The wise saying goes, ‘The writer sees, what the Sun can not see.’’(Proverb) If that writer happens to be a photojournalist, his products are going to be nearer to the reality. This is the strength of the book of David Bacon. Of the four factors of production, Land, Labor Capital and Organization, it is known that the Labor occupies the first position, because without it, the other three are rendered idle.
In the context of globalization of all segments of economic and profit-generating activities, agriculture too occupies the prominent place. The labor requirement in this area is vast, and it needs to be employed at the right time, depending upon the timings of the harvesting and marketing of the crops. How do the migrant workers plough their lives, what are the problems that confront them and what is the solution?
The harsh realities of migrant experience…
The materialistic civilization, industrial and internet revolution have made the concept of globalization a reality, without world leaders formally announcing the same. The economic compulsions are such, something tangible is happening all over the world in the industrial and agricultural sectors, without anyone making efforts for it ‘actually.’ Transnational communities are being formed in the natural course, because of the common economic and survival interests and aspirations of such labor force.
This has happened all along the northern road from Guatemala, via Mexico and far into the United States. Douglas Bacon is eminently suited to do the task of writing this book, for he is thrice-blessed—being the journalist, the photographer, and a trade union leader and labor organizer.(Ahn, 2004) With the might of his pen, and the click of the flashgun of the camera, he gives the picture of the real life of the migrant labors working for plenty and prosperity of others to a great extent, and their individual prosperity to some extent.
Workers move and become part of the migrant work-force, not because they want to move, but because someone somewhere is willingly and anxiously waiting for them. Undocumented immigrants far outnumber the documented immigrants. (Ahn, 2004)US border policy treats them in an unjust manner, labeling them as an aggregation of individuals.
Immigration policy on such block of immigrants demands special attention and policy guidelines, to properly accept them into the mainstream of the society, because they are contributing to the welfare of that society. These great dramas of borderlands create new issues time and again. Their combined work output is definitely contributing to the movement of giant wheels of agriculture production to fulfill the food requirements of the Nation. The labor movements are both for survival and for further improvement of working conditions to secure stable life, without uncertainties and anxieties.
1. The obstacles the migrant workers face, their thoughts about their homeland, and their plans for building a better life:
The number of migrant workers in USA runs into millions. They are available for all types of work related to agriculture, like planting, weeding, harvesting and packing. Their contribution is basic and fundamental, but in return, they don’t get what they deserve. Their income is less than $7,500 an year. (Ahn, 2004)
The working conditions are dangerous from the point of view of health, for they have to toil in the hot fields below the hotter sun, they handle not too safe farm equipments, the ill effects of physical exposure to herbicides, chemical fertilizers and poisonous pesticides do serious damage to their health.
“Often we went into the fields barefoot,” remembers Jorge Giron, from the Mixtec town of Santa Maria Tindu, who now lives in Fresno. His wife, Margarita, recalls that in the labor camp “the rooms were made of cardboard, and you could see other families through the holes. When you had to relieve yourself, you went in public because there were no bathrooms. You would go behind a tree or tall grass and squat. People bathed in the river and further down others would wash their clothes and drink. A lot of people came down with diarrhea and vomiting.” The strikes, they say, forced improvements. (Bacon, 2005)
2. In what way do the members of these communities face ethnic and racial discrimination?
The main problem of the migrant workers is their status. Since they are illegal entrants, the worry of their clandestine stay bothers them during 24 hours in a day. Their number is more than 52% of the total workforce. (Ahn, 2004) They move like caravans, depending upon the requirements in a particular area.
This affects their lifestyle adversely, because they live in temporary houses, in congested areas where sanitation facilities are too poor. Some spend their nights in their cars or dusted fields; under temporary structures. They work even when they are sick, for the medical facilities are poor, one is afraid to ask for them for the fear of losing wages, or even the job. In case of prolonged illness, the chances of being deported are certain.
Long periods of absence from homeland and the denial of the association of near and dear ones, lead to depression in many cases. Since the job is temporary and without any perquisites, they remain engulfed in a sense of insecurity. They live under compulsion, for they have to support their family members in a distant land, who are expecting their remittances month after month. Migrant workers with the family, face another problem of education of their children, as they have to constantly shift from one school to another.
The children are brought up in uncertain and poor conditions and they develop a sense of inferiority complex. The racial and ethnic problems though not there legally, yet in the day to day dealings, they show their presence. “Labor organizing was part of the mix here too. In 1993 FIOB began collaboration with the United Farm Workers. “We recognized the UFW was a strong union representing agricultural workers,” Dominguez explains. “They recognized us as an organization fighting for the rights for indigenous migrants.”
But it was an uneasy relationship. Mixtec activists felt that UFW members often exhibited the same discriminatory attitudes common among Mexicans back home toward indigenous people. Fighting racism in Mexico, however, had prepared them for this. According to Rivera Salgado, “the experience of racism enforces a search for cultural identity to resist [and] creates the possibility of new forms of organization and action.”(Bacon, 2005)
3. What kinds of organizations have they formed to protect themselves?
Cezar Chavez founded the United Farm Workers Union and the farm workers stand up for their rights. His pressure tactics made the growers sign the contract, which protected worker’s interests. Laws are being framed one after another, but these have proved to be laws designed for exploitation. For every provision of the law for protecting the interests of the workers, the legal brains of the employers find an escape route. “Labor shortages caused by World War II resulted in the 1942 U.S./Mexico Bracero Program. Bracero contracts ranged from one to six months, and employers were required to provide food and housing, pay local wage rates, cover medical expenses, and provide transportation between Mexico and the farm.
These clauses, however, were rarely enforced and growers routinely exploited Braceros by shorting the hours they worked or changing the rate of pay once the work was completed.”(Ahn, 2004) With strong protests from the labor, the Bracero Program was terminated in 1964.United Farm Workers Union of America (UDW) is credited with securing improvement in the working conditions of California farm workers and now the workers have the legal mandate of access to faucets, toilets and cold drinking water. But the Unions face a peculiar problem. They don’t get the necessary support from the workers. Less than 10 percent of all strawberry workers are unionized.(Ahn, 2004)
At the National level, there are several organizations fighting for the rights of the workers. Some of them are the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, Farm Labor Organizing Committee in North Carolina etc.
4. How does their position in American society compare with the civil rights struggles of other groups we have studied?
The Civil Rights Struggle is a broad struggle, having national and international repercussions. The problem of migrant worker is a “struggle within the struggle.”(Own) Rights for the workers are the consequential action to the Civil Rights struggle. Now that the civil rights issues are settled legally, it is time that the government pays sincere attention to the plight of the migrant workers, so it does not turn out to be an issue like the issue of slavery in disguise.
Unfortunately in USA, democracy and capitalism have joined hands to give a free reign to exploitation and the workers are at the receiving ends. What to talk about those illegal migrant workers. They are like smuggled goods liable to be confiscated by the Government at any time. Some tangible steps need to be taken to reconcile these good ideals. USA has tried combinations and permutations, by placing emphasis on one or the other ideal. The problem of migrant workers is mainly the human problem, apart from the one that of legal and economic.
The concept by the workers that the Management is the sworn enemy and they must be a war with it always, is wrong. Similarly, the Management needs to have the humane approach. The thought process both the parties need to change. Then only their action process will also change. So, when the thoughts are changed, the mind is changed; when the mind is changed, the man is changed; when the man is changed, the society is changed.
Ahn, Christine, Article: Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy | For Land …Workers Without Rights in American Agriculture, (2004)…
Bacon, David (Author), Carlos, Jr. Munoz (Foreword), Douglas Harper (Foreword) Book: Communities without Borders: Images and Voices from the World of Migration
Paperback: 235 pages
Publisher: ILR Press; 1 edition (October 2006)
Proverb: Source anonymous
Own: This symbol is my own creation.
Bacon, David: Article: Communities Without Borders (David Bacon);The Nation: October 2005 issue.