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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: U.S. | Labor & Workers
Fifty years later
Broadcast the night after thanksgiving in 1960, Edward R. Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame” exposed us to the callous exploitation of the migrant workers who pick our fruit and vegetables. This is an American story that begins in Florida and ends in New Jersey and New York State with the harvest. It is a 1960’s “Grapes of Wrath” that begins at the Mexican border in California and ends in Oregon and Washington. It is the story of men and women and children who work 136 days of the year and average nine hundred dollars a year.
Believe it or not, more than fifty years later, the life of a migrant laborer is still an ordeal. And not just for adults. Perhaps as many as half a million children, some as young as seven years old, are out in the fields and orchards working nine to ten hour days under brutal conditions. That was one of the most traumatic things growing up. You see, being poor is in and of itself not traumatic. It's an inconvenience, but being poor and powerless to withstand the mistreatment, to watch my mom and dad be mistreated and are being fooled about the wages and exactly stolen from us.There was no way for us to complain. No way for us to appeal to anyone. the racial humiliation, the racial snubs and epithets. Well, the verbal mistreatment of my mom, and, was something that's very, was very hard to take.
NAFTA, signed by President Clinton in 1993. That devastated the Mexican countryside. Just in the commodity of corn. Which is a staple in Mexico. Everybody grows corn in Mexico. And they grow it for their local use, for themselves. And then the excess, they tried to sell it in the local market. So when NAFTA opened the borders to North American corn, those small corner farmers in Mexico couldn't help to compete with U.S. farmers. They're highly mechanized and highly subsidized.
Ted Rudow III, MA