The farm workers’ strike in Baja California

The Los Angeles Times has reported in its morning edition (3/25/15) on a substantial strike of farmworkers in Baja California. This strike appears to be a classic example of the differences between a union’s leadership and its rank-and-file members. The farmworkers themselves appear to view their nascent unions, which have sprung up in the wake of a series of articles by the Times about their conditions, as all too pliable extensions of the councils of growers that have organized themselves to secure the interests of wealthy landowners. The farmworkers are demanding immediate changes, whereas the councils are doing their best to stall any change. “Get this year’s crop in,” seems to be their motto. They will worry how to deal with the future when — and only when — the future begins to look worrisome.

As someone who walked picket lines back in the 1970s in support of the United Farm Workers, I am grateful to know that those who are exploited on the job continue to find the courage to speak up and demand better conditions. Unless their stories are heard, however, there is little chance of public support for their cause. I was impressed with the series of articles that the Times ran several weeks ago. That the situation in agricultural labor has reached the point of a breakaway strike indicates that this crisis needed only the slightest bit of attention in order to reach the boiling point.

I have two recommendations for American readers who wish to educate themselves about the history of labor resistance. If you haven’t seen it, get a DVD of a classic 1954 film, “Salt of the Earth.” It’s about a mining strike in New Mexico and (as they say) it’s based on a true story. It involves issues of gender and race as well as class. It holds the dubious honor of having been banned in this country during the McCarthy period, and its message remains pertinent. The second recommendation is “Whose Names Are Unknown” by Sonora Babb. This book is about a farmworkers’ strike in California and is a much better book than “Grapes of Wrath.” In fact, Steinbeck has been suspected of cadging some of his material from Babb.
Finally, I would take note of Ron Silliman’s post two days ago on his blog and its emphasis on the relationship between labor and the accelerating ecological crisis of the Anthropocene.
“…. a sense of depression that the world is coming to a very bad tipping point quite soon – may in fact already be on the wrong side of it – and that there are no effective mechanisms for braking the out-of-control vehicle that is the Anthropocene before we all hit the wall. It is not just that there now appears to be some absolute deadline – fifty years at the most – for the workers of this world to unite in order to simply halt the accelerating damage of capitalism….” — Ron Silliman
The entire post is worth reading, especially since it is addressed to the 40,000 working poets in this country, 99 percent of whom seem to be unhappy about their privileges as cultural workers in the First World.


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