Homeless Farm Workers Face Dehumanizing Conditions in USA FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 23 Jul 1999 15:03:18 -0700 (PDT)

"[P]erhaps we should be visiting opulent houses and invading the privacy of
the rich, invading the fund-raising receptions or the golf games of
politicians, and grilling them about why these conditions exist." -- from
article below

Do you agree or disagree with the statement above?  Why or why not?

FWD  Salt Lake City Tribune -  Friday, July 16, 1999


WENATCHEE, Wash. --  At the base of a road here is a temporary farm-worker
camp of tents. At the top of the winding road is a multimillion-dollar
mansion. Nearby, the contradiction gets worse. Some workers live with just
a plastic sheet over tree limbs in pesticide-laced fields. Farther away,
they live along the river with no electricity, running water, toilets,
refrigerators, stoves or privacy or security of any kind. The conditions
here are similar to ones in Oregon, California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona,
Georgia and North Carolina.

As we all consume plump cherries or a juicy American apple pie, we have
been conditioned to accept and expect that the exploitation of human beings
is an acceptable tradeoff for feeding ourselves and our families.

Everyone agrees that without the workers, the economies of these states
would collapse, and that if these workers were paid decent wages, worked in
safe conditions, and were provided humane and affordable housing, we'd be
paying two to three times what we now pay at the grocery store. But we
wouldn't have to rely on migrant labor in the same manner that we do now.

This is taking place at a time when growers are generally rich and getting
richer, while workers are still being treated as some lower evolved
species. The rationale for allowing homelessness or dilapidated housing
conditions among farm workers is that they are temporary workers. In other
words, no need to consider their needs because they're just moving on.

In North Carolina, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) is conducting
a national boycott against the Mount Olive Pickle Co., protesting the same
conditions that farm workers are subjected to elsewhere.

In Washington, the conditions of homeless labor seem to be a problem
created by feuding state and federal bureaucrats. But as Blanca Rodriguez
of the United Farm Worker's Union in Washington noted, a court order two
years ago prohibited the state from allowing camps to fall below federal
standards. "The growers had two years to avoid this housing crisis," she
said. And contrary to what many of the growers say, the majority of the
state's farm workers are residents of Washington, not itinerant.

Organizing does not come easy. Farm workers still do not come under the
National Labor Relations Board. Grower-sponsored unions and employer
intimidation, violence and the use of law enforcement by growers against
union organizers is still not unheard of. This is particularly intense in
Oregon as the "Pineros y Campesinos del Noroeste" union is attempting to
organize farm workers in the Northwest.

That all this does not shock the American conscience is quite amazing. In
part, it's because most of us are far removed from the fields. Our
connection to our sustenance is the grocery store rather than the earth.

Amid this squalor is the nonsensical proposal before Congress to expand our
nation's "guest worker" program.

When it comes to immigration, who can figure out our nation's seemingly
schizophrenic body politic? On the one hand, we are told that immigrants
are taking all the jobs. On the other hand, large growers try to convince
us that there's a shortage of workers and are maneuvering through Congress
a new and expanded version of the old bracero program -- a program
dismantled in the early 1960s because of its exploitative nature. Only this
time, it appears that the temporary labor program -- under the guise of
labor shortages -- would offer even fewer protections than its earlier

As Mike Ferner of FLOC stated, "If the industry paid the workers properly,
there would be no labor shortages."

To be truthful, it made us uncomfortable to visit the farm-worker
encampments because we felt we were invading their privacy and the few
possessions they have. Instead, we thought, perhaps we should be visiting
opulent houses and invading the privacy of the rich, invading the
fund-raising receptions or the golf games of politicians, and grilling them
about why these conditions exist. Perhaps we all should.


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