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I Am Not a Tractor!: How Florida Farmworkers Took on the Fast Food Giants and Won

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I Am Not a Tractor! celebrates the courage, vision, and creativity of the farmworkers and community leaders who have transformed one of the worst agricultural situations in the United States into one of the best. Susan L. Marquis highlights past abuses workers suffered in Florida's tomato fields: toxic pesticide exposure, beatings, sexual assault, rampant wage theft, and e I Am Not a Tractor! celebrates the courage, vision, and creativity of the farmworkers and community leaders who have transformed one of the worst agricultural situations in the United States into one of the best. Susan L. Marquis highlights past abuses workers suffered in Florida's tomato fields: toxic pesticide exposure, beatings, sexual assault, rampant wage theft, and even, astonishingly, modern-day slavery. Marquis unveils how, even without new legislation, regulation, or government participation, these farmworkers have dramatically improved their work conditions. Marquis credits this success to the immigrants from Mexico, Haiti, and Guatemala who formed the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a neuroscience major who takes great pride in the watermelon crew he runs, a leading farmer/grower who was once homeless, and a retired New York State judge who volunteered to stuff envelopes and ended up building a groundbreaking institution. Through the Fair Food Program that they have developed, fought for, and implemented, these people have changed the lives of more than thirty thousand field workers. I Am Not a Tractor! offers a range of solutions to a problem that is rooted in our nation's slave history and that is worsened by ongoing conflict over immigration.


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I Am Not a Tractor! celebrates the courage, vision, and creativity of the farmworkers and community leaders who have transformed one of the worst agricultural situations in the United States into one of the best. Susan L. Marquis highlights past abuses workers suffered in Florida's tomato fields: toxic pesticide exposure, beatings, sexual assault, rampant wage theft, and e I Am Not a Tractor! celebrates the courage, vision, and creativity of the farmworkers and community leaders who have transformed one of the worst agricultural situations in the United States into one of the best. Susan L. Marquis highlights past abuses workers suffered in Florida's tomato fields: toxic pesticide exposure, beatings, sexual assault, rampant wage theft, and even, astonishingly, modern-day slavery. Marquis unveils how, even without new legislation, regulation, or government participation, these farmworkers have dramatically improved their work conditions. Marquis credits this success to the immigrants from Mexico, Haiti, and Guatemala who formed the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a neuroscience major who takes great pride in the watermelon crew he runs, a leading farmer/grower who was once homeless, and a retired New York State judge who volunteered to stuff envelopes and ended up building a groundbreaking institution. Through the Fair Food Program that they have developed, fought for, and implemented, these people have changed the lives of more than thirty thousand field workers. I Am Not a Tractor! offers a range of solutions to a problem that is rooted in our nation's slave history and that is worsened by ongoing conflict over immigration.

48 review for I Am Not a Tractor!: How Florida Farmworkers Took on the Fast Food Giants and Won

  1. 5 out of 5

    Clare O'Beara

    The title is ironic, derived from the 1997 scornful remark of a fruit grower when asked why he wouldn't meet with a farm workers' union: "The tractor doesn't tell the farmer how to run his farm!" But farmhands (then on hunger strike) were the living essential for produce profits. In Florida, from tomatoes to citrus, the workers were largely immigrants (wave after wave of nationalities as the once-enslaved African Americans moved on to industry) who had no stability of employment, no or substanda The title is ironic, derived from the 1997 scornful remark of a fruit grower when asked why he wouldn't meet with a farm workers' union: "The tractor doesn't tell the farmer how to run his farm!" But farmhands (then on hunger strike) were the living essential for produce profits. In Florida, from tomatoes to citrus, the workers were largely immigrants (wave after wave of nationalities as the once-enslaved African Americans moved on to industry) who had no stability of employment, no or substandard accommodation, no work benefits, sick pay or pension. They were paid by time or by piece rate and the pay had been cut drastically, while they were expected to buy food in the grasping local stores. The account tells of the first strike, organised by workers themselves, which took five days to wait out the growers. They had established a food co-operative which bought staples in bulk to resell at a fair price. They engaged in a mass protest over the beating of a young worker. When given charity food, the workers asked why they worked six days a week for long hours yet could not feed their families. The first union grew to become the CIW - Coalition of Immokalee Workers, after the town where they were hired. I really wanted to say, it couldn't happen here. But in Ireland, women who married had to leave their jobs in the Civil Service. They had been on the lowest pay rate compared to men doing the same jobs. And girls and women unlucky enough to have a baby without a marriage, or who were considered wild, were consigned to church-run laundry workhouses for years without pay or the ability to leave. This persisted until the European Union forced discrimination to conclude and civic outrage grew to force apologies and redress. The offence of modern-day slavery had to be put on the statute books in Britain to cover Travellers enslaving vulnerable people and putting them to work for profit. While we hear of people traffickers moving illegal immigrants as slaves. Exploitation, then, will occur wherever labour is seen as cheap and laws are not created and strictly enforced to prevent it. Books credited include No Logo and Fast Food Nation. I didn't notice Nickel And Dimed which has many similarities. But most of the data is accrued from and applies to the farm workers themselves, and Florida, though these migrants may travel the East Coast of the US as harvests arrive. The laws on labour rights had been written specifically to exclude farm workers from said rights. That is the first point to realise and it makes a lot of sense. What was minimum wage for everyone else in America or in a state or an industry did not apply to the field hands and packing handlers. By the end of 1999, wages were still below poverty level. This is why America has cheap food. I enjoyed the photos, especially of this early stage of the story. The workers - now organised and gaining publicity - decided to confront the fast food chains which put fresh tomatoes in their food. They were at least partly responsible for the wages of the pickers. Not forgetting the problems of women workers, likely to be abused or harassed and with a child being minded. All workers faced toxins from strong pesticides. Some workers were literally enslaved, released only to work. The individual stories are detailed and harrowing, wasted lives. Some brave journalists (and papers) had been on the case for years, like Amy Bennett Williams, of the Fort Myers News-Press. Given the economic clout of the state's major growers, they deserve great praise. I like the working group which established fair play for everyone, such as how much it took to fill a bucket of fruit and not over or under fill. This compares with mentions of clothing factories burning down or collapsing in Asia. Communication and monitoring is crucial. Well done to all concerned for the improvements we see by the end of the book. Personal thought: if this work was paid at a fair living wage with permanence and benefits equal to other workers, ordinary American people might do the work for preference. With better pay, the workers could afford to buy better, and pay more tax, countering the added cost of food and making giant chains pay better or lose staff. Henry Ford paid his production line employees well enough that they could afford to buy his cars. Notes and references are on pages 245 - 270 in my e-ARC and I counted 29 names I could be sure were female. Bibliography P271 - 286 with 45 female names. Index P 288 - 297 with 25 female names, including a Jane Doe but excluding Wendys. I would recommend the detailed, well researched work to anyone studying journalism, labour history, agriculture, fairtrade and co-operatives, social studies, American history, world geopolitics, the environment. I read an ARC from Net Galley and the publishers. This is an unbiased review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fran Quigley

    I would have read this book no matter what, because its subject matter is so important. The success of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in improving farmworker conditions and pay provides an inspiring and important lesson for all who are concerned about inequality and exploitation. This is especially true in an era where economic structures and weak labor laws make traditional union organizing so difficult for so many—but also, as CIW proved, provides opportunities in the form of globalized im I would have read this book no matter what, because its subject matter is so important. The success of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in improving farmworker conditions and pay provides an inspiring and important lesson for all who are concerned about inequality and exploitation. This is especially true in an era where economic structures and weak labor laws make traditional union organizing so difficult for so many—but also, as CIW proved, provides opportunities in the form of globalized image-conscious corporations that possess significant vulnerabilities to justice-oriented activist messaging. Looking to the author’s resume, a graduate school dean with extensive expertise on organizational cultures and public policy analysis, I expected a deep-dive review of the CIW, the growing industry that it works within, and the food production and distribution chain that CIW learned would provide targets for first protest and then partnership. What I did not expect, and what made me even more excited to read this book, was the author’s clear affection for storytelling, pursued through vignettes about each protagonist’s backstory and personality and her compelling narrations of the struggle, beginning with the grinding work being done in the fields. Everyone loves a good story, and this book includes one big David-and-Goliath tale with a lot of small, interesting profiles shared along the way. (Full disclosure: I have been privileged to write for this same publisher, ILR Press, but I was not asked to review the book, nor have I met Dr. Marquis.) The final chapter provides the big-picture analysis I signed up for: why did the Coalition for Immokalee Workers succeed where other social movements, let alone worker justice initiatives, have failed? I won’t spoil the author’s conclusions here, but suffice it to say that her answers circle back to the remarkable worker-activists and those who were determined to empower them. Top-down efforts are no match for leadership by those whose hands are performing the actual labor. As one of those worker leaders says in the book’s final pages, “We were not ‘given’ our rights. It is not even ‘we took our rights.’ Instead, we created our rights.”

  3. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Derrick

    This book provides a beacon of light, and a path toward comity, in a seemingly fractious world. It's the story of a dedicated group of field workers who successfully worked with churches, students, growers and buyers -- from Presbyterians to Walmart -- to help end modern-day slavery in Florida's tomato fields. This book provides a beacon of light, and a path toward comity, in a seemingly fractious world. It's the story of a dedicated group of field workers who successfully worked with churches, students, growers and buyers -- from Presbyterians to Walmart -- to help end modern-day slavery in Florida's tomato fields.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    DNF at 18% From Publisher ... I am Not a Tractor! celebrates the courage, vision, and creativity of the farmworkers and community leaders who have transformed one of the worst agricultural situations in the United States into one of the best. Susan Marquis highlights past abuses workers suffered in Florida's tomato fields: toxic pesticide exposure, beatings, sexual assault, rampant wage theft, and even, astonishingly, modern-day slavery. Marquis unveils how, even without new legislation, regulat DNF at 18% From Publisher ... I am Not a Tractor! celebrates the courage, vision, and creativity of the farmworkers and community leaders who have transformed one of the worst agricultural situations in the United States into one of the best. Susan Marquis highlights past abuses workers suffered in Florida's tomato fields: toxic pesticide exposure, beatings, sexual assault, rampant wage theft, and even, astonishingly, modern-day slavery. Marquis unveils how, even without new legislation, regulation, or government participation, these farmworkers have dramatically improved their work conditions. Many apologies to the author .... this was a very good book about a very current and necessary subject but I just could not finish the book. Sometimes you just have to stop and put the book down as it is just not working for you!!!! Thank you, Net Galley for the opportunity to review this book ---

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Prim

    I had the privilege of reading the manuscript of this book, and even though I already knew the basic story, was bowled over by this incredible, against-all-odds story of a passionate group of people persevering against abuse, slavery, low pay, exorbitant prices for basic needs, and a culture that dictated that they accept their lot in life, without breathing a word of the exploitation and horrendous conditions dealt to the migrant tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida. Enter a few courageous work I had the privilege of reading the manuscript of this book, and even though I already knew the basic story, was bowled over by this incredible, against-all-odds story of a passionate group of people persevering against abuse, slavery, low pay, exorbitant prices for basic needs, and a culture that dictated that they accept their lot in life, without breathing a word of the exploitation and horrendous conditions dealt to the migrant tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida. Enter a few courageous workers who spoke up; more brave – and innovative folks who answered the cry, and instead of simply providing a hand-out, stood with the workers, helped them find their voice, their strength, their place, and their power. What resulted was an incredible story about remarkable, heroic, flawed, determined, passionate folks who took on huge corporations in a fight for fair treatment and equitable wages, stood their ground, and triumphed against all odds. The stories about the folks who were entrenched in this struggle are compelling, the characters almost larger than life, and the chief story-teller and author, Susan Marquis, is clearly passionate about her subject. She took a remarkable news article, breathed life into it, did an immense amount of research and interviewing of the key players, adding fascinating back stories and anecdotes; and wrapped it up with incisive commentary on the implications and resulting possibilities. Can’t wait for the movie!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Farren

    This is a fascinating, deeply geeky and inspiring story of workers building a whole system from the seeds of popular education to ensure that their human rights are met. Almost perfect for a massive social justice nerd like me! The reasons I didn't give it 5 stars are: it's slow and repetetive, it spends too much time describing individuals and places when it could just get straight to the action, the narrative is a bit jumpy and all over the place, it cuts a bit too much slack to the managers an This is a fascinating, deeply geeky and inspiring story of workers building a whole system from the seeds of popular education to ensure that their human rights are met. Almost perfect for a massive social justice nerd like me! The reasons I didn't give it 5 stars are: it's slow and repetetive, it spends too much time describing individuals and places when it could just get straight to the action, the narrative is a bit jumpy and all over the place, it cuts a bit too much slack to the managers and corporations for my liking, and it rarely/ never frames the workers' situations in terms of race and racism, preferring instead to refer to the workers' shared status as migrants. Workers from Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti must surely have experienced some racially motivated abuse or discrimination at some point, and to simply imply that all of the abuse the workers endured was the same (apart from the misogyny and sexual abuse experienced by women workers) and that race had no relevance seems remiss and lacking in nuance. Overall though, a motivating and inspiring account of an astonishingly successful movement that is still in full force today. 8/10

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kara Weinstein

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matt Ochsner

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marie JC

  11. 4 out of 5

    RedRobinXXX

    I am reviewing this book for Susan L. Marquis Cornell University Press, and NetGalley who gave me a copy of their book for an honest review. I skim read this book as I wasn’t interested enough in the whole topic. But the sections I chose to read were relevant and full of detail but not enough to bog you down and some sections gave me issues to think about.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

  13. 4 out of 5

    Catarina

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rio Ippoliti

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chari Ro

  16. 4 out of 5

    Carole Biewener

  17. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Villeneuve

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul Vittay

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emma

  23. 4 out of 5

    Iamblumin

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anelyse Weiler

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mary Dotson

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jada

  28. 4 out of 5

    Roger

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  31. 4 out of 5

    Richard

  32. 5 out of 5

    Carla

  33. 5 out of 5

    Tim

  34. 4 out of 5

    LPenting

  35. 5 out of 5

    Jess

  36. 5 out of 5

    Seth D Michaels

  37. 4 out of 5

    Doug Foote

  38. 5 out of 5

    Lc242

  39. 4 out of 5

    Akiva

  40. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

  41. 5 out of 5

    Smitha

  42. 4 out of 5

    Stu

  43. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  44. 4 out of 5

    Samantha Beberfall

  45. 5 out of 5

    Dustin

  46. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  47. 5 out of 5

    Christine

  48. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Surprenant

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