Friday, May 05, 2006

What We Learned on May Day

As the Los Angeles Times said in the article "Throngs Show Their Potent Role in Economy" on May 1 we leanred in California that immigrants were crucial to the state's as well as the country's economy. Los Angeles, the nation's largest seaport, had only 10% of the trucks show up May 1st as 90% of the truckers boycotted. These truckers normally bring in all the retail goods--clothing, elecrtronics, car etc--that are then shipped all over the country. The Times quoted on truck driver George Fernandez saying that he made about $20,000 a year or about $10/hour, and wanted "some sort of relief from all the costs, like for fuel, and the low pay and the working conditions."

In agricultural May 1st was California's biggest work stoppage in the history of the state as most of the states 225,000 farm workers didn't work. Many of the growers let their employees take the day off. Near Salinas the Times reported Highway 101 was lined with tractors, trailers and harvesters--all just sitting there. Strawberries weren't packed near Oxnard. California grows 25% of the nation's food (at least 50% of the nation's fruit), so undocumented immigrants were crucial to growing food for the whole country.

Farmers truck their food down to the whole produce markets in downtown Los Angeles to supply the city each day with food. The Los Angles Times reported that on Monday the 7th Street Market, the second-largest wholesale produce operation in Southern California, didn't open at all while the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, supplier for restaurants, caterers and independant grocery stores, lacked buyers as many retail stores were closed. Again immigrants were crucial in suplying Los Angeles with food: they work as truckers bringing in the food, labor in the wholesale markets downtown, and work in the retail stores that sell the food. Immigrants were also important as consumers--of food, gas, clothing, etc. As the Whole Produce Market worked, if the consumers don't consume, much less gets sold.

Besides growing produce, immigrants work in meat packing firms, cutting and packaging cows and chickens into meat for the nation's households and restaurants. On May 1 some of the largest meat packing firms--Tyson Foods Inc, Perdue Farms Inc, Cargill Inc, and Swift and Co.--closed many plants while cutting back workers in others. Again immigrants proces the chickens and cows that most of the nation eats. The book Fast Food Nation has a whole chapter on immigrant workers in huge meat packing firms in the Midwest states such as Kansas who work for low-pay in extremely hard, dangerous work.

Did this one-day boycott have a big impact on the economy? Financial anlaysts have said that 1 day of no work in these industries won't have a negative economic effect because the industry --agriculture, for instance--can catch up the work by the end of the week.

Yet we have learned an important fact. Before May 1, most people in the United States thought of undocumented immigrant workers largely as gardeners or nannies. Now we must change our thinking. Immigrants contribute every day in crucial, important ways to the nation's economy, particularly getting food to the table that most of us eat every day as well as trucking in retail goods that we buy. Immigrants also provide stimulus to the economy by what they consume. In Japan, where the population has been stable for over 20 years (the country has little immigration) the economy has stagnated. In contrast, the United States has had a growing population consuming more goods and a growing economy.

The average undocumented worker has been in this country five years doing this year--usually low-paid, with very little benefits. They do work that we all depend on. Their consumption stimulates the national economy. They contribute every day to the national economy.

1 comment:

Michael Gordon said...

I'm sorry, but the only good place for the illegal aliens is a federal prison or Mexico, not in our nation. They do not contribute anything: they are parasites.