Farmers Also Suffer from Company’s Abuses
On October 14, more than 10,000 workers in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia from 14 United Auto Workers (UAW) Locals walked off the job in a dismissal of unacceptable contract terms offered by the multi-billion dollar corporation John Deere. As the farm machinery sector has consolidated around a dwindling number of corporate actors, most family farmers have interacted with John Deere in one way or another on increasingly unbalanced terms. With the majority of this labor action taking place in Midwest farm country, National Family Farm Coalition stands in solidarity with workers rejecting corporate agribusinesses putting profits over worker and farmer rights, and fair prices and wages for working families.
On October 20, DemocracyNow reported that John Deere is in the midst of its most profitable year ever. The farm equipment manufacturer expects to rake in $5.7 to $5.9 billion in net income this year, and CEO John May just received a 160% salary increase. Despite these profit margins, the company has refused to equitably share those gains with workers, and instead proposed a two-tier wage structure that would scale back pension benefits, undercut incoming new and younger workers, and fracture worker solidarity.
Farmers know quite well John Deere’s behavior of putting profits ahead of livelihoods and even customer service. It is a corporation looking to please shareholders and executives, but their practices are bullying their disenfranchised and dependent clients. Under the excuse of copyright, John Deere has systematically stripped farmers of the right to open and repair their own property. Under License Agreement for John Deere Embedded Software, customers are forbidden to exercise their repair rights or to look at the software running the tractor. A number of Right to Repair bills, which NFFC has supported for passage in Congress for years, would provide this basic right to farmers and consumers in other sectors of the economy, but have stalled in Congress.
“There is no disputing that large agribusiness corporations like John Deere have made incredible profits from farmers around the world. Union workers, like farmers, are vastly underpaid relative to the profits made by the corporate entities that hold the power over those they employ and those they sell to. Whether it is keeping wages and benefits for workers or forcing farmers into binding service contracts for the exorbitantly priced machinery they buy—it all comes down to corporate control over working people.” said Jim Goodman, National Family Farm Coalition board president. “Perhaps this is another soul-searching moment when farmers and workers need to realize that they are both fair game for the corporate interests that control agriculture. Workers need fair wages, farmers need fair prices and the right to actually ‘own’ the equipment they purchase.”
The United Auto Workers (UAW) members’ frustrations derive from the company’s marginal wage increase, the decision to end pension benefits for new hires, and switching to a “Choice” plan that many feel is scant on details. According to internal company emails seen by Labor Notes, the company has tapped white-collar employees in order to “cast a broader net to fill critical factory positions in the case of a work stoppage.”
The UAW move against John Deere follows the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union strike against Kellogg Company, and shows how the structure of our food system in general is not meant to support farmers, workers, or consumers. The United States has an enormous responsibility to break corporate control and dependency.
The concept of Food Sovereignty is turning 25 years old this year, but our political system and the corporate economy is moving away from promoting self-sufficiency, diversity and resilience in our rural economies, and farmer and worker rights. Unfortunately, the US government sided with corporations at the last UN Food System Summit, and promoted biotechnology and a long-debunked neoliberal ‘productivity’ agenda focusing on over producing commodities, despite four decades of evidence that this exacerbates family-scale farm debt and foreclosure, agricultural dumping on markets abroad, and corporate consolidation. US farmer groups and civil society organizations have been united in calling on the US government to drop its thinly veiled pro-corporate agenda in international policy spaces, and instead stand behind stated commitments to farmer and worker rights at home and abroad.
The country suffered their highest unemployment rate last year, and has more job openings now than any time in history. The instability in the labor market is not just a consequence of the pandemic but of a system that operates under the premise of endless accumulation. Fair prices and contracts for farmers, and fair wages and benefits for workers are sides of the same coin. John Deere and Kellogg should not be tossing that coin hoping to line their pockets at the expense of working families and rural communities; when we win John Deere wins, because without farmers, workers, and consumers they won’t survive. The National Family Farm Coalition stands in support and solidarity with John Deere and Kellogg workers – Si Se Puede!