Seeing No Evil
Seeing No Evil
The H2A Guest-Worker Program and State-Mediated Labor Exploitation in Rural North Carolina
Labor relations are a paramount consideration in crop agriculture, a labor-intensive industry that is dependent on land. The U.S. government has long regulated the supply of foreign farm labor on behalf of agribusiness, and that role became more critical as the industry restructured itself in the competitive neoliberal climate since the early 1990s. The H2A program, which permits quasi-private labor brokers to import Mexican “guest workers” for seasonal work on U.S. farms, expanded after 1990 into states in the mid-South, which was also experiencing new flows of undocumented immigrants. North Carolina emerged as the state importing the most H2A workers. This chapter draws on the case of the North Carolina Growers Association, the state's large H2A brokerage, to examine the relationship between the neoliberal state and guest workers during the 1990s. It shows that during the 1990s, the North Carolina H2A program morphed into a model of contractual labor relations that represented a case of “government by proxy,” not unlike other public-private partnerships formed in the neoliberal era. In this case, the state delegated responsibility for labor supply manipulation, control of workers, and regulatory oversight directly to private brokers who publicly represented and shared revenue streams with agribusiness growers.
Keywords: H2A program, guest worker programs, agricultural industry, farm labor, labor brokers, Mexican guest workers, North Carolina Growers Association, neoliberal state, contractual labor, labor relations
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