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By Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

SAN QUINTIN, Mexico — A volatile farm labor strike that crippled exports from one of Mexico’s key agricultural regions ended Thursday night with an unprecedented accord that boosts wages as much as 50 percent for thousands of laborers in Baja California.

While considered a landmark achievement for a farm labor movement in Mexico, the mood was subdued after labor leaders learned that the federal government was pulling its offer to provide subsidies to reach the 200-peso daily wage rate — about $13 — sought by laborers.

The agreement reached after a six-hour negotiating session calls for a three-tiered compensation system. Large farms will pay workers 180 pesos per day; medium farms, 165 pesos; and small farms, 150.

Since most work at large agribusinesses, the wage increase amounts to about $4 per day for many of the estimated 30,000 workers in the region 200 miles south of San Diego.

“This isn’t the agreement that laborers were hoping for…but we made significant gains,” farmworker leader Fermin Salazar said after the meeting.

After the meeting at a salon in a San Quintin restaurant, Baja California state officials beat a hasty retreat, fearing that news of the accord could upset laborers. Governor Francisco Vega de Lamadrid had to push his way through an angry crowd yelling epithets and banging on his SUV.

“Coward! Rat!” yelled the crowd.

The deal appeared to conclude a nearly three-month strike in the San Quintin Valley that was marked by fierce clashes between police and protesters, drawing international media coverage. Large U.S. retailers, including Wal-Mart, Costco, and Safeway, import berries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other produce from the region.

Workers, who had been on strike since mid-March, dropped their initial demand of a 300-peso daily wage to 200 pesos. But growers initially were only willing to boost wages 15 percent.

The breakthrough came in mid-May, when the federal government agreed to push agribusinesses to offer more and to make up the difference with federal funds, as “close as possible” to leaders’ demands.

But the proposal to subsidize wages, which was widely criticized in Mexico, was deemed to be unlawful, according to farm labor leaders who were briefed on the matter by a representative from Mexico’s Interior Ministry. They did credit the federal government for getting agribusinesses to budge from the position they held for two months.

At a news conference after the meeting, several leaders of the Alliance of National, State, and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice — the coalition of indigenous groups representing laborers — said they would not stop fighting for labor rights, and set their sights on establishing a national union of farm laborers.

Photo: Wonderlane via Flickr

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Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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