Tuesday, May 31, 2016


By David Bacon
Capital and Main
New America Media

Anastasia Flores

As soon as  Anastasia Flores' children were old enough, she brought them with her to work in the fields. "Ever since 1994 I've always worked by myself, until my children  could also work," she recalls. "In Washington, I picked cucumbers, and in Santa Maria here I worked picking strawberries and tomatoes. In Washington, they allowed people to take their children to work with them, and to leave them at the end of the row with the older children taking care of the younger ones."

She didn't think bringing her children to work was unusual. It's the way she had grown up herself. Today she's is in her mid 50s, getting to the age when she will no longer be able to work. Just as she once depended on the labor of the kids for her family's survival, she will still depend on them to survive as she gets old. Without their help, she will have nothing.

Anastasia was born in San Juan Piñas in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. The small town is in the heart of the Mixteca region, where people speak an indigenous language that was centuries old long before the Spaniards arrived.

In the 1970s and '80s, people began migrating from Oaxaca looking for work, as Mexico's agricultural policies failed. Anastasia, like many, wound up working first in northern Mexico, in the San Quintin Valley of Baja California. "I picked tomatoes there for five years," she remembers. "It was brutal. I would carry these huge buckets that were very heavy. We lived in a labor camp in Lazaro Cardenas [a town in the San Quintin Valley], called Campo Canelo. It was one room per family, in shacks made of aluminum."

Before leaving San Juan Piñas she'd gotten married and  brought her first child, Teresa, with her to Baja. "I began to work there when I was 8 years old, picking tomatoes," Teresa remembers.

Hieronyma Hernandez works in a crew of indigenous Oaxacan farm workers picking strawberries in a field near Santa Maria.  

Anastasia then decided to bring her family to California, because her husband had found work there in the fields. "I needed money and I couldn't afford to raise my family in Baja California," she remembers. "There were three kids and I couldn't manage them. It was hard to bring the children across the border since they were so young, but compared to now, it was easier in the '90s. It only took us one day to cross."

"My memories of that time are very sad because I had to work out of necessity," Teresa says. "I started working in the United States at 14, here in Santa Maria and in Washington State. My mother couldn't support my younger siblings alone, and I'm the eldest daughter. I couldn't go to school because my mother had many young children to support."

Anastasia's son Javier, who was born in Santa Maria, shares those memories. "Whenever I got out of school, it was straight to the fields to get a little bit of money and help the family out," he recalls. "That's pretty much the only job I ever knew. In general we would work on the weekends and in the summers, during vacations."

The Flores family was part of a big wave of migration from Oaxaca's indigenous towns into California fields. According to Rick Mines, a demographer who created the Indigenous Farm Worker Study, by the 2000s there were 165,000 indigenous migrants in rural California, 120,000 of them working in the fields. "At that time there were few old people coming," he says. "And because almost everyone came after the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, they didn't qualify for the immigration amnesty and are undocumented."

Indigenous migration changed the demographics of the farm labor workforce in many ways, he explains. "A third of farm workers in the '70s and '80s shuttled back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. every year. Most were migrants, living in more than one place in the course of a year. That has all changed. The average stay in the U.S. now is 14 years."

Teresa Mondar, Anastasia Flores' daughter, began working in the fields of north Mexico when she was eight.  Today she is disabled by arthritis and can no longer work.

Because indigenous workers are undocumented, going back and forth across an increasingly-militarized border is practically impossible. Many are stuck in the U.S. If they go back to Mexico, it's for good. As people grow older, some return because the cost of living there is lower. "But those who go back to Oaxaca depend on their family in the U.S. to send them money," explains Irma Luna, a Mixtec community activist in Fresno. "They come from towns that are very poor, so they don't have any income other than what their children can send them."

Collecting Social Security benefits is not possible, because people with no legal immigration status (an estimated 11 million people in the U.S.) can't even apply for a Social Security card. In order to work they have to give an employer a Social Security number they've invented or that belongs to someone else. Payments are deducted from their paychecks, but these workers never become eligible for the benefits the contributions are supposed to provide.

The Social Security Administration estimated in 2010 that 3.1 million undocumented people were contributing about $13 billion per year to the benefit fund. Undocumented recipients, mostly people who received Social Security numbers before the system was tightened, received only $1 billion per year in payments. Stephen Goss, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, told VICE News in 2014 that that surplus of payments versus benefits had totaled more than $100 billion over the previous decade.

Recognizing this problem, the Oaxacan Institute for Attention to Migrants, part of Oaxaca's state government, has established a fund for starting income-generating projects in communities with returning migrants, including greenhouses, craft work andcarpentry. Nevertheless, most older migrants returning home still have no support other than money sent from the U.S.

Many older indigenous farm workers don't intend to return to Mexico. "I've spent almost 20 years working in the fields," Anastasia says. "A long time. I'm 56 now. I hope I will eventually stop working in the fields, but I don't have land or a house in Mexico, so I plan on staying here. I'm used to living in Santa Maria. I have all of my kids here, so I want to stay where they are."

A strawberry picker in Nipomo, CA.

Anastasia is a single mother. Her former husband Lorenzo was an alcoholic. "After they deported him in 1995 I raised my kids by myself," she says. "It was difficult to support the children when I was a woman living on my own. It wasn't until my children were older that I was even able to stay with my newborn daughter after she was born. By then my oldest children were 14, 15 and 16 years old, and they could go to work with me."

Today Anastasia's children have problems of their own, beyond supporting their mother. Teresa can't work. "My body can't handle it anymore," she explains. "It got more difficult as time went by, because picking strawberries is very painful on your hands and feet. I kept going because I had to work for my family. But then I was diagnosed with arthritis when I was just twenty-two years old. Arthritis is usually something the elderly suffer from -- that's my understanding. My doctor told me told me I didn't take care of my body while working in the fields. I'm 32 years old and can no longer work. I try, but I just can't. I tried to apply for Medi-Cal, but I was denied because I am not a legal resident and don't have a Social Security number."

Javier can work, but he has dreams of his own. "I took predominately AP [advanced placement] and honors classes in high school, and got good grades -- mostly A's and B's. I never got any C's," he declares proudly. But while in high school he also asked for legal emancipation. "My family was very conservative and strong in their Christian beliefs. I couldn't do anything, and felt like I was trapped. I really wanted to go with my friends to dances. Plus I'm bisexual -- to them that's a sin and you're going to hell. I couldn't live like that. I left home and was homeless for three months."

Despite those disagreements, he eventually reconciled with them. "I'm proud of what my mom and older siblings did in order to get the family here and survive." He's also proud of his mother's indigenous roots. "Whenever I cut my hair I always bury it," he says. "I asked my mother why we do that, and she says it's because we fertilize the earth. When it rains, I get a bowl and fill it with rainwater and drink it, and talk with her as our bowls fill up. I always wanted to write a book about my mother and her folktales."

Meanwhile, Anastasia continues working, wondering how long she can last. "My hands will always ache," she laments. "They hurt to a point where I can hardly work. Right now I have a pain in my stomach that often doesn't let me work either. The hardest thing is mainly the weight of the boxes they ask us to carry. They're very heavy. But using the hoe is also hard. I got sick working in the tomatoes, but once I get better I'll go back."

Javier Mondar-Flores Lopez, Anastasia Flores' sone, was born in the U.S., in an immigrant Mixtec family from Oaxaca.  He began working in the fields in fourth grade.

Mines' study shows that Anastasia Flores' situation is shared by a growing section of the indigenous farm labor workforce. "The number of people over 50 has doubled, and it's now about nine percent. That means that 10 to 15,000 people in California are in this situation," he reported.

According to Irma Luna, "indigenous women especially start to worry after they pass 50. They depend on the fields, but the work is hard and as we get older, it gets harder. Crew leaders won't hire older people for many jobs. But the only other choice is to depend on your family, whether you stay in the U.S. or go back to Mexico."

"Our immigration laws, especially, are creating a desperate situation for indigenous farm workers," says Leoncio Vasquez, director of the Binational Center for Oaxacan Indigenous Development, a community organization among Oaxacan migrants in California. "They contributed to Social Security, but they can't get the benefits. If they go to Mexico, they can't come back. They have to work, because there's no alternative."

David Bacon is a journalist and photographer covering labor, immigration, and the impact of the global economy on workers. For this article, he received a Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by The Scan Foundation.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


By David Bacon
McFarland, CA
In These Times - 5/26/16

Workers line up to vote in red teeshirts

Sometimes they call themselves chapulines.

It's a Oaxacan inside joke.

Chapulines are small insects, like grasshoppers.  When they're toasted with lime and garlic, they're a delicacy that's as much a part of Oaxacan indigenous culture as mezcal or big tlayuda tortillas. 

One worker standing in line in the edge of a San Joaquin Valley blueberry field laughed at the name.  "We're very humble, like chapulines, and there are a lot of us, like we're all piled up together on a plate."  Another reason he liked the similarity was the color - a plate of chapulines is reddish brown.  Pointing down the line of workers, he gestured: "Look at all the tee-shirts."

Hundreds of workers had lined up in two long rows in the pre-dawn darkness, ready to vote in a union election last Saturday morning.  So many were wearing red tee-shirts emblazoned with the black eagle of the United Farm Workers that the few people without them stood out conspicuously.

As the sun came up, the lines slowly moved toward the ballot boxes, and workers began to vote. 

By eleven o'clock it was over.  Blueberry pickers in their red tee-shirts poured out of the rows of bushes, and then gathered in a semicircle to watch an agent of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board make the count.

As he announced it, 347 to 68 in favor of the union, the cheering started.  The chapulines had won.

Workers may make jokes about their indigenous identity, but a far less pleasant reality led to their decision to organize a union. 

"The majority of the people here are from Oaxaca - Mixtecos and Zapotecos," explains Paulino Morelos, who comes from Putla.  Like many of the 165,000 indigenous Mexican migrants in California fields, a large proportion don't speak Spanish well.

"The foreman humiliates them," he says.  "He makes fun of them and says they work like turtles.  Even if someone is slow, we're working on piece rate, not by the hour, so you only get paid for the work you do. But he's always pushing them to work faster.  Carmela, another foreman, says Oaxacos are no good."  "Oaxaco" and "Oaxaquito" are derogatory terms for indigenous people from Oaxaca, which Morelos says he hears a lot.

Conflict about the piece rate led to a workers' rebellion.  At the beginning of the blueberry picking season in April, the company was paying pickers 95¢ per pound.  By mid-May, the price had dropped to 70¢, and then 65¢.  Finally, on Monday, May 16, the company announced it was dropping it again, to 60¢.  Workers refused to go in to pick, and called on the company to change its decision.

The farm's owner, the Klein Management Company, produces clamshell boxes of blueberries sold under the Gourmet Trading Company label.  Like most large California growers, it does not employ workers directly.  Instead, it uses a labor contractor, Rigoberto Solorio.

In a dramatic confrontation filmed by workers on their cellphones, Solorio told a crowd at the edge of the field, "What I can say is this, boys.  We can not raise the price.  We gave the price we could.  We're not going to raise it.  If you want to stay, stay."  He was then interrupted by shouts of "Vamenos!" - "Let's go!" 

In another crew, Morelos says, "Carmela told us, 'If you don't want to work, get out.'  I saw cars leaving the field, so I told her, 'We're leaving too.' One foreman said, 'You can take the people out, but don't come back.'  We left anyway."

The strike was on.

Strikers went to the local UFW office, and the following morning, union organizers met with the workers as they all gathered at the edge of the field.  A group then went to the offices of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which administers California's farm labor law.  They asked for a union representation election within 48 hours, which the law provides during strikes. 

Board agents then went to the field and counted the number of strikers, determining that 424 of the company's employees were involved - far more than the required majority.  After further discussions, the election was set for the following Saturday.  Meanwhile, the workers returned to work.

Jessica Ruiz, who led the first group of workers out of the fields, says "We also had a problem because they'd lower the price after we'd started work.  We wouldn't even know what the price was when we started, only at the end of the day they'd tell us." 

While the piece rate cut was the most immediate cause of the strike, workers had other complaints as well. Ruiz says the wage cut would have cost her more than $50 a week, out of an average $700 paycheck.  And to get that paycheck, she and her coworkers pick seven days a week. 

"They didn't even let us take Mothers Day off," she charges.  "My son is only 6 months old, and this was my first Mothers Day.  They told me, if you don't work Sunday, you can't come to work on Monday."

Despite a recent court decision holding that even piece rate workers must be given paid breaks, the first paid break in the Klein fields came on the day of the union election.  Ruiz and Morelos both complained about the water provided by the company.  Morelos says it tasted like detergent, while to Ruiz, "the water tastes like oil."

The strike and union campaign at Klein Management are part of a larger movement among indigenous Mexican farm workers, which is sweeping through the whole Pacific coast.  Work stoppages by Triqui and Mixteco blueberry pickers have hit Sakuma Farms in Burlington, Washington, for the past three years.  Workers there organized an independent union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, and launched a boycott of Driscoll's, the world's largest berry distributor.

In the San Quintin Valley of Baja California, thousands of blueberry and strawberry pickers walked out for three weeks a year ago, organizing an independent union as well.  They joined the boycott of Driscoll's, which also distributes berries from the area's largest grower, BerryMex.

The indigenous Mexican workforce along the Pacific Coast comes from several dozen towns in Oaxaca and parts of Puebla, Guerrero, Chiapas and Michoacan.  Workers have sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, parents and children working throughout the coast's agricultural valleys.  So many people from Oaxaca have come to California to work that their nickname for the state is Oaxacalifornia.

News, therefore, about labor conflict in one area spreads fast to others.  When workers in Baja California went on strike, Rosalia Martinez, a pea picker in Greenfield in California's Salinas Valley, says she learned about it on Facebook.  "I worked down there for a number of years, picking tomatoes.  We agree with what they did.  We come from the same towns. We are indigenous people, and we have to do whatever we can to keep our children eating, no matter what they pay.  But if we don't work and harvest the crops, there's nothing for the growers either." 

Workers at Klein Management weren't inspired go on strike by strikes elsewhere, however, but by the brutal economic facts facing indigenous farm workers in California.  Of all the state's agricultural laborers, indigenous people, because they're the most recent arrivals, are paid the least.  According to the Indigenous Farm Worker Study, carried out by demographer Rick Mines, the median family income in 2008 was $13,750 for an indigenous family and $22,500 for a mestizo (non-indigenous) farm worker family.  Neither is a living wage, but the differential reflects structural discrimination against indigenous people.

Mines found that a third of the indigenous workers he surveyed earned above the minimum wage, a third reported earning exactly the minimum and a third reported earning below the minimum - an illegal wage.  Low wages in turn have a dramatic effect on living conditions.  Most indigenous families live crowded in apartments, motel rooms, garages and trailers.  In some valleys people live outside in shacks, tents or even under trees or in the fields themselves.

Like several UFW organizers helping the McFarland workers, Aquiles Hernandez shares the Oaxacan migrant experience.  His family migrated from Santa Maria Tindu, and he worked as a child in the sugar cane fields of Veracruz.  Later he became a teacher in Mexico City, and belonged to the leftwing caucus in the Mexican teachers' union, the Coordinadora. 

"We had a planton [occupy-style encampment] outside the Secretary of Education," he recalls.  "Three of us were fired - they took away our classes because we were active in the protests, and I was in prison for 72 days."

Concepcion Garcia, a Mixtec immigrant from Coatecas, Oaxaca, was sent in by the UFW when the McFarland strike started.  She understood the pressure on the strikers because she experienced the same history.  "I worked in Sinaloa when I was a kid, starting when I was nine years old," she remembers.  "I've seen a lot of kids in the fields, a lot of need and suffering.  So I love teaching our people about their rights.  We're not in Mexico now, and we're not living in those times.

"I've seen a lot of humiliation and discrimination against indigenous people," she adds.  "My whole family works in the fields in Madera, and I've seen a lot of injustice.  People get hurt, and go to work anyway.  If you have no papers, the foreman threatens to fire you if you don't do as he wants."

Garcia has worked at Pacific Triple E, a large tomato grower, for two years.  Because there's a union contract at the company, she can take a leave from her job to work on a union campaign.  That's also the case with two other organizers sent to McFarland.  Edgar Urias is the general secretary of the union committee at the Countryside mushroom shed in Gilroy, which he helped organize in 2001.  Juan Mauricio has worked with his wife in Dole Corporation's strawberry fields since 2005. "For the same work I do," he says, "workers here earn much less." 

Before Saturday's election, UFW vice-president Armando Elenes told the Bakersfield Californian "If they vote to unionize, we will deal with the issue of wages immediately.  Then we'd probably negotiate a contract during the off-season."  A company statement on the first day of the strike predicted that only three weeks of picking were left.

The lopsided union majority in the election may convince the company to negotiate.  But Buck Klein, owner of Klein Management, told the Californian's reporter, Lois Henry, "The market is the market.  That's what dictates our prices. Even if there's a union contract and we negotiate a price with them, it's the same thing. The market is the market."

The union does have a tool it can use, however, which may make negotiations more fruitful.  California has a mandatory mediation law, which says that if the union and management can't agree on a first-time contract, the union can call in a mediator.  The mediator weighs the proposals from each side, and then issues a recommendation for an agreement.  If the Agricultural Labor Relations Board upholds it, then the mediator's report becomes a union contract.

That measure was added to the state's original Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 2002.  The Act itself dates from 1975.  Mandatory mediation, however, has been challenged by one of California's largest growers, Gerawan Farms, and the case is now before the state's Supreme Court.

In the days before the election, Klein management hired a labor consultant and the same well-known anti-union lawyer, Tony Raimundo, who was accused of unethical behavior in the Gerawan Farms case.  Nevertheless, the Klein statement declared, "The Company prides itself on providing good, high paying jobs every season."

Jessica Ruiz responds:  "We work in the sun all day, and we work hard.  I have no problem with the work, though.  My problem is with the things they do to us.  I've been waiting for this for a long time.  I'm very proud of my people and what we've done.  One of the owners said they'd send me to jail when I took the people out.  But they're not going to stop us."

Estela Ramirez picks blueberries

 Workers eat lunch the day before the election


Aquiles Hernandez talks with blueberry pickers at lunchtime

Workers walk out of the fields


Jessica Ruiz tells workers to vote for the union in a rally after work


Union rally before the day of the election


Pickers wait while the votes are counted in the election

Blueberry pickers shout when they hear the union has won


Workers celebrate the union victory in the election

Sunday, May 15, 2016


A History in Photographs
By David Bacon
NACLA Report on the Americas, May 2016

Unions and social movements face a basic question on both sides of the Mexico/U.S. border - can they win the battles they face today, especially political ones, without joining their efforts together? Fortunately, this is not an abstract question. Struggles have taken place in maquiladoras for two decades all along the border.  Many centers and collectives of workers have come together over those years. Walkouts over unpaid wages, or indemnización, as well as terrible working conditions are still common. 

What's more, local activists still find ways to support these actions through groups like the Collective Ollin Calli in Tijuana and its network of allies across the border in Tijuana, the San Diego Maquiladora Workers Solidarity Network. Other forms of solidarity have been developed through groups the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. And long-term relations have been created between unions like the United Electrical Workers and the Authentic Labor Front, and the United Steel Workers and the Mexican Mineros. More recently, binational support networks have formed for farm workers in Baja California, and workers are actively forming new networks of resistance and solidarity in the plantons outside factories in Ciudad Juárez.

Over the years, support from many U.S. unions and churches, and from unions and labor institutions in Mexico City, has often been critical in helping these collectives survive, especially during the pitched battles to win legal status for independent unions. At other moments, however, the worker groups in the maquiladoras and the cities of the border have had to survive on their own, or with extremely limited resources. 

These photographs show both the conditions people on the border are trying to change, and some of the efforts they've made to change them, in cooperation with groups in the U.S. There have been many such efforts - this is just a look at some.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1993 - Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plásticos Bajacal. Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they're voting for the company union or their own independent union. Lic. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he declare which union he's voting for, as company officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, a representative of the independent union. The maquiladora organizing drive at Plásticos Bajacal in 1993 first highlighted for U.S. unions the reality of public union representation elections and the lack of the secret ballot. The San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers raised enough money to pay lost time for fired workers, so they could continue organizing the factory.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1995 - Women workers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women's rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women were laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer. The plant manager had organized a "beauty contest" at a company picnic, and ordered women workers to parade in bikinis. Supported by the San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers, women filed suit in a U.S. Federal court, which surprisingly accepted jurisdiction. The company then gave women severance pay for the loss of their jobs.

LÁZARO CÁRDENAS, MICHOACÁN, MEXICO - 1995 - As the Mexican government moved to privatize the ports along the Pacific coast, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union sent a delegation to talk with Mexican dockworkers and their union.  In Lázaro Cárdenas workers had a long history of insurgent unionism in the Sicartsa steel mill. Some later came to Los Angeles, where they organized among immigrant workers there. In the port, workers tried to preserve their contract and wages, and U.S. dockworkers offered to support them.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1997 - Workers vote for an independent union in the first union election at Han Young, an auto parts manufacturing company Workers are voting by open ballot in the office of the state labor board. Surrounding them are Benedicto Martinez, general secretary of the Authentic Workers Front, and activists from the San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers, including videographer Fred Lonidier.

TORREÓN, COAHUILA, MEXICO - 2002 - When the wave of murders of young women began in Ciudad Juárez, activists on both sides of the border organized demonstrations to make the crisis a public political issue. In Torreón, one organization of the mothers of disappeared women, "Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a la Casa," organized a march with the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. Fermina, a mother of one of the women murdered and disappeared in Juárez, marched with other mothers to call on Mexican authorities to investigate the cases.

MATAMOROS, COAHUILA, MEXICO - 2006 - Supporters of APPO (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca -- the Popular Assembly of Oaxacan People) demonstrated at the US-Mexico border crossing in Matamoros during the teachers' strike and subsequent insurrection in Oaxaca. The demonstrators called for the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz and demanded that the Mexican government withdraw federal forces from that state. Martha Ojeda, director of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, was an organizer of the demonstration, and Rosemary Hennesey, a teacher at Rice University, carried a sign announcing support for the teachers by the Kansas City Cross Border Network.

NUEVO LAREDO, TAMAULIPAS, MEXICO - 2009 - The settlement of Blanca Navidad, on the outskirts of Nuevo Laredo, just south of the U.S. border. Blanca Navidad was created by workers looking for land to build a place to live. It is part of a network of radical communities on the border, and throughout Mexico, sympathetic with the Zapatista movement. Most residents work in the maquiladoras. When the community came under attack by state authorities, who threatened to bulldoze their homes, activists came from Texas to defend it.

MEXICO CITY, DF, MEXICO - 2010 - A striking teacher from Michoacán demonstrates on the Reforma, in front of a line of police. Teachers came from states where the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers (CNTE), the leftwing organization within the Mexican teachers' union, leads the teachers' organization. They protested proposals by the Mexican government to reform the educational system by introducing standardized testing and removing job protections for teachers. U.S. and Canadian teachers have supported their efforts to defeat these proposals, which have come from U.S. AID and private foundations promoting corporate education reform. Together they've organized a TriNational Coalition to Defend Public Education.

MEXICO CITY, DF, MEXICO - 2011 - Trade union activists and other popular organizations protest in Mexico City's main square, the Zócalo, on the day Mexican President Felipe Calderón gave his annual speech about the state of the country. The protest, called the Day of the Indignant, was organized by unions including the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) because the Mexican government fired 44,000 electrical workers and dissolved the state-owned company they worked for, in an effort to smash their union.  Protestors also demanded jobs, labor rights, and an end to the repression of political dissidents. SME members had been camped out in the square, and several mounted a months-long hunger strike. Many U.S. activists came to the protest and visited the encampment during the hunger strike.

MEXICO CITY, DF, MEXICO - 2014 - Members of the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers (CNTE) and the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) marched with U.S. and Canadian labor activists to Mexico City's main square, the Zócalo, on the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The marchers protested the educational, economic, and political reforms passed over the last year by the Mexican government and the ruling Party of the Institutionalized Revolution. These reforms set the stage for the privatization of the oil and electrical industry, the implementation of corporate education reform and social benefit policies, and changes to the country's labor law. Activists also protested the negotiation of a new trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 2015 - Striking farm workers from the San Quintin Valley marched to the U.S.-Mexico border to draw attention to the fact that the tomatoes and strawberries they pick are exported to the U.S.  The workers are almost all indigenous Mixtec and Triqui migrants from Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. At the border they were met by delegations of activists, who rallied on the other side in support.

BURLINGTON, WA - 2015 - Farm workers and their supporters march to the office of Sakuma Farms, a large berry grower, where they went on strike in 2013.  The workers are demanding that the company bargain a contract with their union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. They organized a boycott of Driscoll's, the giant berry distributor, accusing it of being responsible for the violation of their labor rights at Sakuma, since the company buys all the Sakuma blueberries the workers pick. The workers are indigenous migrants from Oaxaca.. They also demonstrated in support of the indigenous Oaxacan farm workers in Baja California, who were on strike against growers who also distribute their berries through Driscoll's.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 2015 - Two students of the Ayotzinapa teachers training school in Guerrero, Mexico, and the parents of two others, marched with supporters in San Francisco to protest the disappearance of 43 students from the school in September 2014, and the murder by the Mexican police of three others. The four individuals were part of three caravans traveling simultaneously through U.S. cities to publicize the cases.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

ON THE STREETS - UNDER THE TREES - photo exhibition

On the streets - Under the trees
Homelessness and the struggle for shelter
in urban and rural California
Photographs by David Bacon

Asian Resource Gallery
317 Ninth St at Harrison
Oakland, CA

May - June, 2016
Reception: Tuesday, May 24, 6PM

for more info: dbacon@igc.org, gjungmorozumi@gmail.com
sponsored by East Bay Local Development Corporation

I believe a person should not have to worry day to day where they’re going to lay their head or get their next meal.  That should just be a given - James Kelly

In the Bay Area and Los Angeles, homeless activists are taking the tactics of Occupy a step further, using encampments, or “occupations” as mobile protest vehicles.  Within them, the people sleeping in the tents develop their own community.  They organize themselves and work together.  They make decisions collectively.  And they develop their own ideas about what causes homelessness, and for short term and long term solutions to it.

They’ve created what they call “intentional communities,” not just as a protest tactic, but as places where they can gain more control over their lives, and implement on the ground their own ideas for dealing with homelessness. 

In rural California, homeless people are overwhelmingly farm workers.  Although they’re working, they don’t make enough to pay rent, and still send money back to their families in their countries of origin.  In settlements on hillsides in San Diego, or next to the Russian River in Sonoma County, they create communities bound together often by the indigenous language they bring with them from home.

These photographs are a window into the reality experienced by homeless people in urban and rural California.  While there are important differences, it is not surprising that the experience and the circumstances are so similar, as is the effort to create community, no matter how difficult the conditions.  In both urban and rural areas people also fight for better housing, and for their right to exist in a public space.  Their voices reflect on the experience:

We’re developing an actual city through a bunch of homeless people coming together.  We have a community here.   Is it a perfect solution?  No.  Housing is the permanent solution to homelessneess.  But this is a helluva good start.  The people responsible for solving homelessness are the homeless themselves.  - Michael Lee

It should be a more secure world now without the Cold War.  I believe a person should not have to worry day to day where they’re going to lay their head or get their next meal.  That should just be a given.  This is an occupation because we are not camping out on someone else’s property.  We are occupying our own property. - James Kelly

We hang out here because we’re not allowed in the upskirts of downtown.  People have a label on us. They talk about ‘those homeless people.’  They never say ‘the people.’  They see me as a person who eats out of a trashcan. - Linda Harris

The Skid Row community is one of the most vibrant communities in Los Angeles.  Folks take care of each other, know each other and live very densely.  Here you either create community or you get wiped off the map. - Pete White

I’m a soldier in the war on poverty. - General TC

When I first arrived I rented an apartment, but I couldn’t make enough money to pay rent, food, transportation and still have money left to send to my family in Mexico.  I figured any spot under a tree would do.  We’re outsiders.  If we were natives here, then we’d probably have a home to live in.  But we don’t make enough to pay rent. - Rómulo Muñoz Vazquez

It is very difficult living out here. We don’t have money but we have no other choice.  My sister and I tried to get a job picking strawberries but they wouldn’t hire her.  I still can’t find a job.  When we go and look for employment they tell us they don’t have work for women. - Sofia Perea Bravo

This photodocumentary is a joint project between myself as a photographer, California Rural Legal Assistance, the Community Action Network in Los Angeles, and the Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales.  The purpose is to

- document the similarities between rural and urban homelessness and lack of housing
- promote common housing ideas that can meet the needs of both urban and rural homeless people
- develop communication between urban and rural homeless and housing-deprived communities, to help people advocate for themselves.

This show is especially dedicated to the homeless activists of Berkeley, who were first driven out of Liberty City last fall.  Then they were drive from the Post Office Camp, where they'd lived for 17 months, just as I was printing the photographs shown here.  Their vision is one we should pay attention to.  Instead the U.S. Post Office refused to listen or see what is in front of them, and used the brute force of the Postal Police to drive people away.  Instead of the camp and its residents, the City of Berkeley now has this fence and empty, fenced-off space - a monument to hostility to the poor and an eyesore in this supposedly progressive community.