The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

California Mushroom Farm:
Poverty Leads to Violence

Feb 6, 2023

A farm worker, Chunli Zhao, was charged with killing six of his co-workers and one supervisor and wounding another co-worker at two farms that grow fancy mushrooms and herbs in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco. According to witnesses, Zhao appeared to target the specific workers he knew and spared those he didn’t. He was settling his grievances, said local officials.

Chunli Zhao is 66 and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 55. All killed were senior and middle-aged Chinese and Latino immigrants: Zhishen Liu, 73; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50; Aixiang Zhang, 74; Qizhong Cheng, 66; Jingzhi Lu, 64; Yetao Bing, 43; and Jose Romero Perez, 38.

Businesses that run these farms pay $9 an hour to these workers, well below the California minimum hourly wage of $15.50. These businesses also do not pay for healthcare. All these senior workers, including Zhao, were trying to survive on such miserly wages to produce fancy groceries to compete in supermarkets with those produced in South American countries where farm workers are paid a fraction of their wages.

Half Moon Bay, located next to a spectacular beach, is a coastal town where rich people have their “vacation” homes. They vacation in multimillion-dollar houses or ultra-luxurious hotels and spend their days golfing, surfing, and “unwinding.” The housing costs are therefore sky high, and the wages of these farmworkers are so woefully low that these farm workers are forced to live in trailers, shacks, and shipping containers on the properties of the farms being worked. Outdoor kitchens and bathrooms are shared. The monthly rent of each one-room unit is $300, quite high for the farmworkers. Zhao and his wife lived in one of these make-shift housing units for over seven years.

“In general, farmworkers are always under a lot of duress. They’re working 40 to 70 hours a week; they’re working hard labor; and they’re living in poverty. They’re under a lot of stress,” as explained by Darlene Tenes, a social worker who started distributing supplies to farmworkers during the pandemic. And such stress can spark violence. One of the very same farms was the site of another shooting seven months earlier.