social witness

 Contents: UU World Back Issue

UUs rejoice at pickle boycott's resolution

The Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham, N.C., had good reason to celebrate in September 2004 when the five-year boycott of Mt. Olive pickles helped force the first union contract for documented farm workers in the state. The congregation's support for the boycott has been part of its larger commitment to justice for migrant farm workers.

Under the contract, farm workers will gain a procedure for resolving grievances, a seniority system, and other improvements in working and living conditions. Mt. Olive also pledged to pay participating growers a ten percent premium that is to be split with workers.

The congregation's social action committee formed a subcommittee in 1999 to focus on farm worker issues because North Carolina has the fifth-largest population of migrant workers in the country and has not been amenable to unionizing. The congregation has supported a full-time labor organizer since 1999. The National Farm Workers Ministry pays the organizer's salary while Eno River provides office space, a phone, a computer, and supplies. With a grant from the UU Funding Program, the congregation has also provided financial support to various farm worker initiatives. In addition, the fellowship has led supermarket pickets and sponsored programs taking visitors to farm worker camps.

While the group is thrilled with the contract negotiated by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the North Carolina Growers' Association, they remain cautious in their optimism. "There's still a long way to go," says John Olson, one of the farm workers subcommittee's founders. "Farm labor is still at the bottom of the pyramid. They're still an unempowered group."

Baskets send Bolivians to school

by Sonja L. Cohen

Baskets to Books has formed an unlikely bond between the members of a small island congregation in Washington's Puget Sound area with a group of indigenous people in Bolivia.

When Toyan Copeland, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island, joined the Peace Corps, she was chosen for her business skills to help a group of Guarani women market handwoven baskets.

The Guarani weave beautiful baskets out of palm fronds and cornhusks but have little means to market them outside their remote area. The Peace Corps group Copeland joined was buying the baskets but had no well-established distribution process for the baskets. With a warehouse full of unsold baskets threatening the viability of their project, a frustrated Copeland e-mailed her friend and fellow UUCWI member Bill Graves, describing her difficulties. Graves persuaded the congregation's social action committee to import a shipment of baskets to see if they could be sold in the United States.

"We took one shipment, and it sold like hotcakes!" Graves said. Successive shipments have been sold through other area congregations, which take the inventory for a month and sell it within the church, allowing the baskets to reach a broader market. "We now have more demand than we can get a supply," Graves said.

The Peace Corps group pays the basket weavers directly and then sells the baskets to the church, which then sells them in the United States. "Our support has given these women a reason to become a voice in their communities--to expect recognition as income-producers and to participate in their male-dominated communal meetings as such," Copeland said in a talk she gave at her congregation.

The Guarani people have had little or no access to formal education. Working with a group of Roman Catholic nuns, the congregation established Baskets to Books, a scholarship fund for the Guarani that receives 100 percent of the net sales proceeds for baskets sold in the United States. Six shipments and more than $ 4,500 in net profits later, the fund is supporting the first two students from these villages. Both are pursuing two-year teaching certificates and will return to their villages as bilingual (Spanish and Guarani) teachers. More scholarships will be awarded this fall.

For more information contact Bill Graves at wcgraves@whidbey.com, or visit www.whidbey.com/uucwi.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue
UU World : 44-45

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