4.12.2015

50,000 mexican farmworkers are on strike, and almost no one in north america knows about it

Did you know that 50,000 Mexican farmworkers are on strike?

If your answer is no, you have plenty of company. The Los Angeles Times is the only English-language mainstream media venue to regularly cover the strike. Canadian media, predictably, only wants to know how it will affect food prices.

These farmworkers harvest the fruits and vegetables that fill our supermarkets and our tables. They are paid $8 per day - that's right, not per hour, per day. They are gouged at company stores where they must purchase necessities, and see their pay routinely withheld without explanation. They are denied breaks and access to clean drinking water. They are not paid for overtime. Company housing is filthy and vermin-infested. Female workers are subjected to sexual harassment on a regular basis.

What decade, what century is this? The working class fights this battle again and again.

From Sonali Kolhatkar, writing in Truthdig:
Years ago the sparsely populated San Quintín area was converted into an industrial agricultural center by growers who imported indigenous workers from southern states such as Oaxaca. Bacon compared the dozen or so ranches in the area to the maquiladoras, or factories, that sprang up along the Mexican side of the U.S. border. He described the conditions of the labor camps where workers live as “really awful and terrible.”

Starting in the 1970s many of Baja California's workers began to cross the U.S. border through California into the Central Valley, and even to states like Washington. "These are all connected communities," maintained Bacon, which is why the San Quintín strike is big news among farmworker communities in the U.S. such as Washington’s Skagit County.

Sadly, it is not very big news elsewhere in the U.S. When the strike began last week, the Los Angeles Times was the only English-language media outlet in the country to initially cover it. (Since then, a week later, The Associated Press and others have begun to report on the strike.)
The farmworkers work for hugely profitable agribusinesses, including Driscoll's, the most popular berry supplier in North America, and a company that enjoys a labour-friendly image.

I didn't find much about how we can support striking farmworkers. The United Farm Workers - the legendary union begun by the late great Cesar Chavez - has a petition: sign here.

[PS: If you are interested in Cesar Chavez, it appears you should skip the movie. See this one instead.]

2 comments:

impudent strumpet said...

So is it just me, or does that Globe and Mail article not even mention how it would affect the North American fruit supply? The headline suggests that the article is going to talk about that, but it doesn't really.

This is relevant not only because it's the question the G&M's target audience is asking, but also because I suspect the impact of raising the workers' wages might be less than the article leads the reader to believe. The article talks about the workers asking for a raise from $10 a day to $25 a day which might leave the reader thinking "OMG, 150% price increase!" But that's far from the only cost centre, and even $25 a day is way less than we pay for strawberries in a store when you think about how many strawberries a person can pick in a day.

A while back I saw an article somewhere saying that the cost to the consumer of ethical work conditions for South Asian garment workers would ultimately be $1 per garment. And I'm like "Yes! Please do that - I won't even notice a dollar per garment!" But the G&M isn't giving us enough information to arrive at a similar conclusion (or not), all under a headline suggesting they are.

laura k said...

I thought the same thing as a skimmed articles to link to.

I guess in this case the headline is the attention grabber? Because if the headline said "50,000 farm workers go on strike" Canadian readers wouldn't care? I'm guessing.

"50,000 farm workers go on strike, the Royal Family and Justin Beiber were not available for comment"?

"50,000 farm workers go on strike, how will that affect your hockey game"?