Everything’s Going According to Plan

The Birmingham News is reporting that 256 people have signed up for temporary agriculture jobs through the state’s website. Wow, that ought to solve the farmers’ problems.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that undocumented immigrants make up 5.1% of Alabama’s workforce. That’s around 120,000 people who will need to be replaced. Now, not everyone who is looking for agricultural work is going through the state’s site. Cullman sweet potato farmer Kevin Smith says he has plenty of people calling him directly. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t conditioned for the physical challenges of farm work.

Smith said he has 10 or more people a day calling him saying they are willing to do the farm work, but he said most quit after a few hours because it is such intense labor.

“Most American workers aren’t in good enough shape. They can’t do this work. You get two, three or four hours out of them, and they’re gone. They say they can’t do this no more,” Smith said.

He said he has heard of the state program, but he hasn’t tried it because he doesn’t think he will get any better quality workers.

“I ain’t signed up for it. Why should I call them when I’ve got people calling me?” Smith said.

Smith, who freely admits he used illegal immigrants to pick sweet potatoes, said three-quarters of his crop is still in the field after his workers moved away.

“We ought to be half done or better by now,” he said. Smith, who is a strong critic of the immigration law, said his crop will rot in the first freeze of the year.

Tom Surtees, Director of Alabama’s Department of Industrial Relations Pokies, continues to ignore reality:

Surtees said he rejects the idea that Alabamians aren’t willing or able to do the difficult work.

“I think the governor referred to that the other day as insulting,” Surtees said.

“I’m hearing only the Hispanics can do this. Well, I’m saying who did it before them? Alabamians did,” Surtees said.

Yeah, Alabamians did it decades ago. Those Alabamians are retired or gone on to their reward, and I bet most of them encouraged their children to find less physically taxing ways to make a living. As I said in yesterday’s post, labor is not fungible. It’s not reasonable to expect former office workers to jump into backbreaking physical labor without a significant period of adjustment, and farmers don’t have time for that.

Surtees sounds just as out of touch as Kris Kobach, the Kansas attorney general Secretary of State who drafted Alabama’s short-sighted law:

“We’re displacing the illegal workers. That may cause short-term pain for some, but the markets will adjust,” he said. “It may be they have a season with some losses, and it may be that they have to increase their wages. But you’ve got something like 200,000 unemployed people in Alabama, and many of them are going to find jobs as a result of this.”

The farmers and their families are just pawns in the market adjustment. They’re not real human beings. Everything will work out in the long run, and if a few farms fail along the way…well, out-of-state agribusiness will be more than happy to take up the slack until the state can arrest enough Hispanics to put them back in the fields – as convict labor.

2 Responses to “Everything’s Going According to Plan”

  1. Del says:

    I blame that ignoramus in Kansas who wrote the damned law for us. Maybe everything up there is harvested with threshers or whatever and they don’t need manual pickers.

    People who bitch about illegals taking jobs are not completely without cause. For example, Methland reported that when a ham-packing plant in Iowa was bought out, wages dropped overnight from $18 with benefits to $6.20, no benefits. Guess who filled a good chunk of the new “employment opportunities”? Jobs in other fields are also being filled by lower-wage immigrants, both legal and illegal. All a difficult pill for us “market pawns” to swallow.

    But all immigrant labor is not the same. We have ALWAYS had below-market wage earners doing this kind of thing in the fields. My mother-in-law, whose family sharecropped in the 30s, remembers Mexicans working alongside of them. You are right, we are not going to get welfare mamas or thuggish convicts or anybody else out there doing SKILLED, demanding physical labor, for menial wages, overnight, if at all. Not to mention the problem of the work being transient and temporary. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t like the idea of importing foreign help just to do the shit work for shit pay under some euphemistically named “guest laborer” program, while making sure that higher-paying jobs are reserved for our citizens. But unless we are willing to completely change the way many crops are farmed, and pay a lot more for our food besides…well.

    But these clowns apparently didn’t stop to think about any of this when they pushed their law through, nor did Dr. Dr. Bentley when he signed it. Funny, you’d think someone with his training would be more sensitive to complex situations and that “cures” can also have unwanted “side effects.”

  2. Kathy says:

    Oh yes, this needs to be a much more nuanced conversation. I certainly don’t want to maintain a system that exploits undocumented labor while depressing wages for everyone, but there has to be a better way to change it than a witch hunt. Instead we have Kobach and his political allies ginning up hatred of brown people and perpetuating Alabama’s reputation as backward and racist.

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