A months-long labor dispute ended as Mexican farm workers accepted a deal with Baja growers. Farm workers had pressed for a wage equal to about $13 a day; currently, the average wage ranges from about $8-10 a day.
While the agreement fell short of the 200-peso daily wage the workers sought, experts call it a “landmark agreement” that “marks the most significant achievement by a farm labor movement in recent Mexican history.”
It began as a door-to-door campaign by indigenous villagers, but grew into a “well-organized” movement that mobilized thousands of laborers, disrupted the export trade to the U.S. and brought agribusiness interests and the Mexican government to the bargaining table. U.S. retailers – including Wal-Mart – even weighed in. A four-part investigative series by the Los Angeles Times – Product of Mexico – highlighted the bleak working and living conditions of the laborers, and kept the issue front and center with U.S. consumers. Many credit this series and the international media coverage it generated as being a factor in the successful effort. Another difference? Some of the labor leaders drew upon their experiences working with U.S. farm labor unions.
Per the agreement, daily pay for thousands of workers will increase, in some cases by as much as 50%. Laborers will also begin receiving government-required benefits “long denied by many agribusinesses.”
“We have awakened. We’re not going to accept working for 100 pesos a day anymore. We’re not going to accept being denied our social security benefits,” labor leader Fidel Sanchez told a throng of cheering laborers who had gathered in the village of Vicente Guerrero on Thursday night to hear details of the agreement.
Although workers fell short of their goal of a 200-peso daily wage (about $13), and it remains to be seen whether the government will follow through on its pledge to enforce basic labor laws, experts said that didn’t diminish the significance of the achievement.
It remains to be seen what the future holds, but it is clear that the strike’s resolution represents a lasting shift.
“This is a watershed moment,” said Sara Lara, a farm labor researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In decades of studying farm issues, Lara said she has never seen agribusinesses buckle to labor demands for increased wages.
“It’s incredible,” Lara said. “It changes the paradigm and creates a new precedent in the labor movement.“