David Bacon

David Bacon is a California writer and photojournalist; his latest book is In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte (University of California / El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 2017).

Recent Articles

If San Pedro Sula Is Murder Capital of the World, Who Made It That Way?

Refugees flee this Honduran city, which has long been a vast, American-owned sweatshop.

A 30-second search on the internet produces at least two dozen stories from U.S. newspapers and other media about San Pedro Sula in Honduras. “ Honduran City is World Murder Capital ,” announces Fox News. Business Insider calls it “the most violent city on earth.” In an attempt to explain the motivation for migrant caravans traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border, NPR labels it “ one of the most violent cities in the world .” This wave of media attention has been going on for at least half a decade, as tens of thousands of Hondurans arrive at the border seeking refuge. President Trump’s rhetoric portraying the caravans as a threat has focused even more attention on this Honduran city. Fear of violence is a completely legitimate reason for leaving home and making the dangerous journey north. Violence and gangs, however, are often presented by U.S. media as the only explanation for the exodus of Hondurans from this metropolis. Yet more than a...

With López Obrador In, Workers Have the Confidence to Walk Out

Mexico’s new president has raised wages, and maquiladora workers have gone on strike along the border.

The election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of Mexico has raised the hopes and expectations of millions of Mexican workers. There could be no better evidence of this than the strike of tens of thousands of workers in Matamoros, a city at the eastern end of the U.S.-Mexico border, across the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo in Mexico) from Brownsville, Texas. During the past month, between 30,000 and 40,000 of the 70,000 maquiladora workers in Matamoros plants have walked off their jobs. The maquiladoras are factories, mostly foreign-owned, that manufacture goods destined for sale in the United States. They are the product of a development policy begun by the Mexican government in 1964, allowing the construction of foreign-owned plants, so long as their products were sold outside Mexico. The attraction for foreign companies has been a wage level far below that of workers just a few miles north, and the lax enforcement of environmental and worker protection laws. As a...

Growers Sue to Roll Back Farm Workers’ Wages

California agribusiness seeks to reduce guest workers’ pay  

Capital & Main is an award-winning publication that reports from California on economic, political and social issues. The American Prospect is co-publishing this piece. California growershave complained of a tight labor market for years. And President Trump’s dispatch of military units to the border, along with a decade of deportations, have tightened that market even more by restricting the flow of migrants into the fields. This recipe for confrontation has produced an escalating legal battle in Washington, D.C., and a walkout by hundreds of tangerine pickers in the Central Valley. Growers have increasingly turned to H-2A visas for guest workers as a remedy, with the decade ending in 2018 seeing a more than 370 percent increase, with no decline in sight. Although some growers have signed union contracts and provided better wages and benefits in order to attract a stable workforce, others are not happy with the federally mandated pay rates for guest workers—and are...

A New Day for Mexican Workers

The Lopez Obrador administration is changing the law so that workers can actually choose a union and vote on their contracts.

NAFTA had been in effect for just a few months when Ruben Ruiz got a job at the Itapsa factory in Mexico City in the summer of 1994. Itapsa made auto brakes for Echlin, a U.S. manufacturer later bought out by the huge Dana Aftermarket Group. In the factory, asbestos dust from brake parts coated machines and people alike. Ruiz had hardly begun his first shift when a machine malfunctioned, cutting four fingers from the hand of the man operating it. It seemed clear to Ruiz that things were very wrong, so he went to a meeting to talk about organizing a union. When Itapsa managers got wind of the effort, they began firing the organizers. Nevertheless, many of the workers joined STIMAHCS, an independent democratic union of metalworkers. Itapsa workers filed a petition for an election, but then discovered that they already a had "union"—a unit of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). They'd never seen the union contract—in essence, a "protection contract," which insulates...

The Cross-Border Farmworker Rebellion

Workers in the berry fields of the United States and Mexico have the same transnational employers. Now, farmworker unions in those two nations have begun to work together.

(David Bacon)
Surrounded by blueberry and alfalfa fields near Sumas, Washington, just a few miles from the Canadian border, a group of workers last week stood in a circle behind a trailer, itemizing a long list of complaints about the grower they work for. Lorenzo Sanchez, the oldest, pointed to the trailer his family rents for $800 a month. On one side, the wooden steps and porch have rotted through. “The toilet backs up,” he said. “Water leaks in when it rains. The stove doesn't work.” His wife, Felipa Lopez, described mistreatment in the fields. “The old man [the grower] sometimes walks behind us and makes fun of us,” she charged. “He yells at us to make us work faster.” Other workers in the circle nodded in agreement. Ramon Torres, president of the farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia, listened and then took union membership cards from the pocket of his jacket. “This is the first step,” he said. “Join the union. But...

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