The valley of San Quintín is located in the municipality of Ensenada in the state of Baja California, about five hours south of Tijuana and the US/Mexican border. The valley is a principal industrial agrarian enclave, exporting tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries and other crops. Around 60,000 salaried farmworkers (jornaleros) labor in the fields of the valley of San Quintín for what they consider “hunger wages.” The life of a jornalero in the valley is one of extreme precarity: the workers are subject to long hours, low pay, the lack of legal protections afforded by law, such as social security, workers compensation and retirement, a high incidence of exposure to chemicals, as well as various forms of abuse. The majority of jornaleros in the valley of San Quintín are indigenous migrants forced from their communities of origin in poor, southern states like Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chiapas due to globalization and free trade policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement.
On March 17, 2015, tens of thousands of jornaleros throughout the valley of San Quintín rose up against the horrible conditions and hunger wages to which they are subject and blocked the international highway in a general strike that brought the valley to a halt. The organized jornaleros issued a number of demands, including better working conditions, a minimum salary of 300 pesos a day and the freedom of association that can only be achieved through democratic and independent unionism. Although farmworker representatives did their best to negotiate, the combined power of local growers, international corporations, crony unionism and corrupt Mexican politicians dealt the farmworker movement a severe blow. Although negotiations achieved a slight raise in the daily minimum wage, growers also increased the amount of work, thus making any raise in real wages null and void.
One of the most concrete achievements of the jornalero movement was the creation of Mexico’s first independent and democratic farmworker union. On December 14, 2015 the federal government granted official registration to the Sindicato Independiente Nacional Democrático de Jornaleros Agrícolas (or SINDJA). SINDJA represents the hope and aspiration of tens of thousands of poor farmworkers in the valley of San Quintín, as the only way to better their lives is through democratic unionism and collective bargaining agreements that guarantee the jornaleros a living wage. Local growers and US-based transnational corporations employ corrupt pro-business unions to repress worker organizing and keep wages low.
One corporation with significant operations in the San Quintín Valley is Driscoll’s, the world’s leading supplier of berries. It runs its own farms but mostly sources berries from other growers, in the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Morocco, Portugal, South Africa, and other countries. Its main office is in Watsonville, California. Driscoll’s has worked hard to maintain an image of caring about the people that do the work (“we are honored to be part of the great communities, and work with the amazing people that make Driscoll’s possible, from farm workers out in the field to our farmers and employees”). But the “farm workers out in the field” in the San Quintín Valley and elsewhere tell a different story, one of poverty-level wages, inadequate housing, sexual harrassment, and retaliation against workers who organize. SINDJA and its allies have organized a boycott of Driscoll’s products until the growers negotiate a union contract with the workers. There are a growing number of boycott committees in many towns.
Every box of strawberries, every ounce of tomatoes from the valley of San Quintín sold in US supermarkets represents the blood and sweat of poor, indigenous migrant farmworkers earning hunger wages under repressive conditions. Consumers in the United States can choose to stand with San Quintin’s farmworkers by supporting the efforts of SINDJA. Together, farmworkers and consumers, we can make sure that our food is truly fair, safe and secure through the empowerment of Mexico’s farmworkers. As allies in their struggle, we can aid their efforts and put pressure on US-based corporations to demand fair wages and the freedom of association necessary for functioning democracies.