Shade tobacco workers face numerous challenges, from the moment they leave
their homes until they pack their suitcase at the end of the harvest season.
Issues of citizenship, legal status, language, economic necessity, and fluctuations
in the international cigar tobacco market have particular effects for each
group in terms of modes of production and management-labor relations. For
many of the workers, their primary economic strategy depends on returning
to the same farm each year.
order to improve their chances of being invited to return for the following
season, many workers take great pains to be perceived by the grower as stoic
and hard-working. This often entails unquestioningly carrying out dangerous
work and accepting verbal abuse and other forms of mistreatment by the crew
For example, “Franklin”, a Jamaican worker from the capital
city of Kingston, commented, “Yeah, our work has some risky parts,
in terms of chemicals. You deal with a lot of chemicals in the fields”.
“Manuel”, from Ponce, Puerto Rico, noted that, “On this
farm I’ve found that there is a lack of drinking water…In the
fields, I haven’t seen any water (stations) either above or below.
This is essential, to have a place to wash your hands, or so that you can
(wash to) eat. Above all are the chemicals…I don’t know if this
guy here (the farmer) is struggling, but at least the other guy (the owner
of the previous farm where he worked) would give you a little something
extra in order to protect yourself”.
his part, “George”, from Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica, added, “The
thing that I find more risky, sometimes the sun is hot, sometimes it’s
like ninety degrees (Fahrenheit, forty degrees Celsius) outside…But
sometimes there are thunderstorms, lightening, (the workers) may be out
there from half an hour before we have to go (inside).