Saturday, February 04, 2006
Smooth Move, BushCo
BushCo panders to the racist Know-Nothing vote, screwing over conservative Republican-voting California growers in the process:
Standing in the early morning darkness just 50 metres inside the United States, Roberto Camacho is doing his best to ward off the cold. Dressed in a black bomber jacket with a baseball cap pulled low over his brow, he shuffles from foot to foot as he waits for a lift to work. After 15 years working in the fields of California for American farmers, Mr Camacho has found a new life: two months ago he started working at the Golden Acorn Casino. "It pays better," he says. "In the fields you work all hours, it's cold and hard and you don't get more than $7 [about £4] an hour. With this job I have regular hours, I know when I'm going to work and I know what I'm going to earn." Mr Camacho is not unique. Agricultural labourers, almost exclusively Latinos and at least two-thirds of them undocumented, are moving into more stable, less harsh employment. The migration from agriculture is taking its toll on one of the largest industries in the US - and particularly on California's $32bn a year sector. Faced with an exodus of labour to the construction industry as well as to the leisure and retail sectors, farmers are struggling to get their crops in. Ten percent of the cauliflower and broccoli harvest has been left to rot this year, and some estimates put the likely loss of the winter harvest as high as 50%. [...] Signs of the construction boom are all around Calexico, with homes sprouting up on former farmland where they will sell for as much as $400,000 to commuters priced out of San Diego, 120 miles away. "Four hundred acres [161 hectares] over there just went for building," says Chuck Clunn, another supervisor. "Farmers are selling their land for big money, and it's not for low-income housing." Mr Clunn, who provides workers for 15 farms, watches the buses leave the garage forecourt he commandeers each morning. "We're running 10 buses," he says. "We have 20. We'd like to be running all of them, then we wouldn't have a problem." He agrees that wages are too low. "We say, hey, Mr Farmer, if you want to get your crops in, you've got to pay. The farmers say they can't do it." Farmers argue they are hemmed in by the market, a market dominated by five giant supermarket buyers. The labour shortage has already produced one wage rise since November, pushing salaries above the minimum level. Workers have also been put off by the attentions of la migra, the border patrol which has the task of apprehending illegal entrants inside the US. "The border patrol checks the buses," says Mr Clunn. "They get everyone off the bus. These guys want to come here, work, get their beer and go home." Time spent being checked by the border patrol, he says, is precious work time lost. The attention of the border patrol has united farmers, workers and unions. It has also set some of the business community against the Republican party. Jon Vessey is the biggest farmer in the valley, with 3,240 hectares growing carrots, artichokes, cabbage and half a dozen varieties of lettuce. "Last year money was being thrown at border patrol and homeland security," Mr Vessey says, sitting in his office in the nearby town of El Centro, a signed photograph of him with George and Laura Bush hanging on the wall. "They've got to get numbers. So what do they do? They pull over labour buses. The bottom line is, we're not getting people on to our buses with bags of marijuana and bombs. These are hard-working people."That's right, George: Screw the workers AND the farmers. Smooth.
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