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Growers, Unions, and Farm Laborers in Mexico’s Baja California Christian Zlolniski DOI: 10.5876/9781607326311.c008 Introduction In Mexico farm laborers have been traditionally treated by the state as temporary migrant workers with limited access to labor benefits and protections available to workers employed in other sectors. The construction of farm laborers as a distinct category in the labor code has created a framework of structural vulnerability in which these workers operate. Moreover, the Mexican government has traditionally maintained tight control of the official unions that represent farmworkers to avoid labor strikes and maintain “social peace,” often denying independent unions the right to represent farm laborers . In this chapter I discuss the effects that this political and policy framework has had on labor unions and farm laborers in the context of Baja California’s export-oriented agriculture. Specialized in the production of fresh fruits and vegetables for consumer markets in the United States and Canada, the San Quintin Valley in Baja California combines capital-intensive production technologies with 210 Christian Zlolniski indigenous workers from southern Mexico drawn to the area by long-term, though intermittent job opportunities. The San Quintin Valley offers a window into the interaction between neoliberal forces behind the growth of export agriculture and a labor regime that restricts workers’ demands and ability to organize; yet it also allows one to see the collective responses by workers affected by these constraints. The globalization of fresh produce production for international markets has contributed to a widening power gap between growers and laborers in San Quintin. While growers have become embedded in transnational business partnerships with powerhouses in the United States such as Driscoll, Andrew and Williamson, and Monsanto, labor unions are still trapped in old patronage systems enmeshed in local social relations with a provincial flavor typical of a preglobal era. State laws and regulations that limit the labor rights of farmworkers are an integral part of the social and political fabric of agro-export enclaves that facilitates labor flexibility and seeks to avoid social and labor unrest that could jeopardize foreign investment. The state thus plays a central role in shaping the power interaction and legal definition of the labor rights of farmworkers employed in commercial agriculture. Yet this exclusionary model could not prevent the challenge from independent organizations and indigenous leaders who have developed alternative forms of labor mobilization to channel their demands. Contesting their portrayal as migrant workers who do not belong to Baja California, these ethnic leaders mobilize on behalf of indigenous workers to claim their labor, civil, and political rights as full-fledged citizens of the region in which they have become now solidly rooted. First I provide a brief discussion of the nature of agro-export enclaves in Mexico and of the development of the San Quintin Valley as one of the most successful regions specializing in the production of fresh fruits and vegetables for the United States. Then I describe the political construction of farm laborers as a specific category of workers with limited rights and labor protections . In the subsequent section I describe the role of the so-called “white unions,” employer-dominated unions that are part of the corporatist political structure in which they negotiate the labor contracts of farm laborers. The final sections describe the efforts by independent indigenous organizations and leaders to challenge the monopoly of official unions as well as a massive labor strike that exploded in San Quintin in 2015. 211 Growers, Unions, and Farm Laborers in Mexico’s Baja California The Growth of Export Agriculture in the San Quintin Valley Since the 1980s, the production of fresh fruits and vegetables for international consumer markets has been a favorite path for developing countries to expand their presence in global trade and emerge as key players in international commodity chains (Alvarez 2006). In Latin America, fostered by neoliberal agrarian policies, the production of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the fastest-growing agricultural sectors and a favorite recipe for economic development in poor rural areas (Alvarez 2006; Echánove 2001; Lara Flores 1996; Llambi 1994; Loker 1999; Reynolds 1994). In Mexico the fresh produce industry has enjoyed dramatic growth and government support aided by the growing demand of middle-class consumers in the United States and Canada for fresh fruits and vegetables to sustain healthier diets and lifestyles. Neoliberal agrarian policies ended support for the former import-food substitution model in an effort to promote export agriculture, attract foreign investment, and generate jobs for...


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