By Bill White —
A computer crash, combined with an unwillingness to pay a market price for their laborers, is hitting berry farmers across the United States, leading to threats about the further use of illegal immigrants to harvest America’s food crops.
“The system that helps perform necessary security checks [for agricultural visas] has crashed,” Niles Cole, a U.S. State Department spokesman, announced in June. “Until it is repaired, no visas can be issued.”
The result is approximately 1,000 agricultural laborers, all with pre-approved H-2A visas, crowding hotels on the Mexican border. The Western Growers association, a berry-farming spokesman group, believes those 1,000 laborers would be producing $500,000-$1 million a day in gross sales, had they been admitted into the country. That’s $500-$1,000 per worker per day.
But, the farmers’ loss is also their own fault, as they refuse to pay market wages—wages that would persuade the more than 45 million Americans who are physically able to work and not otherwise employed to get off welfare and start picking berries. Those amounts, $500-$1,000 per worker, break down to $62.50-$125 worth of berries picked by each laborer each hour. Surely, farmers can afford something more than the typical $3 to $4 per hour plus room and board at a local hotel.
It is not, however, entirely the fault of farmers. Most farmers sell their goods on commodity markets or to one of half a dozen commodity brokers—“agriculture companies”—that then resell the crops to distributors and world markets. On the commodity markets, speculators trade contracts for the delivery of agricultural goods on a certain month. These contracts then lead to options, or contracts that give options to buy or sell goods at a certain price. Options do not have to be exercised, and this fact allows for much more agricultural produce to be sold than exists, distorting the market and artificially suppressing prices in a way that farmers must pass on to their laborers.
To illustrate, say corn is at $100 a bushel on the commodities market. An agricultural company might typically pay the farmer $95 a bushel to resell it at that price. But, to buy corn cheaper, this same company, for instance ConAgra Foods, Inc., might go and start selling corn contracts at $90 a bushel, paying $1 per contract for the privilege of doing so, to push corn contracts to $85 a bushel. It then declines to honor the contracts, buys its corn at $85, pays the $1 fee, giving a total cost of $86, and, sells the corn at the recovered market price of $100, making $14 a bushel instead of $5. Farmers, losing $10 a bushel in sales, then come to believe that they can’t pay market wages and that they need illegal laborers to do work “Americans just won’t do.”
The scam has been going on for years. Since the dark ages, there has been opposition to slavery, the primary means of obtaining cheap agricultural labor, and this opposition has been framed in the same terms as it is now: by the desire of free working people to obtain a market wage.
Slavery was introduced into Europe from the Middle East and became dominant in Rome, though it was virtually unknown among early German and Celtic peoples. In 830 A.D., a Catholic archbishop, Agobard of Lyon, led a revolt by the sons of Louis the Pious against their father over the issue of agricultural slavery. Such revolts continued until the American Civil War. Then, chattel slavery was generally replaced by usury and debt-slavery, though since the 1960s immigrant labor has also filled the gap.
Thus, when legal immigrant laborers are kept waiting at the border, howls of contrived pain are heard.
“Farmers who invest heavily in H-2A are asking themselves if the government is capable of administering a legal worker program,” Dan Fazio, director of the Washington Farm Labor Association, told the press as part of a veiled threat to increase hiring of illegals.
“It’s a desperate situation for growers,” said Libby Whitley, president of MAS Labor, an H-2A visa employment agency.
But it may be best for the American people to allow a few of these farmers who tried to depress wages with H-2A visas to fail. They made a gamble to beat the market, and they lost. Government efforts to subsidize these losses eliminate the risk and further exacerbate the greatest deflationary pressure on the U.S. economy—open borders.
For 25 years, a great sucking sound has been vacuuming money out of the American economy and distributing it to everyone from Mexican farm workers to Bangladeshi seamstresses to Chinese factory laborers. Then, when the businesses that profit from a loss hit a hitch, they demand subsidies for their losses. As an old Polish proverb says, “The Jew cries out in pain as he strikes you.”
The current situation with agricultural commodities is not the farmers’ fault. They’re being squeezed with the rest of us. We’ve allowed a market in speculative commodities to grow and that system won’t change unless there’s pain.
Bill White is a freelance journalist and publisher based in Virginia. He has also written articles for THE BARNES REVIEW (TBR) magazine. Bill is also the author of a new book entitled National Socialism: Yesterday & Today. Proceeds go to White’s legal defense fund.