Synopses & Reviews
"Bacon (Illegal People), a labor organizer, immigrant-rights activist, and journalist, describes the factors that drive Mexican migrants across the border and into the U.S. These include the economic effects of NAFTA, environmental degradation, health hazards, anti-union policies, and, above all, low wages and poverty. As Bacon notes, 95% of the jobs created in Mexico in 2010 pay around per day. He also examines the harsh conditions many Mexican migrants face in the U.S., such as the criminalization of undocumented immigration (whereas previously, undocumented immigrants were allowed to return to Mexico voluntarily) and the economic exploitation of short-term agricultural 'guest' workers. By providing billions in remittances to Mexico while increasing U.S. corporations' profits, Mexican migrants serve the interests of both countries, Bacon observes. In a concluding chapter, he offers a number of ideas for reform, including giving migrant workers green cards instead of work-based visas and renegotiating trade agreements to eliminate the causes of Mexican workers' displacement. Bacon's book, which is enhanced by 11 personal narratives, will help readers gain a significantly more sophisticated understanding of the context and on-the-ground reality of undocumented migrants in the U.S. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
From the Introduction
When I left the organizing staff of the United Farm Workers in the late 1970s, I took with me some functional working-class Spanish and a new worldview. I grew up in Oakland, California, and knew nothing about Mexican culture before I left the Bay Area to work in rural California and Arizona. In the union I began to learn—the UFW was a great teacher, and I’ll always be grateful to the workers and organizers I met there for changing my life.
I was a pretty good organizer in a union that had some of the best. I helped workers pull together their committees and picket lines, and fight the foremen and the growers. I have good instincts and grew up in a left-wing family, so in many ways my own culture fit pretty well. And I really loved the union’s culture. Holding hands and singing in union meetings! Eating lunch and talking in the grape rows or under the tangerine trees. No sleep.
Here’s how the day went during just one campaign in Calexico and the Imperial Valley. We’d have meetings of worker/organizers til midnight, then meetings with the campaign leaders til one, then get up at three to get down to the Hoyo when workers were crossing the border, then drive in the dark up to Blythe, then talk for hours next to the field with workers waiting for the ice to melt on the lettuce, then house visits after work in Mexicali, and then the meetings in the evening all over again.
You get the idea. Exhausting. Inspiring. You learn a whole world in a short time.
The other thing I took with me leaving union staff, or rather didn’t take with me, was money. I had to get a job quickly, to pay child support and just to live. So I went to Salinas to get a job picking strawberries. I couldn’t last a week bending over that far, and my hands were far too slow. So I went over to Hollister to get a dispatch at the union hall to work the wine grape harvest at Almaden, then one of the world’s largest wineries.
A thousand workers showed up the morning the picking started. I was the only white guy. Most knew each other from previous harvests, so they quickly formed crews and went to work. A few dozen were left, and from them each tractor driver picked the six who would pick behind his gondola. Finally there were just six left. It was like not getting picked for softball in junior high.
Our crew, the final six, made up the slowest pickers in Paicines, Almaden’s long valley of grapevines south of Hollister. So with typical Mexican irony, we called ourselves Los Relampagos—the Lightning Bolts. We never made much more on the piece rate bonus than the hourly guarantee, and my crewmates were pretty impatient with me. Each crew of six splits credit for what they all pick, so the faster pickers basically carry the slower ones.
Almaden and the Hollister UFW office were self-administered by the workers’ elected ranch committee. That was a tradition in the wine grapes and was also true of the union at companies like Christian Brothers and Paul Masson. In all these companies, workers themselves did most of the original organizing, helped by Jose Luna, a legendary worker/organizer who expected them to carry most of the load in running the union.
I earned my credit with my crewmates when the company decided to bust the number-one tractor driver on the Almaden seniority list, accusing him of sleeping on the job. By sending him back into the picking crews, he would have lost not only his place in the list but a good year-round job driving a tractor. His family would have been thrown out of their company-owned house.
I suggested that we hold a company-wide meeting in front of the office in Paicines at lunchtime and then refuse to go back to work until the company talked with us. Farmworkers organize work stoppages a lot, so the idea wasn’t that strange. The company did agree to talk with us. We called in Bill Granfield from the Salinas UFW office, knowing that the managers needed to save face by seeming to agree with the union’s official representative rather than with us, the workers. Bill, a good organizer, knew the game too and played his part well. Our driver got his job back, and after that my crew might not have been fast, but we were well loved, me included.
Table of Contents
From Perote to Tar Heel
Pushing People out of Veracruz 1
Smithfield Goes to Mexico 4
And Veracruz Migrants Come to the United States 10
The Union Campaign in Tar Heel 14
Demands for Change, on Both Sides of the Border 18
A Union for Tobacco Workers 22
Narrative One. You Don’t Need to Be a Doctor or Scientist
to Smell the Stench: The Story of Fausto Limon 31
Narrative Two. We’re Here Because of the Economic Crisis:
The Story of David Ceja and Guadalupe Marroquin 35
Cursed by Gold or Blessed by Corn
Communities Resist Canadian Mining Companies 41
Killings in San Jose del Progreso 47
Oaxacans Debate Poverty and Migration 53
A Government Committed to the Right to Not Migrate? 61
Can the Triquis Go Home? 71
Narrative Three. If We Don’t Attack the Roots
of Migration, It Will Continue to Grow:
The Story of Rufino Dominguez 82
Narrative Four. We Want to Talk about the Right
to Stay Home: The Story of Aldo Gonzalez 93
The Right to a Union Means the Right to Stay Home
Mexican Miners Resist Repression and Poverty 98
Labor Law Reform a Boss Could Love 104
Calderon Goes to War with the SME 113
Migration and Cross-Border Labor Solidarity 122
Narrative Five. We’re Fighting for Our Right to Keep on
Living in Cananea: The Story of Jacinto Martinez 130
Narrative Six. No Matter What the Result, We Will Continue
to Resist: The Story of Humberto Montes de Oca 135
Defending the Human Rights of Migrants
Special Courtrooms for Immigrants 142
Bush Ties Workplace Raids to Immigration Reform 146
Myths and Realities of Enforcement 153
Mississippi Resists Political Raids and Anti-Immigrant Bills 158
Utah’s Immigration Bills: A Blast from the Past 170
Narrative Seven. They Pay Us a Wage That Barely Allows Us
to Make a Living: The Story of Lucrecia Camacho 177
Narrative Eight. We Made Them Millions of Dollars:
The Story of Lupe Chavez 184
Fighting the Firings
Mass Firings: The Obama Administration’s Workplace Enforcement Policy 188
The Firings Spread, along with Resistance 195
Protest Tactics Cross the Border 204
Marching Away from the Cold War 211
Narrative Nine. This Law Is Very Unjust:
The Story of Teresa Mina 220
Narrative Ten. When We Speak You Hear a Roar:
The Story of Keith Ludlum and Terry Slaughter 223
Human Beings or Just Workers?
How Do You Say Justice in Mixteco? 230
Something Less Than Citizens 238
Enforcing Labor Rights for Border Crossers 247
Canada’s “Model” Guest Worker Program 253
The Pitfalls of Regulating Guest Worker Programs 261
Narrative Eleven. The Future Doesn’t Exist for Us Here:
The Story of Miguel Huerta 270
The Right to Not Migrate and Radical Reform 273
Challenging the Washington, DC, Consensus 274
The Right to Not Migrate Is a Social Movement 283