Spaces of alienation in the tobacco fields: the case of migrant workers in Ontario, Canada

Abstract

In his book, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, Harvey (2014: 220 italics in original) identified the alienation of workers among the most “dangerous, if not potentially fatal, contradictions” of capitalism that generates a sense of powerlessness and self-estrangement. In this article, I examine the alienation of migrant workers participating in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). I argue that conditions internal to the production process (the interaction between workers and their productive activities, the product of their labor, and the character of their social interactions) and external conditions associated with temporary migration (the institutional arrangements that guide the SAWP, deregulated labor regimes, and the interlocking spaces that link the movements of people) alienate workers. My analysis is based on original empirical evidence from in-depth interviews with Mexican and Jamaican workers and farmers in Ontario, Canada. My findings show that migrant workers in tobacco farming are alienated from the productive activities in which they are involved, the product that they produce, and their fellow workers and employers. Moreover, temporary migration, precarious work, and the intermediation in labor markets further intensify their alienation experiences.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all the participants that made this paper possible. In addition, thank you to all the reviewers for their helpful comments on previous versions of the paper. The views and opinions reflected in the paper are solely those of the author.

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Bridi, R.M. Spaces of alienation in the tobacco fields: the case of migrant workers in Ontario, Canada. GeoJournal (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-020-10238-9

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Keywords

  • Alienation
  • Migrant worker
  • Precariousness
  • Labor geography
  • SAWP