The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

California Wildfires:
Farm Workers and Smoke

Sep 3, 2018

All across California, officials have issued air quality warnings, as harmful smoke and pollutants blanket the air. This smoke comes not only from the enormous wildfires in California, but from fires as far away as Oregon and British Columbia.

Staying inside isn’t an option for farm workers. Massive summer wildfires often spread to locations close to agricultural fields, where health risks are magnified by increased exposure to fire retardants and pesticides, in addition to the wildfire smoke.

Big farm companies force workers to labor in the fields for long hours under the time crunch of peak harvest, often not even supplying the workers with special N95 protective filter masks and eye protection. Instead, farm workers resort to covering their faces with a wet handkerchief, which won’t fully protect them.

According to California state law, farm workers are supposed to have the right, when at least two people are working, to ask for the day off in these conditions. But most do not, because they will lose their pay. And, given the stepped up persecution of immigrants by the government authorities, there is also a heightened fear of arrest and deportation.

Nonetheless, the workers do sometimes find ways to fight back. Last summer, more than 70 farm workers in northern Washington State walked off the job to protest the death of a fellow worker, as well as the dangerous and unhealthy working conditions. That worker, a 28-year-old father of three, collapsed and died while picking berries amidst scorching heat and heavy smoke from nearby wildfires. But the day after the protest, the company fired all the workers for insubordination.

Big companies operate these farms like semi-feudal plantations. No, this is not China, Mexico or Russia. The capitalists are doing it right here, in the richest country in the world.