The Scoop

Landship Foods is inspired by the conviction that growing and eating healthy food is one of the most important things we can do for both ourselves and the broader communities of which we are a part. The name comes from the language of pre-industrial Europe. Before the enclosure movement and the associated rise in notions of private property swept England, the suffix “-ship” (as in "relationship," or "friendship") referred to an object or an abstraction with collective duties and mutual rights. Thus, the term “landship” suggests that land was an entity through which humans were joined to each other by a set of rights and responsibilities. I advocate for a revival of this awareness.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Immigration and Agribusiness

With the incredibly restrictive and some would say unconstitutional anti-immigration law poised to go into affect in Georgia soon, the state's large-scale farmers are all in a tizzy. They claim that they have already seen a drop in "available labor" (meaning people willing to work in difficult conditions for the little they are willing, or can afford, to pay). The US still has incredibly high unemployment rates - and believe-you-me south Georgia is no exception to this rule - so there is obviously more to this labor "shortage" than is commonly allowed: it is a shortage of willing laborers under the given conditions. The painful irony here as it relates to immigration and economy is that many of the same people who are anti-immigrant (whether "legal" or otherwise) are also the ones who support the free trade policies that force people to come to the US as low-wage/no-benefit immigrant workers.

The (commercial) farm lobby is strong here in Georgia and has exerted significant pressure on conservative governor Nathan Deal, who deserves the moniker goober-natorial if anyone ever has. Witness this excellent example of political-speak, where he explains the rationale (perhaps there's too much credit in that last word, but it will have to do for now) behind his new plan to put prison parolees in the farm labor positions recently vacated by intimidated immigrant workers:

"I believe this would be a great partial solution to our current status as we continue to move towards sustainable results with the legal options available."

In addition to the illuminating oxymoron of a "great partial solution," his statement also manages to work in that key buzzword: sustainable. He is really pulling out all the rhetorical tricks on this one. In the full article I read, the paper also reports that many farmers have had to let crops rot in the fields. Illustrating the sense of entitlement long-enjoyed by large-scale growers, one Georgia farmer intones that:

"We've got to come up with something. There's no way we can continue if we don't have a labor source to pull from."

This guy clearly illustrates the tight-knit relationship between government and agribusiness: he expects to have the government create a pliable labor source, and goober Deal is politically-liable if he doesn't fall in step. After the farm lobby pulls off this political coup, they will slap each other on the back and continue to talk about how independent they are; then they will resume their campaigns to resist "government interference," which is what they call government action when it doesn't benefit them: minimum wage laws, environmental regulations, and other similarly "socialist" efforts. There is an unavoidable parallel here to the rhetoric employed by southern planters in the post-emancipation American South who complained that the government had to do something about the recently-freed black men and women who refused to work for white planters.

Don't get me wrong, I hate to see the crops rotting in the fields, especially with people going hungry all over the world (including south Georgia). But no one in the farm lobby (or their pocket) has even broached the real solution to the perennial fear of farm labor scarcity: improve farm labor conditions! There is not enough time to get into the minutiae here, but it is quite obvious that agriculture needs serious reform and this episode only highlights that farm labor conditions must be at the top of the list.

In more uplifting food politics news check out this audio clip: 93 Dollar Club. The thing I like most is that it highlights the importance of grassroots organizers: those who take the initiative to create change instead of relying on the sham of electoral politics, being immobilized by inevitable challenges, or becoming deterred by the impenetrable formalities of government bureaucracies.

1 comment:

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