The UFW is beyond ethical redemption

Or so it seems.

That’s a florid Comintern-tinged socialist perspective, but in this case it’s a legitimate one, and quite perceptive. The gist of it is that the United Farm Workers’ “Take Our Jobs” campaign of 2010 was a gaslighting stunt orchestrated to disingenuously subvert the interests of the US native and Latin American expatriate working classes alike. By this reckoning, the UFW is an organizational catfish that was never as devoted to the workplace interests of its rank-and-file members as it claimed to be and that has recently turned downright hostile to their interests, aligning itself with agribusiness concerns to maintain a cheap, exploitable agricultural workforce and bottoming out at five percent of its peak membership for the nine of the first ten years of the twenty-first century.

Disregard the eccentric language about the UFW being “reactionary” and “middle-class.” The fundamental arguments that the UFW is screwing around with projects extraneous to its stated mission and betraying the constituency that it claims to represent are cogent ones.

This is an organization that has been entangled with distracting national and ethnic identity politics since its inception. It started as a Chicano movement with significant hostility towards illegal immigrants for being scab labor. Few Americans seem to realize that Cesar Chavez spent his early childhood on a farm that his parents owned in Arizona, or that their farm went insolvent during the Depression, causing the family to be dispossessed and go on the road in California as migrant farm workers. That is, Chavez was culturally and demographically closer to the Dust Bowl Okies than to the braceros or to the various Mexican peasant reserve labor pools that have been favored by the big growers for most of California’s history as a US state. He was a dispossessed Jeffersonian farm boy trying to reform the Hamiltonian model of big agriculture in California so that it served the interests of labor as well as management.

Chavez’s underlying Americanism has been put down the Memory Hole in recent years by the UFW and various politicians and activists allied with the UFW, since opposition to untrammeled immigration by the Mexican and Central American peasantry has become quite politically incorrect. This near-falsification of the historical record, along with the UFW’s longstanding use of Spanish-language slogans and Aztec imagery, gives the impression that it’s a Mexican organization involved in fifth-column reconquista agitation. In fact, it is an American organization, founded and directed for years by a native-born American who was dissatisfied with the pay, workplace conditions, and legal and regulatory regimes in place at large plantations in the American West, especially California. To this day, the UFW remains objectively an American organization much more interested in US domestic policy than in Mexican government policy or anything else directly pertaining to Mexico. Its apparent interest these days in maintaining a cheap, pliable Mexican and Central American workforce is oriented to the advancement of American growers’ interests, not to the stealth infiltration of the United States by a subversive foreign rabble, and certainly not to the civic or economic betterment of Mexico or any nearby Latin American country. The Aztlan black eagle stuff is basically just noise, as it is for most people in the United States who carry on about that kind of thing. The chattering classes on both sides of the border enjoy it in the abstract, but even they don’t really want to have Texas, Alta California, and the Gadsden Purchase revert to Mexican administration, nor do Mexico’s administrators have any interest in ruling a bunch of recalcitrant gringos and assuming the debts of their local and state governments.

Seriously, nobody who has thought about the practicalities of implementing the reconquista is interested in that shit. Personally, I’d support a Mexican takeover of policy governing prostitution and maybe some other small businesses, especially in Arizona and Southern California, so that sensible policymakers could tell the busybodies to go piss up a rope, but it isn’t just gringos like me who do not want San Diego to fall under the warring jurisdictions of the Tijuana local police, the federales, and the Mexican Army. The Mexicans already in San Ysidro would throw rocks and return small arms fire at the Mexican authorities and call for SDPD and Border Patrol backup if anyone in the Mexican government were grandiose enough to try to go full moron revanchist on El Norte, but that isn’t about to happen. That kind of thing is much more a Yanqui style of geopolitics.

Anyway, Cesar Chavez was a constituent of Yanqui, as are his successors. The problem is that over the years they also turned into prominent constituents of Bougie. Bougie doesn’t want to work in the fields because that would be all gross, and besides, it’s the kind of work that Mexicans do. The prissy attitudes of affluent Californians are the operative ones here. It’s not like my agrarian honkies and I give each other the cracker bat signal out of ethnic solidarity and respect when we cross paths in the berry fields and vineyards of the Willamette Valley, since only on especially evil farms around there does anyone have a bee in the bonnet about the national origin of the help, but the people who matter in California can’t be bothered with that understated Jeffersonian horseshit when there are Mexicans to exploit. Some of this exploitation is the Latino equivalent of blaxploitation filmography, a sort of metaexploitation of degraded wetbacks. The tacit assumption at play is that no sensible American would hire a Mexican peasant for any reason other than to exploit him, or maybe to take sexual advantage of her. The idea of hiring Americans and Mexicans on an equal basis dictated exclusively by who responds to the help wanted ad, shows up for work, and isn’t useless is inconceivable to these people. So is the idea of Americans and Mexicans managing to relate to one another on a respectful or even cordial basis as colleagues rather than as incipient members of the Aryan Nation and the Norteños.

All the prissy fuckheads in Hollywood and their well-heeled hangers-on have gotten the country into an excellent Catch-22. We need Mexicans because the work is fit only for Mexicans because Mexicans are the ones doing the work. A meme like this doesn’t have to be true for people to believe it. It’s been repeated in the media so much that it has become self-replicating. What’s really at stake is the protection of the sheltered children of the haughty affluent from menial but productive payroll work. It’s the more shitheaded sorts on Mulholland Drive and in Aliso Viejo and Silver Spring who drive this bigotry because it’s useful as a caste marker. I don’t know anyone in the Willamette Valley who openly acts that way. Then again, I run with a fairly Jeffersonian crowd around there. These people live in flyover country. They figure that working on a farm might be a good idea because one needs the money or enjoys farm work, not because one is a Mexican of a certain class. The ability of Americans to hold down jobs as field hands doesn’t come as a shock to them. Most principal farm operators in the Willamette Valley are Americans, just as they are in most parts of the United States, and field hands have less responsibility and usually lighter workloads than their bosses, so it’s not like lifting catch wires for five or six hours is the Bataan Death March. Besides, in most parts of the Willamette Valley, the locals are used to doing heavy physical labor for low pay or else are on close terms with people who work on mill or factory floors. Many of these people would figure that I had a pretty damn good job at the vineyard over the summer, and they’d be right.

The socialist wing nuts are right. There’s a powerful class bias in the UFW’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign. I’ve personally known several dozen American commercial farm workers, and none of them have been amazed by their own ability to not be total flakes or fuckups as field gringos. This is because they aren’t being disoriented by gaslighting operations about the imperative of moar Mexikanz. I’ve also worked for several agricultural operations that had no trouble retaining all-American or heavily American crews, depending on the season and who responded to their help-wanted ads.

The unspoken truth about agricultural operations that exclusively hire foreigners is that they usually treat their employees like shit and have work conditions that are bad by American standards. The work is always physically demanding, but it doesn’t have to be exceedingly dangerous, humiliating, or under the supervision of slave drivers in training. I’ve worked for growers who had low employee turnover and overwhelmingly American staff. I’m not talking about unicorns here.

Of course, these aren’t people who would be any more eager than the average American to sign up for work on UFW signatory farms. They already have work, and they enjoy better conditions and pay than they’d get with most UFW signatories. They already have bosses who trust them to get the work done to their satisfaction, so they wouldn’t chomp at the bit to work through an organization that is basically telling them, “We dare you not to flake out on us like all the other Americans do!”

The very premise of “Take Our Jobs” was insincere as a recruiting gambit. Its purpose was to demonstrate that Americans aren’t up to the task. It operated in a funhouse world where failure was success and success would have been failure. It seems to have been a one-hit wonder, too. Its website is still online but apparently hasn’t been updated since the summer of 2010.

Looking back on it, I realize that I got punked. I had done extensive noncommercial farm work by that point but no commercial farm work, partly because an unscrupulous relative who had been stringing me along at his farm had been insinuating that there wasn’t really any paid work for gringos in the business. My arrangement with this relative had soured by 2010, and I had decided to spend more time with my elderly grandmother, who was living in an economically depressed area with little farm employment. When I wasn’t with her, I was trying to juggle relationships with other relatives and friends on opposite sides of the country. So when Stephen Colbert went before Congress and complained about how grueling stoop labor had proven, I figured that maybe I, too, wasn’t cut out for it. Never mind that I had already done quite a bit of intermittent vineyard stoop labor; I was out of work at the time, having bailed mainly on a family situation that had gone to hell, and the idea that Americans like me weren’t up to the job seemed credible, even coming from a professional comedian who had gone into the fields as a stunt.

Rarely are similar complaints made about the unsuitability of Americans to jobs as electrical linemen. I had it good in the vineyard compared to a lineman, even when I was working eleven-hour days or ten days at a stretch averaging out to over 43 hours a week. I didn’t have to go out at all hours of the day and night and perform emergency repairs on heavy electrical equipment in inclement weather. As it happens, I’ve considered applying for lineman apprenticeships, but the work sounds too grueling and inimical to time off to be worth the bother of training for it. It must be a great line of work for people who are sick of their own families. And yet none of this stops utilities from maintaining low turnover of their linemen. It’s sure as hell harder work than vineyard maintenance, and a lot more mentally demanding than picking strawberries, but the utilities don’t go around complaining about how they’re always about to get caught short because they never have enough Mexicans.

This is probably because the IBEW would throw a gigantic fit and leave customers in the dark if management played that dirty. That’s the difference between a dilettante political outfit-cum-family featherbedding racket and a real union.

Jimmy still crack corn. You care?


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