The tide of globalism, is, according to economists, a train that has already left the station. The neo-liberal consensus, shared by both Republicans and Democrats alike over the past few decades has been that so-called ‘free trade’ is the solution to economic growth in American. But globalism also has its discontents, none less acknowledged than the American farm worker.
In 1870, at the height of the labor market in agriculture, fully half of all working Americans were employed in the agriculture industry. Today, that figure is less than one percent of all workers. There are several reasons for this. First, technological advancements have made farm work much less labor intensive. Mechanized farming methods account for the lion’s share of the decline in the percentage of the agriculture-related labor force. And that is by design.
Earlier in America’s history, seasonal migrant workers, both American and largely Mexican, crossed the borders frequently to work the harvest seasons, and then returned to their homes in Mexico. But beginning in the 1960s, American-born workers began to organize against migrants, who they viewed as undercutting their collective bargaining rights.
Cesar Chavez, a revered Chicano (and ethnic identity adopted by people of Mexican descent born in the U.S.) labor and civil rights activist, decried the importation of undocumented immigrants as a direct attack by farm owners against the rights of U.S. citizens. Chavez organized major labor strikes against U.S. farmers, resulting in some cases, massive shortages and price increases in agricultural staples.
But the neoliberal agenda quickly caught on. First, farming organizations began to break the organized labor stranglehold on production by secretly importing undocumented workers from Mexico. This practice proceeded, largely unchecked, until the 1990s, when a more formal solution was devised – NAFTA. Proposed by Republicans and enacted into legislation by President Bill Clinton, NAFTA was seen by many in the business community as the solution to intractable problems of government-imposed environmental and labor regulation that was stifling American economic growth. But it was sold to the American consumer as a way of getting goods on the table at lower cost.