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.
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.