October 11, 2011

Tomatoland Chapter Three and Four: Issues of human welfare.

The latest chapters, and the next few to follow, go into topics that I feel I have no authority to discuss or explore with great detail. While I do understand that the issues facing the migrant workers in the tomato fields of Florida matter a great deal, such topics are not the focus of this blog. I would rather focus on the plants, and how agriculture and plants affect us and how we live.

That being said, I will give you a short summary of the last few chapters - please keep in mind that what I summarize for you is solely based off of the word of Barry Estabrook in his novel.

The majority of the workers that pick the tomatoes are migrant workers, and many work under slave like conditions. They come from indigenous places and are told of the great wealth they can acquire to come work in the US. They make the trip up - which they must now work to pay off. Rent cost something too, and the food the eat and the showers they take ... and before they know it, they're forever indebted to those that organize the work force. The conditions they live in are horrible, the food provided not sustaining, and the work itself long and extremely difficult. Those leading the work force take no excuses for missing work, and resort to violence and scare tactics to make sure everyone works as hard as possible. Workers are beat and imprisoned if they try to run away or don't show up to work due to illness. Since the growers contract out the farm labour, they're not held liable for whatever happens to the workers - they pay the work leaders, who pay the workers, who control the worker lives through the cycle of owing and paying back.

Eventually, a coalition to support the workers was formed. While it couldn't do anything to hurt the farmers or the labor leaders, the coalition was determined to fight for the rights of the workers and to increase the pay by a penny a pound harvested. Last I left off in the book, the best way to do this was to organize boycotts of the restuarants that used tomatoes picked by these workers - such as Taco Bell.

In the next few chapters, we'll hopefully get an idea of how successful the campaign was, and if similar conditions still exist today. So far, it seems like not much has changed since - migrant workers in Florida are a modern day case of slavery that no one seems to notice or care about.

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