New book illustrates the humanity of people who travel with the crops

Writer, photographer and veteran UFW union organizer David Bacon frequently refers to “people who travel with the crops,” agricultural workers who move from place to place to cultivate and harvest California’s fields. They are the subject of his newest work of photojournalism, In the Fields of the North/En los campos del norte. Bacon is a frequent contributor to California Teacher. Below are excerpts from an interview with Capitol & Main. » Read the whole article here.

Your first chapter describes weeding an organic potato field. 
Is that healthier for the people who work there?

DB: If no pesticides are being sprayed, workers going through and pulling weeds are not going to get a dose of pesticide. Human labor is required to get those weeds out of the ground. So there’s more work for workers and that’s a good thing.

But wages for workers are way down there on the bottom. And the problems of sexual harassment are the same for workers at organic growers.

Most people in the United States don’t see farm workers, don’t know who they are. This book is a way of trying to peel that back. What we’re doing here is making the invisible visible.

The UFW was founded in 1966, but you still see people bent over double in the fields picking crops. What has changed in all that time?

DB: Some of the things that changed on a more permanent level are basic improvements in working conditions, like bathrooms and water for people to drink in the fields, which workers didn’t have before the union.

When the union was really strong at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, the wages for union farm workers were about two and a half times the wage for a nonunion farm worker. If that were true today, farm workers would be making 25 or 30 bucks an hour, which obviously they’re not.

The union also pushed forward the politics of social change and social justice. The 1965 grape strike was started by Filipinos who were living in labor camps in Delano. Delano was run by growers; the city government was all white. Today, the mayor of Delano is a Filipino. Workers got more power because of the union. They used that power to change the politics of the town.

Are there any ways for consumers to make reasonable choices?

DB: The last chapter covers the strike organized by workers in Washington at a farm producing berries for Driscoll’s, a big berry marketer. The way those workers were able to get the grower to finally agree to negotiate a contract and recognize their union, was by appealing to the people in cities not to buy Driscoll’s berries until the grower had agreed to do those things.

The United Farm Workers movement taught us how to use our power as consumers to help workers when they need support in order to win. It was effective for the workers in Washington.