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Racism, Climate Justice, Heatwaves and Migrant Workers!

Racism is at the heart of the American government’s failure to tackle the growing threat of deadly heatwaves, or treat migrant workers fairly. So migrant Workers use group economics to help themselves!

Jeff Goodell, an award winning climate journalist, told the Guardian that people of color - including millions of migrant workers who are bearing the brunt of record-breaking temperatures as farmhands, builders and delivery workers - are not guaranteed lifesaving measures like water and shade breaks because they are considered expendable.

In The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet, Goodell documents the tragic – and preventable – death of Sebastian Perez, a Guatemalan garden center worker who collapsed and died in Portland, Oregon, on the first day of the brutal Pacific north-west heatwave in June 2021. In the US, there are no federal rules related to heat exposure for workers – indoors or out.

“To be blunt about it, the people most impacted by heat are not the kind of voting demographic that gets any politician nervous. They’re unsheltered people, poor people, agricultural and construction workers. People like Sebastian Perez are just seen as expendable. They’re not seen as humans who need to be protected. Racism is absolutely central to the government’s failure to protect vulnerable people.”

A couple of states have implemented heat exposure rules, yet last month in the middle of a heatwave, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed legislation prohibiting any city or county in the state from passing laws requiring shade and water breaks for outdoor workers. The vast majority of farmhands and construction workers in Texas are migrants from Mexico and Central America. “I mean, that is insane, and emblematic of the ‘cruelty is the point’ ideology in so much of our politics right now.”

If you’re a white person in America, social justice educator Robin DiAngelo has a message for you: You’re a racist, pure and simple, and without a lifetime of conscious effort you always will be.

You just can’t help it, you see, because you’ve been swaddled in the cocoon of white privilege since you came sputtering out of your mother’s womb, protesting the indignity of it all.

You may be indignantly sputtering right now at this insult to your humanity – for how can you be a racist? You have black colleagues you consider friends; you don’t see skin color; you never owned slaves; you marched in the 60s; you even protest today against the uniformed “bad apples” that use the power of their authority to smother minority lives and minority rights.

“How dare you say I am anything like them?” you grumble, as you pull the cloak of your bruised and fragile feelings around you. And there – with that simple act – you personify the theme of DiAngelo’s best selling book, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.”Florida's agricultural and construction industries say they are experiencing a labor shortage because a new immigration law that took effect July 1 is leading migrant workers to leave the state. Ironically this law is probably saving lives even as it destroys the farming and construction industries in Florida Georgia especially north Georgia's wine country is reaping the benefits as many immigrants are working together to build their own farms and become competition rather than workers.

Georgia is the nation’s highest user of the H-2A guest worker program — a federal program that brings migrant workers from neighboring countries seasonally to work in U.S. agriculture.

Since fiscal year 2019, the Peach State surpassed all others, with currently 22% of the total workforce coming out of the H-2A program, according to the federal Office of Foreign Labor Certification. Although a costly program, a shortage of domestic labor has caused farmers and producers to lean heavily on a migrant workforce — Much like Florida was experiencing many farmers used guest workers for more than half of their workforce. Labor brokers connected growers to the foreign labor workforce, who contract for a season. Farmers who can't keep up with costs are removed from the program.

“We are blessed with a diverse, billion-dollar fresh fruit and vegetable industry in Georgia,” Gary Black, state department of agriculture commissioner said, “without any stable, reliable, legal workforce, all of that would be impossible.” To put is simply most people wont take these jobs and when they do their work is sub par. But with few other options — local workers proving unreliable and often failing to pass drug tests (due to the opioid epidemic that continues to kill twice as many people as Covid 19 ever did) — farmers are at the mercy of federal regulations.

Other industries that require year-round employees feel left in the dark without any foreign visa program to bring in low-labor workers for extended periods of time. With federal lawmakers in a partisan standstill on immigration reform in Washington, D.C., rural Georgia farmers and producers were left playing the waiting game. Florida's loss is their gain.

Baldwin County Commissioner Sammy Hall, who operates a small farm and raises a few head of cattle, said there is a huge need for immigration reform —“It’s a big problem,” Hall said. “But if we did not have the immigrants, there is no way Georgia could handle the products that we grow and get them out of the fields.” Baker Farms in Moultrie, said its operations are “100% dependent on the H-2A workforce.” The vegetable producer has been participating in the program for more than two decades.

Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said there is no source of domestic labor willing to do the hard work of harvesting produce. Producers are dependent on workers who have the hard-working mentality to get produce out of fields. Lewis Taylor Farms is one of the largest employers in Tift County and one of the largest operations of its kind in the Southeast. The farm encompasses 7,000 acres of produce such as squash, eggplant, cucumbers, bell peppers, specialty peppers, strawberries, a variety of greens, broccoli and melons.

Out of about 715 employees, Bill Brim, farm chief executive officer, said 500 are contracted migrant workers through the H-2A program. “We still use locals as well,” Brim said, “you just can’t get that many.” Migrant workers' jobs are often physically difficult. They commonly work on farms, on construction sites, in mines, or in factories. Migrant workers also do domestic jobs, such as child care and cleaning. Regular labor laws often do not apply to migrant workers. U.S. fruits and vegetables for export are harvested by migrants under conditions that violate core labor standards. Migrants work in the aspects of agriculture that are too difficult or too expensive to automate. They are paid wages below the minimum, exposed to pesticides and relentless heat, crowded in housing not fit for humans, and subjected to sexual harassment and violence. Most are from Mexico, either undocumented or— in numbers that have tripled in the past three years—present on

H-2A temporary agricultural visas.

Critically, U.S. immigration law is structured in ways that coerce migrants into continuing to work

despite these violations of their rights, creating a climate ripe for forced labor. Undocumented workers can be deported at any time. Migrants on temporary visas can only remain in the country as long as they are working for the firm that sponsored them. If they are fired for reporting abuse, they are instantly deportable.

Many carry crushing debt from the recruitment process, and are well aware that those who protest will be blacklisted from future opportunities. It is little surprise that few speak up. In the past year, the U.S. has seen six labor contractors sentenced in Georgia and Florida for forced labor and human trafficking of migrant farm workers in the H-2A program. These cases shine a spotlight on the mechanisms of control used to keep migrants from coming forward when their rights are violated. The convicted labor contractors took the workers’ passports and their wages, deploying everything from threats of deportation to kidnapping and rape to keep them silent. This is only the leading edge of the cases in the pipeline, which in turn barely scratch the surface.

The answer is not as difficult as some may want you to believe. Cooperative enterprises have improved the lives of women and men migrant workers and their families for decades. Migrants find income and jobs, access affordable goods and services and find empowerment through cooperative enterprises, participating in the cooperative movement. Moreover, cooperative enterprises are facilitating economic, social and cultural integration or re-integration of migrant workers in both destination and home countries. Over one billion people around the world are members of cooperatives, including migrants and their families.

Whether women and men migrants join existing cooperatives, or create cooperatives exclusively of migrants, they take part in an enterprise that caters to economic, social and cultural needs. They participate in democratic decision-making and have an equal voice. They can also benefit from education and training as cooperative members and/or employees, improving their business and leadership skills. These inclusive aspects of cooperatives can lead to self-empowerment and social inclusion. Studies note that migrants often associate the cooperative model with their own ideals of mutual self-help and as a means to create a particular kind of society based on positive, cooperative, and supportive values.

Cooperatives offer migrant workers a means to improve their lives. ILO’s Migrant Workers recommendation, 1975 (No. 151) implicitly acknowledges the capacity of cooperatives to contribute to migrant workers’ enjoyment of equality of opportunity and treatment as well as overall well-being by supporting migrants’ “rights to full membership in any form of co-operative”.


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