and shuttering meatpacking plants. Supply management is one of our most effective tools for avoiding the worst impacts of global warming.

Supply management can curtail the overproduction of below-cost feed grains grown with the assistance of fossil-fuel based fertilizers that subsidizes the unsustainable overproduction of industrial meat.

Stronger antitrust laws and trade reform must curtail the ability of the global meat cartels to manipulate cattle prices and cheat ranchers and prevent the race to the bottom for the lowest labor standards. The fight back has begun. Workers have recently won a multimillion-dollar legal settlement against meatpacking companies for colluding to suppress wages.[4] Consumers have won similar settlements,[5] and rancher antitrust complaints are pending.[6]

Public procurement reform would allocate preferences to suppliers who respect workers’ rights to organize a union; who pay farmers and ranchers a fair price and redress historical racial discrimination; and who invest in local economies rather than extract wealth from them. Such preferences should also include favoring worker- and farmer-owned cooperatives with union contracts. These farmers and workers will spend money on Main Street, not Wall Street. And such preferences should exclude the bad actors who egregiously violate labor, antitrust and environmental laws, from bidding on public contracts.

Working together, we can succeed in forging policies to incentivize herd rebuilding.

Removing the massive indirect feed subsidies to industrial meat production through supply management of grains would reduce the carbon footprint of beef by leveling the playing field for pasture-based ruminants versus CAFO meat production, allowing cows to revert to their natural ecological role of rebuilding soil health and fixing carbon. And requiring the industrial meatpackers to pay the real cost of production for feedgrains would reduce the amount of fossil-fuel feedgrains fed to cattle, further reducing beef’s carbon footprint.

Finally, eliminating the cheap feed subsidy would break up the fossil-fuel monoculture cropping that is hemorrhaging toxins to point of creating a massive dead zone of the Gulf of Mexico. Moving cattle out of massive industrial CAFOs and back onto sustainable pasture rotations would improve soil health and fix carbon, making the countryside more resilient in the face of ever more severe droughts, intense floods and devastating wildfires. By implementing these policies, and facilitating herd rebuilding, we can prevent US and global beef demand from being reliant on deforestation, particularly the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

More cows on more grass can become a guiding principle by which to measure our success towards a fairer and more just climate transition.

Endnotes:

[1] Texas cattle herd hits 8-year high; will prices suffer? Austin American-Statesman, March 23, 2019: https://www.statesman.com/story/business/agricultural/2019/03/22/texas-cattle-herd-hits-8-year-high-will-prices-suffer/5635084007/

[2] U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration; TAA Decision 85160; TA-W-85,160 CARGILL MEAT SOLUTIONS CORPORATION A SUBSIDIARY OF CARGILL, INCORPORATED PLAINVIEW, TEXAS; April 3, 2014.

[3] Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University, Policy Brief No. 07-03 Dec. 2007 Feeding at the Trough Industrial Livestock Firms Saved $35 billion From Low Feed Prices; By Elanor Starmer and Timothy A. WiseGDAE https://sites.tufts.edu/gdae/files/2020/03/PB07-03FeedingAtTroughDec07.pdf

[4] Pilgrim’s Pride reaches $29M deal in wage-fixing case; Published Sept. 4, 2019; Updated July 8, 2021; Food Dive website accessed April 11, 2022; https://www.fooddive.com/news/pilgrims-pride-reaches-29m-deal-in-wage-fixing-case/562165/

[5] Eli Hoff, Investigate Midwest; July 29, 2021; https://investigatemidwest.org/2021/07/29/is-this-legal-why-an-obscure-data-service-has-been-sued-nearly-100-times-for-facilitating-anti-competitive-behavior/

[6] R-CALF USA and Other Plaintiffs’ Case Proceeds to Discovery; R-CALF USA Press Release, September 14, 2021 accessed on R-CALF USA website, April 11, 2022; https://www.r-calfusa.com/minnesota-federal-court-denies-packers-motion-to-dismiss-cattle-antitrust-cases/

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WTO Meeting Presents Opportunity to Challenge Corporate Control Over Food Supply

By Anthony Pahnke, Vice President of Family Farm Defenders, and Assistant Professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University in CA.

Originally published by TruthOut, June. 12, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it painfully clear that our concentrated global food system is prone to breakdown and riddled with exploitation.

Look no further than to the fruit and vegetable farmers in Europe and United States who destroyed perfectly good produce because corporate food processors lacked the resiliency to adapt to changing consumption demands. The 2.5 million farmworkers in the U.S., at the same time, risked their lives for poverty-level wages without personal protective equipment.

Meanwhile, just four corporations, globally, control 75 percent of the world’s grain trade, and 60 percent of our seeds. In the U.S., four firms dominate 75 percent of the fertilizer supply and 85 percent of beef processing.

Such concentration takes freedom from farmers, taking from them the ability to negotiate the prices of what they sell and the inputs, such as feed and seed, that they purchase. Meanwhile, workers lack critical safety protections, for instance, safeguards against chemical or pesticide exposure, as they labor for subsistence-level wages.

This is the food and farm system that the World Trade Organization (WTO) played a central role in creating. The WTO, which emerged out of the Uruguay Round of negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994, has become synonymous with promoting “free trade,” namely, in calling on states to privatize public enterprises, end price and wage supports, and lift import tariffs not only in agriculture but also in the pharmaceutical, automobile and textile industries.

What to do with our crisis-prone food system will be one of the topics broached at the upcoming Ministerial Conference of the WTO that will take place from June 12 to 15 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Food, farm and peasant movements, specifically those in the international coalition, La Via Campesina (LVC), plan to protest the meeting to denounce such free trade policies and demand change.

This is not the first time that LVC members have challenged the WTO. Perhaps the most recognized is Lee Kyung Hae, a Korean farmer who died by suicide at the organization’s meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in 2003, to call attention to how WTO prescriptions drove farmers into poverty.

Such conditions of economic depression persist globally: About thirty Indian farmers take their own lives every day over their inability to pay loans and purchase inputs. Desperation among U.S. farmers, similarly, has led them to have one of the highest suicide rates among all professions.

The WTO’s role in creating these dynamics is showcased in Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), which entered into force in 1995. The AoA put agriculture into an economic bind, categorizing farm system policies globally into three boxes — amber, blue, and green.

Amber box policies, specifically, are prohibited under the AoA for being “market distorting.” Such initiatives include the government purchase of commodities to guarantee a certain income. Import tariffs also fall into this box. Blue box policies, which are permitted by the agreement, also affect incomes. In the U.S., direct payments to farmers from the government are one example. Blue box policies are allowed because they are limited in terms of amount. The last kind of policies — those in the green box — are also allowed. These include funds dedicated to research and development or environmental conservation.

As a treaty, the AoA has enforcement mechanisms: Through the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism (DSM), states that feel another country has unfairly restrained trade may file a grievance and seek retribution.

One well-known case is the U.S.’ successful effort to have Mexico remove its tariffs on high-fructose corn syrup, resulting in a rise of obesity south of the border. Similarly, Canadian dairy farmers were harmed as its government was forced by the WTO — under the pressure of powerful corporate dairy interests from the U.S. — to remove export supports and allow foreign firms access to domestic markets. Another example is when Brazil claimed that its cotton industry was adversely affected by U.S. subsidies. Years of negotiations resulted in a victory for the Latin American country, with the U.S. agreeing to pay $300 million to Brazilian producers.

The WTO’s free trade promotion, while increasing imports and exports, has not helped small-scale producers. According to Public Citizen, since the mid-1990s when the WTO, as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, over 231,000 family farms went under as they could not compete with increases in price volatility and deregulation. From 1995 to 2017, this was approximately 11 percent of all farms in the U.S.

Still, wealthy countries disproportionately benefit under these global rules. The U.S., for instance, can rescue its farmers with ease in the aftermath of disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic; stimulus payments accounted for 40 percent of farmers’ total income in 2020. Countries with limited resources don’t have the means to pay farmers when crisis hits, or to pay fines in case of violating WTO dictates.

Additionally, in the name of free trade, agribusiness companies often export or dump food into foreign markets at prices that undercut domestic producers. This drives environmentally destructive overproduction in wealthy countries like the U.S., while forcing farmers out of business abroad.

Despite these deeply entrenched problems, this WTO meeting could be different, as protesters’ demands for significant food and farm system reform are taking on increased urgency.

Part of the reason why movements have seized upon this opportunity to call for change is that the WTO has been weakened in recent years; the DSM has lacked personnel since former President Donald Trump, as part of his China trade war, hampered the WTO by not appointing judges to hear grievances.

There’s also the fact that negotiations, particularly concerning further liberalizing agriculture, have been stalled since 2001, as economically developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa have failed to find common ground with the U.S. and Europe.

In this context, potential alternatives to the WTO vision of agriculture, as well as its DSM enforcement mechanism, include the demand for parity – the New Deal-era set of policies that sought to place farmers’ incomes on par with what workers in urban areas receive. In clear defiance to the WTO and its boxes, organizations such as the National Family Farm Coalition see parity policies as a means to curtail corporate consolidation and protect the environment. Central to this demand is for governments to provide a space for farmers, workers and processors to negotiate food production and distribution in long-term, sustainable ways.

Additionally, LVC promotes agroecology — a labor-intensive, chemical-free way of growing food that works with nature instead of trying to dominate it. To make this form of farming practicable, governments around the world will have to enact land redistribution policies, as well as significant income supports to keep new farmers in the profession.

With the WTO weakened, now is a propitious time to denounce free trade and demand food and farm system change. More than 15 years ago, Lee Kyung Hae gave his life in this struggle. Inspired by his sacrifice, farmers and activists will convene in Geneva, keeping hope alive for building a more just, equitable and sustainable way of practicing agriculture.

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Family Farmers Stand in Solidarity with Striking Workers

For Immediate Release – May, 2022

Contact: Zena McFadden (608) 475 1534 and/or Joel Greeno (608) 462 3560

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack meets with striking UAW Local 450 workers at the John Deere Des Moines Works, in Ankeny, IA

From the successful strikes at Starbucks shops, to the work stoppage at the farm implement dealer, CNH Industrial, the labor movement is finding new life.  Workers’ demands are many, from receiving a living wage, to improved work conditions.  While the problems of family farmers may seem different from workers, the reality is that they have much in common.   For this reason, our membership in Family Farm Defenders stands in solidarity with the many workers who are at the picket lines.  

Consider pay.  Rising inflation and gas prices force working people into already difficult financial situations.  Student loans make matters worse for millions, keeping young people from buying homes and cars.  Workers, from truck drivers to barristas, struggle to make ends meet.  

While workers see their wages fall relative to that of corporate CEOs, farmers see declining prices for what they sell.  This is why family farmers call for parity.  Parity pricing, which we saw emerge during the Great Depression as a set of policies to put what farmers make on par with what urban workers were paid, would keep farmers on the land.  

There’s also problems with work conditions.  Workers seek more stable work days, particularly in terms of hours.  There’s also the need for bathroom breaks – a basic need that Amazon workers sought.  Basically, workers lack control over the places where they earn their livelihoods.  

Farmers, too, want to improve where they work.  First, there is the demand for right to repair legislation.  Now, corporations such as John Deere, place unnecessary restrictions on how farmers repair their machinery.  If something breaks down, then they must call in a technician.  Meanwhile, fewer and fewer corporations control more and more parts of the food system, from seeds to meat processing facilities.  As a result, farmers lose control over what they grow.

Farmers and workers have much in common.  Family Farm Defenders stands in solidarity with workers who are demanding basic improvements in their workplaces and lives.  Let’s hope that the wave of strikes continues, with more actions waking us up to the need to take our economy back.

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