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History traces Morgantown as a stopping point for distinguished frontiersmen like Davy Crocket and Daniel Boones. It is also associated with the representative of the church of the Latter Saint, Senator J. Ervin. Maya, a group consisting of mostly immigrants from Guatemalan forms a majority of the population of this town.
The town buildings such as religious institutions have been fortified to illustrate the warmth connected to the Maya community. Besides, Morganton believes in its dynamism and as a growing community embracing the social and economic prowess based on agricultural activities (Fink, 8).
Immigration and legislation
The Maya benefitted to a larger extend by the US immigration legislation of 1986. This has continued to shape their systems of engagement in Morganton. The legislation provided an opportunity for undocumented ethnicity, which has lived in the US for several years’ automatically gain legal status and ascend to a better employment in the visible economy.
This development created new opportunities for Mayans and barred the secret employment sector of sweet shops, day construction labor, and agricultural piecework for the new immigrant to fill. As a result of these changes, many Mayans moved to traditional agricultural, migrant stream that many Mexicans were instantaneously vacating.
Diversified Economy Morganton
The economy of Morganton arose as a result of being a transportation hub and a trade gateway linking the plantations in the south to newly formed markets. Thus, the slaves during the 1860s, was believed to have influenced the abundance of the town and local families (Fink, 8). The 19th century saw agriculture being joined by other economic activities such as furniture factories, lumbering and Textile Mills.
These industries actively contributed to absorbing Morganton Mayan population into the area labor force. The characteristics of Industries formed in Morganton evolved and acquired national recognitions, thus; government purchased some of them. For example, the Drexel Furniture was acquired by the state in 1903 (Fink, 8)
Rapid economic development in Morganton gained momentum after the WWII. This was prompted by the construction of the Federal 40 link which crossed through the Burke County. Consequently, the local chamber of commerce report, released in 1964, emphasized the latest developments in the economic sector.
This was in terms of establishment of 12 new industries which included; the shoe factories, furniture firms, Knitting Mills, fish hatcheries, machine tool operations and Breeden’s Poultry Inc., later it became to be known as the Case Farms. The local Morgantown industries bellowed after the postwar.
Fink (8) asserts that, by the year 2005, about 47% of the Burke County laborers, the Latinos and Maya, were involved in manufacturing activities. Mayan community in Morganton worked as undocumented workers during 1980s and 1990s. Thus, most employers exploited their illegality situation by offering smaller wages.
Besides, they were restricted in working in small, less visible companies often run by crooks. The invisible companies often underpaid and appropriated their social security and unemployment welfare.
Poultry Farms accounted for a larger percentage of employment opportunities for Mayas in Morganton. History traces Poultry farming in Morganton to Tom Breeden, a barber and his wife. They started poultry farming business as a hobby during the mid-1950. The business grew to become a large enterprise, spread across the United States. It was known as the Breeden’s Poultry Company (Fink, 11).
According to Fink, a survey of poultry labor market indicated that “rearing of chicken for the production and meat and eggs was a traditional practice which endeavored to endure for decades. It was complementary family or domestic operated, fueled chiefly by women and child family labor (11).
For a short time, Breeden extended its local poultry and egg part time hobby into a lucrative, and full time “New York dress business”, i.e. they would cover the birds, discard the feet and features, refrigerate and package and transport to New York for sale. Thus, what began as a small activity graduated to become a full-fledged business enterprise (Fink, 12).
The Breeden Company had some challenges in its recruitment processes of its employees. The Mayan and other groups from Latin American were the most affected. This was caused by the peculiar vitality of post WWII businesses.
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Prior to these challenges, Herbert Hoover’s campaign, promising, “a chicken for every pot” suggested that chicken, required protracted stewing, but, post-war businessmen such as Arthur Perdue came up with integrated processing methods, brand awareness and unified management of farmers, egg growers, feed manufacturers and processors under a single corporate entity.
This was to transform what was known in 1960’s as the “broiler” industry (Fink, 12). The evolutions of new methods reduced employment prospects for the population in Morganton. In proceeding years, the marketing strategies of fast food chicken lead by Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1960s and increased by McDonald introduction of Chicken McNuggets in 1980s and the surging health reasons about the red meat established a volatile claim for chicken and its related products. This trend has continued to hold up to present (Fink, 12).
However, the poultry market has been dominated by big producers creating a tough game for small farmers to check on wage costs. Since the beginning of 1970s, which was believed to be the lowest across food industries, has significantly dropped to about 60% of the US manufacturing standard.
Since, the development of poultry farming industry in 1950s and 60’s the labor costs and low land has been concentrated in the southern states. Poultry employers proved adventuresome in identifying new cost effective recruitment strategies. They headed to the southern states to find the solution. Latinos and other Latin American immigrants represented about 10% of overall poultry labor force in 1998.
In 1993, the number had increased to about 25%. In Morganton, demographic movement was more dramatic (Fink, 13). The Breeden Plant growth increased the need for a new form of labor. In 1960’s, entry of African American and Indians workers in previously all-white labor forces was a common trend.
By 1980’s almost a quarter of the working population in the labor force was made up of blacks and other races. For most immigrants, poultry industry served as an initial entry to a formal job thus equipping a new entrant with factory work morals that they could exploit for their own good.
Challenges Working in Poultry Farms
Maya often worked in small, unsafe factories. Together with other, several immigrants from Latin America such as the Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico organized a series of labor strikes. The first Mayan strike occurred as a result of crimping of their over-time work hours. This was also surged with the speeding up of lines during daytime shifts (Fink, 181).
Moreover, the major Mayan protest in the Case Farm occurred as a result of criticism for poor work tools, unpaid hours, lack of bathroom breaks, illegitimate company deductions for the purchase of safety equipment’s like gloves and smocks (Fink, 188). The Mayan workers made limited but significant progress during this time.
Maya led Unions exertions picked as from 1995 with mass protests and compulsory demands on Case Farms to address the claims of biased behavior, unbearable line speeds, poor wages and inhuman working environments (Fink, 195). However, the internal disputes arising among the Mayan and other Latin American immigrants, lack of funds and lack of interests by union personnel contributed to the disintegration of their partnership (Fink, 195).
Nevertheless of collapse of the countless union’s efforts in Morganton, their short lived association with the Maya and other Latin American workers at poultry Farms can be interpreted as a rebuttal of the altercation that undocumented migrant as a result of their ostensibly instinctive willingness to accept substandard wages and offensive management practices.
The labor Unions formed in 1980s in other towns such as Los Angeles were instrumental in fighting corporate abuses of human rights violations and labor rights. Thus, in Morganton, it was hoped that, the undocumented employees at Case Farms typically did not dare to stand up for “visible Leadership” roles which would attract the public; this was because of their citizenship status.
Besides, the weakening of formal security integral in work permits fixed on asylum applications did not check in any way loss of support for unions (Fink, 81).
Culture and Work
The Mayan has a rich culture which has continued to shape their existence. The Morganton Maya famously referred to as the Aguacatan, a group that played an important role in advocating for Labor Union, and the Totonicapan, which involved the Consejo Maya, were social and economically better than their counterparts at the countryside.
According to Fink (187), Aguacatan was close to the regional capital thus benefiting from commercial agricultural and educational institutions. On the other hand, Totonicapan had a long-standing heritage of traditional craft and a cultural center serving the territory of K’iche’. It emphasized certain worldliness from its native leaders.
The current globalization of the Mayans was signified by a hole in the wall grocery, found in the city of Totonicapan. It had a stamp affixed, slightly above the window. The symbol meant “Kmart” which meant the “traditionality” of the Mayan heritage.
The leaders of Maya in Morganton community accrued sustenance from both traditional and modern wells. But homeland with its commitments to traditional aspects such as inheritance of family owned plots and adoration of the souls of the departed was also ingrained in the Mayan of Morganton’s. The values of sticking together were inclined on the American social and political systems that were present during the end of the century.
The Mayans have contributed significantly to the growth and development of Morganton economy and culture. The challenges encountered included the issue of undocumented immigrants and inadequate skills to take up demanding tasks in factories during early periods of their immigration.
However, to adjust to the trend of globalization and the needs of the society, the Maya has benefited a lot from the immigration policies of the US. For example, the 1986 policy, this granted automatic, citizenship to any ethnicity which has lived in the country for more years.
Moreover, the presence of diverse industries in Morganton means more employment opportunities rather than one business entity of Poultry Farms. The Maya has responded to the issue of working conditions, poor pay among other issues. Thus, through the formation of their Labor Unions, it is simple to address their working grievances as one entity.
Fink, Leon. The Maya of Morgantown: Work and Community in the Nuevo New South. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003