THE SOCIAL MOVEMENT PHOTOGRAPHY OF DAVID BACON – KIDS WORKING IN THE BANANA TREES, PARENTS ON STRIKE
Photographs and text by David Bacon
The Progressive, 7/16/19
Editor’s note: We’re delighted to share the fifth of a multi-part series from the archives of photographer David Bacon. A former union organizer, Bacon’s thirty years of photographs and writing capture the courage of people struggling for social and economic justice in countries around the world. His images are now part of Special Collections in Stanford University’s Green Library.
Part Five tells of his visit to the banana plantations of Mindanao, in the Philippines, where he found children working in the trees, and a strike by members of banana cooperatives against the Dole Corporation, to end the poverty that sends children to work in the fields.
In 1997 I went to the Philippines to document child labor on the banana plantations producing for the Dole Corporation. In the Campostela Valley on Mindanao I found many children doing this work. Later, in Carmen, outside of Davao I took photographs and interviewed workers defending their cooperative, formed as a result of the land reform after the end of the Marcos dictatorship. They told me they were on strike against the low prices paid by the Dole Corporation, which forced many families to take their children to work with them.
At the Soyapa Farms plantation, a huge operation set up in 1992 by Stanfilco, a division of the Dole Corporation, it wasn’t hard to find the children – they were everywhere. In one corner I found five children from 11 to 17 years old chattering as they flattened out and recycled sheets of plastic, coated with chemicals, that are inserted between banana bunches as they grow.
From the shed I walked into the banana groves. The roof of broad leaves overhead created a hot green shade underneath, and the earth was slick with the dead and rotting material cut from the trunks of the trees. Here I found the youngest children, including Alan Algoso, nine, wielding a large sharp sickle he used to cut away the dead layers.
Other children I found in the groves had stopped going to school, however. Benedicto Hijara, at 15, had been working for three years.
After I returned from San Jose Campostela I went to see Koronado Apuzen, a lawyer who was helping agricultural workers set up cooperatives. Apuzen had worked with the National Federation of Labor, and many of the coops had grown out of the unions in that federation who’d formerly negotiated with Dole.
Workers in four big coops had been on strike against Dole for weeks. Before forming coops they’d worked for Dole as employees for decades. Using the Philippines’ land reform law passed after the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, they’d gained ownership of the land.
But Dole controlled the export market, without which the coops couldn’t survive, and force a low price on the new coops. Under Dole’s new price to the coops, daily income dropped from 146 to 92 pesos, and workers lost all the medical and other benefits they had as direct employees. Faced with virtual starvation, the banana workers refused to keep on picking bananas.
Instead of finding workers inside the plantations themselves – after all, they now owned them – I found them in Occupy-style encampments under the trees just outside. Dole had hired guards and expelled the workers from their own land, shooting one striker.
One of the hardest things to hear was the frustrated dream of the freedom they expected to gain from land ownership. According to Jesus Relabo, a rank-and-file leader, «Owning the land is forever. It’s something you can give to your children.» Instead, workers had been forced to pull their children out of school. In some cases they’d gone to live with other relatives. And in other families they’d gone to work, as had the children in San Jose Campostela.
With the photographs and interviews, I first stopped in Honolulu and talked with Guy Fujimura, secretary-treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142, which still, at that time, had thousands of members working on Hawaii plantations. For many years the big sugar and pineapple companies shifted work from Hawaii to the Philippines and Central America. A lost strike in Mindanao would mean that agricultural labor there would become even cheaper. Guy ran the photographs and stories in the union newspaper so that his members, many of whom are Filipino, would understand the connection.
Back to California the San Francisco Chronicle put the story and photos on its front page on Christmas day that year. The Institute for Food and Development Policy and its arm for political campaigns, Food First, turned the photographs and interviews into a background paper. The next year activists carried it to Seattle to use in the debates that led to the confrontation in Seattle in which protestors shut down the global meeting of the World Trade Organization.
Jane, 11, Alan, 9 and Dini, 15, clean the trunks of banana trees. Alan and Jane got 50 pesos a day, and Dini, being older, earned 71. At the time one dollar was worth 40 pesos.
Danilo Carillon, 16, had stopped going to school after the third grade. For 86 pesos a day he climbed a bamboo ladder, pulling a plastic bag over each bunch of bananas. The bags are treated with a pesticide, Lorsban. Carillon wore a simple dust mask over his face when he unrolled each bag, but dust masks can’t filter out chemicals. Benedicto Hijara carried a stone and string, which he threw over an overhead cable. He then climbed a ladder, and tied the string to a tree trunk, propping it upright so it wouldn’t fall over under the weight of the banana bunch. To earn 71 pesos daily, he had to tie up 105 trees.
Benjamin Libron, 15, gathers discarded bananas and then throws them onto a truck for transport to local markets or Manila. Discarded bananas are the ones Filipinos eat. The good ones are exported. Near him children flatten out and recycle the sheets of plastic for 2 centavos for each sheet, earning as much as 50 pesos a day.
A worker pulls bunches of bananas down a cableway, to a shed where other workers wash and sort them in bunches. A child sits on a cableway. In a sari-sari store on the plantation a family sells basic groceries to the workers.
Felix Bacalso, had to pull all but two of his 10 children out of public school, since he can no longer afford the small tuition, and the cost of uniforms, food and transportation. «I’m worried I’ll have to send them to work if the price [per box of bananas] doesn’t go up,» he said. He spent 8 years as a harvester at Diamond Farms, living with his family in a 2-room home on the plantation. «If we had a higher price, I could expand my house. As it is, some of my kids have gone to live with relatives.»
Workers set up an encampment outside the gate of the Diamond Farms plantation. Inside the gate were Dole Corporation guards keeping them out, with a sign declaring the plantation, which the workers owned, «Private Property.»
Workers set up picketlines around the edges of the plantations.
At night workers held a meeting under a tent by lantern light, and strike leader Eleuteria Chacon talks about the strike.
In the Fields of the North / En los campos del norte
June 16, 2019 – August 18, 2019
The Museum of Ventura County’s Agricultural Museum, Santa Paula
September 1, 2019 – December 22, 2019
Hi-Desert Nature Museum, Yucca Valley
January 5, 2020 – March 1, 2020
Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County, Yuba City
March 15, 2020 – June 21, 2020
Los Altos History Museum, Los Altos
March 21, 2021 – May 23, 2021
Carnegie Arts Center, Turlock
In Washington’s Fields
February 5, 2020 – July 15, 2020
More Than a Wall – The Social Movements of the Border
August 29,, 2020 – November 29,, 2020
In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte
order the book on the UC Press website:
use source code 16M4197 at checkout, receive a 30% discount
En Mexico se puede pedir el libro en el sitio de COLEF:
Los Angeles Times reviews In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte – clickhere
En los campos del Norte documenta la vida de trabajadores agrícolas en Estados Unidos –
Entrevista en la television de UNAM
David Bacon comparte su mirada del trabajo agrícola de migrantes mexicanos en el Museo Archivo de la Fotografia
Trabajo agrícola, migración y resistencia cultural: el mosaico de los “Campos del Norte”
«Los fotógrafos tomamos partido»
Das Leben der Arbeiterschaft auf Ölplattformen des Irak
Die Apfel-Pflücker aus dem Yakima-Tal
«Documenting the Farm Worker Rebellion»
San Francisco Commonweallth Club presentation by David Bacon and Jose Padilla, clickhere
EN LOS CAMPOS DEL NORTE: Farm worker photographs on the U.S./Mexico border wall
Cat Brooks interview on KPFA about In the Fields of the North
Book TV: A presentation of the ideas in The Right to Stay Home at the CUNY Graduate Center
Other Books by David Bacon
The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration (Beacon Press, 2013)
Illegal People — How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008)
Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)
The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)
EL DERECHO A QUEDARSE EN CASA (Critica – Planeta de Libros)
HIJOS DE LIBRE COMERCIA (El Viejo Topo)
For more articles and images, see http://dbacon.igc.org and http://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com