Migrant Workers & the Food System

I went to Costa Del Sol many years ago, and I don't remember seeing all this sitting on the warm beaches, drinking a virgin daiquiri. The farm owners must know that if migrant workers were more visible, there would be instant condemnation. Unfortunately, exploitation of migrant workers is a global problem and not much is being done about it. The vast majority of these workers have the same story: desperate working conditions, no money to pay for the cost of living and a dream to do better for their families and communities. But many of them regret even immigrating in the first place.

According to the Genesseo Migrant Center, in the United States there are approximately three million migrant workers who are primarily of Mexican origin but also from Jamaica, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other countries. Most of them work in farms throughout the country, making sure we have fresh fruits and vegetables in our supermarkets. But sometimes they can't even afford to eat the food they grow.

From The Economist:

...As Tom Joad in Steinbeck’s novel discovered, many farmworkers, even as they spend their waking hours picking food for others, can barely afford to eat. Between harvests they have no work. When they do work, their wages are meagre. The workers picking grapes with this correspondent got $8 an hour. That is vastly superior to the $9 a day—not hour—which the tractor driver says he used to get at home in Mexico. But costs in the United States are higher too...

In a country where illegal immigration has become a hot topic and the national unemployment rate is reaching double digits, one would think Americans would want to take these jobs.

...At a time of high unemployment, many Americans are convinced that these aliens take American jobs. As a test, this summer the United Farm Workers (UFW), the main agricultural union, launched a campaign called “Take Our Jobs”, inviting willing Americans to work in the fields. In the following three months 3m people visited takeourjobs.com, but 40% of the responses were hate mail, says Maria Machuca, UFW’s spokesman. This included e-mails such as one reading: “We’re becoming more aggressive in our methods. Soon it may come to hands on, taping bitches to light posts.”

Only 8,600 people expressed an interest in working in the fields, says Ms Machuca. But they made demands that seem bizarre to farmworkers, such as high pay, health and pension benefits, relocation allowances and other things associated with normal American jobs. In late September only seven American applicants in the “Take our jobs” campaign were actually picking crops...

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