BY SIMONE BERG AND JOE SWANSON
DES MOINES, Iowa - Some 80 people demonstrated January 13 inside the state capitol here demanding greater regulation of big hog confinement facilities. The rally was called by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI). The majority of those demonstrating were working farm families from Iowa counties that have large hog confinement operations in their area. A group of high school students and a handful of trade unionists also came.
Today, Iowa has 18,000 hog farms of all sizes, including 220 with 5,000 head of hogs or more, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Forty percent of Iowa's hog farmers went under between 1992 and 1996. Over those years the number of hogs declined at a much slower rate, and last year increased by 15 percent statewide.
The rally was addressed by a number of farm activists. Larry Ginter, a hog farmer in Rhodes, Iowa, and leader of ICCI, opened the rally by explaining that Gov. Terry Branstad "caved in, justice prevailed," in reference to the state administration's unsuccessful attempt to stop the rally from taking place at the same time as the governor's State of the State address.
Roger Larson, a farmer from Humboldt County, said, "The family farmer system will quickly die if it has to compete with big hog corporations." He called for the right to sue large hog producers (in opposition to House File 519, which protects large producers from lawsuits), for zoning laws to regulate them, and the ability to tax large producers in a differentiated way from small producers. Humboldt County has passed zoning regulations of hog confinements that allow local control by an elected Board of Supervisors.
There have been articles in the Des Moines Register calling for more regulation of large hog confinement facilities. An editorial entitled, "Disaster waiting to happen," with the subhead, "A deadly possibility: Manure flowing into drainage wells," explains how easily aquifers, particularly in north- central Iowa, could easily be contaminated by manure lagoons that they are in close proximity to. Most of these lagoons were built by capitalist farm owner A.J. DeCoster. The article ends by suggesting that, "the ill-considered hog-confinement legislation adopted by the 1995 Legislature" should be revisited. The legislation referred to by the editorial's author is House File 519.
Other speakers at the rally included Alice Ginter, a member of ICCI; Gary Hoske, a leader of the National Farmers Union and farmer in Tama County; Brenda LeBlanc, a member of Des Moines Citizens for Community Improvement; Pastor Jerry Avis Rouse of the Iowa Family Farm Coalition; and Rosie Partridge of ICCI.
A press conference was held after the rally as part of a day of activities, which included lobbying state legislators and protesting in front of the Ames, Iowa, office of Murphy Farms - a North Carolina-based capitalist hog contractor.
Three days after the rally, the Militant Labor Forum in Des Moines sponsored a panel discussion entitled, "Building an alliance of workers and farmers." The panel included Larry Ginter; Doug Jenness, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and a member of United Steelworkers of America Local 9198 in Roseville, Minnesota; George Naylor, a farmer and member of the National Farmers Union; and Earl Sime, a farmer and member of the American Farm Bureau and the American Agriculture Movement.
Ginter pointed to the deepening debt bondage of farmers and how the large hog "factories" are colonizing them. Farmers need a fair price for what they produce in relation to the cost of production, enough for a standard of living that enables farmers to survive. Ginter explained how farmers' costs are out of line with price received for their produce. "That is where working farmers are at economically today, and why workers and farmers need to build a bond between themselves - that includes internationally. The capitalist system uses competition between farmers to drive family farmers off the land," said Ginter.
Naylor's presentation explained how farmers are continually being squeezed off the land by the policies and programs of the government, such as the most recent farm bill, the so-called Freedom to Farm Act. "These programs are not what is best for the land or humanity because the only alternative is to expand and become more efficient," said Naylor. Government regulations are the same for every size farm including, "farmers that don't pollute and the big operations that let hog manure run down the river. It is scary for corporate America to continue to be in charge," said Naylor. "Workers and farmers need a revolution to develop a new vision in the interest of humanity."
Sime explained the historical struggle of family farmers that brought electricity, better roads, and conservation measures to the countryside. "It was neighbors working together, sharing .. equipment and labor," said Sime, that allowed farmers to form cooperatives "in most rural towns as part of the struggles to reduce the cost of production." He went on to explain that today, where he farms in north-central Iowa, these cooperatives have been rolled into one big "cooperative" that includes at least five rural towns. The result is that bigger farmers get the reduced prices for the cost of production and the smaller farmers don't.
"This panel of working farmers are all involved in fighting the government, bankers, and big business that pit farmers against each other," explained Jenness, who is also the author of the Pathfinder pamphlet Farmers Face the Crisis of the 1990s.
"What they have described here," he said, "is the callous disregard big business has for farm families driven off their farms. It is like their attitude toward wage workers when they lay us off. Workers and farmers only show up as statistics in the profit and loss columns of the capitalists' ledgers," said Jenness. He noted that "just as they try to pit worker against worker, they try to pit workers against farmers and even exploited farmers against each other, for example `independent' farmers against those who sign contracts with capitalist contractors."
Jenness explained, "Workers and working farmers have common problems and a common enemy around the world, and a big rise in the labor movement would have an impact in the countryside. Building a revolutionary alliance among workers and farmers and getting rid of capitalism is the main task so that production, markets, technology, conservation, and so on can be organized by those that produce."
Simone Berg is a member of United Food and Commercial
Workers Local 114 in Perry, Iowa. Joe Swanson is a member of
United Auto Workers Local 1672 in Des Moines.
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