Do you Realize What NC Farmworkers Have Accomplished ?

Some history behind the upcoming RJ Reynolds shareholders meeting, and why you’re needed 

by Dave Austin

I’ve recently watched  PBS documentaries on the 60s and 70s history of the civil rights movement, like the Freedom Riders campaign  ….. in awe of the courageous organizers, leaders and everyday resisters.    But I also felt a sort of quizzical embarrassment – what was I doing (or not doing) back then?   How could I not have realized how important those events were, and what sacrifices were being made?   How could I not have been aware that the call to action included a call to me?      Maybe during my early years, youth and high school were somewhat legitimate excuses for obliviousness, but it was well into college before I even began to recognize there were significant social justice changes going on, and even then could not recognize my own relevance. 

We are buried in our everyday lives & work, and sometimes cannot recognize those events and movements that we later understand were momentous, and were crying out for our contribution.   I want to call your attention to one such campaign.    Over the past 40 years, farmworkers in the Midwest and South have built a powerful organization – in the face of the most vicious kinds of discrimination and exploitation,  in the face of state government indifference and political disdain, in the face of private and public antipathy towards worker organizing.     That organization, FLOC,  has, for the past 8 years, pressured one of the most powerful corporations in America – RJ Reynolds --  to make fundamental changes in the tobacco supply chain that would raise up 30,000 workers’ living and working conditions, and create a precedent that gives promise to all farmworkers in the South achieving the dignity that they deserve.  

Those farmworkers have called out for our help, for this is not their battle alone.   They need for us to be visible;  they need for us to stand up and be counted.    It’s so simple, and yet so hard – to take off an entire morning.   And yet, on that future day when RJR finally says “we’ve figured out a way not to lose face, but to guarantee freedom of association to all tobacco farmworkers on our contract farms”, we will exult, and be proud to say:  “yep, I was there.   I stood up.   I was a small part of one of the most amazing victories in US labor history.” 

So, commit, this year, to supporting FLOC this year at the annual RJR Shareholders meeting (SHM)  May 7th, at Reynolds American corporate Headquarters in Winston-Salem.  If you’ve attended before, come again.   If you’ve never attended, make time and energy to attend this one.   You’ll be glad you did ….    

RJ Reynolds Shareholders Meeting

May 7th, 2015

Reynolds American Plaza Building

 401 North Main Street, Winston-Salem, NC

8:00 AM  (to participate inside in the shareholders meeting)

9:30 AM (to participate in the rally outside)

For more info:

One subset of supporters (last year around 40) who either own a share, or have been given a proxy,  will go inside into the SHM, a few taking speaking roles in the Q&A session  (arrive at RJR at 8:00 AM).  A larger contingent holds forth outside the huge RJR office in downtown Winston-Salem, marching and chanting (arrive at RJR at 9:30 AM).  There are several volunteer roles, but just showing up, just standing up, is commitment enough.  

And please note: if you can commit SOON to attending the actual corporate shareholders meeting (inside) , it will help FLOC get commitments from AFL-CIO unions to use proxies of RJR shares  those unions  own.  Sooner, for this purpose, is better.

Please let us know now that you’ll stand with farmworkers. Reply to FLOC (Justin Flores, , and Raul Jimenez ( ) and Dave Austin (, at Triangle Friends of Farmworkers) that you’ll attend. 

**** Late-Breaking news:   A little bit skeptical that RJR will recognize our pressure?  Remember the two British members of Parliament who toured NC migrant farmworker labor camps last summer, then spoke to FLOC supporters at Pullen Memorial in Raleigh?  There are now 41 (!!) members of the British Parliament who have signed a letter on its way to British American Tobacco (BAT – which owns 40% of RJR), urging BAT action:  “we believe that BAT has a responsibility to ensure that its supply chain is free from human rights abuses” prior to the upcoming BAT shareholders’ meeting, where the issue will be stridently raised by our British human rights allies.  Hasta la Victoria