The study of intermediaries and the sociocultural dimension in the agricultural labor market

Kim Sánchez Saldaña*Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia (ENAH). English translation by Denisse Piñera Palacios.

This work maintains that the presence of traditional labor intermediaries in the structuring and performance of certain rural labor markets creates interaction fields marked by processes of social mediation that favor their performance as cultural intermediaries in said contexts.

In this sense, some believe that a multidimensional analysis of the place and role held by said intermediaries could allow us to understand the dynamic character of the relationship between employers and farming day laborers, and could open new perspectives for the study of the complex articulations between peasant communities and the capitalistic sector of commercial farming, of the texture of the social intertwinement that supports temporary migrations, as well as of significant spaces that connect ethnic minorities with the greater part of society.

These reflections emerge from a case study about a particular kind of labor intermediaries, the foremen, who are in charge of recruiting temporary day laborers and of organizing crews for harvesting vegetables in the valley of Cuautla, state of Morelos. The intervention of foremen is crucial to control a seasonal labor market in which foreign workforce predominates and also for the productive process at its final stage; therefore, they have become indispensable to producers devoted to the commercial exploitation of said products, especially green beans.

At the same time, foremen have monopolized the access channels to wage-earning labor for a considerable amount of semi-proletarized peasant families that belong to indigenous communities of the region of la Montaña in the state of Guerrero and who, every year, migrate to an environment dominated by mestizo people and by commercial farming logic. Then, the composition and origin of these farming day laborers cause this pole of attraction to become a condensed space of interethnic relationships between mestizo and indians, as well as between locals and foreigners. This fact is more significant if we consider that this floating population concentrates in only one community, Tenextepango (municipality of Ayala), which has become the valley of Cuautla, a specialized place for the sale and purchase of temporary labor, from where people are sent to various fields.

These general characteristics, together with the specific work and life conditions of indigenous workers at the migratory niche, reinforce the need for foremen to intercede in the employer-day laborer relationships as links and interpreters, enabling the connection and exchange between these social groups in contact. Further more, we propose that the social efficiency of the intermediary economic functions of foremen –in the mobilization and control of workforce for agricultural production-, depends on their performance as cultural intermediaries, whose place and function are situated at the border line of the mestizo/indigenous and local/foreign blocs.

The result of this activity and its effects at an ideological level account not only for the way in which the uneven exchange is performed between a sector of subsistence farmers and a sector of small and medium commercial producers, but also for the ways in which the former, in spite of their subordinated condition, may negotiate their situation and (partially) seize the sense of the relationship, bending survival and cultural resistance strategies of migrant families.

A not quite appreciated social subject

The traditional term contractor or intermediary basically refers to individuals in charge of gathering laborers at their places of origin and transporting them to the areas where they are needed; they live in rural communities; they finance or administer transportation expenses; they often deliver a certain type of resource in advance; they normally play the role of overseers at the agricultural field where this workforce is used; they charge commissions to producers for each recruited worker, or a certain amount according to the volume of work performed; and they establish contracts –which are most of the time verbal-, mostly as to the work conditions of the farming day laborers.1

The traditional intermediary differs from other institutions that may perform one or more of these activities -such as producers associations, unions and state agencies- mainly due to their orientation and operation style. On the other hand, they must not be confused with large contractor agencies, which work under a totally entrepreneurial logic (companies that sell temporary workforce), to which, however, they may be related as subordinated links for recruiting workers in the regions towards which migrant day laborers are expelled.

In Mexico, their presence is acknowledged both in regional and interregional markets2 and are given various names, such as enlisters, administrators, foremen, chiefs or simply contractors. They handle small or large contingents of workers, alone or accompanied by their families, and due to the reason we have stated above, they associate with networks and circuits of migratory labor. Labor markets to which they have access may be dominated by small or medium producers, as in the case of Morelos and Nayarit, or by large agricultural companies, such as fruit and vegetable exporters from Sinaloa and other states of the northeast.

Up to this point, the role of these contractor agents as to workforce mobilization and control has been analyzed mainly from its economic dimension, in their function as links between capital and work, emphasizing their importance in the development of agricultural capitalism, since they ensure labor sources and regulate with certain efficiency labor offer and demand.3 More specifically, the emergence of labor intermediaries is directly related to the boom or expansion of intensive work cultures that generate at certain times of the agricultural cycle a relative shortage of workforce from which derives the need to look for available workers at considerable distances.4

Through history, the enlisting system, in its various local modalities, has been the most extended way of intermediacy in the wage-earning rural labor market, its main characteristic has been based on creating mechanisms so that workers get indebt, and in this way their employment may be conditioned to certain times and places.5 Nowadays, the word “enganchador” [enlister] is increasingly used to identify not only the presence of systems of indirect hiring based on loans, but also of other workforce recruitment and tutelage variants, in which different control means are used, which go beyond the labor sphere strictly speaking.

In the beginning, enlisters turned in many cases to violent means of coercion to recruit workers; the development of rural labor markets, the change to the use of money in the traditional peasant economy, the opening of communications, the economic deterioration of subsistence farming and the evolution of farming day laborers as social subjects, among other factors, have transformed the nature of the relationship between traditional intermediaries and day laborers. To some authors, the existence of a farming proletariat and of a semi-proletarized peasant class willing to sell their work, eliminates the need to use extra-economic elements in the enlisting system to coerce them, and makes their functions respond more to problems of dispersion and distance between workers and their potential work sources;6 it has also been said that the regional integration of labor markets, the modernization of agricultural companies and/or the development of producer associations and unions promote direct hiring and more contractual relationships, making traditional intermediaries indispensable [sic.] or, at least, putting them in the process of disappearing.7

However, these points of view do not coincide with the evidence provided by various studies performed in Mexico and the United States. On the contrary, in those studies we see that traditional intermediaries have not lost vitality, and that in some cases they have reinforced and expanded their influence in different farming regions, both in dynamic labor markets related to fruit and vegetable cultures and in less developed zones of vegetables, sugar cane, coffee and tobacco production.8 Intermediaries have not desisted in the use of extra-economic coercion elements either, which are not always visible and are, many times, based on kin relations, or on the state of them coming from the same region or of them being chiefs. Threats of firing people, withholding wages, charging fees to condition access to employment and other means of pressure on workers are some of the direct ways in which current intermediaries keep temporary laborers disciplined.

Involved in ensuring the workers inflow at the right time and place, traditional intermediaries apply various means of political and social control of laborers; this does not exclude the ambiguous character of their position as representatives of the workers before the employer. In spite of this critical performance in certain rural contexts, we must acknowledge that, apart from a few exceptions, agricultural labor intermediaries have been a social subject neglected by social analysis. References to their activity and to the ways in which they relate to certain labor markets are, most of the time, secondary and tangential.

The review of these studies of farming day laborers and temporary migrations recurrently reflects that intermediaries participate as sources of credit for laborers, as well as in transportation (from their original localities or within agricultural fields), in housing matters and other services, which are considered part of their functions before the employers who make use of their services; in the same way, we note their frequent intervention in the productive process as overseers. Some authors have even mentioned the active role of mediation systems in the generation of “captive” labor markets, predisposed to overexploitation by the part of agricultural companies.9

Among the limited number of research works that has as main subject the mediation systems in the rural labor market, we note Lloyd Fisher’s work (1953), not only because it directly focuses on the role played by traditional work contractors in the development of commercial farming (in this case, the production of vegetables, fruits and cotton in California, United States, up to the early fifties), but because it sees in them the presence of a social institution. For this author, the reason for being an intermediary passes through ensuring the rentability of agricultural exploitation and bringing order into a structurally disorganized market.10 In another context, that of sugar cane exploitation in Brazil, Lygia Sigaud11 also offers an interesting study of the social functions of the “empreiteiros” in rural communities that supply the large agricultural and industrial companies with workforce. Nevertheless, even in these works we find that the main interest consists in explaining the activity of traditional intermediaries as part of the capitalist rationality in the field of labor markets, underestimating the effects that said triangular relationship has on the behavior of the different social subjects involved and on their interaction.12

That is, seen as a functional economic exchange relationship, or as a capital resource to discipline workforce and lower its cost, there has been minor deepening on the nature of mediation and the way it influences the imposition of authority of capital on labor. We believe this is due to the fact that, in general, said perspectives tend to lessen importance to the structural conditions that enable mediation, neglecting their analysis for the understanding of the global dynamics.

In our opinion, to explain the operation ways of these intermediary agents and their scope as to the social and ideological reproduction of all the individual, group and sector relationships that take place in certain rural contexts, it is necessary to introduce a socio-cultural dimension in the analysis, which we will try to outline from an anthropological view.

Mediation and mediators

We take as our point of reference the concept of mediator or broker proposed by Erick Wolf13 and developed by various authors that focus on the study of the intermediary phenomena at the contact and articulation of economically, politically, socially and/or culturally differentiated groups, in the heart of complex societies.

Synthetically, we may affirm that the mediator or broker is the individual that serves as link and exchange between said levels of integration that obey to various interests and orientations, with the primary function of adjusting and settling said differences. The broker may play multiple roles as a link, translator, negotiator, representative, etcetera, in those border areas, without eliminating conflicts, but mediating amongst them.14 His performance enables the achievement of a certain degree of cohesion; they are like necessary shock-absorbers so that the groups in contact (even antagonistic contact) develop a certain type of economic, political and/or symbolic exchange.15

To act as such, mediators must serve at the same time the interests of the groups between which they operate. Seen that, besides, they cannot solve conflicts completely –because if they did, they would stop serving their purpose-, they generate a contradictory and ambiguous space that, therefore, becomes very dynamic.16 This explains that mediators are not passive or neutral agents and that they actively participate in the power structure.17

Due to what we have stated, the genuine broker surpasses the circumstantial exchange of goods and services, or he plays a passive role in this function. The defining criteria of the mediator are his crucial role in the interrelationship of social structures that are basic to the system that interests us and the exclusive character with which he fulfills these functions of link and exchange.18 It is precisely the mandatory monopoly of the access channels to certain strategic resources and of the decision-making process what gives him the possibility of perpetuating in his condition of mediator and of obtaining the benefits offered by this activity.

From all this, another distinctive characteristic of the broker is derived: it is his way of interacting, in which predominate informal relationships and his ability to adopt appropriate patterns of public behavior, which is always culturally regulated. That is, he operates within the context of informal social networks understood as the whole of differentiated relationships (compadrazgo19 [fellowship], kinship, friendship, complicity, nearness) that enable and sanction mediation.20

Now then, several analysts in the field of culture have used the specific notion of cultural intermediary in a flexible way to characterize multiple and different social subjects that through history have played roles as links between two or more languages, codes, traditions and cultures.21 Taking into consideration the restrictions already related on the category of the mediator or broker, these studies provide elements to affirm that the privileged fields in which they are placed are religion, law and knowledge.22 Their possibility of existence passes through distance and contact in axis that may be: dominant culture/subordinate culture, erudite culture/popular culture; national culture/ethnic minorities, writing/orality, interior/exterior, etcetera.

The cultural mediator may intervene as representative or as translator23 in the relationship of any of these axes. While the former are agents of the dominant discursive formation, the latter constantly modify and adapt the message they transmit in both senses, which may allow the temporary emergence of the dominated groups. This is why, far from constituting mere transmission cords of interests and orientations in one direction or the other, cultural intermediaries are ideological agents with their own creativity,24 which confers them a leading role in the construction, reproduction and appropriation of sense within the field of the interaction in which they perform.25

In her study on bilingual education in Purepecha communities, Maria Eugenia Vargas has enriched the study of cultural intermediaries in the context of interethnic relationships that take place in societies like ours.26 Her work allows us to generalize that in Mexico the conditions of economic, social and political inequality in which the indigenous population relate to the greater part of society, as well as the cultural gap that separates them, generates objective conditions for the existence of mediation spaces that, particularly at the ideological level, condense central representations and practices of interethnic communication.

From this global approach, we have also taken as reference works by Pierre Bourdieu,27 whose concern to be able to think in relational terms may complement the proposed analysis. To characterize the nature of the interethnic relationships that frame the context in which this phenomenon develops, we have turned to categories provided by Frederik Barth and Cardoso de Oliveira. In the same way, to focus on the relationships of power and domination that permeate the processes of the intermediaries, we have introduced considerations by Michel Pécheux and John B. Thompson,28 on the conditions of discourse production and the strategies of symbolic construction, as we will specify later in this work.

Back to our theme and under the light of these analytical considerations, we pose two main questions: up to what point can the labor field constitute a propitious space for the development of cultural intermediaries?, and, if so, what is the scope of intermediaries in the reproduction of hegemony in a specific social field? As we will try to prove in the following pages, juxtaposed to the seasonal labor market in Tenextepango, a scenery of intense intercultural contact emerges between a mestizo/local culture and an indigenous/foreign culture that, due to the specific characteristics of insertion of migrant day laborers and to the wider context of domination and discrimination of ethnic minorities in the country, and generates the structural conditions that enable certain individuals to take possession of the communication channels between socially and culturally different levels. This phenomenon redimensions the space that labor contractors have built as links between the different economic agents that participate in the farming activity because, in the absence of a different kind of intermediate category in the system of mestizo-indigenous and local/foreign relationships that take place, their practice and experience have provided them with elements to become leading characters in the symbolic production and reproduction of this set of social relationships.

Approach to the labor field structure

The commercial production system of vegetables in the irrigated valleys of the south of Cuautla, in the state of Morelos, is articulated based on differentiated social groups that hold diverse strategic resources (land, labor, money, transport and market positioning), most of which are of extra-regional origin. The main products grown in the region are green beans, corn, squash, cucumber and onions.29

In great measure, horticultural activity is based on a large mass of small producers –which includes ejido owners, comuneros, and small land owners-, who work in small fields, with scarce financing or none at all, with old-fashioned technology, high production costs, and subject to a very dynamic and monopolized market, at the top of which there are large intermediary traders of fresh products.30

Production starts its market circuit through local transporters (called offices), who have contacts with warehouse owners and commission merchants of the Central de Abastos [Provisioning Central Warehouse] of Mexico City and, in a lesser degree, of Cuautla. These offices are characterized by not buying the products, but instead lending transport services due to which they charge a certain fee. Their clientele of producers depends on their efficiency to collect and transport the harvested production immediately, since they do not have the necessary infrastructure to storage it. Nowadays, there are around a dozen companies of variable size which, together, monopolize the access channels of horticultural producers to the national market.31 It must be said that most of the transporters are immigrant mestizo, which conditions their position in the local field.

The boom of horticultural production has directly influenced the creation of markets of rural labor in the region, because we are dealing with intensive labor cultures, mostly during the harvest season. But while in the case of onion, squash, cucumber, corn and other vegetables, labor needs may be fulfilled locally (with family workforce,32 and native or immigrant wage-earning laborers), the labor demand to harvest green beans greatly surpasses the offer, generating a seasonal market for thousands of migrant day laborers who, during this period, temporary settle in the region and work at the green bean orchards of hundreds of producers of Morelos, and even of the neighboring state of Puebla.

Since the seventies, green bean production in Morelos has held the second or third place at a national level.33 It can also be said that, at a state level, its culture concentrates in the municipality of Ayala and, within it, in the ejido of Tenextepango.34 As to the seasonal labor market related to its harvesting, it is estimated that it represents a volume of 2 thousand 500 to 3 thousand people, who come mostly from Guerrero.35 As we have already stated, this floating population settles, between November and April, in the town of Tenextepango, even if the average stay period of these workers is shorter than the global harvest period (of around two and a half months).

Temporary day laborers that harvest green beans are mostly peasants from a pluriethnic region, the Montaña de Guerrero, who alternate this activity with subsistence farming in their own small fields.36 In general, wage-earning labor in Morelos constitutes the only significant monetary income, since employment opportunities in their communities are scarce and less compensated. It is characteristic that we are dealing with family migration, in which the various members participate in wage-earning labor, which is paid by the job. There is no stability in these jobs. Workers are assigned precarious lodging, where sometimes several families are piled up. Although among seasonal migrants a considerable percentage is bilingual, their difficulties in handling Spanish and most of all cultural discrimination mark their interaction with the society that receives them.

Tenextepango is a mestizo and urbanized community, located 12 Km south of the city of Cuautla; it has approximately 10 thousand inhabitants. Part of its population (almost 10 percent) is constituted by immigrants from Guerrero and Oaxaca who mainly live in colonies adjacent to the town area and work in agriculture as wage-earning workers.37 As one may see through these figures, the fluctuating presence of thousands of temporary workers during the harvesting season is very significant in the life of this community of Morelos.38

In brief, Tenextepango has become the center of operations of the regional horticultural activity, not only because it constitutes a specialized space for the sales and purchase of temporary workforce, but also because in this place we find the already mentioned transport companies.39

Workforce mobilization and hiring systems adapt themselves at dynamic rhythms of demand and discharge of day laborers, according to the particular characteristics of each horticultural product. In the case of green bean harvesting, workforce recruitment and organization resides exclusively in the intermediaries known as foremen.40 These intermediaries, who are also immigrants settled in Tenextepango, constitute crews of variable size –from some tens to more than one hundred people-, constituted by seasonal migrants and, in a lesser degree, of native and immigrant local peasants.

Taking this general scenario into account, we may affirm that we are before a context that is favorable for the emergence and development of mediation spaces, given the structural distance of the different social groups and sectors towards resources that are considered strategic. Land and water control is a resource in the hands of the producers, which allows them to negotiate their participation in the gains generated by the system; to achieve certain rentability (or at least to defray the cost of their investment and continue to be active), they need to exploit cheap and temporary labor, as well as to have timely access to the commercialization channels of primary goods outside the region.41 On their part, workers -particularly migrant seasonal day laborers- constitute a less favored sector in the system, and although the wages they earned were insignificant, they would still be critical to ensure their survival as farmers in their communities of origin; as a source of cheap labor, this sector of subsistence farmers represents a vital resource for the producers to obtain a profit margin. Finally, transport businessmen, commission merchants at the Central de Abastos and foremen constitute different types of intermediaries who, placed at key points of the production chain and merchandise circulation, obtain their own benefit from the exploitation of vegetables produced by small and medium producers.

Interethnic relationships and contact situation

We must also emphasize that, understood as a specific interaction field,42 the places occupied by producers, commercial intermediaries, work intermediaries and day laborers are, at the same time, over determined by the ethnic origin and migratory condition of those who hold these positions, which permeates and translates into differentiated positions that express relationships of economic, political and cultural power.43

For the same reason, the interaction between individuals and groups that participate in this social microcosm constitutes a complex space of relationships of different kinds (economic, social, cultural and symbolic) which determine the actions, expectations and possible trajectories of each member.

We believe that a main identification and differentiation principle in this context is given by the ethnic condition of the individuals. The encounter between mestizo and indians may be seen as a “situation of interethnic contact”,44 in which the implicit admission of a status hierarchy (or a stratification system) takes place parallel to the acknowledgment of a “class structure” of the inclusive social system, in which the nature of the relationships between mestizo/locals and indians/foreigners is that of domination and subjugation.45

Due to space reasons it is not possible to elaborate on the multiple forms in which this contact situation manifests and on the set of representations each ethnic group creates about it. However, for this article what we want to emphasize is that the distance and interdependency between seasonal day laborers and local community produces a dialectic game between two tendencies: on the one hand, the constant discrimination of the indigenous population by the part of the mestizo and the work dynamic that forces migrants to remain most of the time in the orchards at work, generate the necessary means to maintain the cultural differences of each group (which makes them reproduce as significant units), and on the other hand, the necessary production and reproduction of coherent or common codes and values that, reducing differences, enable their interaction.46

As to this last point, we would find ourselves before what Pierre Bourdieu considers to be an essential property of every field, namely, the existence of an amount of fundamental common interests, which at the same time translate into an objective complicity that underlies all antagonisms.47 In this case, said community of interests between day laborers and producers (also shared by labor intermediaries and transporters), focuses on achieving the success of the harvest and the sale of the product, which allows each of them to obtain their corresponding economic income.

This complementarity between day laborers and producers evidently does not make the relationship less asymmetrical, nor does it clear the difficulties they find to enter into an exchange of goods and services in a direct way; said obstacles are perceived by the different actors as a result of linguistic and cultural barriers between indians and mestizo. Agricultural producers in their character of native mestizo claim that they do not understand the foreign indians, that they do not know how to handle them or how to ensure their permanence in the fields without the help of the foremen. Day laborers, on their part, seek the foreman who knows them and treats them right, who speaks their language, respects their families and supports them in different aspects.

In the following pages, we will try to provide elements to show how in the dynamics of said exchanges between culturally differentiated groups, foremen have become, in one way or another, the key piece that allows intercommunication and negotiation between them, ensuring the performance of the harvesting work and a source of temporary work for certain communities of migrants.

Foremen and their mediation role

The services provided by labor intermediaries to producers for harvesting green beans are basically the following: recruitment; direct work supervision (including productivity and quality control); payment to day laborers; lodging for migrant workers and their families; canning the product; coordination of transport and delivery to the transporter, as well as other complementary services.

The prestige of each foreman is of the utmost importance in the construction of his clientele of producers and is based on his work’s responsibility, opportunity and quality, and at the same time on the handling of efficient and disciplined crews; on their part, employers have the obligation to pay at the end of the sale of their harvest for the foreman’s services and for the work performed by his laborers.

On the other hand, the possibility of a day laborer to be hired necessarily passes by his being member of a crew led by a foreman. In this way, although producers are employers who demand this workforce -reason why they hire intermediaries-, from the point of view of day laborers, their superior is the foreman because he gives them work and pays their wages.

In the absence of formal contracts, each worker has the possibility of changing crews when he so desires, in order to ensure work continuity for himself and for his family.48 The relative stability that appears in the relationship between foremen and day laborers depends on recruitment practices and, in general, on the informal commitment established on work conditions and other implicit services.

In fact, foremen fulfill very important functions for seasonal migrants, particularly by helping them move from their communities and by providing them with lodging, because many families could not be able to pay these expenses on their own. These mechanisms allow each intermediary to concentrate workers and ensure the fulfillment of their contracts with the producers.49

Besides all this, the foreman provides support of various kinds that surpasses the strictly labor grounds, and which do not become explicit in the verbal contract he has with laborers. This support is critical for the relationship. In fact, in exchange for loyalty and efficiency, day laborers receive goods and services that allow them to reduce the costs of their staying in Tenextepango and to mitigate their transitory and precarious condition, which is also one of cultural marginalization. The most evident example of this is the credit many foremen provide as a reward to the workers who have earned their trust at work. The foremen’s help and/or resource management is also significant in case of accident or disease of a day laborer under their charge; or by intervening in their favor for the resolution of disputes between workers or regarding other members of the local community. In all these cases, the role of the foreman is of major importance as a translator between indigenous tongues (Nahua, Mixteco and Tlapaneco) and Spanish, inside and outside work.50 This condition of interpreter is not limited to the linguistic aspect, because their performance as representatives and negotiators supposes a broad proficiency of mestizo and indigenous values and customs.51

This basic relationship between agricultural employers, intermediaries and workers becomes more complex due to the role played by transport businessmen, with whom foremen maintain a close exchange of services. Basically, it consists in that the latter commit to lending their vehicles to transport day laborers (from their communities of origin and at a local level, to the agricultural fields) and to afford part of their lodging costs, in exchange of which foremen commit to make their clients-producers transport the product using the transport company that rendered said services. Even when the deal between transport businessmen and producers does not only depend on their relationship with foremen, it is in fact within the influence sphere of these intermediaries to ensure the promptness and quality of the service that is rendered; in the same way, they must intervene as conciliators in eventual discrepancies. This aspect is very important because the perishable character of the product imposes a limited margin of time for the work, harvesting and transport to the marketplace.52

In this way, the various social groups involved in this economic activity have delegated to intermediaries critical aspects of the negotiation of their respective interests, which allows the coordination and complementarity of different rationalities. If the essential power of foremen emanates from their control over access channels to the labor resource, the way in which they operate –by reinforcing an intense exchange of goods and services in various directions-, transcends the strict workforce sales and purchase sphere. Precisely due to the situation and relationships with the other positions of the sphere in question, labor intermediaries may potentiate the relative value of their connection and economic exchange power and become safeguards of the whole process. To fully understand the foremen’s condition of brokers or mediators, it is necessary to know something else about who they are and about their resources.

Trajectory and resources of foremen

In the community of Tenextepango there are around twenty foremen. All of them are immigrants with certain seniority in the area; most of them come from Guerrero, but there are also some from Oaxaca, Puebla and Hidalgo. They started as seasonal workers and after two or three agricultural seasons, they settled definitely, at the same time they ascended in the occupational scale until they reached their position as intermediaries. In general, they do not own lands, even if some of them rent them or work with a producer. Their activity as foremen is alternated with the work in other specialized farming tasks –which are better paid-, which are performed between harvests.53

To coordinate and perform the various tasks required in order to handle his crew, each foreman forms a work team constituted by two kinds of assistants: noters and canners. The former have the direct responsibility of recording the work performed by each laborer (measured in weight) and estimating his wage; therefore they must know how to read and write. Canners, as their name indicates, are in charge of canning the product. Both groups of assistants perform various minor tasks that facilitate the planning and control functions of foremen, for which they have to be available. These work teams represent a specialized, hierarchized and relatively stable structure.

Due to their migratory characteristic and to their sociocultural condition, these teams are constituted in the following way: the foreman and the noter are immigrants who reside in Tenextepango (as we have said, they are original from Guerrero, Puebla or Oaxaca); and many are from indigenous origin (in whose case they are Nahua). Canners, on the other hand, are always indigenous; besides, most of the time they are temporary migrants and subsistence farmers in their communities of origin.

From the point of view of the mediation processes, in a broad sense, this small structure is socially, linguistically and culturally equipped to adjust and integrate the interests of day laborers and producers in the technical process of labor and, most of all, to represent and manipulate the specific interests of both groups in pursue of the common objective (harvest), where the goals of each of them correspond to different economic rationalities (for producers, it is the performance of the merchant cycle, whereas for day laborers it is the reproduction as traditional domestic units of subsistence).54

Therefore, we would have to expand the image of the broker, as an individual -the foreman-, as a group: the foreman and his team.55 Besides, the way in which this specialized structure may perform these functions greatly depends on how it generates and reproduces itself.

According to evidence, the relationships between the foreman and his assistants are of an asymmetrical character, and the social distance is larger in the case of canners. In many cases, the team is created from a field of symmetrical relationships -between workmates, compadres or members of a network of reciprocal exchange-, which in time becomes a set of superior-client relationships.56 This trajectory is even more frequent in the specific relationship between foreman and noter, because the latter performs the accounting of which depends everybody’s income and, therefore, it is a position that requires loyalty and trust. On the contrary, regarding canners, the construction of links such as fellowship generally takes place as a result of team work, in which said relationship functions at the same time as an “instrumental friendship” between individuals of different social condition.57

As we have seen, the canner has a key role as link with the communities that supply workforce. The two basic modalities are: a) he is an immigrant who controls a whole kinship network in his community of origin and travels each year to recruit people from his own community; or, b) he is a temporary immigrant who is acknowledged as a representative of his group (also a kinship network) to establish deals with a certain foreman. The foreman, on his part, gives the canner preferential treatment when hiring him as canner, because his work is less burdensome and he earns a fixed weekly income. In both cases, the group of migrant day laborers may identify the canner as an intermediary between them and the foreman, and they consider that the position of the canner assures them certain work stability in that crew. In this way is generated a chain of complex mediations from the day-laborer-issuing communities and the producers, who pay for the work that is done.

In brief, the internal cohesion and recruitment ability of the foreman and his team operate within the frame of a system of personal loyalties: kinship, fellowship, reciprocity between neighbors and common geographical origin. In this way we understand that recruitment practices and social control over workers condition the composition of the crews.58

As to the foreman, in his condition of mestizo or indian assimilated to the local culture, he constitutes the legitimate speaker towards producers and transporters. As a man of the field, the foreman identifies with the producer, but at the same time he has experienced the needs of laborers. In a lesser degree, as an outsider and small businessman, he represents himself, like the transporter, as part of the immigrants who have brought economic prosperity to regional farming.

The foreman’s personal trajectory reveals the process by which he has built a network of differentiated relationships with producers, transporters and workers, gaining the experience to act between different worlds and to judiciously manipulate the needs and expectations of each of them. Within the team, it is on the foreman that falls most of the responsibility when adopting appropriate public behavior patterns that enable and sanction mediation. At the critical moment of the harvesting activities, the foreman must endorse his ability to fulfill the functions delegated to him by both groups. His legitimacy is permanently tested and he must be vigilant so that he reproduces his own control, with which he also reproduces the system’s balance. Due to all this, the institution of brokerage must not forget the coordinated functioning of the team as a whole, and the foreman is part of it, as bearer of the habitus that makes it possible.59

Unlike transport businessmen or warehouse owners, foremen do not have significant economic capital or political power at a local level. As a counterpart to their scarce economic capital and power, foremen have a different type of resource we characterize as social and cultural capital.60 Said resources have given them certain prestige and authority in the Cuautla region in Morelos and in the region of la Montaña in Guerrero, even if they have not been permitted to access key decision-making instances. Producers of Morelos (through administrative and ejido authorities) have been very careful to prevent said power from increasing, for instance, by restricting the participation of foremen, arguing that they are not ejidatarios, that they do not own lands and that they are outsiders.61

As a consequence, it is clear that the main capital obtained by foremen to perform as brokers in this microcosm is not economic, but social and cultural. Besides, it is this last property (the cultural one) what allows every foreman to translate his power into an exclusive symbolic resource:62 he is the legitimate mediator in the articulation of three axes, crucial in this particular context: commercial farming/subsistence farming; mestizo culture/ethnic minorities; locals/foreigners.

Translators of the hegemonic social discourse

In this adjustment of interests and different orientations, we will focus on the ambiguous character of the relationship between foremen and day laborers, to emphasize its effect on the production and reproduction of the hegemony in this area.

We begin by acknowledging that in the negotiation space, foremen are active participants in the construction, reproduction and modification of social representations of the various actors involved. On the one hand, they reinforce the asymmetric character of the relationship between the producer-employer and the worker, adding other subordination means to both parties (and which constitute their specific field of power as intermediaries). Before day laborers, the place of the superior is represented -and justified- as a producer subject to the great merchants of fresh products, who cannot offer them better wages or work conditions because his profit margin is limited; but also, alluding to the condition as poor and indigenous peasants of the place occupied by workers, the intermediary reproduces the inequality of benefits as a result of a natural state of things. With this, the intermediary legitimates the relationship of dominance over day laborers, based on the symbolic strategies of rationalization and naturalization of said relationship.63

On the other hand, foremen are involved in the discourse of migrants, legitimating before employers, transporters and the local community the laborers’ right to work, as part of their strategy of social reproduction. The right to work does not only involve the corresponding retribution to the job performed, but also the way in which it is performed, incorporating the laborers’ criteria to the distribution and assignment of tasks in the crews and family units, as well as other labor practices that do not correspond so much to technical conditions of horticultural production or to their business logic, but to forms and criteria in which the laborer has conditioned his inclusion in the system. In this sense, the foreman also appeals to the nature and tradition of day laborers (considering they are peasants and indians), in the representation of the laborers’ place, issue that is reproduced in his role as spokesman on their behalf.

Then even if it is true that, in the end, foremen have emerged to solve the needs of commercial farming -as instruments of workforce mobilization and control for the horticultural activity-, this fact should not get round the importance of their ability to incorporate social practices of migrant day laborers which have to do with the relative flexibility with which day laborer families distribute their human resources along the harvesting season, as well as with different ways in which laborers make workplaces their own, altering the rhythms and times of the preestablished planning set by foremen and producers. By doing so, foremen not only act according to the relationships and loyalties they maintain with their teams and workers, but they also concentrate power as mediators.

We have already seen that workforce recruitment is based on the organizational and hierarchic principles of migrant kinship institutions,64 because foreign workforce co-optation and control mechanisms are instrumented by means of the canners’ parental networks and the recognition of the patriarchal system that regulates the relationships within each work unit. This condition extends to the foremen’s consent to a family organization of the harvesting works and to the criteria of day laborers original from the same place living together. With this, the broker achieves better discipline and agreement among workers, and indirectly reinforces their interfamily and intergroup cohesion; and this not only because the family unit is kept as a work group within the crew, but also due to the interest shown by groups of families from the same community to be recruited -or to self-recruit- by the same enlister, thus sharing both work crew and place of residence.65

Besides, the type of chief-subordinate relationships that are built around the foreman and his teams causes the “capsuling” of seasonal migrants into certain social and symbolic spaces in Tenextepango which -paradoxically- operate as factors of cultural resistance. This fact is framed within the stigmatized treatment towards indigenous migrants by the local population, and within their dependency towards kinship and reciprocal exchange bonds between day laborers from the same locality or similar localities.66

In fact, for day laborer families – Nahuas, Mixteca or Tlapaneca-, seasonal migration to Tenextepango represents a pragmatic choice: it is lived and signified as a transitory experience even when it is repeated year after year. The social cost migrants pay to obtain a certain amount of economic resources is justified before their eyes, because in this way they may keep reproducing the material basis of their condition as peasants and members of their community (purchase of consumer goods, seeds and other products, ritual commitments, etcetera). As long as this is possible, migrants do not question the essence of the game rules that regulate this interaction field. However, their subordination is not passive or unconditional: they commit the intermediary in that sense –as speaker and interpreter- to tolerate and defend what might be called the resistance strategies of day laborers. Said strategies make somehow flexible the exploitation conditions and, in the same sense, question their condition of subordination.67

One of the aspects that illustrate this situation relates to the problem of work instability. It is a critical element of mediation in the sense that it represents a contradictory synthesis of commitments, reflection of the tight interdependency of the various economic agents and of the conflictive character of the foremen’s place and function.

The fluctuating and dynamic work needs of the green bean harvesting process impose work instability as a structural characteristic of said labor market. We have already said that workforce abundance, competition between intermediaries to get contracts and day laborers changing crews, are some of the regulation mechanisms of the work offer. For producers, tensions derived from discharging day laborers when the harvesting activity decreases must be mitigated by intermediaries.

Day laborer families, however, have incorporated instability as flexibility to move. Flexibility to come and go from their towns -using the relative geographical proximity-, flexibility to distribute and redistribute their human resources between places throughout the harvesting season so that they can see to their family matters, attend their patron saint festivity or work in their own small land. For foremen, said volatility of day laborers is admitted because providing them with lodging is not an absolute control mechanism, but besides because they could hardly offer uninterrupted work throughout the harvesting season. Then, they must consent and plan temporary absences from the part of their workers, which do not always correspond to harvesting planning; therefore, we recognize in these practices the legitimate faculty of the indians to attend their social and ritual commitments.

In another sense, this flexibility to move, together with the possibility of changing employers as long as there are no contractual relationships, is translated in a sense of freedom positively valued by day laborers. How can we relate this fact inside the migrants’ social discourse? We suggest that, even if it is true that the central nucleus of these families’ way of life is constituted by their local identity and their peasant condition, there is an intense tension between their social representation as small producers (owner and manager of their own family farming company and “free” to sell their products) and their incorporation into the market as workforce. In Tenextepango, they are not a name; they are a number;68 they do not decide for whom, when or where to work, and their only choice is to enter with their family to anonymous crews that are moved by enlisters from orchard to orchard. There is resistance before this negotiation as long as the system allows it: the head of the family is free to assign tasks among the family members, to send someone to his town, to change enlisters when he considers it convenient.

Another example that is worth mentioning is the complicity of the foreman in the extended practice of green bean robbery by day laborers for their later sale to illegal profiteers. In the last few years, this practice has significantly extended in the region, giving place to great displeasure among producers.69 Stolen green bean buyers pay up to ten times more the value the day laborer receives per harvested kilogram, and they sell it directly at the Central de Abastos, obtaining a considerable profit. Even though producers personally supervise their harvest to avoid loss, it is not an easy task because those who steal the product have developed many skills to go unnoticed, moved by the search for an additional income to their reduced wages. Foremen use to apply a double standard in this sense, urging their laborers not to steal but, at the same time, alerting them so that they are not caught, or warning them that they must be cautious of the employers and not of them as foremen. Even if it is not a good thing for the foremen that their crews get known for this clandestine practice, because they may lose clients, they do not try to eradicate it completely because they risk losing all their workers. Even more, foremen intervene in favor of their laborers when they are arrested by the police for this reason, because it is implicitly recognized as a valid mechanism of economic compensation for day laborers.

As a counterpart, foremen have little influence power in the determination of wages, because as we have already said, harvesting fees are defined by Tenextepango’s producers at the beginning of each season and sanctioned by the ejido authorities of the region. In this sense, foremen have not wanted or have not been able to translate their social power into a compelling force to modify this unilateral criterion, because this could jeopardize their possibility of participating in the game.70

In brief, the foreman is not a neutral subject, because he leans to one or another direction according to each circumstance. Mediators’ exercise of power influences the group relationships, involving conflict and arrangement, integration and disintegration.71 In this dynamic game, the mediator is a condenser of effects in the ideological plane, continually building subordination and resistance to it.

As a conclusion

Foremen monopolize the access channels to workforce, and they are the base of all transactions between producers and agricultural day laborers, which implies the management and sponsorship of the workforce. Their presence is part of the dynamics proper to the labor market.

But apart from the capital objectivized and incorporated in this habitus they make possible the construction and maintenance of a set of differentiated links that serve as connection between the various social subjects -producers, agricultural day laborers and transporters-, representing a key actor in the functioning of production and the commercialization of vegetables in the region.

Said power is based on the construction of a specialized and stable structure whose composition includes people able to fulfill one or several of the different intermediary functions (connection, translator and interpreter, conciliator, etcetera), which as a group operate as brokers.

The possibility of integrating the practices and discourses of the different groups has been assured by the internal composition of the mediation structure and, therefore, up to this point it has ensured the manipulation of these tensions in its own benefit. This implies not only to organize the exchange of economic goods and services, but also to arrange the permanent negotiation of social logics and dissimilar cultures.

The presence of chief/subordinate links in the relationships with their clienteles and their alignment towards the preservation of the status quo in the distribution of power do not exclude the existence of behavior codes that demand levels of complicity and the representation of the interests of all laborers under their charge. In the local context, this has represented the possibility for migrant day laborer families to make their survival strategies flexible and to broaden the reproduction conditions of their cultural identity.

As active subjects in the construction of the social framework that serves as base for the commercial exploitation of vegetables in that region, foremen embody the social and cultural capital accumulated in the exchange between a dynamic agricultural region and a depressed agricultural region, between a mestizo/local culture and an indigenous/foreign culture.

The specific characteristics of foremen in the horticultural labor market of the east of Morelos could be like those of other agricultural regions of the country that constitute zones of attraction for migrant indigenous day laborers and in which intermediaries of different types operate. According to our experience, a necessary condition so that these intermediaries may reproduce as mediators depends on their possibility of maintaining their independence regarding businessmen (capital and economic power). In this case of study, the type of agricultural exploitation of the region –atomized in a multiplicity of small productive units-, represents a fragmented and dislocated labor market, which not only reinforces the need for mediation in this field, but also guarantees the autonomy of intermediaries regarding agricultural employers. I think this is a key factor to understand their specificity, mostly compared to other systems of commercial farming based on large productive units and few owners, where the intermediaries’ margin of action may be different.

In this work we have discussed the relevance of exploring this dimension of mediation in the labor field, since in Mexico it constitutes a privileged social space for intercultural relationships between different ethnic groups and the mestizo society in general.

English translation by Denisse Piñera Palacios.


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Paisano: Person who comes from the same country/region as another one.
Ejido: a piece of land of communal ownership (it belongs to a town)
Comunero: chief/foreman of a land that belongs to the community.

  1. Martine Vaneckere, “Situación de los jornaleros agrícolas en México”, in Investigación Económica, num. 18, July-September, 1988. []
  2. Regional markets are those that use local and foreign workers of the same state or nearby states; interregional markets are large scale poles of attraction, as in the case of agricultural fields in Sinaloa and Baja California. There are also labor intermediaries related to international migratory circuits of farming day laborers that are employed in American fields. []
  3. Roberto Vilar and Carlos Samaniego, Sistema de Contratación y migración laboral temporal en Santa Cruz, Bolivia, 1981; Alipio Montes, “Mercado laboral y asalariados agrícolas en la región de Arequipa”, in Oscar Dancourt, Enrique Meyer, Carlos Monge (eds.) Perú. El problema agrario en debate, 1994. []
  4. Roberto Vilar y Carlos Samaniego, op.cit.; Tom Brass, “Unfree labour and capitalism Restructuring in the Agrarian Sector: Peru and India”, in The Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 14, num. 1, 1986. []
  5. For Latin America, its background goes as far as the XIX century (Roberto Vilar and Carlos Samaniego, op.cit.), when the boom of basic goods export to the world market generated a large demand of labor in certain regions. At its initial phase, their enlisting system played a decisive role in the formation of wage-earning workforce, as well as in the determination of the composition and place of origin of said workforce. Later, the first of these functions became less necessary; nevertheless, the regulation of the migratory flow of temporary workers and the competition before other work alternatives, have updated the validity of the enlisting system. []
  6. Roberto Vilar and Carlos Samaniego, op.cit. []
  7. Idem; Alipio Montes, op.cit. []
  8. In the case of Mexico, we may quote, among others, the works by Luisa Paré, 1987; Martine Vaneckere, op.cit.; Gabriel Torres, 1994; Sara Lara, 1996; Antonieta Barrón, 1997; Amparo Muñoz, 1997. As to studies performed in the United States, we emphasize the works on agricultural labor markets in California and Texas: Richard Mines y Anzaldua, 1982; Kearney, 1986; Philip Martin, 1989; Don Villarejo and Dave Runsten 1993; Carol Zabin 1992; 1997; Carol Zabin,, 1993. []
  9. Tom Brass, op.cit.; Hurbert Carton de Grammont (coord.), Neoliberalismo y organización social en el campo, 1996; Lara, “Mercado de trabajo rural y organización laboral en el campo”, in Hurbert Carton de Grammont (coord.), Neoliberalismo…,op.cit., 1996. []
  10. The study of intermediaries in California was taken later on by several American authors (for instance, Richard Mines and Ricardo Anzaldua, New Migrants vs. Old Migrants: Alternative Labor Market Structures in the California Industry, 1982; and Don Villarejo and Dave Runsten California’s Agricultural Dilemma: Higher Production and Lower Wages, 1993), who have analyzed the importance of the contractor system at different stages of the fruit and vegetable sector restructuring in that state. In general, said studies consider that intermediaries have been a key factor to contain the influence of rural unions, to restrict wages, as well as to facilitate the entrance to this labor market of new contingents of more vulnerable immigrant workers. []
  11. Lygia Sigaud, “As vendas das pontas de rua”, in Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira, et al., Anuario Antropológicas/81, 1983. []
  12. Instead, this line of research in the urban field has produced interesting works such as those by Larissa Lomnitz, “Mecanismos de articulación entre el sector informal y el sector formal urbano” in Revista Mexicana de Sociología, vol. 40, num. 1, 1978, pp. 131-153 and Miriam J. Wells, “Brokerage, Economic Opportunity and the Growth of Ethnic Movements”, in Ethnology, vol. 18, num. 4, 1979, pp. 399-414. In the first case, Larissa Lomnitz analyzes the role of labor intermediaries as part of the articulation mechanisms between informal and formal urban sectors; on her part, Miriam Wells studies different types of intermediaries in the formation of groups of ethnic interest in the United States. []
  13. Eric Wolf, “Levels of communal Relations”, in Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 6, 1967 and “Aspects of group relations in a complex Society: Mexico”, in Peasants and Peasant societies, 1976. []
  14. Ibidem, p. 66. []
  15. The specialists on this field of study agree when they note that, according to the goal and object around which mediation is exercised, this may be of economic, political or cultural nature. We are obviously dealing with a classification with analytical purposes, since in a higher or lesser degree all intermediates operate and produce effects on all of the aforementioned dimensions. []
  16. To illustrate this priority, Eric Wolf turned to the known analogy of the broker and Jano, mythical character that can look in two directions at the same time, and he added: “At the same time, they must serve some of the interests of the groups they operate at a communal and national level. They cannot end the conflict because if they did, they would stop serving their purpose. Therefore, they must act as defense and safekeeping between groups, maintaining the tensions that provide the dynamics of their actions. The relationship of the hacendado [land owner] with the satellite indians, and the role of the modern political broker towards his followers in the community may be seen properly under this light. They must also maintain control on these tensions so that the conflict does not go out of proportion and so that they are not replaced by a new mediator (1976, p. 66). []
  17. It must be said that, in the Mexican case, reflections on intermediaries have focused mainly on the caciquismo phenomenon and on their role in the regional and national political system (Salmerón, “Caciques. Una revisión teórica sobre el control político local”, in Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales año XXX, num. 117-118, 1984, pp. 107-142; Tapia Santamaría, “Intermediación y construcción social del poder en el Bajío Zamorano”, in Intermediación social y procesos políticos en Michoacán, 1992; Guillermo de la Peña, “Poder local, poder regional, perspectivas socioantropológicas”, in Poder local, poder regional, 1993; Vargas González, Lealtades de la sumisión. Caciquismo, 1993; among many others). []
  18. Sydel Silverman, “Patronage and community-nation relationships in central Italy”, in Ethnology, vol. 4, num. 2, April 1965. []
  19. Compadrazgo: Derived from godparent/godsibb, this ceremony may or may not involve the sponsorship of a child (friends may also sponsor trees, shrines, or other items or events of importance). In compadrazgo, friends are expected to materially and emotionally support each other for the long term. []
  20. On his part, Jesús Tapia Santamaría summarizes in this way this set of characteristics: “Intermediaries are at the crossroads of power. They are divided between native groups and decision-making agencies of public administration or market circuits. Due to their knowledge, due to the efficiency of their link and exchange functions and due to the relationship networks cultivated by them in various market circuits of productive resources and administrative responsibilities, briefly, due to the higher or lesser structural distance that separates them from decision-making instances, intermediaries acquire a social standing and a negotiation ability that, exploited as resources of political or symbolic capital, provide them with great social mobility and make them part, in a higher or lesser degree, of the groups of power.” (1991, p. 421). []
  21. H. Asseo, “Autor de la notion d’intermediaire culturel”, in Actes du Colloque du Centre Meridional d’Historie Sociale, des Mentalités et des Cultures, 1978; R. Chartier, “La culture en question”, in Actes du colloque…; J. Molino, “Comobien de cultures?”, in idem.; M. Vernard, “Sur les intermediaries dánciens style”, in idem.; María Eugenia Vargas, Educación e ideología. Constitución de una categoría de intermediarios en la comunicación interétnica. El caso de los maestros bilingües tarascos (1964-1982), 1994. []
  22. Interpreters, priests, doctors, teachers and social workers are some of the various social subjects inscribed in this cultural category. According to H. Asseo (op. cit.), each concrete historical condition produces, ignores, admits or rejects its own intermediaries; hence the difficulty to approach a typology of cultural intermediaries, because they do not have either past or future; each of them seems to generate himself before being absorbed into intercultural contact. []
  23. R. Chartier, op.cit. []
  24. H. Asseo, op.cit. []
  25. We must make an analytical precision that may avoid later confusion; researchers of political intermediaries –and more specifically of caciquismo-, use the category of broker not only in their original sense, but also in the sense given by Richard N. Adams (“Brokers and Career Mobility Systems in the Structure of Complex Societies”, in Contemporary Cultures and Societies in Latin America, 1970), who acknowledges the presence of two types of intermediaries: power intermediaries (such as the cacique) and cultural intermediaries (such as the rural teacher or the agricultural extensionist). According to his conception of social power, the first type of agent has power at two levels, and manipulates the control he has on each of them to strengthen his position in the other level. In exchange, the cultural intermediary is an individual of one level that lives and operates among individuals of another level, without deriving power from one to another. In this sense, Adam’s power intermediary is identified with the conception of broker we have provided until now (and which, in our opinion, is not limited to political power), whereas the version of cultural intermediary as a translator between two segments, outside the power structure, not only provides limited explanatory potential to account for the ideological dimension of this kind of mediation, but also differs from the connotation this work intends to confer to the role of foremen as cultural brokers. []
  26. María Eugenia Vargas, op.cit., 1994. Vargas believes that Tarasco teachers and bilingual promoters form an intermediate social category in the interethnic communication within the Tarasco-mestizo relationship system. []
  27. Pierre Bourdieu, “Acerca de las propiedades de los campos” in Sociología y cultura, 1990 and El sentido práctico, 1991. []
  28. Michel Pécheuz, Hacia el análisis automático del discurso, 1983; John B. Thompson, Ideología y cultura moderna. Teoría crítica social en la era de la comunicación de masas, 1993. []
  29. As to the national vegetable production, Morelos has a very important role; for instance, it holds the second place in green beans, the third in cucumber and the sixth in squash, Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería y Desarrollo rural (SAGAR), Anuario de la Producción Agrícola de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, 1989-1996, 1998. []
  30. Plutarco García, “Estructura del sector agropecuario y movimientos sociales en Morelos”, in Ursula Osward (ed.), Mitos y realidades de Morelos, 1993. At a lesser degree, there has also been the development of corporate farming at a higher scale, under the shadow of field rentals per agricultural cycle, which allows great mobility and better conditions to participate in these commercial cultures which are very speculative. []
  31. Except for onion, whose production is monopolized by buyers of the zone who are the local representatives of large foreign traders who sell this product in national and international markets. []
  32. The amount of family labor is of little significance compared to wage-earning labor, not only due to the characteristics of these cultures, but also because ejido families and small owners tend to diversify their income sources, preferring other complementary occupational alternatives. []
  33. In the agricultural year 1996, green bean production in Morelos ascended to 10 thousand 090 ton. (equivalent to 16 percent of said product’s national total), grown in a surface of one thousand 354 ha (something more than 16 percent of the country’s total surface), and with a performance of 7 thousand 450 ton/ha (Sagar, 1998). []
  34. Most of the green bean production of Morelos concentrates in the municipality of Ayala, in the ejidos of San Vicente de Juárez, San Juan Ahuehueyo, Anenecuilco and Tenextepango (PRONJAG, Módulo de antención para los cortadores de ejote de la región de Ciudad Ayala, Morelos, 1997). In the latter, around 400 ha are grown annually, which represents more than 50 percent of its irrigation culture surface. []
  35. Kim Sánchez, “Migración de la Montaña de Guerrero: El caso de jornaleros estacionales en Tenextepango, Morelos”, Masters degree thesis in Social Anthropology, 1996. According to a diagnosis of the state delegation of the PRONJAG (1997), nowadays around 80 percent of the employed day laborers are temporary migrants from Guerrero, 2 percent come from Oaxaca and Puebla, and the remaining 18 percent are local workers (native and resident immigrants). []
  36. The communities of origin of these migrants are mostly Nahua, followed in importance by the Mixteca and finally by the Tlapaneca. It must also be said that most of the migrants come from localities that belong to the municipalities of Chilapa de Álvarez, Tlapa de Comonfort and Atlixtac (Kim Sánchez, op.cit., PRONJAG, op.cit.,). []
  37. The colonies Constancio Farfán, Loma Bonita and Villa Hermosa emerged in the last two to three decades, registering the development of the region as pole of attraction of migrant workers that decided to settle there indefinitely. []
  38. According to the collected data, in “peak” moments of the harvesting activity, between one thousand and one thousand and 500 day laborers concentrate in this place, and this without considering those who accompany them and who do not work (Kim Sánchez, op.cit.). []
  39. Due to its geographical location and other particular conditions, since the beginning of the regional horticultural boom, Tenextepango has been a meeting point for local and migrant workers, due to which producers came here to hire labor; this originated the first transport companies to chose this locality for the establishment of their main office. []
  40. For the rest of the farming activities of this and other products, the hiring ways are more flexible, including direct hiring and hiring through crews. The latter works as a way of internally organizing workforce, with a lesser degree of asymmetry among its members; one of them is elected as representative to negotiate hiring conditions independently from intermediaries (Alipio Montes, op.cit.). []
  41. For small farmers, the commercial exploitation of vegetables, particularly green beans, has lost the attraction it had in previous years, because the increase in sale prices has not been proportional to the increase in production costs, mostly regarding seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, transport, etcetera. However, they are still more lucrative cultures than the production of sugar cane. []
  42. We go back to the concept of field by Pierre Bourdieu (1990, 1991), as a structured space of positions, which at a certain time expresses relationships of power between agents or institutions in the struggle to continue their specific interests and the domination of the field. []
  43. We took from Michel Pecheux the distinction between places and positions in social structure, where the former represent a set of characteristic objective features (for instance, producer/employer/mestizo/native, or else worker/temporary day laborer/indigenous/migrant), and the latter correspond to the representation made of these situations by the subjects, and which operate as imaginary formations in the discursive process (Michel Pecheux, op.cit., p. 48). []
  44. Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira, Etnicidad y estructura social, 1992, pp. 30-31. []
  45. The asymmetrical character of the indians-mestizo relationship necessarily refers us to the historic position Mexican indigenous groups have occupied in the social and productive structure of the global system, which at a regional level manifests in the subordination and articulation of their economic activities and their political life to the development dynamics of a capitalist economy and to the power structure dominated by the State (María Eugenia Vargas,op.cit., p. 33). []
  46. Stable interethnic relationships presuppose a similar interaction structure: on the one hand, there is a set of precepts that regulates contact situations and allows an articulation for certain activity fields and, on the other hand, there is a set of sanctions that forbid interethnic interaction in other sectors, thus isolating certain segments of the culture from possible confrontations and modifications. Fredrik Barth, Los grupos étnicos y sus fronteras, 1976. []
  47. Pierre Bourdieu, op.cit., 1990. []
  48. Unlike the traditional enlisting system, in this case workers do not receive any payment in advance, and strictly speaking the deal between the day laborer and the foreman may be broken by both parties at the end of each harvesting labor day. []
  49. This does not prevent the fact that there is a permanent flux of workers who circulate from one crew to another, due to work discontinuity, low wages and competition between foremen. The tolerance of foremen towards this practice of self-recruitment by day laborers expresses one of the mechanisms that in this labor market allows the regulation of demand and the supply of workforce in those moments and places where activity intensifies or diminishes. []
  50. For the producers, this attribute is considered a decisive aspect so that foremen are able to control their workers. []
  51. This situation reminds us of the intermediary dimension of the cacique, whose influence in the political field extends even to the individual sphere, in civil and family matters (Pablo Vargas González, op.cit.,). []
  52. One of the most common controversies between office workers and producers has to do with delays in shipment, most of all when the activity intensifies and there are not enough vehicles available. In many cases, the foreman intercedes to mitigate the conflict, for instance, by taking measures so that the producer only harvests part of his orchard, or else by pressing the transporter so that he does not fail a certain client. []
  53. In those cases, they work as representatives of crews in which they are also workers. Their most common activities outside green bean harvesting are: corn harvesting, pesticide application, etcetera. []
  54. In a similar way, Margarita Rosales G. has noted that the commercial intermediary in the rural scene “not only deals with agricultural products or puts in contact the rural producer and the urban consumer, but also finds himself in the middle of two production ways and handles to worlds, two languages, two types of economic rationality and of social relationships”. (Rosales González, Los intermediarios agrícolas y la economía campesina, 1979, p 123). []
  55. In Erik Wolf’s original definition, the broker is an individual; however, Guillermo de la Peña (“Poder local, poder regional, perspectiva socioantropológica”, in Poder local, poder regional, pp. 32-33) and other authors we have reviewed expand this category to refer to groups and individuals, and even to institutions (H. Asseo, op.cit.). []
  56. Said trajectory coincides with the mediation processes analyzed by Larissa Lomnitz (op.cit.) in the popular urban sphere, where a network of reciprocal exchange works for one of its members as a work resource and allows him to build a “group of action” that in the end becomes a stable and specialized structure of which he is the leader. []
  57. Unlike “emotional friendship” in which the relationship is limited to a dyad, “instrumental friendship” acts as a potential connective link towards other people in the outside (Eric Wolf, Relaciones de parentesco de amistad y patronazgo en las sociedades complejas, 1980). []
  58. Although most crews are mixed, because they have local and seasonal workers from different places of origin, there is a clear tendency to find in each crew broad nucleus of workers who have kinship relations, or who come from a particular community or neighboring communities that share linguistic filiation. []
  59. Pierre Bourdieu, op.cit. []
  60. In Pierre Bourdieu’s terms, the positions inside this microcosm, seen as a field, may differ as to the type of capital each individual holds, where the hierarchy of the various forms of capital (economic, cultural, social and symbolic) is conditioned by the specific logic and need of the field (Pierre Bourdieu, op.cit., 1991, pp. 64-66). We may say -in brief- that social capital is based on the social networks of the agents, on marriage alliances and kinship groups, whereas cultural capital is understood as the set of knowledge and abilities acquired by foremen along their personal trajectory, which include both technical and operational knowledge of the agricultural activity, the ability to handle each group’s culture (producers, transporters and day laborers), particularly the idiosyncrasies of the communities where he recruits day laborers (which may be Nahua or Mixteca). []
  61. We must note that, for instance, the ejido assembly determines the fees for green bean harvesting at the beginning of the harvesting season, without the participation of day laborers. Foremen are “invited” to give their opinion, they can express their ideas but they cannot vote and, finally, they are urged to comply with the agreements or else they lose their clientele of producers and they make enemies of the local authorities. []
  62. We go back to Boudieu’s notion of symbolic capital understood as a special type of capital that refers to prestige, reputation, name and to those acknowledged forms of authority and legitimacy (Pierre Bourdieu, op.cit., 1990, p. 283); in fact, any kind of objectivized and incorporated goods may represent a resource of symbolic power to define the sense of social distances, of what must be marked and maintained, of what must be respected and enforced. []
  63. We adopt in a flexible way John B. Thompson’s proposal (op.cit.) regarding the fact that strategies of symbolic construction may be related, in particular circumstances, to maintain and reproduce dominance relationships. Among others, rationalization is a strategy identified with legitimization (in which control is represented as legitimate or just), whereas naturalization responds to objectification (where control is represented as a natural and atemporal state of things) (ibidem, pp. 65-74). []
  64. An upstanding characteristic of this migratory flux is the flexibility with which the patriarchal regime adapts to the work conditions of the crews and to living together in the migratory niche (Kim Sánchez, op.cit.). []
  65. We must note that, referring to the ways in which various groups who operate at different levels interrelate, Wolf says: “one of the most remarkable characteristics of group relations in Mexico is the tendency towards the preservation of traditional cultural ways, to which new relationships contribute.” (Eric Wolf, op.cit., 1976, p. 66). []
  66. It is clear that the main indigenous communities that supply this workforce relate to the greater part of society in many ways inside and outside their region, due to which the migratory experience in Tenextepango is not the only cultural link (economical or political). However, I think that due to the importance of this work activity within their strategies of social reproduction (as peasants and indians), it is a very important reference in interethnic communication and in the construction of sense. As to the receiving community, the cyclic presence of this indigenous population is also a basic reference for cultural recognition and appreciation processes (both of their own and the others’ culture). []
  67. To this respect, we agree with Gabriel Torres (“La fuerza de la ironía. Un estudio del poder en la vida cotidiana de los trabajadores tamaleros en el occidente de México”, Master’s degree thesis, 1994) when he affirms that labor market should not be conceived as a close system, only controlled by capitalist production, but as a space in dispute: “In the first place, workers may not be seen exclusively as cheap workforce in search for work. This would mean to condemn them to not having any possibility of negotiating better conditions (real or symbolic) as to their remuneration. This approach poses many problems as to the handling of information that speaks of the workers’ ability and knowledge to establish limited responsibilities and particular commitments. In the same way, it ignores the importance of gender, class and ethnicity differences, as well as the diversity of games of power in which workers get involved…” (op.cit., p. 77). []
  68. We refer to the generalized practice to control laborers and their work, which consists in assigning to each family head a “number” that corresponds to the order in which they were registered as members of the crew. Due to the fact that work is paid by the job, each day laborer and his companions are identified by this number so that the noter can register the amount in kilograms of harvested green beans. At the end of each week, the foreman and the noter estimate the payment to each family group, according to the kilograms they accumulated (even if they did not work every day of the week at the crew). []
  69. Curiously, producers have not taken drastic measures against illegal traders, because the latter find shield in the social obligations that arise from common place of origin and geographical proximity. In this way there have been claims and arrests against day laborers for robbery, but never claims against the real responsible agents of clandestine commerce. []
  70. That is, in Pierre Bourdieu’s terms, it might be said that foremen cannot transform the value relative to the capital they possess to impose on the field, because if they did, they would risk losing the representation of producers, and their reason for being considered safeguards of the game rules. In this way, the rentability of the economic activity imposes to foremen the limits of their efficiency to manipulate, increase or keep their specific capital. []
  71. Eric Wolf, op.cit., 1976. []

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