According to the fruits of their labor

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A photo-essay about blueberry workers in eastern Maine by the outstanding photojournalist David Bacon resurrected my own memories of picking blueberries in Maine as a young boy.

I was roughly 9 or 10 years old. Over summer vacation, a school bus would pick up and transport a group of us to nearby fields where we would harvest green beans and blueberries.

The beans were low to the ground and picked by hand in an open field, usually under a bright sun. When a good-sized basket was full, it was weighed and the picker would be paid by the pound.

It was stoop labor, no fun. And I was an unenthusiastic and exceedingly slow worker, spending more time daydreaming about baseball or swimming in my favorite waterhole than picking beans. I wasn't long for the job, but fortunately for me, my best friends joined me in getting fired not long after we got the job.

The best pickers by far were older women who did this work every summer. Their hands moved at warp speed compared to mine. Even so at day's end their pay was slim, probably adding a little extra money to family income. By no means was it the primary source.

Raking blueberries was a tad or two worse than bean-picking. Actually, it was in the blueberry fields that my friends and I met our Waterloo.

It too was stoop labor, sometimes raking from your knees. Unlike green beans, blueberries were harvested with a heavy metal flat-bottom rake with a short handle and fork-like prongs. You had to sweep the rake through the low growing blueberry bushes, and that is tiring.

If the bushes were not full of berries (and many times that was the case), it would take a long time to fill a box, so our pay seldom amounted to much when we called it quits for the day. Compared with the exertion and sweat expended, it hardly seemed worth it in my young mind.

Which brings me back to Bacon's short article and photos. They suggest few things have changed in the blueberry fields, except for the labor force. When I picked blueberries, most if not all of us were locals earning some supplemental income. It wasn't our main income, and we went home at the end of the day. But in today's blueberry fields, Bacon points out, most of the pickers are Mexicans, Hondurans and MicMac Indians from Canada who have traveled far from their homes, live in labor camps, and depend on this income to feed, clothe and house their families, here and in their home countries.

Moreover, they encounter racism and discrimination as immigrants and workers of color.

Out of curiosity I called Wyman Industries, the Maine blueberry company that Bacon wrote about, and asked a company representative what conditions are like in the fields. Guess what? His story didn't square with Bacon's photos or comments.

To hear him, life is good for the blueberry workers whether picking in the fields or processing berries in the factories. Wages are more than respectable, he said. Housing is free. And Sunday, well that's the Lord's Day, except for many of the blueberry workers who labor on Sunday.

The workday for the rakers starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m, so I was told. (It's too hot by that time to work in the fields). Meanwhile, the immigrants in the factory labor for 12 hours a day at roughly $8.50 to $9 per hour with overtime after 40 hours. The company rep also said the rake handle was a bit longer now, after I mentioned that the handles were very short when I raked 50 years ago.

Not a word was said about injuries and the quality of the housing.

By the time he finished talking, it seemed almost idyllic, more like a summer camp than a labor camp. I could almost visualize myself laboring in those fields, this time with a look of contentment, knowledge that I would be well remunerated, and with a lovely home nearby to rest my weary body.

But thanks to David Bacon we know the real story, one of exploitation and racism, of an unchanged labor process, of invisible unpaid and underpaid labor in every blueberry we eat.

It should give inspiration to all of us to fight for another world in which democracy, justice, sustainability, and peace are the bedrock.

In this world that has yet to be born, farmworkers and immigrants will receive the full fruits of their labor, possess a powerful voice in the organization of their work, and enjoy society's profound respect. Justice will no longer be denied.

It can't come too soon.

Photo: One of David Bacon's photos of migrant workers in the Maine blueberry camp.

 

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  • Yes, blueberry pickers should be paid at least $30/HR, and fairly, should have comfy hotel accommodations with free continental breakfast, etc. Perhaps we could then subsidize the exorbitant cost with a tax on reality-challenged authors.
    I've had jobs like this before, but unlike you I didn't get fired because I needed the money. The experience encouraged me to get an education and a better job. This is what we call opportunity.
    I would suggest you grow up, but I suspect you've ignored that advice before.

    Posted by Bob Everyman, 09/06/2010 8:09am (4 years ago)

  • I beg your pardon, but that is how i posted my commentary of this article. So, here it goes again, you can skip what was mutilated below.

    "Compared with the exertion and sweat expended, it hardly seemed worth it in my young mind."
    Somber clouds of economical storm are re-surging in the media these days. The tunnel of wishful economical hopes has grown in length and the ounce reachable light has become an impossible dream, an unreachable star. The promised star of hope is as bleak and far from our planet earth as the chances of the CPUSA are from playing any sort of leading role in the ongoing class struggle process taking place in this country. A country that has carved its space in blood and suffocated misery. And in this country, in this mediocre world, designed, built and forcefully managed and upgraded by the oppressive hegemonic forces of the Capital, we are assisting, not without pain, at the vulgarization, worst, the banalization of the Communist Party of the United States of America.

    "Out of curiosity I called Wyman Industries, the Maine blueberry company..."
    Yesterday, I read a scary, but interesting, article by Michel Chossudovsky from Globalresearch "Preparing for World War III, Targeting Iran. Part I: Global Warfare" The Obama administration is prepared to use NUCLEAR WEAPONS to erase ounce and for all the atomic threat that Iran, a country with, internationally recognized, no Nuclear weapons, poses to the National interests of the U.S. For that effect a terrible arsenal has been designed, built and experimented. Such horrific devises as the Guide Bomb Unit GBU-27, or the Bunkers B61, or the "Mother of all Bombs" M.O.A.B costing around $14 million per unit, or the GBU-57A/B Mass Ordinance Penetrator M.O.P. measuring 20 feet in length are/will be masterfully combined with electromagnetic weaponry, the sort of tool that can manipulate the weather - see ""Owning the Weather" for military use" same site - as in creating artificial heat and other nasty manipulations that will render life hell for the areas targeted. That sort of article would be literally impossible to read in this site where, in contrast to Chossudovsky's well referenced unconditional denunciation of the imperialistic malabarisms by the Obama administration, one has to swallow the routine pragmatic narrow rhetoric pill about "honorable ways out" of the messes created by a string of U.S. President dating from the... to the last version of fierce smiling knight defender of democratic principles. In order words, this paper is contributing in covering the administrations' ass.

    " Guest what? His story didn't square with Bacon's photos or comments."
    Yesterday, again, I read another article. This time it was some reflexions. Reflections by an extraordinary man, a man that in the word of Brecht - another extraordinary man - belongs to the category of those "indispensable" one's. The reflexions of Comrade Fidel Castro. He labeled these reflexions: "The World Government" Almost all of those reflexions where done by interposed person, Fidel filled that space with extraordinary passages from Daniel Estulin's book "The Bildeberg Club's secrets" The book is about mind manipulation and control, designed at creating a hedonistic society where drugs and audio visual manipulation channels the working class and especially the youth to a state of submission and apathy. It would be too unfair and too lengthy for me to go in much more details here, but for those that can't manage Castellano - Spanish is just an imperialistic creation of an inexistent language - you can also read it in English at the Granma site, the Official Organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

    "But thanks to David Bacon we know the real story, one of exploitation and racism, of an unchanged labor process, of invisible unpaid and underpaid in every blueberry we eat."
    One has this horrendous filling when reading Webb's summary, trying with pachydermic energy to squish all the juice out of the blueberry story, that he is trying to cuddle us for a good night sleep. Maybe the next revolution will happen by osmosis! All contradictions will resolve themselves while we are listening to Sam's Road trips and blueberry experiences. How small is too small? How ineffective is too ineffective? How much more time will it required for you to realize that not even the Democrats care about what comes from the mouth of the secretary general of the CPUSA? I am, and will be an eternal optimist, and will peek ,from time to time, in this direction to see if possibly there is some movement. As for working people how can you expect them to be moved by the wavelength of your commentaries? In what way do these trails, that speak so apologetically about the oppressor(s), relay to them? How can you expect their time and attention when you do not enhance the contradictions of the system and show/facilitate/educate/etc. no mastery in the class struggle process? If these critical times are not enough to bring to the party's side a new crop of committed militants, then when? How can you contribute to the creation of the "new human" if the words that you use fall short, more often than not, of Marxist-Leninist vigor and clarity? By confusing the minds of those you claim to defend, you contribute to the dirty work of mass manipulated conceived and controlled by the corporations or those representing them. The role of the Communist Party is to support and lead the working class in its emancipatory processes which will culminate in a radical systemic change that will set the foundations for a new human society, where humans rediscover their humanity and interconnection with nature. To bring such a project to fruition you need the necessary support of the people, you know, those that are screwed up every day of the week, year after year after year.You need to remind them that they have and are been screwed up, by whom, how and why. And for that you need an organization, people around you. I know, the word "cadre" has fallen out of fashion in you vocabulary, but that is what a professional militant used, and still is, to be called. And hell, why try to relabel, or worst, re-invent the wheel? And then, there is that "little" problem of binding people together for a cause. As Lenin ounce said: "Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement."

    "In this world that has yet to be born, farmworkers and immigrants will receive the full fruits of their labor, possess a powerful voice in the organization of their work, and enjoy society's profound respect. Justice will no longer be denied."
    "Arise ye workers (starvelings) from your slumbers
    Arise ye prisoners of want
    For reason in revolt now thunders
    And at last ends the age of cant.
    Away with all your superstitions
    Servile masses arise, arise
    We'll change henceforth (forthwith) the old tradition (conditions)
    And spurn dust to win the prize."

    Hope, you still remember that? I am out for a blueberry pie!

    Miguel

    Posted by , 08/23/2010 5:15pm (4 years ago)

  • Somber clouds of economical storm are re-surging in the media these days. The tunnel of wishful economical hopes has grown in length and the ounce reachable light has become an impossible dream, an unreachable star. The promised star of hope is as bleak and far from our planet earth as the chances of the CPUSA are from playing any sort of leading role in the ongoing class struggle process taking place in this country. A country that has carved its space in blood and suffocated misery. And in this country, in this mediocre world, designed, built and forcefully managed and upgraded by the oppressive hegemonic forces of the Capital, we are assisting, not without pain, at the vulgarization, worst, the banalization of the Communist Party of the United States of America.

    Yesterday, I read a scary, but interesting, article by Michel Chossudovsky from Globalresearch "Preparing for World War III, Targeting Iran. Part I: Global Warfare" The Obama administration is prepared to use NUCLEAR WEAPONS to erase ounce and for all the atomic threat that Iran, a country with, internationally recognized, no Nuclear weapons, poses to the National interests of the U.S. For that effect a terrible arsenal has been designed, built and experimented. Such horrific devises as the Guide Bomb Unit GBU-27, or the Bunkers B61, or the "Mother of all Bombs" M.O.A.B costing around $14 million per unit, or the GBU-57A/B Mass Ordinance Penetrator M.O.P. measuring 20 feet in length are/will be masterfully combined with electromagnetic weaponry, the sort of tool that can manipulate the weather - see ""Owning the Weather" for military use" same site - as in creating artificial heat and other nasty manipulations that will render life hell for the areas targeted. That sort of article would be literally impossible to read in this site where, in contrast to Chossudovsky's well referenced unconditional denunciation of the imperialistic malabarisms by the Obama administration, one has to swallow the routine pragmatic narrow rhetoric pill about "honorable ways out" of the messes created by a string of U.S. President dating from the... to the last version of fierce smiling knight defender of democratic principles. In order words, this paper is contributing in covering the administrations' ass.

    Yesterday, again, I read another article. This time it was some reflexions. Reflections by an extraordinary man, a man that in the word of Brecht - another extraordinary man - belongs to the category of those "indispensable" one's. The reflexions of Comrade Fidel Castro. He labeled these reflexions: "The World Government" Almost all of those reflexions where done by interposed person, Fidel filled that space with extraordinary passages from Daniel Estulin's book "The Bildeberg Club's secrets" The book is about mind manipulation and control, designed at creating a hedonistic society where drugs and audio visual manipulation channels the working class and especially the youth to a state of submission and apathy. It would be too unfair and too lengthy for me to go in much more details here, but for those that can't manage Castellano - Spanish is just an imperialistic creation of an inexistent language - you can also read it in English at the Granma site, the Official Organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

    One has this horrendous filling when reading Webb's summary, trying with pachydermic energy to squish all the juice out of the blueberry story, that he is trying to cuddle us for a good night sleep. Maybe the next revolution will happen by osmosis! All contradictions will resolve themselves while we are listening to Sam's Road trips and blueberry experiences. How small is too small? How ineffective is too ineffective? How much more time will it required for you to realize that not even the Democrats care about what comes from the mouth of the secretary general of the CPUSA? I am, and will be an eternal optimist, and will peek ,from time to time, in this direction to see if possibly there is some movement. As for working people how can you expect them to be moved by the wavelength of your commentaries? In what way do these trails, that speak so apologetically about the oppressor(s), relay to them? How can you expect their time and attention when you do not enhance the contradictions of the system and show/facilitate/educate/etc. no mastery in the class struggle process? If these critical times are not enough to bring to the party's side a new crop of committed militants, then when? How can you contribute to the creation of the "new human" if the words that you use fall short, more often than not, of Marxist-Leninist vigor and clarity? By confusing the minds of those you claim to defend, you contribute to the dirty work of mass manipulated conceived and controlled by the corporations or those representing them. The role of the Communist Party is to support and lead the working class in its emancipatory processes which will culminate in a radical systemic change that will set the foundations for a new human society, where humans rediscover their humanity and interconnection with nature. To bring such a project to fruition you need the necessary support of the people, you know, those that are screwed up every day of the week, year after year after year.You need to remind them that they have and are been screwed up, by whom, how and why. And for that you need an organization, people around you. I know, the word "cadre" has fallen out of fashion in you vocabulary, but that is what a professional militant used, and still is, to be called. And hell, why try to relabel, or worst, re-invent the wheel? And then, there is that "little" problem of binding people together for a cause. As Lenin ounce said: "Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement."

    "Arise ye workers (starvelings) from your slumbers
    Arise ye prisoners of want
    For reason in revolt now thunders
    And at last ends the age of cant.
    Away with all your superstitions
    Servile masses arise, arise
    We'll change henceforth (forthwith) the old tradition (conditions)
    And spurn dust to win the prize."

    Hope, you still remember that? I am out for a blueberry pie!

    Miguel

    Posted by , 08/21/2010 12:52am (4 years ago)

  • How dare you Joel attack the one honest and perceptive analysis of this weak kneed and weak sister
    article by a leader of a major communist party. Who in the world want's to hear about when he was a kid. First of all his experience is nothing like the people he should be providing a socialist alternative too. Their honest working people, not some white collar con aritst like our illustrious leader who I understand never worked that hard in his life and really didn't work that hard to get where he is at in the CPUSA. It is truly pathetic, truly and sincerely pathetic that out of the few comments about this article two come from communist party insiders. You just gave yourself away; that is, with the direction you and your cronies are talking no one, absolutely no one on the outside world is reading your nonsense. You and your minions are totally out of touch with what the working class in the USA really need. All the past leaders of the CPUSA knew the hardships and sturggles of common working folk and when they wrote something it spoke directly to their desperate needs. Shame, great shame on Webb for innane and worthless commnents. When I think of how Lenin wrote and by his writtings provided great insight and guidance to the oppressed people of the world, I think you should go back to the drawing board and to the classic works of the past great leaders of the CPUSA
    , Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho, Che, etc, etc., ( other great international communist leaders) and study them. Study them very, very hard because you will be held responsible by the oppressed for not providing them good guidance.

    Posted by Michael Whitfield, 08/20/2010 6:53pm (4 years ago)

  • Great article Sam. I agree we need a better world, but I think we're heading in the right direction now.

    Amused at the person's comments below who said People's World doesn't exist. I hope he/she knows they just read an article published yesterday (probably by hundreds of other folks too), and commented right here on the site. Imagine that.

    Posted by Joel, 08/19/2010 9:31pm (4 years ago)

  • Webb's "writtings" (if one can call his drival that) remind me of the days when the church leaders whinned about how life would be better for all if we followed some type of "Christian socialism". For the "leader" of the once great CPUSA who now resides over a sect of about 300 members is nothing but an embarassment to the working class heros who lead this Party in the past. Bill Foster, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn,W.E.B. Dubois , Henry Winston and Gus Hall are turning in their graves In the years that this joker and his wreckers have taken control of Party business , they have managed to liquidate the PWW, Political Affairs, YCL magazine and the organization itself. Now all that is left are Party assets (real estate) and pensions for their factional "leaders". What we communists want to hear from our so-called leaders are concrete ways to lead the class struggle against capitalism and the building of real socialism on the way to communism. Not about feel good stories about picking berries when we were kids !

    Posted by Tony ex-seminary student, 08/19/2010 2:18pm (4 years ago)

  • What is pathetic to me is the price of blueberries! While they are a very healthy for one to eat, the prices are usually too high, especially when one considers what they pay the workers in the fields!

    Any chance of the UFW or FLOC organizing these hardworking men and women?

    Posted by Pancho Valdez, 08/19/2010 1:05pm (4 years ago)

  • See David Bacon's article,Pics:Migrant Workers in a Maine Blueberry Labor Camp,17 Aug,Political Affairs.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 08/19/2010 11:28am (4 years ago)

  • Thank for the link to brother David Bacon,provided in the article,brother Sam Webb.
    David Bacon is not only a phenomenal photo journalist,but also a phenomenal print journalist.
    He has exposed for the working class,the political repression associated with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency,connected to Homeland Security(I C E) raids by both the Bush and Obama administrations,persecuting,deporting and prosecuting our brothers,sisters and children in labor,for political blackmail and demagoguery-to encourage draconian congression legislation(in the screens of the P W).
    All interested in the building of the indispensable unity necessary to move all of labor to communist ideas that Rev.Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. Du Bois encouraged,coupling Du Bois with Pablo Neruda and Sean O'Casey,the international labor solidarity organized and not merely theorized or dreamed of,need to study the virtual revolution in print and photo media, both the art and the people in journalism,all over the country and world,need to study brother David Bacon's work,and put it into practice.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 08/19/2010 10:51am (4 years ago)

  • Well, there's a surprise! The sit-on-ass communist aparatchik from Chicago knows the REAL conditions in Maine. The hard right's pathetic view of the world is only exceeded - as in, more pathetic - by the hard left.

    Posted by Ed Flanagan, 08/19/2010 7:48am (4 years ago)

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