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

NAFTA, the Cross-Border Disaster

The trade treaty, now up for renegotiation, has displaced millions of Mexican workers, and many thousands of U.S. workers as well.

AP Photo/Marco Ugarte
As the talks to renegotiate NAFTA unfold in Washington, most attention in the United States has understandably focused on its domestic impact. Yet the treaty also had an enormous effect on Mexico, spurring a wave of forced migration of millions of people. Today a growing number of union members in all three NAFTA countries believe the treaty should be renegotiated—first, just to heal the damage done to workers. But a new treaty, or a new relationship between Mexico, the U.S., and Canada, they say, should also ensure that a new NAFTA and other treaties like it never cause the same devastation. Like the other trade agreements of our age, NAFTA is not really about trade. U.S. tariffs on Mexican imports were relatively low before it went into effect. In actuality, the treaty is an agreement to allow market penetration and investment, the relocation of production and the creation of supply chains in manufacturing. Up until the mid-1980s, Mexico had a very protective policy that...

The Art of the Border: Searching for Kikito

A French artist’s colossal installation on Mexico’s side of the border may make the invisible visible, but other subjects carry a sharper critical edge and pose deeper questions.

(David Bacon)
This article originally ran at Capital & Main , an award-winning publication that reports from California on economic, political, and social issues. For almost an hour, Laura, Moises, and I drove through the dusty neighborhoods of Tecate, looking for Kikito. Tecate is a small border city in the dry hills of Baja California. It’s famous for a huge brewery, although today most workers find jobs in local maquiladoras. When we asked for directions, a couple of people had heard of Kikito, but couldn’t tell us where he was. Most didn't know who we were talking about. We figured that if we kept driving along the border fence, we’d find him. In these neighborhoods, the second stories of large comfortable homes, mostly built in the 1940s and 1950s, rise above adobe walls enclosing their courtyards. But unlike downtown, with its colorful bustle, there was no street life on the hot streets here, hardly anyone on the sidewalk. Finally, we passed the one man who could surely...

Braceros Strike After One Worker Dies

Risking deportation, Washington state farmworkers protest dangerous conditions in the fields.

(Photo: Edgar Franks)
A farmworker’s death in the broiling fields of Washington state has prompted his fellow braceros to put their livelihoods in jeopardy by going on strike, joining a union, being discharged—and risking deportation. Honesto Silva Ibarra died in Harborview hospital in Seattle on Sunday night, August 6. Silva, a married father of three, was a guest worker—in Spanish, a “contratado”—brought to the United States under the H-2A visa program, to work in the fields. Miguel Angel Ramirez Salazar, another contratado, says Silva went to his supervisor at Sarbanand Farms last week, complaining that he was sick and couldn’t work. “They said if he didn’t keep working, he’d be fired for ‘abandoning work.’ But after a while he couldn’t work at all.” Silva finally went to the Bellingham Clinic, about an hour south of the farm where he was working, in Sumas, close to the Canadian border. By then it was too late, however...

Can Organic Farming and Unions Transform California's Hottest Farm Belt?

Combined, they have to power to improve the lives of farmworkers and save the Salton Sea.

David Bacon
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. This article was written and produced with the support of a journalism fellowship from New America Media, the Gerontological Society of America, and the Silver Century Foundation. Forty-one years ago, I was a young organizer for the United Farm Workers in the Coachella Valley, helping agricultural laborers win union elections and negotiate contracts. Suspicion of growers was a survival attitude. I was beaten by the son of one rancher in a vineyard while trying to talk to people sitting in the vines on their lunch hour. When I met with workers in another field, my old Plymouth Valiant convertible was filled with fertilizer and its tires slashed. By those standards, I could see that HMS Ranch Management, which manages day-to-day operations for ranch owners, was different. I'm sure Ole Fogh-Andersen, who ran the...

A New Farm Worker Union Is Born

Indigenous Oaxacan farm workers win themselves a union in the Pacific Northwest.

David Bacon
Bob's Burgers and Brew, a hamburger joint at the Cook Road freeway exit on Interstate 5, about two hours north of Seattle, doesn’t look like a place where Pacific Northwest farm workers can change their lives, much less make some history. But on June 16, a half-dozen men in work clothes pulled tables together in Bob's outdoor seating area. Danny Weeden, general manager of Sakuma Brothers Farms, then joined them. After exchanging polite greetings, Weeden opened four folders and handed around copies of a labor contract that had taken 16 sessions of negotiations to hammer out. As the signature pages were passed down the tables, each person signed. Weeden collected his copy and drove off; the workers remained long enough to cheer and take pictures with their fists in the air. Then they too left. It was a quiet end to four years of strikes and boycotts, in which these workers had organized the first new farm-worker union in the United States in a quarter-century—Familias Unidas...

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