Mar 30, 2015
Thousands of farm workers in the Mexican state of Baja California walked out of the fields on Tuesday, March 17, at the peak of the winter harvest season.
This strike pits against each other two diametrically opposed social forces. On the one side, there are some of the biggest and richest companies in the world. The large farms in Baja, about 200 miles south of San Diego, specialize entirely in produce for the U.S. market – for big companies that we all know: Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Albertsons, and others. Mexico’s produce exports to the U.S. are a business worth more than 7.5 billion dollars a year.
On the other side are fruit pickers, the vast majority of whom are indigenous people from the southern states of Mexico. Many of them are illiterate and don’t even speak much Spanish. Trying to escape extreme poverty, they have migrated hundreds of miles north, only to be caught up in extremely bad working and living conditions.
The companies pay the fruit pickers as low as 7 dollars a day for more than 10 hours of back-breaking work in the sun – if they pay them at all. The bosses often withhold the pickers’ wages in order to keep them on the farm until the harvest is completed. Many of the dorms where workers sleep have no beds, no electricity, no running water, no functioning toilets. The farms are in effect prison camps, surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards. Child labor is rampant. Farm bosses harass and assault women workers, without fear of criminal charges. Any worker who complains, let alone tries to organize, risks being fired and blacklisted.
In fact, the companies that run the farms break dozens of labor and criminal laws every day. The authorities not only don’t prosecute company officials, they in fact work for the companies themselves. For example, when police catch a worker that has managed to escape a farm, they take him or her back to the farm – under the pretext that he or she owes money, because the workers are constantly indebted to the stores on the farm that overcharge for all necessities.
This is what the farm workers rebelled against. Thousands of workers walked out. Entire families, children, the elderly, women with babies in strollers lined up along the highway across the farming area, holding signs and shouting at passing drivers, occasionally also blocking the road. They marched into the towns, shutting down schools and stores, occupying government buildings.
The authorities, ever at the service of the bosses, sent in more than 1,000 cops and soldiers in riot gear and armored vehicles. They fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the strikers, roughed them up and put hundreds of them in jail.
And the companies that own the fields are digging in. Sitting on the billions of dollars they have accumulated by not paying their workers, backed by the Mexican federal and state armies, the capitalists are prepared to let an entire strawberry harvest rot rather than concede to the workers’ demands – no matter how modest those demands may be.
The striking farm workers of Baja have shown so far that it’s possible to organize under the most oppressive conditions and stand up to the biggest companies, despite all the bosses’ efforts to intimidate them. Their fight continues. It’s a fight against the greed of big American corporations.