Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Chicken Trail by Kathleen Schwartzman

Following Workers, Migrants and Corporations across the Americas I offer my complements for an outstanding overview of these most complex issues. She did a great deal of research, included many sources and made personal trips to processing plants in the USA as well as Mexico. She talked with Mexican farmers, illegal immigrants and union organizers. She chose the radical changes in production of Chicken as a perfect example of the effect it had on labor in this country and loss of the family farm in Mexico which led inexorably in the increase of illegal immigrants to America. She is very careful in not wanting her book to become political. She tries to state the facts and let them speak for themselves. I, on the other hand enjoy jumping in and calling a spade a spade so I am going to write this review from what I gleaned after reading. Chicken processing advanced rapidly in the 90’s impelled by innovation and technology. The largest plants are located in N.C., Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi. The workers were black for the most part. Chicken processing as well as manufacturing in general made great strides in the South due to the anti-union sentiment. The States were all right to work States. As the processes sped up there were increased injuries and fatigue resulting in the attempt to establish unions. The companies exhibited ingenuity in finding ways to avoid including going bankrupt and re-opening with a new name and firing all employees. The Company officers decided to replace with immigrants from Mexico and other countries. They advertised, paid bonuses, provided false papers, etc. No executive was ever found guilty of these most obvious offenses. In the meantime the black unemployment rate doubled. The new undocumented employees didn’t complain about wages, working conditions, nor did they report injuries, all out of fear of being deported. I refer to this as the South discovering a new group of people to exploit as they did with the blacks as slaves many years ago. While this was going on NAFTA made its mark in Mexico. By 2008 all tariffs were removed. Millions of farm families, who had subsisted, albeit poorly, were no longer able to support themselves. Not only Chicken but corn and grains in general. The highly subsidized agriculture in America was too great for them to compete and so the great migration sped up in the 90’s continuing today. Many would have stayed in their own country if they could have. We must add that the Mexican government leaders allowed this to happen impoverishing the countryside without concern. They should be held to account for allowing this to happen. Exporting young men relieved the need to provide employment, with the added benefit of Billions returned each year in support of families left behind. I know that other nations have protected their farmers such as Europe and Japan. I would also like to add my own comments about how American subsidies to agriculture benefited the largest farms effectively driving off the family farmer. I saw this in person the 23 years I lived in Iowa. As far as I can see the new discussion in Congress about changing immigration laws will not address any of these issues. The Corporate Giants including Monsanto will still dictate policy and the little people; Americans and Mexicans alike will be used to their benefit. Just look at the recent farm bill. The farm bill should be used to encourage family farms not mega farms owned by the rich but worked by those who once had owned farms themselves. Jack B. Walters June 13, 2013

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