The great food corporations have for decades successfully resisted attempts by workers, consumers and environmentalists to restrain their power. Still we see important movements to change the food industries. Worker’s organizations such as the United Farm Workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have succeeded in winning better wages and conditions for a small number of farm workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has had important victories in new organizing among meat and poultry processing workers. Within the Teamsters union, which represents most other food processing workers, there is an in important rank-and-file movement, Teamsters for a Democratic Union, working to make the union do a better job in representing its members.
We have also seen in recent years a tremendous growth in consumer movements demanding a return to government regulation of the industry, as well as movements that press for locally grown and organic food. Environmentalists continue to educate the public about the tremendous waste and environmental damage done by our food production system which relies so heavily on carbon fuels. While all of these are hopeful signs, we do not yet see a powerful social movement which can begin to restrain the food industry’s dominant corporations. To get there, we need to work to rebuild the unions, expand the workers’ centers, revive the social movements, and create a political alternative.
We as socialists have no blueprint for the future, but we have a vision and principles that revolve around working class power and democracy. The alternative to today’s food industry might well include some large-scale agriculture, but could also mean a vast expansion of small family-owned farms and cooperative farms. We would want to put the emphasis, of course, on healthy, affordable food produced by workers who are paid living wages and enjoy all the benefits and rights of other people in our country. We would want to consult throughout these processes with health professionals such as nutritionists, with environmentalists, and with consumers. We would want to see the American people, through democratic institutions elaborate a national economic plan, in which agriculture would play a central role, and we would want that plan to be carried out through the cooperation of workers and consumers.
In 1997, the regional wars between the fast food joints Carl's Jr. and Hardee's took an odd turn when the California-founded Carl's Jr. bought out the North Carolina-founded Hardee's. But because the two restaurants have such strong local identities, they didn't merge under one banner. Instead, they kept the name that was most powerful in that state. The exceptions are Wyoming and Oklahoma, where both names are in use. Together, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have about 3,000 locations and are the fifth largest fast food chain in the US. Meanwhile, New England is eating Mickey D's and Burger King and has absolutely no idea what the big fuss is all about.