The New Lynching: the Death of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez

Submitted by Modesto Anarcho

Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez

In May 2008, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was only 17 when she fainted into her fiancées arms, slipping from this world, and taking not only herself, but the life of the unborn child inside her. She collapsed, outside of Stockton, and then later died due to heat stroke, the result of working over 9 hours in the hot sun picking grapes. When she arrived at the hospital, she had a core body temperature of 108 degrees. Maria’s death sparked controversy, however, sadly, she was only one of many who perished in the fields of California while working. According to Dan Bacher:

Maria was one of six immigrant workers who died from heat exposure in the agricultural fields of California last [2009] summer. The deaths all have a tragic character, but what ties them together is that in every case the sub-contracting agencies, who are responsible for hiring most farmworkers, failed to implement basic health and safety standards. In 2005, 12 farmworkers died from heat-related illnesses. In 2006, the number of reported deaths was 8. The death toll has continued to rise during Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration. But this is just one aspect of the problem. The total number of farmworker deaths due to accidents on the job in California over the last five years exceeds 700.

As the budget crisis wore on, oversite government agencies like OSHA had less and less funds to investigate the literally thousands of farms in California that were hiring cheap, and largely immigrant labor. There was simply too many employers, and too many employees for the government to watch and make sure that the bosses were playing by the rules. Even if bosses were brought up on charges or fines, a repeatedly biased appeals board also was in place to keep things on the side of those with the money. And, while high profile cases such as the death of Mrs. Jimenez brought some media attention to the struggle of farm workers, in the halls of government, the politicians were only happy to back the bosses attacks on workers. In July of 2010, right in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would give farm workers overtime after working 8 hours a day. Farm workers often perform their back-breaking work as “piece workers,” (people who are paid by how much they put out, and not by the hour), thus often having to work 10-12 hour days in order to make enough money. The decision by the government to deny them over time pay only helped solidify their position as second-class citizens and ensured that the massive amounts of profits that are generated by paying them so little are kept rolling in.  

In January of 2011, two company officials involved in the death of Mrs. Jimenez received a deal of only $1,000 in fines and several years probation, skipping out on catching an involuntary manslaughter charge. Imagine, if only for a second, that the roles would have been reversed. If Marisa Jimenez would have killed her boss and her unborn child and not the other way around. Do you think that she would have gotten away with only a $1,000 fine and probation? Of course not. Just as the police receive light sentences when they kill us, but we are sent to death when we kill them, there are laws for bosses and there are laws for the rest of us.

Both the ruling regarding Maria’s death and the vetoing of the overtime bill shows one thing to be clear: the government and the bosses do not care about the health and safety of farmworkers; the literally thousands of workers slaving in California’s fields for next to nothing while the agricultural companies rake in the profits. Secondly, the government protection agencies in place to provide oversight are not capable nor willing to safeguard farm-workers and stop the wide scale murder of workers at the hands of those that own and operate farms. And, when we add up all those that are dying every year in California’s fields with those that die on the US/Mexico border; some killed by border patrol guards, some killed by vigilantes, and many dying in the desert, we begin to realize that we are talking about the deaths of literally thousands of people. People who are literally living and dying – just to work. This work being in conditions that most Americans would refuse to ever, be employed in.

New Slavery

 Many liberals and Leftists will tell us that these deaths are the cause of poor government policy. That with more oversight and better leaders, these abuses could be stopped. However, as we have seen, when bosses are “held accountable” within the system, the law always rushes to back them. While they may get slight fines and weak sentences, these are nothing even compared to what most working class people receive for having a small amount of marijuana. And, when legislation if pushed forward that would help farm workers and migrants begin to crawl out of their lower economic status, it is quickly defeated in an attempt to back the interests of rich business owners.

The problem is a government that exists to protect an economy that destroys and kills us for the sake of profit. The problem is capitalism, not finding the best way to manage it. Thus, the attacks on farm workers in the form of ICE raids, attacks on workplace organizing, and preservation at any costs of poor working conditions, are not the result of poor or bad government, but instead political decisions made in order to preserve class divisions in society that impoverish some and make others rich. It is this constant fear of deportation or violence from the state, as it is completely designed to do, which keeps a large population of farm workers in fear of fighting back and from organizing to better their conditions.

To some, this may seem like slavery. But, in many ways, wage slavery is in fact much more desirable for the capitalists than chattel slavery itself. Instead of having to house and feed workers, or provide them with healthcare, bosses simply have to pay workers minimal wages. In many cases, farm workers have to pay bosses just to sleep in poor housing units the bosses own. And, if they complain or attempt to organize they can simply be fired or deported. Government officials are few and far between, and even if a boss is reported, they can simply appeal a decision and get off quickly. Constant fear of the threat of deportation is enough to scare many workers into keeping quiet and from striking. Furthermore, the racial divisions in place between immigrant workers and non-immigrant workers is also so strong that any real solidarity that might exist between them is often broken apart due to racism or a false sense of nationalism promoted by the rich and powerful. All of this combines to create a perfect business environment for capitalists in the fields. They have a government that looks the other way and refuses to back worker interests. They have in their pocket a police force and ICE (la migra) who they can call in anytime they need to scare the workers with deportation. And, if they do face legal trouble, they can count on the courts to exonerate them. They have in essence, a sure fire way to make billions of dollars off the backs of working class people living in dire poverty and disgusting conditions…Read the entire article at http://modestoanarcho.org

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Categories: Central Valley News, Chicano/Latino, Health Issues, Immigrant Issues, Racism, Women's Issues

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