PAY YOUR FUCKING FARM WORKERS

Just do it. Be a pal and don’t follow in the shameful, legally dubious footsteps of Malivoire, eh. Don’t fucking go there, partner. I’m not your guy, friend, and I’m not your buddy, guy. Neither are these people. Perhaps they’d be interested in your dodgy-ass recruiting strategy whereby, “[i]n return for their hard work, volunteers will see their name on the back label of Malivoire 2012 Gewurztraminer Icewine.” In Soviet Canada, business takes care of YOU! Except when it doesn’t. Isn’t it a funny country, Canada!

Agriculture is plagued by this reserve pool of dilettante scab labor, made up of wankers like “Susan Smith, 64, a first-time picker who said she was attracted to the mystique of icewine.” To translate this into plain English, I’m being undercut by retirees who have no skin in the game. If they’re Americans, I get to help pay for their pensions, too, isn’t it a great country! I’m trying to make a living at this kind of work, you know. I don’t need these sentimental fuckheads crashing into competition with me for a night, making it impossible for me and any other serious field hands within striking distance to land paid work, and then crashing back into their usual lifestyle of soft-handed leisure, having duly communed with the earth and the stars for one nipple-hardening evening. If they were competing on a fair basis for paid farm jobs, I’d have no problem with them, but that isn’t what they’re doing. They’re disrupting and distorting an already tenuous labor market for other workers who could really use the hours but can’t get them because they’ve been allotted to a bunch of Johnny-come-lately hobbyists who probably couldn’t be bothered to do similar work on a regular half-time basis.

If you’re one of these dilettantes, let me be perfectly clear: you are shitting in our ecosystem. Would it kill you to have some goddamn common respect for those of us who have been busting ass to grow your food and not be a bunch of fucking scabs?

I guess that’s a rhetorical question whose answer is “yes.” I’ve unfortunately done quite a bit of unpaid scab farm work myself, and I’m not fucking proud of it. There are two huge problems that put farm workers who want to make a financial go of the job into a bind. One is that many growers are lawless scumbags who do everything in their power to secure labor forces that are either meek Latin American peasants, work authorization optional, gringo dilettantes with outside sources of income and no ethical standards pertaining to codified payroll regulations, or gringos who are unemployable under market conditions, often on account of substance abuse or debilitating mental illness. At times when I wasn’t on payroll over the past year, I worked for free on ramshackle farms with two men who were blatantly psychotic, one of them a dry drunk who gets belligerent when he drinks; a third man who was probably psychotic; and a woman who drank a Foster’s oil can every hour or hour and a half and told me that some hoodlums had had her arrested just because she was sitting on her porch in the Long Beach ghetto with a shotgun in hand.

As a vineyard worker, I find the wetback contingent the least troublesome of the three from a labor relations perspective. Labor relations and conditions can get grisly in other crops when there’s a (temporarily) bottomless supply of surplus Latin American peasants to do low-skill grunt work, but vineyard maintenance is enough of a semiskilled niche trade that, in Napa at least, crews have been known to demand pay raises mid-shift and then walk off the job when management doesn’t acquiesce. These are nonunion crews, by the way; UFW representatives would probably shit bricks if their members attempted the freelance renegotiation of settled contracts with signatory growers while on the job. In any event, these pay raise demands and summary work stoppages are the opposite of scab labor, and the possibility that they’ll make me, a gringo, look reliable by comparison sure as hell isn’t skin off my back.

The trouble comes from my coethnics. Mind you, I have no problem at all with a cracker who demands a paycheck in exchange for his labor. Even the psychotics and alkies I mentioned don’t bother me awfully much. They’re obviously too deep into the sauce and the batshit to function in the formal economy; the moral onus is therefore on growers not to string them along as reserve labor, without even piece rate pay, and on the government to provide them with basic social services so that they aren’t forced to live under tarps down by the river.

This leaves the third category of scab labor, which is also the second huge problem for professional farm workers that I mentioned above. These fuckheads are competent enough to hold down payroll jobs, but they choose to work for free on for-profit farms because oh my goodness organic farming is like so cool and shit. Specifically, they work in subordinate capacities under the direction of principal operators at properties that are oriented primarily towards private profit, not charitable activity, but where they do not have any sort of voting stake in the operation of the properties as major investors or directors.

As employees working under these circumstances, their ethical duty is crystal clear: they need to demand payroll income in accordance with prevailing equitable piece rates or minimum wage laws. That’s all there is to it. There are perfectly reasonable exceptions for operations that are dedicated exclusively to the charitable feeding of the indigent, victims of natural disasters, and the like, as well as for investors with equity stakes in for-profit farms whose principals are competent and making a good-faith effort to fully discharge their fiduciary responsibilities to their investors. But that’s it. There is no justification for unpaid labor on profitable farms. There is no justification for a farm principal who has breached his fiduciary responsibilities towards investors to solicit their unpaid help to fill labor shortages because he’s too broke to make payroll. There is no excuse for a grower to even accept unpaid help from tenants in exchange for accommodations that are not scrupulously up to code or at barter rates that exceed the operating cost of the accommodations.

These arrangements are feudal. They’re lawless. I’ve seen them. Shit, I’ve gotten sucked into them. One of the very most untenable things about the back-to-the-land movement is that it is crawling with disingenuous, passive-aggressive shitheads, in management and labor alike, who spew forth solipsistic justifications for cryptofeudal arrangements that are manifestly in gross, deliberate violation of duly enacted labor regulations and building codes. These sunnyside asshats claim that they’re hearkening back to a simpler, more fundamental time when people were in touch with the land, productive, and freed from distracting media of exchange, i.e., when money didn’t matter. In point of fact, they’re hearkening back to a very complicated time when the state, if it existed at all, was too weak to stop local warlord bands in the mold of Boko Haram and the mafia from running campaigns of rape, murder, and expropriation, or to provide rudimentary infrastructure, police, courts of law, or social services to their subjects.

The back-to-the-land crowd goes way beyond mere agrarianism. Many of its activities are devoted to the reestablishment of lawless norms of indenture, tax evasion, rural slumlording, false hospitality, and subversion of competent and duly constituted republican government. As I said, this shit is totally untenable. I know Social Security beneficiaries who have appointed themselves the lords of neofeudal manors such as I’ve described. It’s a huge problem on the West Coast. They’re pulling this shit in the shadow of strong constitutional governments with vigorous systems of checks and balances, not that the enduringly high quality of these governments will stop them from selectively accusing the same governments of being good for nothing but reduxes of the Enclosure Act, the Bloody Code, and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution while discreetly accepting monthly disbursements from the public purse.

Trying to lay down some ethics on these dipshits is a gigantic pain in the ass. It’s hardly worth trying unless one is willing to call in code enforcement and the labor department. Many of them think that farming imbues its practitioners with a sort of magical rectitude. They can’t imagine how an independent farmer, especially an organic one, could ever be a corrosive manorial freeloader, a civic parasite in need of a good ass-whupping from George Washington’s expeditionary forces, or maybe a very sick burn administered with General Sherman’s warmest regards. They can’t imagine how the greed of the Tidewater gentry is roughly the same greed of the upcountry Yankee hippie commune proprietor, just reiterated at a slightly larger scale in the same fractal. (Yes, the United States has a way of being internally at civic cross-purposes. How else do you propose to explain Gettysburg?) Thinking about how the brokenness of humanity extends into their groovy precincts is a buzzkill, unlike organic farming itself, which is, in the parlance of noted Hugh Hefner muse Crystal Harris, fun stuff. One does not want to be the bitch who kills their vibe.

It’s much better to have the government be that bitch. The civil authorities aren’t there for decoration. If you think I’m a snitch for saying these things, go fuck yourself. Forcing employers to abide by labor and building codes is a completely legitimate function of government. It’s every bit as legitimate as getting the national police to drive highwaymen out of business or getting the State of Missouri to dissolve the municipal governments of St. Louis County. If you’re telling me not to tattle on you for unlawfully running the labor market for farm workers into the ground, you’re a fucking asshole. You see, it’s my circus and my monkeys, too, and as it happens, my colleagues and I actually aren’t litigious enough.

Put more of us on payroll, and fewer of us will go apeshit on an employer’s ass. If you’re shitting in our ecosystem, there’s no need to act surprised when we lob the turd back into yours.

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