Give Judge Joel Pearce some sugar, baby!
Where does our sugar come from?
H-2 Worker is the best kind of documentary: the kind that sits back and lets people tell their stories, revealing the truth but letting both sides speak. While it's not as relevant as it once was, it still tells an important story that needs to be heard and recognized.
Since World War II, the United States has been issuing H-2 Licenses for seasonal farm workers. These workers are meant to be covered by the same laws as regular workers, but close analysis of the conditions for these workers suggest that these rules are often not followed. Between the '50s and the early '90s, 10,000 of these workers were brought from Jamaica to Florida's sugar cane fields, performing work that American workers refused to do.
While many of the specifics of the economic issues surrounding the sugar industry may be less relevant than they were in 1990 when H-2 Worker came out, I think it highlights a type of problem that still happens all over the world. America is still complaining about cheap foreign labor. At the same time, North America uses—and abuses—foreign labor to do jobs that no one living here would be willing to suffer through. These people work in heavily subsidised industries, like the sugar industry, where we can't afford to pay them proper wages.
The story is told simply, employing interviews with officials, workers, and farmers. It also uses the letters written between the men and their wives back home, which helps to humanize these workers. Throughout, we are left wondering why these workers would subject themselves to this horror, but are also confronted with the realization that this labor represents the best way to support their families, even if it means living in substandard conditions for half of the year.
Looming in the background are the companies in charge of the sugar industry. They take advantage of the cheap labor, rewarding the farmers who bring these workers in with massive "production" bonuses and free homes. While machines are now used to harvest this sugar, there are a number of H-2 workers in other industries, which should make H-2 Worker required viewing for everyone, whether they support or reject the use of foreign farm labor.
The disc is put together well considering the age of the documentary. It doesn't look great, but it probably never did. It's presented in its original full frame ratio, and the transfer looks as good as can be expected. The voices are always easy to understand, as well. In terms of extras, there's a fascinating new update that shows how the H-2 programs have actually expanded since H-2 Worker was made, though conditions haven't improved as much as we would hope. There is a commentary as well, though it's quite sparse.
H-2 Worker doesn't offer any solutions to the H-2 program problems. We need these foreign workers to produce the food that North America demands. We can't replace this many workers with domestic labor, and we probably wouldn't be able to find Americans willing to do that work, even if we had enough laborers to take it on. We're also unwilling to pay more for our food, which discourages employers from treating these workers with respect. Hopefully, films like H-2 Worker will raise awareness of these issues, though, so that conditions can improve.
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