I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry or be understanding or outraged when I read that farmers in California and elsewhere I guess, especially in the west, supported Donald Trump in big numbers but now they are chagrined to find out that he really meant what he said about clamping down on immigration.
You see, the story I read said they depend upon something like 70 to 80 percent of their field help who are illegals, or undocumented workers, most of these from Mexico.
This has been an open secret for ever since I can remember. Well actually when I was younger there was the Bracero program, originally began I think in WWII when there was a shortage of help due to so many men being in the military. Men came up from Mexico without their families. And the program continued on through the 1960s but at some point was discontinued. And I’ve recited this tale before but I recall picking prunes with my mom — and we did it not because we depended upon it but for extra money — and seeing poor white people working, who did depend upon it. But I think the white people participation petered out in the late 60s with the enactment of various social programs pushed through by President Lyndon Johnson in what he called his Great Society Program.
But farm workers were still needed, and to fill that demand people came up from Mexico, some had green cards that permitted them to work and some not. I do not know the process of obtaining a green card.
So if you are ever around the big farming operations in the west you will see that a majority of the help is Hispanic. Men and women do all kinds of work, everything from crawling through fields of strawberries to driving tractors with computerized controls, to working in the processing plants to loading trucks to working at the computers where it all is coordinated.
I haul produce for a living and have noticed that many produce outfits are run by Hispanic people. Many have had great success.
These are hardworking and often quite skilled people — really all the work requires skill and stamina.
But let’s get to the fact so many are here illegally. Why is this? If we know we need the labor why do we play this game?
Some would answer cynically that it allows big agriculture an upper hand in controlling labor. When you’re illegal you are not as likely to complain.
I don’t know what people think. I can only guess or surmise. But I think if nothing else it has just become an accepted pattern.
I don’t want to speak for farm workers because I don’t have to live their lives. But as a kid I saw some of the wretched conditions in the old farm labor camps — the ones I saw were for unaccompanied men, but they were crude and they were a shame.
I think big agriculture should take the responsibility and push for legalization of imported help. And if it does not, it deserves what it will get.
Yes, we the consumers are told we’ll pay via higher prices at the grocery store and maybe even by not seeing all the products we once saw.
So be it. We expect good pay and we expect tolerable living conditions for ourselves. We should expect no less for those who toil in the fields.
I have also written before that in some cases where labor shortages are acute, more mechanization will be added. Some things resist mechanization — but as we all see, in the end nothing does these days.
LBJ’s Great Society was pushed through after documentaries showing the poverty among white people in Appalachia. But that was back in the 1960s. Poverty persists. Ironically, it is reported that many of these people voted for the billionaire Trump. I don’t know, you can only do so much through government action, whether it is social programs or incentives for business. Some problems have more to do with culture. In the end it seems to be up to the individual. But yes, if good employment can be returned, that would seem a positive — and I don’t think everyone can be or needs to be a computer programmer or wind farm designer. Hillary Clinton made a misstep when she promised to put coal miners out of business. Her words may have been taken out of context, but to make that mistake in coal country shows a lack of judgment. And I hate to pile it on her — sorry.