Wednesday, April 11, 2012

WORKING FOR PEANUTS PICKING PEACHES


April 11, 2012

There was this dead pigeon. Lying at the end of Platform Nine it was, at London’s Waterloo Station. An angry rush-hour commuter demanded of the three British Railways employees chatting idly just feet away from the putrid carcass why they hadn’t swept it up, it was disgraceful.
The answer: “We won the war, lady.”
That would be World War Two, which, incidentally, they didn’t win, nor, if we’re honest, did the Americans. It was a joint effort, and those whose overwhelming presence really crushed Nazi Germany (I find myself forced, most reluctantly, to give them credit) were the Russian hordes.
But back to that pigeon and the sentiment that went with it. After the war the British, who, after all, had held out alone against Hitler for two years before help arrived, decided the world now owed them a living. It was the beginning of a steep and rapid decline for a once-great country and I’ll explain how this affects us in the USA today.
Nobody would do the menial work any more. Beneath their dignity. Some had been Chindits fighting and dying under appalling conditions behind Japanese lines in the jungles of Burma, and even those who hadn’t fought at all had sacrificed and  “done their bit”. Who now would run the buses and trains, man the factories, dig the ditches, sweep the streets? Immigrants would. Hundreds of thousands of people from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries were brought in and pretty soon they had become an integral part of society.
But that jingoistic British mentality prevailed anyway: we’re all too good for that. It was evident in the labor unions whose constant petulant work stoppages crippled the country, and it led to a failure to compete against the new, modern, factories of re-emergent Japan and Germany.
Here in America we’ve used Latino labor for the dirty tasks that our own citizens deem too demeaning. Fruit picking. Chicken plucking. Cleaning out stables...
They’re illegal aliens, undocumented workers. We’ve seen them all over Walton County building the myriad subdivisions that sprang up in the Age of Greed.
Hispanic in the streets! But today, with no work, the illegals have downed shovels and gone back to Mexico. Vaya con Diós to those guys.
The ones who remain are worse off than any American because help from the authorities is denied them. And now some states have followed Arizona’s lead in targeting Hispanic-looking people with a view to deporting the undocumented. Fear of harassment has caused an even greater exodus from the fields and factories.
The political opportunists who passed Georgia’s House Bill 87 robbed us here of the foreign labor that populated the chicken plants in Gainesville and the carpet mills in Dalton and farms throughout the state. Therefore where the crops rot on the vine, the conveyor belts lie idle, there’s work to be had. Jobs for America’s jobless. You’d think they’d flock to the areas that are hiring...
But here’s that British disease again. It’s not so much the ‘we won the war’ mindset as a consummate belief that we’re all above such menial work. And we certainly don’t want the low pay – we can get more in state and federal handouts.
A father of nine I knew took the free money until his last child got a job: only then, once government largesse dwindled, did he enter the workforce himself.
We Americans are used to – and continue to demand - a higher standard of living than we actually deserve. Alabama’s tomato growers complain that since the state introduced tough anti-wetback laws they can no longer find pickers.
This situation is true throughout Georgia. Ours is still a rural state with agriculture its chief industry.
Of course the help is there but the farmers must now pay more. A whole lot more. Georgia’s berries and peaches and Vidalia onions will be too expensive on the open market. Folks prefer to buy cheap foreign vittles.
I’m guessing the farmers pay $5 or $6 an hour with no benefits, an amount barely capable of sustaining a human life. Astoundingly, immigrant wives, and oftentimes whole families, have been surviving on the earnings of one  picker. With the wife also working, many more laborers earned enough to send cash regularly to their families south of the border.
But $5 for an American? Un gran insulto! It’s below the poverty line. Forget subsistence - we want to live! There’s work to be had in ghastly conditions but who needs squalor!
Over to construction, perhaps hanging drywall at $15 an hour, but the housing boom is all wheezed out and there’s now a surplus of homes for sale. Roofs need constant repair and replacement, so maybe roofing, but it’s exhausting and uncomfortable. To the chicken factories where the wage might be $10.50 an hour but the work can be nauseating.
Still, these are jobs to be had.  And that’s the sad situation here: undesirable drudgery paying peanuts is plentiful, but none of us wants to live like that.
Those who refuse to work are quite different from those who can’t find employment. Two entirely separate breeds. So here, which has likely been suggested someplace else already, is one solution:
Turning down your third job offer reduces your benefits and you’re placed on a national Unwilling To Work registry. I’ll add that if you still remain idle you’re issued a droopy gaucho mustache, sombrero and bus ticket to Juarez. Adiós amigo. See if Mexico will have you.

ENDIT

© 2012 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.