“We can’t stand around waiting for an answer”: Migrant Justice turns up the pressure on Hannaford

During the month of October, Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity campaign made stops in seven states for an impressive 29 presentations in as many days. Organizers split into groups to carry out this rigorous tour and pressure Hannaford to join the Milk with Dignity program

The supermarket chain has ignored two years of calls for them to make this commitment to economic justice and human rights for the dairy workers who supply milk to more than 180 Hannaford locations.

The Rake Vermont spoke with Enrique Balcazar, an organizer with Migrant Justice who participated in events in five of the states during the tour. We asked about the tour’s achievements and what comes next for the campaign.

This interview has been translated from Spanish and edited for brevity and clarity. 

What were the goals of the tour, and how did you all make it happen?

One of the campaign’s main goals is to educate the general public, the consumers, about where their dairy products come from and who is behind all of that, right: who is milking the cows. Hannaford is an important purchaser in the region, so people should know where the milk is coming from and who is milking. 

To reach Hannaford consumers, we contacted groups that could bring people together, such as unions or student groups, and organized presentations at libraries, colleges, farms, and other community spaces. I went to various universities: Northeastern, the University of Rhode Island, Brown, Keene State College, Dartmouth, and UVM.

Another important goal was to encourage people to join the campaign and take action. For example, even during these presentations people could go onto the official Hannaford Facebook page or their Instagram and add comments that they should join the program. We also made hundreds of lawn signs for people to put up near Hannaford, take a picture with them, and leave them there or display them in their yard or their window. 

So those were the goals: that people hear about the campaign, that they could take action during our presentations, and that they could continue with opportunities for direct action. But I think that the main thing was to mobilize people to accompany us to the big event we had on November 8 in Portland, Maine. 

What were the tour’s main achievements?

Almost 300 people gathered on November 8 to demand that Hannaford join the Milk with Dignity program. People from Boston, from New Hampshire, from Vermont, from Maine, people we had met in all of these events had been inspired to come. There were about 50 workers from Vermont, which was a success because our goal was between 20 and 30 workers, given people’s work schedules. So people took that day off to make this trip. And this really lovely environment encouraged the workers. 

We also had good coverage from local media outlets, which raises awareness in Maine and throughout New England. That’s going to make Hannaford have to listen to these demands.

Has Migrant Justice been able to make connections with other dairy workers in the region?

In June, a group of five of us formed a delegation and went to Maine for a week to visit dairy farms and find out more about the specific conditions there. And when we were on the farms, we discovered that the conditions are similar throughout the region. We met dairy groups in upstate New York that, like us, are in this constant struggle for the same rights: the right to dignified housing, raises in salaries, dignified working hours. 

And it was the same in Maine. I met a couple with a little girl who didn’t have heat in their home, and they had already spent one winter without enough heat. They had to buy an electric heater just for the bedroom, but the living room and the kitchen didn’t have heat. They were in a very remote area of Maine, like on a mountain, where the winter is severe. The couple told me they were worried about what was going to happen this winter, mostly for the health of their baby, who couldn’t have a space to play during the winter and spent most of her day shut up in a bedroom. 

Has Ben & Jerry’s communicated with Hannaford at all about the Milk with Dignity program?  

One of Ben & Jerry’s social responsibilities is to talk about this new model, the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility model, and its impact. The most common model is that corporations define what is just and dignified for a worker. Ben & Jerry’s has spoken about the program, it supports and pays into the program, and it’s also spoken with buyers, but not with Hannaford yet.

What about this speaking tour was most impactful for you personally?

I think what had the biggest impact on me was the support we received, from consumers to workers. That is the power we want to create. When workers come together with consumers, we create a power that the company has to listen to: without the workers that produce the milk and the consumers that are buying the milk off of their shelves, they can’t have a market. 

So for me that was the nicest part, arriving in Portland, workers and consumers. And those connections aren’t just a one-time conversation; we’ve received many emails from participants who have been amazed after seeing the power of the dairy worker community, and they want to stay involved until Hannaford implements Milk with Dignity.

What’s next? What is the campaign planning, and what can we do as a community to support Milk with Dignity?

We’re in the month of Thanksgiving, and this Thursday people will make time to be thankful and to have a family meal. But many dairy workers can’t have that; many are going to have to be working that day, doing our jobs for the express purpose of putting food on tables. Hannaford has been advertising a lot about Thanksgiving, and we want Hannaford to understand the humanity of the workers and that for there to be justice and dignity in the production chain, you have to listen to the voice of the workers. 

So we’re gathering up comments from workers and are going to be sharing a message with Hannaford on Thanksgiving. We’ll write them an email and share it on our social media accounts. 

On December 2, we are planning a coordinated call-in, in which people can call Hannaford or leave them voicemails so that Hannaford can hear the amount of people who are demanding that they join Milk with Dignity.

On our website, we have a toolkit for people who want to join us and take action. We ask that people as consumers go to Hannaford’s social media pages and leave comments. Take a picture of you buying a gallon of milk or shopping at their store, and post it on their page demanding that the supermarket join the program. Many of the actions that are coming up are via social media, so stay tuned.

Up to this moment, there hasn’t been an answer from Hannaford. We are sure that our message has been heard, and we hope that Hannaford is discussing what their policy will be, but we can’t stand around waiting for an answer. We have to continue putting the pressure on.

Top image: Migrant Justice members rally outside a Hannaford location in Portland, Maine. Photo courtesy Migrant Justice.

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