Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Going beyond capitalism


Many liberal and progressive people on the left promote the idea of local-food production and certainly within a socialist world communities will try to be self-sustaining if it is ecologically sound to do so. However, within present day society not even well meaning ideals are immune to the logic of capitalist exploitation. An article on the Alternet website tries to explain some of the problems with what is termed the Locavore Movement which is worth quoting. The article is based on a newly published book called ‘Labor and the Locavore’ by Dr. Margaret Gray who is a professor of political science at Adelphi University in Garden City on Long Island.

When it comes to factory farms, the public hasn’t “been reluctant to recognize the exploitation” of workers. But now being “overlooked” is “the role of hired labor in smaller scale agrifood production.” “Food advocates and their organizations display a tendency,” she goes on, “to conflate local, alternative, sustainable, and fair as a compendium of virtues against the factory farm that they so vigorously demonize. Yet this equation discourages close scrutiny of the labor dynamics by which small farms maintain their operations.”

“Food movement advocates and consumers, driven to forge alternatives to industrial agribusiness, have neglected the labor economy that underpins ‘local’ food production. Thus, the call “to ‘buy local’ promotes public health at the expense of protecting the well-being of the farmworkers who grow and harvest the much-coveted produce on regional farms.” writes Margaret Gray. “Small farms,” she writes in her book, “like their factory farm counterparts, are largely staffed by noncitizens, immigrant workers.” But “the prevailing mentality within the alternative food movement has not absorbed this reality.”

“The Hudson Valley, the fabled agricultural region that lies to the north of New York City, is a particularly opposite setting for examining the absence of worker justice within the alternative food movement, as well as the many obstacles that lie in the path of workers’ inclusion in the new food ethic,” she writes. Gray, commented about the notion “that local farms are wholesome and industrial factory farms are evil.” The situation, the said, is that generally in all kinds of agriculture, farmworkers are “marginalized, excluded from labor laws and work in paternalistic settings” and thus are “afraid to complain.”

Farmworkers remain without “the right to organize” unions—“a very significant exclusion,” said Emma Kreyche, organizing and advocacy coordinator for the Worker Justice Center of New York where farmworkers “are not entitled to a day of rest, they have no right to have a day off” and do not get overtime pay. Moreover, many of the laws on the books that do cover farmworkers are “poorly enforced.”

Dr. Gray’s  book concludes: “Buy local!” Yes, “support local farms,” she writes, but at the same time “build a food movement that incorporates workers.” People, she says, should nicely explain to farmers “your food ethic and how it demands fair labor standards to be observed.”

SOYMB suggests that the only real solution is not merely a reactive defensive response but to change the actual economic system where food standards, animal welfare and workers conditions are in harmony and that is socialism.



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