David Bacon

David Bacon is a California writer and photojournalist; his latest book is In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte (University of California / El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 2017).

Recent Articles

An Immigrant Woman Takes Charge of the United Farm Workers

Change—and perhaps a new day in the fields—comes to Cesar Chavez’s legendary union.

Women make up almost one-third of all agricultural laborers, but the presidents and most top leaders of the United Farm Workers have invariably been men. Dolores Huerta, the union's fiery co-founder, faced down growers and negotiated many of the union's contracts. She became secretary-treasurer, but not president. Does it make a difference? The UFW has chosen a new president, Teresa Romero, who says it does. Although she’s never worked in the fields, she believes her gender gives her a close connection to the lives of the women who do. After her election by the union's executive board on August 28 (the next convention in 2020 will make a permanent choice), Romero’s first field visit was to lettuce and broccoli harvesters working in Salinas for the D'Arrigo Brothers Company. "In some crews a majority of the workers are women," she says. "There was a time when they didn't hire women for some jobs. I don't know what the reason was, but whatever it was, it was wrong. "Women...

What Was the Life of This Guest Worker Worth?

While Washington state agencies reduce farmworker pay and find employers faultless for a death in the fields, Trump and congressional Republicans back proposals to turn farmworking into permanent indentured servitude.

(David Bacon)
On Sunday, August 5, a group of 200 farmworkers and supporters began walking at sunrise along the shoulder of Benson Road, heading north from Lynden, Washington, toward Canada. When they reached O Road, the marchers turned right to walk along the border. Unlike the frontier with Mexico, with its walls, floodlights, and patrols, the border line here is no line at all—simply a road on each side of a weed-choked median. The procession, chanting and holding banners, passed a succession of blueberry fields for the next 14 miles, finally reaching the official border crossing at Sumas. Pausing for a protest in front of the local immigrant detention center, it then continued on until it reached its objective one mile further on—the 1,500-acre spread of Sarbanand Farms. There, in front of the ranch’s packing and warehouse facilities, participants staged a tribunal. “We are here to assign responsibility for the death of Honesto Silva,” announced Rosalinda Guillen,...

Counties Cancel ICE Detention Contracts

But advocates want detainees freed, not sent to for-profit jails

Most Latina teenagers celebrate their a quinceañera, or 15th birthday, with parties and dances. Sometimes their families even rent a hall and hire a band. On June 9, Alexa Lopez, dressed in a pink tulle gown, held her quinceañera outside the West County Detention Center in Richmond, California. Her father, Raul, had been locked inside for a year and a half. The celebration, organized with the help of the Interfaith Movement 4 Human Integrity (IM4HI), was in part an effort to help Alexa feel that, despite her family’s separation, she was surrounded by a community that understood the importance of that day. But it was also a way to show to the larger world the terrible cost of immigration detention and family separation. Perhaps that was one element convincing Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston to announce, a month later, that he was canceling the county’s contract to house immigration detainees for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency...

Farm Work Can Be a Skilled and Permanent Job

A Salinas grower and the union bet that a new contract will become an alternative to employing guest workers.

(David Bacon)
Up and down the Pacific coast, many of the largest growers are rapidly increasing their use of guest workers recruited in Mexico as temporary harvest labor. Farm labor, in their view, is unskilled. The workers who perform it should show up at harvest time, work as hard as possible, and then effectively disappear until the next season. This has been the common view for over a century. It is the justification for a renewed Republican push to establish a vastly expanded guest worker program. But is the road to improving the lives of farmworkers to legislate even more massive contract-labor programs? Or is it to treat farm labor as skilled and permanent work, and provide security and decent wages to those who do it? One Salinas grower, D'Arrigo Brothers Company, is choosing the second alternative, a choice its workers feel reflects the value of their labor. “I started working at D’Arrigo in 1979,” says Efrain Fraide, who works in a company broccoli crew. “I’...

Growing Pains

Guest farm workers face exploitation, dangerous conditions.

Capital & Main is an award-winning publication that reports from California on economic, political, and social issues. The American Prospect is co-publishing this piece. Tomato grower Harry Singh had an idea for speeding up the harvest in the fields he rents at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base near San Diego. His foreman told Serafín Rincón, 61, to pick beside two imported contract workers in their 20s. In the summer heat, Rincón was told to run. He could hardly keep up. Rincón had come to work with his friends Santiago Bautista and Rufino Zafra They were all longtime farm workers in the area. Bautista had been working in San Diego since 2003, and Zafra since 1975. All day they had to listen to gritos (shouting) and insults from their boss Celerino when they fell behind. "Stupid donkey, you're old now," he shouted at them. "You can't make it anymore!" The three even started trying to hold it when they had to go to the bathroom, after being yelled at for...

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