From the TUC

Anti-union tobacco farmers pack a punch: hit back!

23 Jul 2014, By

UPDATE: the employer rep reported below to have punched a union organiser on camera has resigned from his job at the employer association. The union says this is a welcome development, but doesn’t adequately address the culture of bullying and violence in the sector over many years. The campaign to unionise tobacco growers and get them justice continues. “HLV!” as the mostly Hispanic farmworker union activists would write…

Over the last few years, I’ve been working with the Farmworkers Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) to challenge UK cigarette manufacturers British American Tobacco (BAT) to behave more ethically.

FLOC is a US trade union, and this month, a couple of Labour MPs, Trade Union Group chair Ian Lavery and creator of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority Jim Sheridan, have been invited by FLOC to the tobacco farms of North Carolina. They’re going to see the working conditions of the mostly migrant workers – some of them children, many irregular immigrants – who pluck the tobacco leaf for BAT and other companies’ cigarettes.

They’ll also meet young American students giving up their summer holidays to help recruit the tobacco workers into the union. The recruitment campaign has included a rather punchy response from employers: this video footage shows a representative of the North Carolina Growers Association assaulting a FLOC organiser.

Unions are calling on the multinational corporations who buy the tobacco from the farms – especially Reynolds, British American Tobacco, Phillip Morris International, ALTRIA, Universal Leaf, Japan Tobacco Internationalto stop the violence and let workers exercise their freedom of association. You can help by signing FLOC’s call.

Every year, thousands of migrant workers, many from Mexico, arrive to work in US tobacco fields, spending months in labour camps with deplorable living conditions, suffering illnesses due to nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides. They work long hours for poverty wages. That’s why having a union is so important: the workers need a union to fight the big multinationals, call them out over exploitation and abuse, and make sure workers are treated with respect.

FLOC President Baldemar Valasquez has said:

“The big tobacco companies must use their influence to put an end to the violence and poor working conditions in their supply chains. Help us in our campaign, send a message to big tobacco now!”

2 Responses to Anti-union tobacco farmers pack a punch: hit back!

  1. John
    Jul 24th 2014, 3:43 am

    Thankyou for this concerning article Owen Tudor. I have ‘managed’ to sign the form of which mine was formatted for USA residents. The very best of luck to this FLOC Group.

  2. Diana Shelley
    Jul 24th 2014, 1:18 pm

    Dreadful conditions–if anyone needs a trade union it’s these workers. Thanks for publicising it. Signing is fairly simple: I put ‘London, UK’ in the city box, then went to ‘other’ at the bottom of the drop down list of US cities.