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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lives of Farm Workers Part III: A Broken System - Corporate Welfare in the Fields

(This is the final section of my three-part blog.)

During the testimonial session of the farm worker reality tour we were able to meet some of the children of the farm workers.

One of the children was an amazing young woman named Jasmin, who had just graduated from high school. She talked about her dream of going to college. She was incredibly smart and very well spoken. She smiled as she talked about her goals in life, as well as some of the drawbacks for a teen living in a labor camp – there is no bus service there, for example, and so it can be quite isolating.

The toughest part for her at school was a system created by the State of California. In order to live in the migrant camps, you can only reside in the camps for the months of May until November. Farm worker families must leave the camps on November 30 and cannot return until May 1st. And you don’t just have to leave the camps – you have to move 60 miles away. So what does this mean for the kids who are trying to get an education? They have to start school in November and be prepared to take the tests with the rest of the students on material they have not learned. Luckily for Jasmin, her teachers understood her predicament enough to help. Talk about creating a system to make someone fail – that seems to be the goal of systems like this.

The labor camps provide the workers with a lower-than-average rent (say, $340 a month) and the state foots the rest of the bill. Hmm… if the state is going to be generous, I would prefer that generosity go to people – not corporations. But do you see what is happening here? This is corporate welfare. (And no, I do not and will not recognize a corporation as an individual person – but if the government wants to do so, I guess more corporate types need to be in jail for the crimes their companies commit.)

This was the crushing reality for me on this tour; since I was young I have read about the lives of migrant farm workers and have been horrified by their working and living conditions, but little did I know that the state was saying to the growers, “Okay, you don’t want to pay these people a living wage? That’s fine – the state will foot some of the bill.” I mean, really? This is outrageous.

This is basically giving the growers a free ride.

And of course, it is not like every farm worker is allowed to live in a labor camp. Only 12% of farm workers live in one of the 26 camps in California. And to live there one has to be chosen by a lottery.

Okay, so where do the remaining 88% of farm workers live? They aren’t getting paid a living wage, and they work very strenuous jobs and long hours. As described in the previous blog, that is why some take to living outside in the woods, camping, or living in their trucks.

The system is incredibly messed up if you ask me – and that is a nice way of putting it. I know some might be bothered by the state paying for the labor camps because of it being their tax money and it shouldn’t go to “help these people.”

However, the short-sightedness of that way of thinking must end. These labor camps aren’t handouts to the farm workers – they are handouts to the growers, the corporations. It is basically giving them a free ride of not paying the workers what they deserve, much less enough to live on.

The system needs to be fixed, and Food Empowerment Project aims to work with those who want to help fix this problem.