Posted July 17, 2010
Today, food production in the United States and in the world is dominated by a handful of corporations that put their profits above the hunger, the health, and the well-being of America’s and the globe’s population. Tyson, Kraft, Pepsico, Nestle, Conagra, and Anheuser-Busch are generally at the top of the list, though in virtually every area of food production, a small number of corporations control what is grown and what we eat. The food industry, of course, meshes with the banks and with other corporations, such as chemical companies and agricultural implement manufacturers, as well as with government agencies, which built the network of dams and canals that provide their water and which also provide government subsidies and financial aid.
We know some of the results of this concentration of wealth in the hands of the corporations and the government they dominate. Family farmers—and there are few of them left—must borrow from the banks and produce for the corporations, their livelihood often in question. Another result of this interlocking of corporate and governmental interests has been, for thirty years, the deregulation of food production, resulting in outbreaks of E.coli and other diseases. The American people who eat corporate food are increasingly unhealthy, obese, suffering from diabetes and heart disease. Farm workers and meatpacking workers work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, often live in abysmal conditions, and are paid extremely low wages for the most arduous work. While most Americans can afford food, there are approximately 40 million people in the United States who have difficulty getting enough to eat; and worldwide there are between a billion and two billion people who go hungry.
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 see in this country a small but growing anti-corporate and sometimes anti-capitalist sentiment. Beyond that, recent polls by Rasmussen, Gallup, and Pew have shown that about one-third of the American people feel sympathetic to socialism. Still, many Americans fear that socialism means Soviet style Communism while others can see that European Social Democracy more often administers capitalism somewhat more humanely than the United States, though still without escaping its crises and the suffering they bring. We need to be able to talk about socialism in a way that makes it clear to the American people, that socialism is fundamentally an expansion of democracy, and an increase in the power of ordinary working people to improve their lives.
What might agriculture look like under socialism? First, of course, we stand for the social ownership of the banks, as I’ve said, nationalize them and create the U.S. credit union to provide credit to small business, homeowners, and farmers. We want to see the nationalization of the oil, coal and other energy corporations which represent such a large factor in agriculture today. Third, we would want to see the nationalization of agribusiness, not to continue the factory farm or industrial meat model, but rather to create an environmentally, economically, socially sound alternative. We would want to see the nationalization of the grocery chains and the restaurant chains, bringing them under social control, with large input from workers and consumers. We might want to consolidate in some areas and decentralize in others. Only once we have taken the resources away from the corporations, however, will we be able to create the 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.
All of this, however, remains nothing more than a dream unless we can rebuild the labor and social movements and create the political alternative. The Socialist Party, as well as other political groups such as the U.S. Labor Party and the Green Party, have worked to help present the American people with a left alternative. Today, I am running for U.S. Senate in order to continue to raise the vision and platform of democratic socialism, to help to build networks of activists in my state and throughout the country, and hopefully to inspire others to become part of a struggle for an alternative.