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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 64/No. 35September 18, 2000

Dairy farmers hold nationwide 'milk dump'
BLOOMER, Wisconsin--"We keep on being pushed to buy more cows and produce more milk. However, the price of milk [to farmers] stays lower than at any other time in the last 20 years. We have to get rid of the idea that prices for milk should be set the way they are now."

This is how Steve Siverling, a dairy farmer, explained the aims of the Labor Day "milk dump" action that dairy farmers carried out around the country.

Siverling was speaking at a gathering of 30 dairy farmers outside the town of Bloomer, a half-hour drive north of Eau Claire. Several local farmers had put together their milk production from the previous day and dumped it on the ground to dramatize their demand that the federal government guarantee a base price of $14.50 for a hundredweight of raw milk. Several of the protesters said that the milk prices dairy farmers receive do not cover production costs. They often get only 85 to 90 cents of the $3 to $4 a gallon paid by consumers, with capitalist owners of processors and stores pocketing the bulk of that amount.

According to Siverling, about 3,000 farmers were confirmed to be participating in the September 4 milk dump across the country. He stated that more than 23 million pounds of milk would be spilt by the end of the day, amounting to 6 percent of one day's milk production in the United States.

Siverling explained to those gathered how the action could be part of organizing resistance to the squeeze on incomes dairy farmers face today. "Any action by farmers to change the pricing system is better than no action at all. With the milk strike we can affect the most people by keeping our milk off the market."

He reported on his recent visit to dairy farmers in California, where he spoke to a meeting of 250, who discussed the need to organize stronger farmers' organizations.

The milk dump action here was held at the farm of Harold Berg. Farmers Don and Ilene Moos were key organizers of the protest. A milk hauler in the area donated the use of two trucks to haul the milk to the Berg farm.

Attending the milk dump were some meat packers involved in the fight to organize a union at Dakota Premium Foods in South St. Paul, Minnesota. Among them were Miguel Olvera and Amy Roberts. Roberts told the farmers there, "We are here in solidarity with your fight and your action today."

Don Moos and other farmers there listened intently to the story of the fight by the workers in the beef slaughterhouse. Afterward, Moos stated several times, "We are glad you came. Workers and farmers are both getting hurt. We have to stick together."

After joining the action and talking to the farmers, Miguel Olvera said in an interview, "I used to have a different view of farmers in the United States. I thought that they were all rich. But the man who owns this farm is probably in debt to a bank."  

California farmers fight for living income
ESCALON, California--Dairy farmers here joined the nationwide Labor Day milk strike. Sixty farmers, family members, supporters, and news reporters attended the milk dump at the Faria Dairy, one of several that took place in this state. Other farms participating in the milk dump included the Tosta Dairy in Tracy, Avila Dairy in Hanford, DaSilva Dairy in Escalon, Simoes Ranch in Gustine, Ferreira and Silva Dairy in Tracy, and Bob Borba's Livestock in Atwater. Other farmers in the state participated in the action by donating their milk.

The Faria family dumped 4,500 gallons of milk at two of their farms. Frank Faria described how prices paid to dairy farmers have hit a 26-year low while milk prices in the grocery store continue to climb.

Joe Faria said, "I have worked as a dairy farmer for 35 years and have had my own farm for 10 years. I have 300 cows. It is a 24-hour-a-day job. We don't make enough money to live off the farm. My wife has a good paying job in a winery in Modesto. She is union member and has good benefits."

Many farmers explained that dumping milk down the drain is not an easy decision. "Farming is a lot of hard work. All we want is to make a living," one woman said. "We are farmers because we want to produce food for people. We had to do something to let people know what we face."

More than 200 dairy farmers met in Turlock August 31 to discuss their participation in the national milk strike. "Never in my life did I think I'd be talking to a crowd and talking about strike," Frank Faria told the meeting. "I met some folks from the Midwest who are facing the same things we are, just trying to make a living."

"I hear this word 'compete' all the time. I don't want to compete. I want to work with you guys to make prices better for everybody--in the Midwest, East, and West," said Steve Siverling, a farmer from Wisconsin. This is not a problem of mother nature, but a man-made problem because of greed. It's a man-made problem that needs to be fixed."

Deborah Liatos is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.  

Illinois dairy farmer 'not intimidated by politicians'
DAVIS, Illinois--Don Brown Jr., who milks 55 head here, has been organizing meetings of farmers in his area and in Wisconsin since April.

"Most dairymen can't make a living from their milking operations. Eighty percent of farmers in this region have to rely on some off-farm income," Brown said.

There is more participation nationally in this round of dumping than the dumping that took place on the Fourth of July weekend, he said. "The sense of urgency is there and we need to hear more of it."

After he started speaking out, he noticed a marked increase in inspections of his operations. "We have a lot of strength but we have to stand up and use it. I have learned not to be intimidated by politicians, co-op managers, and educators."

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