Saturday, 22 December 2007

Fruit picking hell

Once again the USA, which claims to be the most civilised nation on earth, is proved to be the exact opposite by the Florida fruit-pickers existing in conditions of near-slavery.

A group of them who were held captive and brutalised by their employer for almost a year have just escaped and told their story.

They were living in a lorry on a diet of rice and beans, and paying so much for rent, food and showers they were permanently in debt. They were paid so little for picking tomatoes (45 cents for a 32-pound bucket), they had to pick two and a half tons of them just to get the minimum wage.

If they said they were too sick to work, their employer would beat them and force them to work anyway. They often had to labour in blisteringly hot conditions seven days a week.

These conditions aren't new - they've been going on for decades. Many politicians and public figures have tried to improve the fruit-pickers' lot but they've been resolutely ignored by their employers.

Recently some of the big food chains like McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut agreed to pay the pickers more but Burger King is refusing and threatening the whole deal.

The fruit pickers aren't covered by employment law and aren't unionised. But they're now being represented by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and 100 church groups have joined the protests.

It seems all the overweight families who demand a constant supply of super-cheap fruit and tomatoes couldn't care less how they're produced, just as long as they get them.

And this is the nation that invades countries all round the world to bring them "civilised values". They should try civilising their own backlands first.


  1. I agree Nick, great post.It is absolutely appalling how the US is so barbaric in both the treatment of its own citizens and the innocent citizens of other countries (Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq to name the worst). I was reading elsewhere about the brutalization of mentally challenged children in US run facilities - to 'normalize' them. And the words that are invented - collateral damage, no child left behind, bringing freedom, etc. etc.
    These poor workers treated as slaves so we can decorate our burgers. And on it goes......

    A happy happy to you and Jenny

  2. I didn't know about the mistreatment of mentally challenged children, www, but of course it doesn't surprise me knowing the US government's doublethink and hypocrisy. Here in the UK people with mental disorders have been denied adequate treatment and resources ever since I can remember. They're always the poor relations of the NHS.

  3. This is an excellent post! The Coalition is not known by most Americans, but their work reminds me of what Cesar Chavez tried to accomplish a generation before in California.

    The present US administration has so alienated most of my compatriots that it often feels disgraceful to be American. Few of us agree with Bush's policies, his wars, and his notions of civilized values, which visit heartbreak on us as well as on the citizens of countries he invades.

    The brutalization of the fruit pickers must stop, and broadcasting their plight is the first step. People must be aware of the problem in order to care, but I believe that many would join boycotts if they knew.

    Thank you for visiting my blog.

  4. Hi Heart! Thanks for all your wonderful comments! Cesar Chavez rang a vague bell but I had to look him up on Wikipedia. Sounds like he's a real hero to farm workers for what he did to improve their lot.

    So many Americans say the same as you about how alienated they are from Bush's backward policies, and the misery he causes in the name of progress. And now Gordon Brown is wooing him the same way as Tony Blair. Sickening.

  5. Hi Nick, I've been a stalker for a while just thought I'd pop over and wish you a Merry Christmas. I have lots of debates with my US friends particularly about Mexican immigration legal or otherwise. The sad thing is that ordinary Americans, don't want these manual jobs so there's little sympathy for the people who do them but taking that lack of empathy to the level of abuse is unforgivable. Americans really need to take their single vote seriously and turn up at the polls next November!

    Australia's fruit harvesting industry would go 'bust' if it wasn't for backpackers and itinerant fruit pickers who are also paid low wages but to my knowledge, are not treated as badly. It's a shame that so many 'good' Americans aren't aware . . Good people stand by while terrible things happen.

    Love the blog!

  6. Hi Baino, I've been popping over to your blog now and then as well. As you say, people may not have sympathy for people doing the lowly jobs but that doesn't justify inhuman treatment. Not surprised Oz relies on casual workers as well, it seems the same the world over in the fruit and veg business. I was over in Sydney and Hobart a couple of years back, btw. Fantastic experience.

  7. brutal.......I might read NOLOGO again just to anger the blood up again........happy christmas by the way....

  8. Keep meaning to read No Logo but never have. Did you go to Naomi Klein's talk during the Belfast festival, Manuel? She was excellent. She was talking about how big business uses disasters and catastrophes to promote capitalist ideas like privatisation and deregulation.

    Happy Christmas to you too. Enjoy a few days free of all those cranky diners!

  9. Disgraceful. Ultimately no politician in the U.S. gives a shit because the laborers have no money and no vote.

    Happy Holidays, Nick, to you and Jenny.

  10. Unfortunately that's about the crux of it. Which is why they need some powerful pressure group like a union to shame the politicians into doing something. Happy Holidays to you and Mr M!

  11. Wise words as always Nick. Your concise but wide-ranging blog has become essential reading for me this year. Nothing out there quite like it!

    Keep up the good work in the New Year and a happy, er, Winterval to you! ;-)

  12. Hi Nick,

    And to think it was Richard Nixon who set the stage for all of this to happen. Back in the 70's Nixon was afraid that African Americans would gain too much political power over the next few decades. So he; coined the term Hispanic, which allowed all people who had an ancestral home in a spanish speaking country to be lumped together, and he opened the borders.

    Now so-called Hispanics out number African Americans, but unfortunately for the Nixon political descendants a very large number of Hispanics don’t vote or can’t vote.

    So this is the result of 30 years of political maneuvering and corporate greed.

    Side note; It’s interesting that people from Spain are not generally considered Hispanic.

  13. John - I'm touched. Thanks for those kind words. I'll do my best to keep up the (idiosyncratic) standard! And happy Winterval to you and Mrs S.

    (In fact the whole Winterval palaver is based on an urban myth. Birmingham Council ran a winter promotional campaign called Winterval but actually they celebrated Christmas as well)

    MDC - That's fascinating, thanks for that. I wasn't aware of the political lineage at all. So the whole ruse miserably backfired on Tricky Dicky's heirs! There's just no end to the devious gerrymandering these politicians attempt so as to protect their own interests.

  14. I'm so not surprised. Years ago I saw the lecture by that guy Jacob Holdt, "American Pictures", and he had some quite shocking pictures of workers in Florida. Some of them were living in old slave cabins on plantations.

    Reading this made me glad I haven't set foot in a Burger King in probably ten years, but there's so many abuses going on out there.

    Every time I eat a strawberry I know it was probably picked under horrid working conditions only a couple hundred miles away in California's Central Valley.

    Materialism and greed make people do horrible things to other people.

  15. Wow, I'm really getting an education from you guys! I knew nothing about Jacob Holdt so looked him up and his story is amazing - all the pictures of impoverished Americans, his work for CARE and the way the KGB tried to use him to attack President Carter. Quite a character. Yes, I think the same every time I eat strawberries - in what wretched conditions were they picked and packed?

  16. Probably the obese ones don't eat enough fruit and veg! But yes it would be interesting to start fair trade labelling for products from the land and the brave and the free.
    This year I edited a book about human rights activists, that included a chapter about Victor Chavez, a US trade union organiser in the 60s. Worth reading up on him and reflecting how much progress we have made since those times. (Oh HeartsinSF already made a similar comment!)

  17. By the way - just so us Brits don't get too righteous don't we have similar stories (maybe not to such extremes- but along similar lines) with migrant workers in the fields and turkey farms of E Anglia. Maybe not illegal but still not getting a great deal. (not forgetting the infamous Morecambe Bay incident of a few years ago)

  18. There IS a fair trade scheme in the States, TH, which presumably produce handled by the Florida fruit pickers wouldn't qualify for. In which case we can only hope that increasing numbers of people insist on Fair Trade produce and the Florida employers are forced to clean up their act.

    And yes, I'm sure there are similar conditions in East Anglia and all over our own country, the UK is just as guilty of dreadful employment practices. Even if they're illegal, the employers find ways of dodging the law.

  19. Nick, this makes shocking reading. Thank you for posting on it.

  20. That's the reason I did something on it, I found it so shocking myself. And as TH says, there's plenty more of the same going on in the UK.