“Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry”

To coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday, the Southern Poverty Law Center has just released a paper titled Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry.  The paper concerns the exploitation of mostly undocumented immigrant women who work in the U.S. food industry and is based upon interviews with 150 women.  The women talk about having to subsist on poverty wages, being subject to wage theft, and being sexually abused.  As is well-known, the women generally do not report the abuses because it would mean that they would lose their jobs, be reported to the immigration officials, and/or be subject to even more abuse.


The Executive Summary of the report says:


Fifty years ago this Thanksgiving, CBS broadcast “Harvest of Shame,” an Edward R. Murrow documentary that chronicled the plight of migrant farmworkers. Murrow closed the program with this commentary: “The migrants have no lobby. Only an enlightened, aroused and perhaps angered public opinion can do anything about the migrants. The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation.”

Not much has changed.

Unfortunately, it is obvious that not much has changed in 50 years.  The SPLC report has some recommendations for Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Labor, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the states.

While you are enjoying the Thanksgiving food, remember the plight of the many immigrant women who have worked hard to bring you the food.  Also remember their plight if you happen to get into any conversations with an anti-immigration xenophobe.




Joe Wilson and Racism

A few days ago, I wrote a post titled “Randall Terry and Joe Wilson: Birds of a Feather.”  I gave my opinion that it seemed obvious that Terry’s tactics during the health care town hall meetings had contributed to Wilson’s outburst.  I also said that Congressional Democrats needed to sanction Wilson, even though President Obama and Nancy Pelosi had said the Democrats should just move on.  And therefore, I was happy this morning to read that there is a vote today on a “resolution of disapproval” for Wilson.  While a “resolution of disapproval,” which is the mildest form of punishment in the House, stops well short of what should have been an investigation that could have shown links between Wilson and other right-wingers (and thus helped Democrats), it is symbolic and far better than doing nothing.

I find it interesting that the CNN.com article on today’s vote makes it sound as if it were the entire Democratic House leadership that changed its mind and decided to move for a simple procedural reprimand against Wilson.  In fact, it is members of the black caucus, led by House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, who have caused the vote to happen.  The Washington Post reports that a “racial issue simmers” about the vote:

The vote on punishment will resolve the issue in the House, but behind the incident some see a broader question: Is racism a factor in the way the president is being judged?

With two simple words — “You lie!” — shouted during Obama’s speech to Congress, Wilson helped escalate an issue that has been on a slow burn for weeks, especially among African Americans. Many watched the rancor at last month’s town hall meetings with suspicion that the intense anger among some participants — including signs calling for Obama’s death and a movement questioning his citizenship — was fueled by the fact that a black man sits in the Oval Office.

Led by their most senior black lawmakers, House Democrats decided Monday evening to hold the vote. The decision risks escalating the partisan warfare that has erupted since Wilson’s outburst.

The Post also says:

Clyburn has said behind closed doors that many black voters saw Wilson’s actions as part of the heated rhetoric from conservative activists whose protests, including one on the Capitol grounds Saturday, have included depictions of Obama as Adolf Hitler and the comic-book villain the Joker, according to those attending the meetings. It was one thing to have such remarks at town hall meetings during the summer recess but completely different during a presidential address to a joint session of Congress, Clyburn and other black Democrats argued, and Democrats needed to stand up for the nation’s first black president.Clyburn has not publicly called Wilson’s remark racist, but he told reporters immediately after the speech that Obama is the only president to have been treated in such a manner.

Rep. David Scott of Georgia, who is black, received hate mail from constituents during the August break when the town hall meetings were being held.  He says that Wilson had just returned from the town hall meetings at which the most heated accusations were leveled at Obama and that “I think he was caught up in a moment. The issue is: Would he have done that if the president were white?”  Scott also said that ” few Republicans opposed the ‘level of rhetoric’ against Obama in August and that “We’ve got to realize racism is playing a role here. I’m hopeful that this will be a wake-up call for us to get it off the table.”

The Post also says that:

In a show of defiance Monday, [Wilson] was the first Republican to speak when the chamber opened for a round of brief speeches. Rather than apologizing, Wilson hailed the “patriots” who attended his August town hall forums and opposed a “government takeover” of the health-care system.

Thus, the link between Wilson and the “patriots” who disrupted the town hall meetings is clearer than ever.  Ever since 9/11, I have been extremely wary of any person or group who calls themselves patriots.    In many ways, doing things under the cloak of “patriotism” seems no more than a reason to waive civil liberties and to bring forth more prejudice and discrimination against any group other than white males.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been monitoring “hate” groups and activity in the United States since the 1980’s.   In 1994, after it says it uncovered links between white supremacist organizations and the “emerging antigovernment ‘Patriot” movement,’ it expanded its monitoring to include militias and other extremist groups. In its latest edition of its “Intelligence Report,” it has an article titled “The Second Wave: Evidence Grows of Far-Right Militia Resurgence.”  It talks about the resurgence of “antigovernment ‘Patriots.'”  It says:

Almost 10 years after it seemed to disappear from American life, there are unmistakable signs of a revival of what in the 1990s was commonly called the militia movement. From Idaho to New Jersey and Michigan to Florida, men in khaki and camouflage are back in the woods, gathering to practice the paramilitary skills they believe will be needed to fend off the socialistic troops of the “New World Order.”

One big difference from the militia movement of the 1990s is that the face of the federal government — the enemy that almost all parts of the extreme right see as the primary threat to freedom — is now black. And the fact that the president is an African American has injected a strong racial element into even those parts of the radical right, like the militias, that in the past were not primarily motivated by race hate. Contributing to the racial animus have been fears on the far right about the consequences of Latino immigration.

If you want to be frightened, you should read the article.  But, specifically as it relates to Joe Wilson, there can be an inference that the “patriots” like Wilson and those who attended his health care debates may either have some racist beliefs themselves or at least are being informed in part by the “Patriots” (with a capital “P”) whose numbers have increased since Obama became President.  If so, there is more to the health care reform opposition than the right-wingers would like you to believe.