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Arizona: Corporate greed for cheap labor

May 7, 2010

by Joseph Debro

Mack Lyons, standing here with the legendary Cesar Chavez, was a pioneering leader of the United Farm Workers who organized Latino and Black farm workers and led strikes and boycotts across the nation during the 1960s and ‘70s. He said that when he was picking grapes, he would wonder “why in the hell do people have to work this hard” and how can I “make their lives a little bit easier, a little bit better”? Chavez described Lyons this way: “He was aggressive, worked hard, and got caught on fire. The Blacks were a very small percentage of workers at Arvin, but the Chicanos, Puerto Ricans and whites responded to him so well that they elected him their leader.”
A few columns ago I made the argument that poor people are necessary for the American economy to function efficiently. This country under-educates a large number of its citizens in order to increase the number of poor people. It is unfortunate that these uneducated are mostly Black and Brown.

My view at that time was that a cheap labor pool was a political imperative. I argued that we imported labor or allow poor people to enter the country illegally, when the poverty pool becomes too shallow. In the alternative, if we cannot create or import enough cheap labor, we export the functions for which cheap labor is required. We export our labor requirements to countries where wages are very low.

Most of our manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. They have gone to countries where there is very cheap labor. To India where there are no child labor laws. To the Far East where people work for a few dollars per day.

The state of Arizona has just exploded any pretense of civil rights. It has begun the exposure of the American labor hypocrisy. Like the Japanese in World War II, Hispanic and other dark skinned peoples are being singled out for a large dose of injustice. This state is now concerned about undocumented workers and the crime that it chooses to blame on those workers.

Arizonians and other American are willing to forget the bracero program. Under this program, we legally imported Mexican workers into this country because Americans would not work for the wages farmers were willing to pay.

The propaganda is that Americans will not do certain jobs. The reality is Americans will do any job if the pay is right. We should remind ourselves that this argument is about pay. Farmers are not willing to pay a fair wage for the labor they need. The corporate farmers and those who support them make a false argument. The reality is cheap labor. Farmers claim that they cannot afford to pay higher wages. They can if they cut out the brokers.

Much of the argument about our borders and crime is a false argument too. The powerful sell us false arguments. We buy them. The border problem is one that we do not wish to solve. We need cheap labor. We need our labor cost to be lower than that for which Blacks are willing to work. The political climate will not allow the politicians to legally import cheap labor from Mexico, so we allow Hispanics from Mexico and other poor countries to invade our borders.

There are laws on the books that can cure the border problem. People come here to work for cheap wages. It is illegal to hire an undocumented worker. We can enforce that law. We can make the penalty higher. No jobs, no reason to be here. Packing plants, slaughterhouses and construction companies employ many undocumented workers. If this administration enforces the law against such employment, the borders will close themselves.

Violence on our borders is drug related. Americans buy drugs from the drug cartels. The drug lords buy guns from Americans with the money they get from drug sales. If we deal with the drug problem by methods other than the so-called war on drugs, we may find a solution. A solution to the American drug addiction would dry up the gun sales and perhaps the crime on the borders.

Guns perpetuate violence on the borders. Mexico does not manufacture guns, America does. If America would not sell guns to the drug cartels they would be largely unarmed. Where do they get the money to buy guns? Americans buy drugs. This drug money is used to buy guns. If we did not support the high cost of drugs or if we did not buy drugs, the Mexicans criminals would not have the money to buy guns.

Joe Debro
If I go to Arizona without my passport and I am asked to prove that I am an American citizen, I can be jailed until I produce such proof. My passport has expired. I was born in Mississippi. I do not have a birth certificate. How do I get out of jail?

Let’s do some critical thinking. America needs cheap labor. How do you get cheap labor? Open borders produce labor that is cheap and unprotected.

Joseph Debro is president of Bay Area Black Builders. He is also president of the Visitacion Valley Community Development Corp., co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors, a general engineering contractor and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at

3 thoughts on “Arizona: Corporate greed for cheap labor

  1. John Mulligan

    Great article Mr. Debro. The sad truth is that the US has always been addicted to cheap labor. African slaves, Irish, Italians, Chinese and then recycled farmers from the Dust Bowl have all served this purpose. When we can't grow our own cheap labor, we import it. When we can't import it, we ship our jobs overseas. The US government has consistently shown a willingness to undercut the interests of workers. Unions are attacked, and where they cannot be broken, tariffs and borders are dropped to allow union wages to be undercut. We also shelter corporations under our generous corporate protections while at the same time allowing these domestic corporations to set up factories abroad.

    Farmers are by far the worst. Farmers are, in fact, the recipients of the most per capita welfare in this country. They get free land, free water and subsidies to grow nothing. Check out Cadillac Desert, a film and a book by the same name. Meanwhile, farmers employ no US citizens and they treat migrant workers like slaves. I remember in the 1990s some workers were living in caves.

    There has always been an option of course. After all, we built the nuclear bomb and put a man on the moon. Why couldn't we design a machine to do the work rather than depend on people who make less than minimum wage? The answer is, of course we can build such machines, its just that farmers are too greedy to fund the technology until the labor gets scarce.… As you can see, only now the farming industry is getting interested in these devices.

    I don't know why this country has been so afraid of innovation lately. Mechanized harvesters could be built in America's traditional industrial zones, places like Detroit and Bay View. We build these machines for ourselves and export them. Fewer farm workers would be needed and they could earn a living wage. Factory workers would see jobs again.

    Greed and small thinking have and always will be to blame.


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