Excerpts from interview with Dave Austin on July 25, 2011

In these exceprts, Dave Austin describes his experience being involved with the FLOC’s Mt. Olive Pickle Boycott, going to FLOC worker meetings, and the importance of NFWM’s support of worker organizing. 

Dave Austin: It’s interesting. Right at first there was, we had a bigger group that was involved. I think it was new I guess, and there were people who wondered what it was going to be about, and then fairly soon we started leafletting at grocery stores. That was the way that we could lend our support to National Farm Worker Ministry and FLOC efforts at that time because the Mt. Olive Pickle Boycott had started. And not many people, even some of our biggest supporters felt that this was sort of in a way a futile effort almost, you know? I mean, and to be honest, some days you’d go out there and it did seem sort of futile. I mean it was just a drop in the bucket of public opinion if you persuaded one or two people not tobuyMt.Olive Pickles. So what? But, anyway, but I think through the years there was always an effort to figure out, to try to think about the needs of the congregation. A lot of times it seemed like people were just, I think naturally, or, like most congregations, were more interested or sympathetic with actions that we service-oriented. And in fact people brought up the idea of somehow establishing schools for people to learn English better. For supplying people with stuff they would need out in the field, you know shirts, hats, protective equipment maybe, if that was needed. For, you know there was a couple of times during those years where there was hurricanes, and not only were just your average North Carolina residents devastated, but you can imagine how farm workers had been devastated. And so there was some talk, no action, about you know, what can we do for people who are at camps and had just been turned upside down? What other kinds of service stuff did people think about? You know, in any case, in any case, it seemed that was, that is the orientation and was the orientation of a lot of people. How can we help? How can we provide things these people don’t have? And it, we couldn’t, it was hard to get to the point of they actually hearing that workers were saying, “That’s not particularly what we need. We can do something on our own, and we’re doing it. If you can help some, that’s great.” But I think we got there, I think we did get there with a few people. We had some great staff here at the National Farm Worker Ministry, and when we went out to camps, when we did almost anything, people would start to understand what it was all about. But, you know, one or two at a time.

Ryan Nilsen: So can you tell me the story of a specific situation in this work with FLOC and ERUUF that has had a significant, kind of lasting impact on you today?

Dave Austin: Well, I guess it’s not one specific, but every time we had, every time I went to a FLOC meeting, I was just so impressed that here you would see guys, farm workers on Sunday afternoon, when they had, you know, that was their day of rest, and here they had driven two hours or something like that to come to this meeting, and they would be so animated in their discussions about what they were going to have as contract issues over the next couple of years or why the last year’s contract issues hadn’t been fulfilled and what they could do about it. You know half the time I couldn’t, didn’t know what was going on because my Spanish was pretty minimal, but that was just so interesting and so enlivening to see them there, deliberating and arguing and also the FLOC leaders themselves. All of the staff they’ve had have just been incredible people. And it was just inspirational to me. And then when we got to the, when I, I think there was a national or a statewide convention in Raleigh, and so we had people from the whole state, and that was even better, because you had, I mean it was just a larger group, and you had people identified by their Mexican state sitting out in this auditorium, and it was just so cool.

Ryan Nilsen: And how do you think that has impacted you? You said it was inspiring, inspirational.

Dave Austin: I think just to, I hope I’ve been able to argue for, for people participating in this cause better since seeing that. Because I think that’s really the crux of what we’re doing here. If we’re going to be an ally, I mean, we should be an ally if this is an issue we want to look at, but being an ally means that if there’s an organization of workers, we don’t need to go off and identify how we can help them. They can tell us what we can do. And they are perfectly capable, as was evident in these meetings, of figuring out stuff on their own. It’s not that they don’t need help and money or whatever, but you know, they’re just as strong and intelligent and hardworking and everything else as any group that wants to achieve something. So if we want to be allies, we can find out where we can fit in. And so being at those meetings I think just reinforced that feeling with me. And I am hoping, I hope that I was able to argue that, maybe a little bit.

Ryan Nilsen: Why should people get involved with the National Farm Worker Ministry?

Dave Austin: Well, for me because the National Farm Worker Ministry is involved with worker organizing, I think there can be concrete results. And that is unlike many issues that you can become involved in. Workers are empowered, you know? Although our faith that that would happen was shaky sometimes, boy, on that day in 2004 when the Mt. Olive Pickle boycott was won, that helped. So I think that’s my argument. That you should become, we should become involved because it can make a difference. That, and that difference can go, will go beyond just this union of farm workers, that the Hispanic community in general as these, as some of these guys stay around to do other jobs, and as the Hispanic community in North Carolina also lends some support, it will become a political force. And I’ve always thought that that in itself may help break down the black-white dichotomy that we run up against so much. So that’s one reason that I think that it’s important. I mean, plus, it’s just right there in our backyards. Invisible, but nonetheless. One hundred and fifty thousand people out there who, who you know, we think about work in third world countries and how oppressed people are, but it’s right out there.

Contact us

National Farm Worker Ministry
P.O. Box 10645
112 Cox Ave., Suite 208
Raleigh, NC 27605
Email us here
919-807-8707 (office)