Sunday, March 25, 2007

Farmer John Exploits Mexican Workers

Back in the early days of the IWW, Wobblies organized farm workers, since many workers in Canada and the U.S. found interim work on the farm before finding work in mills, mines, in lumber and on the railroads. Their term for a farmer who exploited farm workers was Farmer John.

Farmers in the West in Canada and the U.S. relied upon itinerant workers, hobos, to bring in the grain. Paying them 'bum' wages, treating them like slaves, charging them for room and board, led to the I.W.W. to organize farmworkers on a large scale industrial basis.

Today Farmer John relies upon temporary workers from Mexico a
nd in Alberta, over a century later nothing has changed. Farm workers brought in from Mexico and the Caribbean to work for Farmer John in Alberta remain indentured servants, slaves by any other name.

Farm workers cannot bargain collectively in Ontario and Alberta and there is no independent voice for the workers in the program. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that farmworkers enjoy the same rights as other workers to associate without intimidation, coercion or discrimination by their employers.

And for that reason Farmworkers need a union.


A Mexican farm worker who had a bad experience working on a farm near Provost has gone back home.

Armando Garcia flew back to his wife and two children Wednesday after parishioners at the Catholic Church in Provost raised money for his plane ticket.

His friend in Edmonton, Miguel Herrero, said he's appalled Alberta's labour code provides no protection for farm workers. He's trying to raise additional money for Garcia to help him get back on his feet after his bad experience in Canada.

Alberta Employment is investigating claims that the temporary foreign worker didn't get the medical coverage he was promised, wasn't paid extra for overtime and had so many deductions from his paycheque that he was getting paid less than $1 an hour.


Harvest War Song

(Tune: "Tipperary")
We are coming home, John Farmer, we are coming back
to stay.
For nigh on fifty years or more, we've gathered up your
We have slept out in your hayfields, we have heard your
morning shout;
We've heard you wondering where in hell's them pesky
It's a long way, now understand me; it's a long way to
It's a long way across the prairie, and to hell with Farmer
Up goes machine or wages, and the hours must come
For we're out for a winter's stake this summer, and we
want no scabs around.
You've paid the going wages, that's what kept us on the
You say you've done your duty, you chin-whiskered son
of a gun.
We have sent your kids to college, but still you must rave
and shout,
And call us tramps and hoboes, and pesky go-abouts.
But now the wintry breezes are a-shaking our poor frames,
And the long drawn days of hunger try to drive us boes
It is driving us to action--we are organized today;
Us pesky tramps and hoboes are coming back to stay.

The early Wobblies were above all famous for their Westerners:
the part-Indians and the Yankees, sons and daughters of pony express drivers and gold prospectors whose families had kept going west but never escaped poverty. But even in these early years, many of the militants were fresh from Europe or the children of immigrants, radicalized on the other side of the ocean or in their first years of American life. They remained in the IWW when native-born “Americans” mostly came and left, published magazines and newspapers that lasted decades, and kept the Wobbly spirit alive for later generations.

The Agricultural Workers Organization (AWO) planted itself in the work-life culture of the mostly white, male, mobile harvest workers of the plains states. Like the Wobs in the mines and sawmills, they epitomized the Western (and “American”) spirit of the organization. Notoriously rebellious and restless, their effective control of box car-riding (“show your red card”) was legendary. The capability of Wobbly organizers to create miniature egalitarian communities among the transient workers testified to their adeptness but also their belief in the lowest ranks of workers.

The larger AWO could also grow strong in the face of repression, peaking in 1918, for a seemingly unlikely reason. The First World War created a labor shortage: it was easier to quit or get fired and move on, because more jobs were available everywhere. Not that AWO organizing drives necessarily succeeded. The racial diversity of many California farms was difficult to overcome (although they tried). The repression of labor during wartime meant suppression of Wob newspapers, arrests of organizers, and threats of vigilante violence. In the longer run, the mechanization of farming would dramatically reduce the numbers of agricultural workers and their bargaining power.

Wobblies also learned that organizing in fields was more complicated than in factories. They could not rely on family or ethnic ties, and so had to rely on sudden job actions, slowdowns, and similar tactics to attract and hold members. Thus in April 1915, Frank Little called a conference to organize casual workers (hoboes), creating a job delegate system within the IWW, with Wobs setting wage and hour demands before the harvest, selecting an individual or committee to negotiate with a farmer, and then having all the Wobs ratify the agreement. This way, the AWO built quickly and successfully. Dues were a two dollar initiation, then fifty cents per month. By 1915, many had won immediate Wob goals: the ten hour day, three dollar minimum, overtime, good board, clean beds; all realizable because war raised the price of wheat.

Thus, Wobs would arrive outside town, establish a “jungle” near a stream, then call a meeting and elect committees to keep the camp clean. A “spud and gump brigade” foraged or begged for food and did the cooking, while some got jobs in town to build up a common fund. This was the IWW world in miniature, a workers’ society run by itself—although organizing it and keeping it going sometimes distracted from actual organizing in the fields.

IWW strike leadership would naturally be blamed for causing deaths and injuries handed out by police and private thugs. Huge defense fights exposed terrible conditions while leaders were handed long sentences. Yet, the IWW’s reputation spread most amazingly. Japanese and Chinese workers had their own labor organizations that worked with the IWW, although not usually affiliating directly. The Fresno branch chartered the Japanese Labor League in 1908 with a thousand members. Mexicans formed their own Wobbly locals (especially in San Diego and Los Angeles) and published Wobbly pamphlets, leaflets, and papers in Spanish. All this activity was unknown and indeed unwanted by the mainstream AFL.

» Zane Grey » The Desert of Wheat

Hard? It sure is hard. But it'll be the makin' of a great country. It'll weed out the riffraff.... See here, Kurt, I'm goin' to give you a hunch. Have you had any dealin's with the I.W.W.?"

"Yes, last harvest we had trouble, but nothing serious. When I was in Spokane last month I heard a good deal. Strangers have approached us here, too--mostly aliens. I have no use for them, but they always get father's ear. And now!... To tell the truth, I'm worried."

"Boy, you need to be," replied Anderson, earnestly. "We're all worried. I'm goin' to let you read over the laws of that I.W.W. organization. You're to keep mum now, mind you. I belong to the Chamber of Commerce in Spokane. Somebody got hold of these by-laws of this so-called labor union. We've had copies made, an' every honest farmer in the Northwest is goin' to read them. But carryin' one around is dangerous, I reckon, these days. Here."

Anderson hesitated a moment, peered cautiously around, and then, slipping folded sheets of paper from his inside coat pocket, he evidently made ready to hand them to Kurt.

"Lenore, where's the driver?" he asked.

"He's under the car," replied the girl

Kurt thrilled at the soft sound of her voice. It was something to have been haunted by a girl's face for a year and then suddenly hear her voice.

"He's new to me--that driver--an' I ain't trustin' any new men these days," went on Anderson. "Here now, Dorn. Read that. An' if you don't get red-headed--"

Without finishing his last muttered remark, he opened the sheets of manuscript and spread them out to the young man.

Curiously, and with a little rush of excitement, Kurt began to read. The very first rule of the I.W.W. aimed to abolish capital. Kurt read on with slowly growing amaze, consternation, and anger. When he had finished, his look, without speech, was a question Anderson hastened to answer.

"It's straight goods," he declared. "Them's the sure-enough rules of that gang. We made certain before we acted. Now how do they strike you?"

"Why, that's no labor union!" replied Kurt, hotly. "They're outlaws, thieves, blackmailers, pirates. I--I don't know what!"

"Dorn, we're up against a bad outfit an' the Northwest will see hell this summer. There's trouble in Montana and Idaho. Strangers are driftin' into Washington from all over. We must organize to meet them--to prevent them gettin' a hold out here. It's a labor union, mostly aliens, with dishonest an' unscrupulous leaders, some of them Americans. They aim to take advantage of the war situation. In the newspapers they rave about shorter hours, more pay, acknowledgment of the union. But any fool would see, if he read them laws I showed you, that this I.W.W. is not straight."

"Mr. Anderson, what steps have you taken down in your country?" queried Kurt.

"So far all I've done was to hire my hands for a year, give them high wages, an' caution them when strangers come round to feed them an' be civil an' send them on."

"But we can't do that up here in the Bend," said Dorn, seriously. "We need, say, a hundred thousand men in harvest-time, and not ten thousand all the rest of the year."

"Sure you can't. But you'll have to organize somethin'. Up here in this desert you could have a heap of trouble if that outfit got here strong enough. You'd better tell every farmer you can trust about this I.W.W."

"I've only one American neighbor, and he lives six miles from here," replied Dorn. "Olsen over there is a Swede, and not a naturalized citizen, but I believe he's for the U.S. And there's--"

"Dad," interrupted the girl, "I believe our driver is listening to your very uninteresting conversation."

She spoke demurely, with laughter in her low voice. It made Dorn dare to look at her, and he met a blue blaze that was instantly averted.

Anderson growled, evidently some very hard names, under his breath; his look just then was full of characteristic Western spirit. Then he got up.


Slavery in Canada

Monte Solberg

temporary workers

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