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Picking & Packing for the North: Agricultural workers at Empaque Santa Rosa Chapter 6. Deborah Barndt An investigation of the deep and complex history of agriculture in Mexico. Globalization from Above : Empaque Santa Rosa in Context.
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An investigation of the deep and complex history of agriculture in Mexico
“I’ve heard that the tomatoes go alotro/ado [to the other side]”
-Reyna Gomez, a 16 yr old Indigenous worker who came with her husband from the south to pick tomatoes for Empaque S.R. in the central western Mexican state of Jalisco.
“Why is it that people like Ramon can no longer make a living from their own land and must work instead where they own nothing and control nothing and where their only apparent future is to move on to work in yet some other alien and unfriendly land?”--Angus Wright asks in his investigation of the pesticide-related death of Indigenous migrational worker, Ramon Gonzalez
NAFTA=the latest in a long series of neoliberal actions that exploited the Indigenous workers of Mexico as cheap labor while also marginalizing them as citizens and producers of the land.
Neoliberalism = a set of economic beliefs that subordinates all social and developmental considerations to the demands of private capital and the world market
A vision of the land and of agriculture that honors ecological integrity and local survival
A vision that privileges the needs of export markets and northern consumers
Since independence, Mexican presidents maintained development and agrarian policies that favored large commercial export-oriented industries, leaving the worst land for campesinos and their subsistence
Northern countries supply: the inputs, extract the surpluses & provide the markets
Southern countries supply: the favorable climate, easy access to land, & cheap labor for production controlled by foreign interests
Agro-exports are a source of foreign exchange to payoff national debts. Their risks have increased with the growth of the agro-export sector.
--buy inputs(seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, even boxes) from outside Mexico
--provide foreign technical assistants who manage the technology and dictate the prices, marketing and distribution mechanisms without taking any of the risks of actually producing the food
Effects of NAFTA:
“NAFTA is common sense. The guy with the best product, that has the best price, that has the best efficiency, will win. NAFTA leveled the playing field and said the best players play. Your government can’t protect you. The best players are those who have the best natural resources, the most efficient people.”-The head of Santa Rosa’s international operations
In the name of “efficiency:”
Ethylene = Ethylene acts physiologically as a hormone in plants and is used as an anesthetic agent to hasten fruit ripening, as well as a welding gas. Ethylene is the most produced organic compound in the world and is a key component in Levinstein sulfur mustard, a chemical weapon agent. Ethylene can be conveniently produced in the laboratory by distilling absolute ethanol with an excess of concentrated sulfuric acid and washing the distillate vapor stream in an aqueous solution of sodium hydroxide to remove the sulfur dioxide contaminant
“The story of tomato production in Mexico is told quite differently by the women who work at Santa Rosa as pickers and packers in the fields, packing houses, and greenhouses. From the perspective of the owners and managers, these workers are crucial in a labor-intensive agro-industry, seen primarily as factors in production, ready to be called into action when the seeds are to be planted or the tomatoes to be harvested and packed for export. Moving from a globalization-from-above to a globalization-from-below perspective, their stories make visible work that is often hidden from the rest of the world, and reveal some of the complexities and differences among women workers themselves.”
“The reality is that the Mexican minimum-wage salary is so low, that we are compelled by the campesinos themselves to give work to the whole family. If we had a better social assistance program in Mexico, if these children could be in school, protected, and cared for, it might be different.”
Clean and plow land w/ tractors
Bore holes for stakes
Spray pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides
Move boxes from fields to plant
Carriers (by hand/electric lift)
Moves boxes to storage and/or to trucks
Field production manager
Plant and care for seedlings in greenhouses
Make 10-15 cm holes with stick/fingers
Tie plants to stakes
Select by size, color
Put stickers on fruit
Reinforcing traditional notions about what is appropriate men’s and women’s work
“Women ‘see’ better than men; they can better distinguish the colors, and they treat the product more gently. In selection, care, and handling, women are more delicate. They can put up with more than men in all aspects: the routine, the monotony. Men are more restless, and won’t put up with it.”
--Historical and structural inequalities based on class, race and ethnicity, age and marital status
--Uneven development between cities and the countryside, between the northern and southern regions of Mexico, and between the three NAFTA countries
“I completed grade 5 in Sinaloa, and began working when I was fourteen, accompanying my mother who was working in a packing plant there. I’m thirty-seven years olf now. I’ve been following the harvests for twenty-three years. I like this work; I’m still here.
We are brought from Sinaloa with all expenses paid; the company covers the costs of transport, food, and once here, we get a house with a stove, beds, mattresses. Out house is close to the plant, and we share it with sixteen other workers. In the end, we’re all a family, those of us who are here.
I usually get up at five to bather, prepare food, and leave some dinner ready, so that when we come back at 1 pm, all we have to do is warm it up.
We go from here to the Santa Rosa plant in Sinaloa, and from there we go to San Quintin, Baja California, and then back to Sinaloa—every year we make the round. The houses in Baja California and Sinaloa are much better: there’s a social security clinic right in the plant, a chapel, washing machines and 54 spacious rooms, two women wo a room. They even have teachers for kindergarten and primary school for the kids.”
Differences between these two women are apparent in that Juana sends her money back to her family and Yolanda saves hers to build herself a home
Hierarchy of skills & treatment between sorting and packing:
Sorters have to sign in, packers don’t
Sorters have to stand all the time, packers can sit on wooden boxes
Sorters start at 9, packers at 10
Sorters are paid by the hour, packers are paid by the box
No paid vacations (only full-time employees, mainly men, do)
No formal training offered; women learn by watching/having someone (perhaps a relative or friend) show them how to do the work
No orientation in the use of the equipment or the chemicals (even though women reported health and safety problems associated w/ the work)
“People get sick from the wax that’s put on the tomato; it makes the skin on their hands peel.”
Hand washing is done to protect the tomato, not the workers
….The appearance of the tomato is in some ways more important that the health of the workers….
“If gender discrimination is entrenched in the tasks offered women workers, racism is manifested against the Indigenous migrant workers who are brought in packed trucks by contractors, w/o certainty of getting work and w/ even worse living and working conditions than local campesinos. Housed in deplorable hits, w/o water, electricity, stores, or transport, they come as families to work in the fields and move from harvest to harvest. The women bear the brunt of this lack of infrastructure—cooking and washing, taking care of kids(even while working in the field), and dealing w/ their own exhaustion and the poor health engendered by the condition of extreme poverty. Because their own regions offer even less opportunity, they are forced to endure these jobs and the racist treatment built into them.”