I picked crops under the hot sun all day this Labor Day. What did you do this Labor Day? Do work!

Actually, it depends on your definitions of “all day” and “hot sun.” I overslept my alarm by nearly an hour and a half and called it quits in time to go hiking on one of the woodlots above Corvallis, and as humid as it was, Philadelphia it ain’t. But even though my poundage for the day was off by nearly half from Saturday, the bees having been all up in my fruit, I managed to bring in about 33.25 pounds more blueberries today than did any of the useless eaters who keep plastering my Facebook feed with pictures from Orlando and Sea Isle City. One of these people is mortally embarrassed that I’ve become a poor who does stoop labor, since his friends should all be doing prestigious things that reflect well on him for associating with individuals of fine breeding. He’s always pestering his fellow yuppies to buy his life insurance products, the fine chap.

I could become an earnestly sanctimonious prick about these things, and there’d be some equity in the proposition (all too much, really), but instead, I’ll note that I’m really lucky to have found another paid job less than two months after my last paid job descended into a fugue of lumpenproletarian officiousness and treachery. This fugue started my first day on the job; fun times in wine country. My current job on the blueberry farm is the polar opposite. It’s a contender for the best job I’ve ever had, the farm manager is a contender for the best boss I’ve ever had, and I have not had to deal with any asshats. None. It’s like I was sucked through a wormhole into a Jeffersonian utopia that would make even old Tom himself think he’d been taken on a gnarly acid trip.

It’s worth briefly noting how Thomas Jefferson’s labor theories compared to his labor practices. My current employer is Jefferson’s ideal made manifest, the kind of family-run, community-oriented operation that would make Alexander Hamilton of a mind to bulldoze the joint and deed the property over to industrialists. Jefferson’s actual managerial practices, of course, involved regimentation and centralization of a sort not too different from what Alexander Hamilton advised, but in the form of a brutal system of race-based slavery, enforced with a campaign of threats and beatings that Jefferson oversaw with a zeal that privately alarmed his friends. This nightmare he bequeathed to his country as a major part of its patrimony. We still haven’t gotten completely over it. Perhaps we never will.

On the West Coast, the most prolific offshoot of this plantation sociology is something that I call Mexican Jim Crow, since I don’t think any more restrained moniker adequately conveys its iniquity. Honestly, I’m surprised and somewhat relieved that relations between Mexicans and Gringos in Western farming districts aren’t much worse than they are. The racism underpinning this arrangement isn’t official, but in some places it might as well be. I find it worrisome that there’s a greater language barrier between the planter and peasant classes on the West Coast than there usually was between planters and slaves in the Antebellum South, since Southerners spoke mutually intelligible dialects of English in most places. A couple of months ago I found myself in the midst of an unwieldy workplace donnybrook that would have either been preventable or easily nipped in the bud had everyone present spoken a common language. In extreme cases, this language barrier results in de facto impunity for workplace sexual assaults committed by field managers against line employees. It is a very bad state of affairs.

The planter class wants to keep things this way. I don’t know what the dynamics are like at the county level, but at the state level in California (and probably other states) and at the national level the planters have a stranglehold on the major farming trade groups. That’s why the Farm Bureau always has a bee in its bonnet about immigration reform. It’s amazing to see major growers go on the record in newspaper and trade journal articles about how they’re 40% short on pickers for time-critical harvests, are running months late on pruning jobs that are considered industry-standard, etc., and then see not a word from the same growers on help wanted websites or on roadsides near their farms. One of the growers who’s engaged in this monkey business has several hundred acres of blueberries half an hour north of where I’m currently staying. There’s no way the farm labor contractors in their regions are running help wanted ads to take up the slack, either. Few of them are running ads at all. Believe me, I’ve checked. The growers and contractors who do run ads usually run them on state unemployment office job boards (Washington State’s is particularly laden), probably because the only Gringos who check these sites are ones who were told to do so by their case workers or probation officers. That way, the planters end up getting a lukewarm response from slackers and dregs who didn’t want farm jobs in the first place, and once these Gringos all wash out they can tell the authorities that they really, really need their Mexicans. One farm in Washington went a step further by flying a new crew in from Thailand and firing its entire existing crew of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, many of them career employees. Unless the initial ruling was reversed on appeal, this company remains in fairly hot water with the authorities over this stunt.

As far as I can tell, the much-bemoaned shortage of farm workers is mainly a shortage of two specific kinds of farm workers: at the lowest level, meek, servile, disposable, easily intimidated grunts, and, at the higher skill levels, those who can be hired by word of mouth through some foreman’s cousin’s barber’s nephew five miles past the end of the blacktop in outermost Michoacan. With Mexico’s economy improving while its birthrate plummets, even in poor rural areas, it should come as no surprise that it’s getting harder to staff farms entirely through the intimidation of illegal immigrant roustabouts and six degrees of whoever happens to currently be on staff.

As a farm worker, I heartily approve of this turn of events. Expect to hear more White Whines about it from a planter near you in coming years.

Erik Loomis has more on these topics. Does he ever. Ralph Durst and his cousin weren’t just planters; they were psychopaths.

One final social control before I go to bed: Tomorrow is the day after Labor Day, so no more white clothes for the rest of the season. You wouldn’t want to be the gauche fool who wears white into the fall. This is a fitting social convention, especially for anyone in the business of making or selling clothes in any of the many colors that are not white. On the other hand, join me in the blueberry patch and they won’t be white for long.

3 thoughts on “I picked crops under the hot sun all day this Labor Day. What did you do this Labor Day? Do work!

    • NAFTA isn’t the only major factor at play, although you’re right that it has provided Mexico with some huge economic benefits. This is especially true in the factory towns along the US border, which are able to absorb a much larger absolute amount of surplus labor from poorer, less developed parts of the country today than they could a generation ago. That said, I’m still ambivalent about NAFTA on account of the severe short-term economic and social dislocation it caused, e.g. to US factory workers who were undercut by Mexican competitors and to small Mexican farmers who were undercut by major US agribusinesses. It strikes me as a hastily and abruptly implemented policy change that caused a lot of needless collateral damage in the short term. Whether this damage was worthwhile in the long term depends a lot on one’s role in the North American economy at the time. On the whole, I’d say NAFTA has been a mixed bag.

      Mexican Jim Crow had a life of its own long before NAFTA. Illegal immigration and the exploitation of illegal immigrants took off as the Bracero program ended. The planter class that carped about the end of the Bracero program is the same one that has lately been carping about the lack of “immigration reform.” Reform in any meaningful sense is the last thing on their minds; what they’re actually sore about is that they don’t currently have a huge pool of surplus foreign labor at their command and would like Congress to fix this problem for them. That the bleeding heart immigrants’ rights constituency tolerates these planters as foul-weather allies speaks eloquently to the political dysfunction of the left and the very effective political manipulation by the right.

      Over the same time that NAFTA has been in place, Mexico has also become much more Protestant and nondenominational in religious affiliation, better educated, and, as I understand it, somewhat better governed and administered. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I have no reason to suspect that the religious shift had anything in particular to do with Mexico’s improving economy or trade liberalization. “Church-planting” missionaries of the sort that have evangelized Latin America don’t look for a particular economic or policy profile in a country before imposing themselves on it, although they do generally appreciate a certain amount of poverty and dysfunction, as long as they’re reasonably reasonably safe in country, since people in economically healthy, well-governed countries are less receptive to their pitches. This is a very cynical analysis, but the cravenness in “mission field” circles can be mindblowing.

      What’s happened in much of Latin America in the last decade or so is that these evangelism programs have hit critical mass. They’re now self-sustaining operations being run mainly by Latin American evangelists pestering their own countrymen, or sometimes people in nearby countries. Gringo missionaries are still working in Latin America, but they’re no longer critical to the growth of evangelical churches there. (Besides, there’s much more street cred to be had in evangelizing a recently restive Muslim village in Northern Ghana, or, as my relatives and everybody at their church called it, Africa. I bless the rains….)

      This would surprise many Americans, but these evangelical churches are sexually liberal compared to the status quo ante hardline Catholicism in the villages where they minister. They aren’t so much yelling about sexual license, the way their stateside affiliates notoriously do, as giving married couples blessings to use family planning that would be unthinkable in the local Catholic parishes. This is an important area in which the evangelical churches are often much more attuned to the realities facing their congregants than the Catholic Church. Hence the same theologies and worldviews can have nearly opposite effects in developing and developed countries.

      Many Americans, even in missionary circles, have no idea of any of this. It confounds secular observers who assume that evangelicals are a bunch of repressed prudes, and it embarrasses sectarian media outlets that are in the business of running social controls on their audiences. You won’t hear about it on SRN News.

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