Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Photographs by David Bacon
The Progressive / On The Line - 7/21/17

The old Boise Cascade plywood mill, closed in 2006.  The original mill complex on the Yakima River was started in 1903.

The face of work and poverty in Yakima ranges from a closed mill of the city's past to the agricultural fields of its present. 

At the edge of town is the rusting structure of the old Boise Cascade plywood plant, where many of this small city's people worked for over a hundred years.  Little houses in the surrounding neighborhood were originally built for mill workers. Now many are the homes of laborers in the valley's fields and packing sheds.  Yakima always was and still is a farm worker town.

The closure of the plant is one reason why those homes have seen better days. Rick, who lives in a tent camp set up by homeless people on the street downtown, says he'd like things to go back to the way they used to be. "There was work for everyone," he remembers. 

Not all memories of that work are so pleasant, though.  Manuel Ortiz, age 85, came to the US in the 1950s as a bracero. After a lifetime of labor in the fields, today he collects cans to pay his rent.  In Moxee, just a few miles away, Mario Magaña and Martin Gutierrez cut weeds between the rows of tall hop vines, whose fruit will soon be fermenting in the vats of one of the Washington State's many craft breweries.  Their workday is 10 hours of bending over double, swinging a machete.

Long work days, or days of no work at all, were on the minds of hundreds of workers on May Day in this central Washington city. Farm workers marched with activists from the indigenous nation for whom the city is named.  One group of workers, carrying the red flags of the United Farm Workers, came from the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.  A few growers and packing shed owners closed for the day, but most workers just took the day off on their own, risking their jobs.

Their growing movement, visible in the streets, is challenging Yakima's old power relations. New city councilmembers - Latinos have won three of seven seats - spoke to the marchers and condemned immigration raids.  As they spoke, detainees in the Tacoma immigrant detention center, just two hours away, organized a hunger strike to protest deportations. 

Others recalled the immigrants executed in Chicago in 1886, when the global movement for May Day was born in the fight for the eight-hour day. Yet in Yakima Valley hop fields the work day is still 10 hours, a hundred years later.

"We need an 8-hour day, but 8-hours with a wage we can live on, and a union," one speaker urged.  "We don't believe in a world of violence and war and prison and unemployment and low wages and deportations.  We can build a better one!  Like the Zapatistas say, 'Un Otro Mundo es Posible!'"

A home in a poor neighborhood of Mexican workers in Yakima.

Rick lives in a tent camp set up by homeless people on the street in downtown Yakima.

Manuel Ortiz has lived in Yakima for 30 years.  He collects cans for recycling to get money to buy food.

Mario Magaña chops weeds growing in the rows between hops vines, before the hops are harvested for making beer.

 Celina Arcos thins fruit on apple trees.

 May Day marchers in Yakima.

Members of the United Farm Workers at Chateau Ste. Michele Winery took off work to come to the May Day march.

 A young indigenous Yakima woman leads the May Day march.

 A rail line leaves Yakima through the gate of the old Boise Cascade plywood mill.

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