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U N IT E D

S T A T E S D E P A R T M E N T O F LA B O R
Prances Perkins, Secretary
BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS
Isador Lubin, Commissioner (on leave)
A. F. Hinrichs, Acting Commissioner

Labor Unionism In American
Agriculture

Bulletin No. 836

U N IT E D

STATES

GOVERNM ENT

P R IN T IN G

O F F IC E , W A S H I N G T O N

: IMS*

For sale b y the Superintendent of Documents, U . S . Government Printing1 Office
W ashington 25, D . C. - Price
cents




70




Letter o f Transmittal

U n ited S ta te s D e p a r tm e n t of L abor ,
B u r ea u of L abor S t a t is t ic s ,

Washington, June 15, 1945.
T h e S ecretary of L abor :

I have the honor to transmit herewith a report on the development of
unionism in agriculture in the United States. The report, which is the
result of exhaustive research, brings together hitherto scattered material
much of which was previously not available.

It traces the changing

character of agriculture in this country and the conditions that have given
rise to labor unrest. Altogether, it is a valuable and graphic study showing
the origins, development, problems, and accomplishments of unionism
among farm workers in various parts of the United States.
The report was prepared by Stuart Jamieson, Lecturer in Economics
at the University of British Columbia. A ny expressions of opinion are
those of the author and are not necessarily shared by the Bureau of
Labor Statistics.
A . F. H in r ic h s , Acting Commissioner.
H o n . F rances P e r k in s .




Secretary of Labor.

Ill




Contents
Page

Chapter I.— Introduction.. . ...................................... ....................................................

1

Chapter II.— The agricultural worker and labor unionism....................... ...........

4

The family farm and the farm hand...................................................................
Deviations from the family farm ....................................... .................................
Labor unrest and large-scale farming.................................................................
Changing labor relations in the twenties...........................................................

4
5
8
12

Chapter III.-—
The farm-labor movement in the thirties....................; .................

15

Farm labor and the depression....................... ....... ...........................................
Course o f unionism and of strikes......................................................................
Spontaneous strikes and local unions...................................................................
Agrarian program o f the Communist Party....................................................
Independent unions and federal labor unions o f the A.F. of L .......................
State-wide and national unionism, and inter-union conflict.......................
United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers o f America

15
16
18
19
21
24
27

Chapter IV .— National perspective..............................................................................

30

Concentration o f strikes by area and crop.......................................................
Strike issues................................................................................................................
Violence in strikes..........................................................................
Strikebreaking and legal restriction.....................................................................
Mediation and arbitration................................................................; .....................

30
38
39
40
41

Chapter V.— Large-scale agriculture and early farm-labor unionism in Cali­
fornia ......................................................................................

43

Industrialized agriculture...............
The Chihese and race conflict in agriculture............................... ...................
Labor organization among the Japanese.............................................................
The A.F. o f L. and the casual white w ork er................................ .................

43
46
50
55

Chapter V I.— The I.W .W . in California...................................................................

59

“ Educating” the casual w orker..................................................................
Prewar years..............................................................................................................
The “ free speech fights” ................................................................................
The Wheatland riot and other strikes........................................................
The I.W .W . during W orld W ar I ............................. .........................................
Toilers o f the W orld ..............................................................................................
Postwar labor unrest.............................................................................................

59
60
60
60
63
65
67

Chapter V II.— California in the twenties...................................................................

70

Concentration in farm operations.........................................................................
Grower-employer associations................................................................................
Mexican and Filipino immigration........................
Revival o f unionism among field workers................................. .................... .
Revival o f unionism among shed workers.........................................................

70
71
72
75
78

Chapter V III.— Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union................
Revolutionary unionism in California agriculture...........................

80
80




V

VI

CONTENTS

Chapter V III.— Continued.
Page
Origins of the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union........
81
Cannery workers* strike, Santa Clara County, July 1931........................
84
Pea strike at H alf-M oon Bay, May 1932.................................................
85
Orchard pruners’ strike, Solano County, November 1932......................
85
State-wide unionism and general strikes in 1933.............................................
86
The spring campaign ..............................................................................................
88
Pea strike, Alameda and Santa Clara, April 1933....................................
88
Cherry pickers* strike, Santa Clara, June 1933..........................................
89
Berry strike at El Monte, June 1933.........................................................
90
Campaign of late summer and fall, 1933...........................................................
92
Pear strike in Santa Clara County, August 1933......................................
93
Peach strike, August 1933...............................................................................
93
Sugar-beet strike at Oxnard, August 1933................................................
96
Grape strike at Fresno and Lodi, September-October 1933..................
97
The cotton pickers* strike o f San Joaquin Valley, October 1933........ 100
Collateral strikes.................................
105
The C.&A.W.I.U. in 1934......................................................................................
105
Imperial Valley strikes, November 1933-March 1934.............................. 107
Miscellaneous strikes: February-April 1934.........
110
Apricot pickers* strike, Contra Costa County, June 1934...................... 112
Apricot strike o f Hayward, June 1934......................1............................... 113
Death o f the C.&A.W .I.U......................................................................................
113
The C.&A.W.I.U. in perspective........................................................................
114
Chapter IX .— Spontaneous strikes and independent unions...................................
Spontaneous strikes..................................................................................................
Relief policy and farm-labor strikes...........................................................
Sonoma apple pickers* strike, August 1935.................................................
Spontaneous strikes and wage increases in 1936.......................................
Unionism among Mexicans.......................................................................'............
Federation o f Agricultural Workers Unions o f Am erica......................
Celery strike, April 1936.........................................................................
Citrus strike in Orange County, June-July 1936...............................
Beginning o f State-wide unionism.................................................................
Unionism among Filipinos............................................................................

116
116
117
119
120
122
124
124
125
127
129

Chapter X .— The American Federation o f Labor................................. .................
The A.F. of L. and left-wing unionists................................................. ..........
Packing-shed workers* unions in the A.F. o f L ...............................................
Cooperation with organized Filipinos........................................................
Imperial Valley strike, 1935...........................................................................
Miscellaneous strikes, 1935-36.........................................................................
Salinas strikes o f 1936..............................................
Field workers* unions in the A.F. o f L .............................................................
State-wide federation o f agricultural workers.................................................

134
134
135
136
137
138
138
140
144

Chapter X I.— Inter-union conflict...............................
The American Federation o f Labor, 1937-38...................................................
The canning industry................................................................................
The dairy industry............................................................................................
Produce trucking..............................................................................................
Miscellaneous processing industries...............................................................

149
149
149
155
160
162




VII
CONTENTS
Chapter X I.— Continued.
Page
The U .C .A .P.A .W .A . drive during 1937-38................................... ................. 164
Processing industries........................................... .............
...................... 164
Unionization o f field workers......................................... . . .......................... 165
Apricot strike in Y olo County.............................................................. 166
Vegetable workers’ strike in Santa Maria Valley............................ 167
Citrus workers.............................................................. ............................. 168
Farm-labor unionism in 1938................................................................................ 169
Pea pickers’ strike............................................................................................ 170
Cotton pickers* strike in Kern County........................................... ........... 171
Vegetable workers’ strike in Orange C ou n ty ................................. .......
172
Miscellaneous strikes........................................................................................ 172
General results of organization activity in 1938....................................... 173
Farm-labor unionism in 1939................................................................................ 174
Activities o f the U .C .A .P .A .W .A ................................................................. 174
Spontaneous strikes.................................................................................. 174
Orchard strikes in Yuba County........................................................... 175
Cotton strike, San Joaquin..................................................................
176
Filipino agricultural labor association......................................................... 179
Recent developments in agriculture and allied industries...................... 186
Activities o f U .C .A .P .A .W .A ................................................................. 186
Activities of A.F. o f L .............................................................. ............. 188
Chapter X II.— Unionism in Arizona..........................................................................
Seasonal labor and large-scale farms...................................................................
Beginnings o f farm-labor unionism.....................................................................
Federal labor unions of cotton pickers.......................................................
Strike o f Puerto Ricans................................................................................
Trade Union Unity League in the thirties.........................................................
Unionism among shed workers.............................................................................
State-wide unionism and the U .C.A.P.A.W .A . . . . .........................................
Chapter X III.— Unionism in the Pacific Northwest...............................................
Migratory labor and seasonal agriculture...........................................................
Farm-labor strikes in O reg on ...................................................................
Pea pickers’ strikes in Idaho........................................................................
Farm-labor conflict in the Yakima Valley o f Washington............................
Race conflict........................................................................................................
The I.W .W . in Yakima.......................................................... .......................
Federal labor unions o f the A.F. o f L ........................................................
Activities o f United Cannery, Agricultural and Packing Workers of
America ..........................................................................................................
Recession and decline.......................................................................................
The hay balers union.....................’ ................................................................
Cannery and agricultural unions on the Coast.................................................
Cannery workers and farm laborers union.................................................
A.F. o f L. cannery unions.................................................................. .

193
193
195
195
196
196
197
199
203
203
204
207
210
211
212
213
214
216
217
218
218
220

Chapter X IV .— The Sheep Shearers Union o f North Am erica............................ 221
Sheep shearing in the Rocky Mountain region............ ................... ......... . . . . 221
Origin, structure, and tactics o f the sheep shearers’ union.............................. 222
Labor troubles in the thirties................................................................................ 224
Labor trouble in the thirties................................................................................... 224
Strikes and labor trouble in California and neighboring States............ 229
Present status............................................................................................................ 232




VIII
CONTENTS
Page

Chapter X V .— Beet workers in the Mountain States.. . . . . . . i ............ ...............

233

Labor in the sugar-beet industry............................... ................................... .. ...
Beginnings o f unionism..........................................................................................
The I.W .W . and Mexican radicals........ ......... ............... , .........................
The A.F. of L. and the beet w o rk e d association. . ...............................
The United Front Committee o f Agricultural Workers Unions..........
Unemployed organizations in Colorado............................................... .
Beet-labor unionism and the Jones-Costigan A ct o f 1934.....................
State-wide unionism and the A.F. o f L ...........................................................
United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of Am erica..
Labor troubles o f 1938....................................................................................
Decline o f U .C .A .P .A .W .A ......................................................................

233
236
236
237
239
241
243
244
248
249
253

Chapter X V I.—Unionism in the Southwest: Texas and Oklahoma....................

256

Displacement and agrarian agitation.....................................................................
Beginnings o f labor organization in Texas.........................................................
The cowboy strike of 1883 .............................................................................
The Mexican Protective Association...........................................................
Early farm-tenant and labor unions in Oklahoma...........................................
Miscellaneous organizations, 1909-14...........................................................
The working class union and the “ green corn rebell ion” ......................
Oklahoma in the thirties: Displacement, migration, and unionism..............
The Veterans o f Industry o f America.......................................................
Workingmen^ Union of the W orld .............................................................
The Southern Tenant Farmers Union.........................................................
Texas in the thirties: Labor unionism in agriculture and allied industries
Catholic W orkers Union o f Crystal City...................................................
Unionism in the Lower Rio Grande V alley.............................................
Onion workers* union, Laredo...............................................................
Federal labor unions in the A.F. o f L .................................................
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A .......................................... .......................................
Shed workers in the Lower Rio Grande V alley........... ............... ...
Pecan shelters* unions in San Antonio.......................................................

256
257
257
260
261
262
263
264
265
266
268
270
271
272
273
275
277
277
278

Chapter X V II.—Unionism among southern plantation sharecroppers, tenants,
and laborers..................................................................................................................

282

Tenancy and displacement.......... ...........................................................................
The plantation and large-scale fa r m in g ..................................................
Sharecroppers and laborers............................................................................
Unrest, mobility, and conflict.......................................
Displacement ........................................................................
Conditions during the depression.............................
Mechanization o f agriculture...............
Farmers* and sharecroppers* unions in Alabama.............................................
Farm tenant and labor unionism in the nineteenth century...................
Farmers Union o f Alabama in the 1930’s ...................
Origin o f Sharecroppers* Union o f Alabama...........................................
The Camp Hill Affair, 1931...................................................................
The Reeltown affair, 1932.......................................................................

282
282
282
284
285
285
288
289
290
290
292
294
295




IX
CONTENTS
Chapter X V II.— Continued.
Pa° e
Farmers* and Sharecroppers’ Unions in Alabama— Continued
Organization in the Black Belt..................................................................... 297
Relations with A.F. o f L. and C .I.0 ........................................................... 300
Southern Tenant Farmers Union of Arkansas................................................. 302
Plantations o f east Arkansas..................................... .................................. 302
The “ Elaine Massacre” .............................................................................. .. 303
Displacement in the thirties............................................................................. 305
Beginnings o f the Southern Tenant Farmers Union........... ............... .. 306
Strikes and v io le n c e ...................................................
Expansion during 1936-37...................................................................... 313
Affiliation with U .C .A .P .A .W .A .................................................................... 316
Strike o f 1938..............................................................
The Missouri demonstration..................... ............. ............... ............... 319
S.T .F .U .-U .C .A .P.A .W .A . conflict.....................
320
Recent developments.......................................................................................... 322
United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of
America .................................................................................................. 322
Southern Tenant Farmers Union........................................................... 323
Southern Tenant Farmers Union in retrospect......................................... 325
Chapter X V III.— Farm-labor unionism in Florida........................... , .....................
Unionism in the citrus-fruit in d u str y ..* ...........................................................
United Citrus Workers of F lorida...........................................................
Federal labor unions o f the A.F. o f L ........................................................
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A ..........................................................
Vegetable packing-house workers* organizations.......... ...........

327
328
330
333
336
340

Chapter X IX .— Farm-labor unionism in New Jersey............................................

343

The Seabrook Farm strikes..........................................................
Agricultural Workers* unions and the A.F. of L .............................................
Cannery unions........................................................................................................
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A ....................................................

344
347
350
351

Chapter X X .— Farm-labor unionism in New England............................. ... . . . .

356

Cranberry strikes in Massachusetts....................................................
356
Cranberry bogs o f the Cape Cod region.......... .......................................... 356
Strike of 1931............................................................... ........... . ............ 359
Strike o f 1933........ ..................... ............................................................ 359
Strike o f 1 9 3 4 . . . . . . . ...........
361
Tobacco strikes in Connecticut and Massachusetts..................... .
364
Tobacco plantations o f the Connecticut V a lle y ................................. ... 364
Strikes o f 1933.........................................
366
Miscellaneous strikes, 1934-35............................................................... 368
Strikes in 1936 and 1938........................................................................
369
The U .C.A.P.A.W .A ., 1940..................................................................... 370
General status o f tobacco workers.......... ............................................ 371
Chapter X X I.— Farm-labor unionism in the Great Lakes region........................

373

Onion workers o f Hardin County, O hio...........................................................
The onion marshes..............................................................
Onion workers* strike......................................................................................
Decline o f unionism among onion w o r k e r s ..............................................

374
374
376
379




307

318

X
CONTENTS
Chapter X X I.— Continued.
Sugar-beet workers o f Ohio and Michigan................................... ................. .
Great Lakes sugar-beet industry.............................................. ...................
Unionism and strikes, 1935-37.........................................................................
Labor trouble in 1938........................................... ..........................................
Strikes in miscellaneous crops...........................................................
Unionism in processing industries.........................................................................
Farmer-labor conflict in Wisconsin and M innesota.,......................................

Pa^e

380
380
382
385

387
388
391

Chapter X X II.— The I.W .W . in the Wheat B e l t . ...............................................

396

Seasonal workers in wheat harvesting................................
Beginnings o f organization....................................................................................
The I.W .W . in agriculture.....................................................................................
Suppression o f the I.W .W ......................................................................................
Postwar decline ............................................................................

396
398
398
401

Chapter X X III.— Unionism and strikes in American agriculture........................

406

A ppendixes
A . — B ibliography......................................................................................................... 413
B. — Agricultural, canning and packing unions affiliated to the American Fedation o f Labor, October 1935.................................................................................... 425
C. — Unions affiliated to National Committee of Agricultural, Cannery and
Packinghouse Unions.....................
426
D. — Farm-labor strikes in California, 1933......
427
E. — Agreement between Mexican workers and Japanese grow ers................. 428
F. — Organizing tactics o f the C.&A.W.I.U. ............... ..
429
G. — Strawberry agreement......................................
430
H . — San Diego County agreements.....................................................................
430
I.
— News notes and bulletins o f a threatened strike in Maricopa County, Ariz.,
M arch-April 1939.......................................................................................................... 432
J. — Race conflict in the Yakima Valley, Washington....................................... 435
K . — The “ Yakima Incident” in 1933.................................................. .................. 437
L. — Antilabor farmers' organizations in Washington.................. ..................... 439
M. — The “ green corn rebellion” in Oklahoma................................ .................. 442
N.
— Unionism and strikes among citrus workers in F lo r id a ....................... 443
O. — New Jersey situation....................................................................................... 448
P. — The Seabrook Farm strike of July 1934.............. ...................................... 451
Q. — Employment conditions in tobacco fields...................................................... 454
R. — Michigan beet agreem ent...................................................
456
S. — The Associated Farmers o f Minnesota...................................... . ; ............... 456




Bulletin N o. 8 3 6 o f the
United States Bureau o f Labor Statistics

Labor Unionism In American Agriculture
Chapter I.— Introduction
A lengthy study of labor unionism in American agriculture might
appear to be “ much ado about nothing/’ The very concept of organization
among farm workers seems anachronistic to many persons. College text­
books on labor problems dismiss the subject in summary fashion, if they
mention it at all. Farming customarily receives brief notice as a special
type of economic enterprise which remains singularly free from unionism,
strikes, class conflict, and other manifestations of the labor troubles that
nonagricultural industries have been experiencing for many decades.
A s a matter of fact, hired farm workers numbering in the hundreds
o f thousands have participated in literally hundreds of strikes throughout
the Nation in the past five or six decades. Almost every State in the Union
has experienced at least one farm-labor strike at one time or another. By
far the majority of such outbreaks occurred during the 1930’s.
It is questionable whether these occurrences should be considered
a “ labor movement,, in the full sense of the term. Labor unions and strikes
in American agriculture for the most part have been small, sporadic, and
scattered. They seem insignificant in comparison with the activities o f
organized labor in other industries, and the more important urban tradeunions during most of their history have had little to do with farm workers.
On the pther hand, at least three concerted attempts have been made at
different times to unionize agricultural labor in the United States on a
nation-wide scale. On each occasion there was sufficient continuity in
philosophy, tactics, and organizing personnel to constitute a “ m ovem ent/,
In any case, the fact that farm workers in many areas did organize, and
strike, is itself significant, for it indicates a divergence of actual condi­
tions from the popular conceptions regarding the nature of farm work.
This report endeavors both to record the history of farm labor unions
and strikes in the United States, and to analyze them functionally in time
and place. The matters that always remain uppermost are the combina­
tions of circumstances that gave rise to organized labor-employer conflicts
in agriculture; the types of farming and the changes in farm structure
and labor relations that tended to generate such conflict; the issues over
which the labor disputes on farms occurred, and the tactics of group pres­
sure and combat employed by the contending parties; the reactions of
nominally neutral or disinterested groups in rural communities to farm
labor unions and strikes, and the degree to which their reactions were
influenced or governed by economic interest, social status, cultural tradi­
tion, or politico-legal considerations.




1

2

LABOR U N IO N IS M

IN A M E R IC A N AG R IC U L TU R E

This report presents a general picture of the history of agricultural
unionism in the United States, and a more detailed analysis of its evolution
in certain States and regions. The first three chapters give a brief chrono­
logical sketch of farm-labor unions and strikes as they developed for brief
periods of time in scattered areas, showing the attempts to organize agri­
cultural and allied workers into international unions affiliated with two
main organized federations, the American Federation of Labor and the
Congress of Industrial Organizations, and evaluating some of the m ajor
conditioning factors common to the different agricultural areas of the
United States that experienced labor agitation and strikes.
In the remainder of the report farm-labor unionism is examined in
more detail in its diverse regional contexts. Unions and strikes have been
classified as far as possible according to the areas in which they occurred,
in so far as regions and States can be differentiated by distinct crop indus­
tries or types of agricultural labor employed. A n attempt has been made
in each case to analyze the relationships between farm-labor movements
and the economic and social structures of the crop areas in which they
occurred.
The history and nature of the farm-labor movement in the United
States have been difficult to trace because of the exceedingly complex nature
of the subject matter, much of which has been inadequately documented.
Statistical estimates regarding number and frequency of strikes, dates on
which they occurred, numbers of workers participating, issues raised,
and crops affected are likely to be far from accurate or conclusive, and
must allow for a wide margin of error. Agricultural laborers as an occupa­
tional group in many areas were extremely migratory and casual in their
employment relations, making it almost impossible to distinguish clearly
between employed and unemployed. Unskilled agricultural work for the
most part was accessible to almost anyone, labor recruiting and hiring
were haphazard, and turn-over was high. The number employed for brief
periods in any one seasonal crop area generally fluctuated widely from
day to day. The personnel at the same time was changing continually,
owing to simultaneous hiring and voluntary quitting.
F or these reasons clear definitions, let alone accurate statistical esti­
mates, are difficult to achieve. W hen a succession of walk-outs involved
several thousand workers in one crop harvest and encompassed several
counties and many separate localities, did it constitute one strike or several ?
Again, when a small strike began in one crop and in a short time spread to
thousands of workers in several crops within one county or growing area,
did this situation represent one strike or several?
Definition would be immaterial if accurate estimates could be made
of the total numbers involved. This, however, raises even more formidable
difficulties. The demand for labor in any crop area during a brief harvest
period might have been fairly definite in terms of total man-hours, but
it could be extremely elastic in terms of the number of persons employed
for various lengths of time. The potential supply also varied considerably.
Such marginal labor groups as women, children and aged, unemployed,
relief clients, and transients from other States, all supplemented the
“ usual” seasonal farm workers employed in an area. In a strike situation,
which of these and how many of them should be included among the unem­
ployed, and which among the strikers ?
The problem is complicated further by the extreme mobility of agricul­
tural laborers. A number of those made temporarily jobless by a strike




C H . I.---- INTRODUCTION

3

in one locality or crop could have migrated to nearby areas and found work
in the same or other crops. N ot infrequently such persons participated in
further strikes before the first one was settled, so that a summation of the
number affected at any one time could lead to duplication and overestimates.
Another formidable obstacle to thorough and accurate analysis lies in
the extreme paucity of reliable sources regarding farm-labor organizations
and their activities. The fact that relatively few people are even aware
that unions in agriculture ever existed is a good indication that little has
been known or written about them. A few spectacularly large and violent
strikes in farm areas at one time or another have received wide publicity
in metropolitan newspapers and have become the subject of much investi­
gation. Various tabulations of agricultural strikes and numbers of partici­
pants have been compiled by such agencies as the Bureau of Labor Statis­
tics of the U. S. Department of Labor, the Bureau of Agricultural
Economics of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, and the California
Bureau of Labor Statistics and other State labor departments. Their
estimates and tabulations tend to vary widely because in compiling their
data they have had to depend sometimes upon unreliable news accounts
and differing reports from local authorities, participants, and spectators.
Few agricultural-labor strikes have been investigated thoroughly at first
hand by official fact-finding bodies or by careful observers.
A n invaluable source of information for the present study has been
the published hearings and reports of the Subcommittee of the U. S. Senate
Committee on Education and Labor, studying ‘‘Violations of Free Speech
and Rights of Labor” in California’s agriculture. These volumes contain
many special studies and reports by government agencies, scholars, experts,
and others regarding the agricultural background of farm-labor problems
in that State. Official investigators and representative participants from
the ranks of employers, employees, and officers of the law, describe in
detail several of the more important labor organizations and strikes at
hearings held by the subcommittee.
T o obtain data regarding the farm-labor movement in States other
than California, the writer has had to rely almost completely upon personal
interviews with participants and observers— union organizers and mem­
bers, employers and their representatives, police, sheriffs and deputies,
and local government officials and administrators. Data obtained from
these sources were compared and contrasted, and supplemented with
accounts from local newspapers as well as various labor and employer
journals. These findings wrere checked with official reports by public
fact-finding agencies where available.
Because of the fragmentary nature of the data, the portrayal of farmlabor unions and strikes in following chapters is not so well balanced as
would be desired. Some incidents are treated perhaps in greater detail than
their relative importance would require, simply because the sources were
unusually full. Other important developments have had to be treated
much too briefly because adequate information was lacking. Numerous
lengthy quotations from and references to newspaper accounts and verbal
testimony have been included, not so much for their factual accuracy
as for the expression of significant attitudes by various groups involved
in labor disputes. In so far as attitudes express a propensity to act,
such accounts shed an illuminating light on the causes of strikes and the
various patterns of labor-employer conflict that emerged in different areas.




Chapter II.— Agricultural Worker and Labor Unionism
The Family Farm and the Farm Hand
“ Q . * * * D o many agricultural laborers belong to organizations in
which they undertake to regulate the hours of labor ?”
“ A . N o, sir. O f course, farmers usually work for themselves; they
go to the field, take hold and labor; they are on very good terms with
their help. V ery many of these laborers are members of the farmers’
organizations.” 1
The above picture of labor relationships on the land is traditional.
In popular social theory, farm workers have occupied a special position
that differentiated them sharply from other occupational groups. W ith
few exceptions, labor problems and “ class conflict” have not been per­
ceived to be part of the rural scene.
This conception derives from the nature of farming itself. Traditionally
a “ way of life” as well as an economic undertaking, the farm in theory has
been operated upon principles quite different from those governing other
industrial and commercial enterprises. The conviction has long been preva­
lent that the farm owner-operator, together with his family, is or should
be the one who performs most of the labor involved. The traditional
“ American dream” envisaged a pattern of land settlement in which the
“ family farm” would be the basic unit of the Nation’s agriculture. In
Congressional debate at the time the Homestead A ct was being passed, a
Representative from Indiana declared:
Instead o f baronial possessions, let us facilitate the increase o f independent home­
steads. Let us keep the plow in the hands o f the owner. Every new home that is
established, an independent possessor o f which cultivates his own freehold, is estab­
lishing a new republic within the old, and adding a new and strong pillar to the
edifice of the state.8

The use of hired laborers evolved as a common adjunct where family
farms became less diversified, with the growing of crops for sale in urban
markets as well as for use by the operator’s family. “ By the outbreak of
the American Revolution,” according to Dr. Paul S. Taylor, “ the institu­
tion of the farm wage worker who lived with the family and was paid by
the month had appeared, and by 1800 had become general.” The number
grew as farms themselves multiplied in the process of western expansion.
Farm wage workers did not, however, become a class. In their origins
they were mainly sons of other farmers, and their social status differed
little from that of unpaid family laborers and their employers. In the
popular conception the “ farm worker” became scarcely distinguishable
from the “ working farmer.” The latter rarely maintained more than one
“ hired man.” Employer-employee relationships were close, personal, and
stable. Industrial labor problems arising from exploitation and insecurity,
class division, and conflict of group interests were inconceivable. Farmer
and farm hand together performed similar jobs the year round, ate at the1
*
2
1Statement of Honorable Joseph H. Brigham, Assistant Secretary of the U. S. Department of
Agriculture, before the U. S. Industrial Commission, 1901.
2Quoted from Paul S. Taylor: The Place of Agricultural Labor in Society. Paper at Twelfth
Annual Meeting. Western Farm Economics Association, June 15, 1939. This chapter draws
liberally upon that paper. Also, testimony by Dr. Taylor published in Hearings of the Subcom­
mittee of the Committee on Education and Labor, U. S. Senate, 76th Cong., 2d sess. (hereafter
referred to as the “ La Follette Committee” ), Part 47 (p. 17280).

4



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same table, and had major interests in common. If the farm hand was
“ exploited,” in terms of long hours and, low wages, so was his farmer
employer. The security and material welfare of both rested almost equally
on the continued and successful functioning of the farm as a “ going con­
cern,” and, in the final analysis, the farm laborer’s position was made as
secure as the farm employer’s by his well-nigh equal social status in the
community. This position is described by E. Chapman in his New England
Village L ife:
The self-respecting [hired man] was a recognized and respected member o f the
neighborhood. His was the independence o f a free citizen as really as that o f his
employer * * * . I f his wages were small, the scale o f living about him was a simple
one * * * . The employer worked beside his man.8

Even more important than family origins and social status in preventing
farm workers from becoming a class were their opportunities to rise by
their own individual efforts. During most of the nineteenth century
there was a constant outlet for hired men who could push west and acquire
new farms for themselves. Owner-employers at the same time were con­
stantly retiring or shifting to other vocations, and their farms were made
available for renting to tenants or for selling on time payments. Occupa­
tional climbing from wage earner to owner was facilitated by general indus­
trial expansion, which increased the markets for agricultural produce
and opened opportunities to those who chose to leave their farms, as well
as to those who bought them. In this way were built the steps of a process
which came to be known as the “ agricultural ladder.” This was described
by the U. S. Industrial Commission in 1911:
Farm labor, in a large and true sense, is the work o f the farmer, the tenant, the
crop sharer, and the laborer hired for wages. These forms o f effort are inextricably
involved, the farm laborer o f one year being the farm owner o f another, and the
sons o f farm owners laborers temporarily, tenants later, and ultimately proprietors.
In this country land titles are not tied up by primogeniture nor agricultural classes
held by caste to semi-serfdom o f social and industrial conditions. It is impossible
to chain an American to a life service in any industrial class.8
Economic security and fluidity of class lines for all farm occupational

groups— laborer, tenant, and owner— were maintained, finally, by general
business expansion. The farmer appeared still less to be a member of a
fixed class, as there was always, apparently, the alternative avenue of escape
to the city if and when the agricultural ladder became no longer scaleable.
A s a matter of historical fact, the majority took this road, as evidenced
by the continuous migrations to the cities, which in time transformed the.
United States from a predominantly agricultural to a primarily urban,
industrial nation. Periodic complaints of farm-labor shortages and rural
depopulation were met with the argument that the country, to retain its
people, must raise its working and living standards to a level of advantage
that could compete with the city.

Deviations from the Family Farm
The family farm with its hired man became the general pattern of land
settlement throughout most of the United States and was widely accepted
as the ideal relationship for American agriculture. For several decades,
however, there have been numerous indications that in certain areas inde-3
3Paul S. Taylor: The Place of Agricultural Labor in Society.




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pendent proprietors of small diversified farms were losing ground literally
and figuratively, and where family farming was replaced by other forms
of agricultural enterprise, the hired labor was no longer of the farm-hand
variety.
Huge enterprises in some types of agriculture, as in many urban indus­
tries, proved more profitable than diversified farming in small units. Cer­
tain land areas were found particularly adaptable to “ industrialized”
methods of production. Large-scale enterprises were able to produce some
crops more cheaply than could small family farms, by subdividing produc­
tive processes and simplifying each job, by mechanizing operations, and
hiring labor in groups rather than as individuals, in brief, by functioning
on a “ mass production” basis. Farms operating on these principles became
most numerous in the cultivation of intensive cash crops for sale in distant
urban markets. The existence of such agricultural enterprises in America
was widely recognized by the 1930’s. Their roots, however, reached back
to the 1870’s and earlier in some regions, and the special labor problems
they generated were beginning to make their appearance late in the n in e-.
teenth century.
The Old South was perhaps unique in the United States as one rural
economy in which the “ agricultural ladder” had never been accepted as a
workable social ideal. Concentration of land ownership in large plantation
units depending upon masses of slave labor was an almost complete an­
tithesis of the family farm, and the conflict between these two standards
of land settlement played no small role as an issue in the Civil W ar.
Emancipation created one of America’s first serious farm-labor problems.
Large numbers of free and propertyless workers had to be reabsorbed
into a financially bankrupt plantation economy. A s tenants and share­
croppers they had a standard of living and an economic security substan­
tially below that of the farm hand and the industrial laborer. A n increase
in numbers of agricultural workers paralleled a steadily growing rate of
tenancy in the South. By 1900 this region had more than half of all farm
laborers in the United States.4
Variants of the plantation, employing a type of farm labor which dif­
fered rather sharply from the hired-man ideal, developed in other regions
during the latter part of the nineteenth century. W ith rapid expansion of
trade and industry, growth in city populations, rise in land values, and
improvements in transportation and communication, agriculture in some
sections of the North Atlantic States grew away from diversified family
farming. Landowners in increasing numbers specialized in intensively
cultivated truck vegetables, orchard fruits, berries, tobacco, and other mis­
cellaneous farm products. Completion of a transcontinental railway system
developed a similar type of agriculture concentrated in larger and more
heavily capitalized farm units in California and the Northwest. Highly
mechanized, large-scale “ bonanza” farms in North Dakota, eastern W ash­
ington, and Oregon during the late seventies and eighties represented
a factory method of organization adapted to the production of wheat.
Cattle ranching in the southwestern plains during this period also became
a highly centralized system of large-scale production, characterized by
huge land holdings controlled by absentee corporations.4
Large farming enterprises in each of these distinct crop regions experi­
enced labor problems of a type never faced by family farms. A n industrial
^La Wanda Cox: Agricultural Labor in the United States 1865*1900. Ph. D. Thesis in History,
University of California, Berkeley, Calif., December 1941 (p. 12).




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structure of operations when adapted to agriculture tended to bring a
correspondingly industrialized pattern of labor relations. The scale of
operations alone, beyond the capacities of the farm owner supplemented
by his family and hired man, widened the social distance and inequality of
status between employer and employee. Farming of this type was a busi­
ness run for profit rather than a “ way of life,” and labor relationships
became commercialized and impersonal. The gulf was widened even more
where the land, as in cattle ranching and wheat farming, became absenteeow ed and management-operated. Agricultural laborers in such cases
were often hired in gangs or crews to perform standardized or repetitive
work under the supervision of foremen or bosses, as in a factory. The farm
owner no longer worked at the side of his men. Contrasts rather than
similarities in social background between farm operators and farm laborers
became obvious where (as in sections of California, Texas, and the North
Atlantic), newly arrived immigrant workers were recruited in large
numbers. The farm laborer was no longer “ like one of the fam ily/’ nor
did he eat at the same table as his em ployer; on the cattle ranch and the
“ bonanza” wheat farm he was boarded and lodged as one among many of
his kind in dormitories or “ bunk houses.” On large farms ih California
and the Northwest he usually had to provide his own food from the wages
he earned.
The farm laborer’s security and the continuity of his relationship to his
employer and to the land on which he worked were disrupted even more
in certain crop areas characterized by extreme seasonality of employment
and consequent high labor mobility. Specialized large-scale farming, unlike
most urban industry, is not a continuous interrelated process of simultane­
ous input and output. Natural factors govern the periods of planting,
cultivating, growing, and harvesting. On the other hand, the work is not
staggered over a variety of crops maturing at different months, as it is on
the diversified family farm. The large farm specializing in one or a few
crops tends to become vitally dependent upon large numbers of seasonal
laborers required for short periods of time each year for cultivating and
particularly for harvesting. Small farms also in some cases specialized in
certain produce, and their labor relations came to resemble those of the
large farms. Because limited areas, concentrating in special crops which
ripened at different periods, were scattered over wide regions, many sea­
sonal workers were forced to migrate continually in order to find work at
a succession of short planting and harvesting jobs.
Labor-employer conflict was always latent and often overt in the limited
areas in which these relationships developed. The absentee owner and
hired manager of a large agricultural enterprise tended to view the wages
of labor primarily as a cost which should be kept to the minimum in order
to attain maximum profitability from the land. This was the case particu­
larly when other farm costs— rent, machinery, interest on invested capital,
fertilizer, and other necessities— were fixed by contract or by “ adminis­
tered prices,” so that wages constituted almost the sole variable cost.
The attitudes of seasonal wage laborers to their employers on large
farms were no longer like those of the farm hand. Their material welfare
could not be considered inseparably linked to that of the owner in a situa­
tion in which it was impossible for most of them to know him personally,
much less to work with him in the fields. W age levels and conditions of
employment served as a focus for conflicts of group interests. The hired
laborers, and in many cases the tenants, had lost as individuals the protec6541070
—46-2




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tion of an economic position and social status which a personal relationship
with their employers or landlords once afforded. A t the same time the
large scale of operations and the heavier capital investments required for
successful farming of several crops impressed upon certain groups of
hired laborers a consciousness of their inability to rise to a position of owner
or operator. A s members of a more or less fixed class in some regions,
they sought alternative means of self-protection through banding together
in unions to carry on collective bargaining with landowners and employers.

Labor Unrest and Large-Scale Farming
Labor unionism and strikes among agricultural workers were a rela­
tively unimportant aspect of the broader labor movment in America until
the 1930’s. Collective action among farm workers was limited almost sole­
ly to areas characterized by large-scale farms specializing in one or a few
crops and hiring laborers in groups rather than as individual workers.
Sporadic local movements of many different types developed in widely
separated regions during the nineteenth century. Propertyless wage earn­
ers frequently joined small farm owners and tenants in the same organiza­
tions ; in other instances they were organized separately, often in opposing
groups.
Agrarian movements in the Southern Cotton Belt during the latter
part of the nineteenth century reflected the viewpoints of the small farm
operator rather than the laborer. Concentration in land ownership had
been general in the Old South since the beginning of colonization. The
plantation system with its rigid caste structure based upon clearly defined
racial division of labor inhibited collective action for social betterment on
the part of labor and tenant groups. Slave revolts in pre-Civil-W ar days
had been few, small, sporadic, and short-lived. Agrarian movements in
opposition to the status quo developed after the Civil W ar among those
elements not under the immediate domination of large planters— i.e., small
hill farmers in the mountain regions of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana,
Arkansas, and Tennessee.6 These movements began, moreover, in the
States (T exas and Oklahoma) which had the highest rates of tenancy but
which were at the same time relatively free from the plantation system.
The m ajor rural problem in the South and Southwest had long been
the steadily growing indebtedness of farmers, as their livelihood became
tied more closely to the production of cotton. This trend, punctuated by
frequent depressions and conditions of drought, blight, and soil erosion,
gave rise to continuous displacement of small owners and tenants. Here
the problem of the farm operator became inseparable from that of the
propertyless farm laborer, and both groups sometimes organized together
for mutual self-protection.
Small fanner organizations endeavored to combat indebtedness, dis­
placement, and concentration partly through a broad program of coopera­
tive buying and selling. A t the same time, they attempted to mobilize the
disadvantaged small-farm operators and laborers and their allies into mass
political pressure groups which could better their condition by agitating
for favorable legislation. This program was characteristic of such or­
ganizations as the Agricultural Wheel, Farmers Alliance, Farm Labor
6See Olive Stone: Agrarian Conflict in Alabama. Ph. D. thesis. University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill, 1939.




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9

Union, and Farmers’ Educational and Cooperative Union. In contrast
to most institutions in the South, these bodies usually cooperated with
established labor unions and in some instances even made serious efforts
to transcend the color line.7
Indigenous “ tenant unions” developed in Oklahoma as an extension
of the radical labor movement in prewar years. Many farm operators in
newly settled regions of that State were well-nigh destitute homesteaders
who lacked the capital necessary to become independent proprietors. The
lines between owners, tenants, and laborers were exceedingly fluid, at a
precariously low economic level. Agrarian organizations like the Okla­
homa Renters Union and the W orking Class Union of the W orld included
elements from all three groups. In some instances, as in the “ Green Corn
Rebellion” in eastern Oklahoma, they employed tactics of direct action
which were characteristic of labor unions rather than farmers’ cooper­
atives.8 The small farm operator’s position in many sections of the South
was analogous to that of the town handicraftsman and proprietor during
the Industrial R evolution; both waged a losing battle against large-scale
production and concentration in ownership and control.
One of the first instances in agriculture of organized action in which
hired laborers played the dominant role occurred in the livestock industry
of the Southwest during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Cattle
ranching was one of the first branches of agriculture to organize in largescale units employing a specialized type of labor in crews supervised by
hired managers and foremen. Range land became concentrated in the hands
of large absentee owners at the expense of the small operators’ and cow ­
boy laborers’ independent status. Class lines and issues were far from clear,
however. Cowboys and small herd owners in some instances united for
self-protection. Large ranchers, on the other hand, frequently hired cow­
boys as vigilantes to protect their property against the forays of inde­
pendent operators. Latent labor unrest and class conflict were manifested
by the prevalence of cattle rustling, gun-fighting, employer blacklists, and
high labor turn-over. A dramatic climax was reached in the early eighties,
when several hundred cowboys in the vicinity of Tascosa, in the Texas
Panhandle, went on strike against seven large cattle-ranching corpora­
tions.
The first stable union of agricultural workers was organized among
sheep shearers in the large-scale ranching areas of the Pacific Coast and
R ocky Mountain regions. The present-day Sheep Shearers Union of
North America, with headquarters in Butte, Mont., was preceded by
several local and short-lived bodies, the earliest of which goes back as
far as the 1890’s.10
Certain singular features of their occupation provided sheep shearers
a strategic bargaining position and, therefore, a rate of remuneration far
above the ordinary level for agricultural workers. W ool is a perishable
product, to shear which, without undue spoilage, requires considerable skill
and accuracy gained from long training. The labor supply was for a long
7See Stone, op. cit. Also R. L. Hunt: History of Farm Organizations in the South West,
College Station, Texas, 1925.
8See Labor History of Oklahoma, W P A Federal Writers’ Project, Oklahoma City, 1939; also,
Chanter X V I: Early Farm Tenant and Labor Unions in Oklahoma (p. 261).
9See Chapter X V I: Beginnings of Labor Organization in Texas (p. 257).
10This information was obtained from interview with C. B. Renk, secretary-treasurer of the
Sheep Shearers Union in Butte, and from newspaper clippings and old membership cards which
the union has on file. (See Chapter X IV .)




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time limited not only by these requirements but also by transportation
difficulties. The major sheep-raising areas, where shearing operations
were performed and thus where shearers had to learn their trade, were
sparsely populated and fairly inaccessible to large numbers of workers.
Sheep shearers, as a small select group of itinerant skilled tradesmen, de­
veloped a decentralized type of union structure similar to that organized
among such labor types as printers and mechanics. The collective-bargain­
ing tactics of the Sheep Shearers Union rested upon manipulating the
labor supply in limited areas during the shearing season, when sheep
raisers were dependent upon incoming migratory shearers.
Labor unions did not develop among casual and migratory workers in
other large-scale farming regions during the late nineteenth century, and
strikes among this element were small and few. Sporadic local outbreaks
occurred from time to time among “ harvest stiffs” in the W heat Belt of
the Middle West. Most of such incidents were spontaneous protests
against the inadequate meals provided by some employers.1 The few
1
agricultural strikes in California, during this period were far overshadowed
by anti-Oriental riots, which radiated out to rural areas from San Fran­
cisco and other urban centers during periods o f depression and unem­
ployment.1 *
12
1
Large-scale industrial agricultural enterprises specializing in one or a
few crops increased rapidly in scope and importance during the twentieth
century under the stimuli of continued urban expansion, more complex
market relationships, and notable technological improvements in trans­
portation and in methods of production on the land. Intensive truck and
fruit farming continued to expand in the North Atlantic and Pacific Coast
States, and in the Carolinas, Florida, southern Texas, and the Great Lakes
States. Rapid progress in irrigation opened up new tracts for growing
intensive crops, as in the Imperial Valley of California, the Salt River
Valley of Arizona, and the Yakima Valley in Washington. The growth
of sugar-beet production in the Rocky Mountain and Great Lakes States
and the westward movement of cotton to Oklahoma and the States along
the Mexican border also brought new patterns of land operation.
Seasonal labor supplies for these concentrated crop areas came to be
composed of many more or less distinct groups, differentiated by the
various demands imposed upon them by each type of farming, their degree
of mobility, the distances they travelled to work, and the number and
duration of their jobs. The migratory agricultural laborers, defined broad­
ly as those who have no residence and those who leave their residences
for certain periods to follow seasonal farm jobs, did not generally con­
stitute a compact and cohesive group moving from one community to an­
other. Mercer G. Evans, Director of Personnel and Labor Relations for
the Farm Security Administration, described this migratory group th u s:
* * * In each area new recruits join the movement, and old ones drop out. Many
workers mingle with the migratory stream only at one point, and then return to a
home base. The influx o f migrants into an area, also, usually represents an addition
to a backlog of resident labor that is continuously available, but which is only used
seasonally in agriculture.1
8
11See Chapter X X II (p. 398).
12See Chapter IV.
1,?The Migration of Farm Labor. Paper presented by Mercer G. Evans before the Committee
on Problems in Inter-State Migration at the National Conference of Social Work, Buffalo, N. Y.,
June 21, 1939 (p. 1).
Resident labor employed only for short periods seasonally is defined by some as casual in
distinction to migratory.




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Intermittent employment, small average annual earnings, and de­
pressed standards of living branded the casual and migratory workers
with a social status far below that of the farm hand. By the turn of the
century, seasonal workers were recognized officially as a distinct occu­
pational group which constituted a special problem in certain farm areas.
T o quote a report by the U . S. Industrial Commission in 1901—
♦ * * the annual inundation o f grain fields in harvest time, hop fields in the
picking season, fruit picking in districts o f extensive market orchards, and similar
harvest seasons requiring large numbers o f hands for a short time, has a demor­
alizing effect on farm labor, reducing its efficiency in these lines. Such employ­
ments demand little skill, the requirements o f each are simply and easily satisfied.
They constitute a low order o f farm labor, if worthy to be classed with it at all,
and are excrescences upon its fair face.14

Obvious weaknesses in their bargaining position prevented such
workers from unionizing effectively. Local organizations began to de­
velop during the prewar decade in California, where the system of largescale intensive agriculture was most thoroughly entrenched and the de­
mand for seasonal labor was growing rapidly. Racial minorities like the
Japanese, who dominated numerous farm occupations, were for a short
time successful in establishing an indigenous system of collective bargain­
ing. The attempt of the American Federation of Labor to unionize casual
and migratory white farm workers was only slightly successful.
The first concerted program to organize farm workers on a nation­
wide scale was undertaken by the Industrial W orkers of the W orld. In
the beginning this union was most active among unskilled mass-produc­
tion workers in the industrial Northeast and Middle W est, but in later
years it became more widely known for the vigorous campaign it carried
out in agriculture. The I.W .W . professed a revolutionary doctrine of
continuous direct action designed ultimately to overthrow the capitalist
system. It condemned the exclusive and conciliatory policies followed by
established craft unions and set out to organize unskilled labor in employ­
ments hitherto left almost untouched by the A .F . of L.
The I.W .W . attained its greatest strength among agricultural workers
in those farming regions which had been experiencing intermittent farmlabor conflict for several decades. Its large following did not necessarily
indicate dangerous radical proclivities on the part of farm laborers. It
was, rather, a reflection of the growing divisions in economic interest
and social status between employers and employees on farms which had
become commercialized and large in scale. Itinerant laborers employed on
mechanized wheat farms of the Middle W est and on large fruit or vege­
table ranches in California and the Pacific Northwest did not have to be
well-versed in abstract revolutionary theory to understand the doctrines
of class struggle preached by “ wobbly” agitators.
The members of the I.W .W . rural labor organizations for the most
part were not farm workers as a distinct and separate category. Rather
they were a heterogeneous group of casual and migratory workers re­
cruited during the harvest season from cities and towns. The majority
were single men who were employed at a variety of seasonal jobs at
different months of the year in mining, lumbering, railway maintenance,
and agriculture.15
The union’s activities among this element on the Pacific Coast during
the prewar years were mainly agitational or educational in nature. Pre14Report, U. S. Industrial Commission, 1901, Part I, Vol. X I (p. 79), quoted In Hearings of La
Follette Committee, Part 47 (p. 17285).
15See Chapter XXH .




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liminary indoctrination of hitherto unorganized workers was considered a
prerequisite for effective direct action. Only in a few scattered instances,
as in the famous “ Wheatland R iot” of 1913, did the I.W .W . lead strikes
in agriculture.
A more ambitious organization campaign was carried out among
seasonal harvest hands in the great Wheat Belt of the Middle W est during
the war years. Here in 1915 was chartered the Agricultural W orkers
Organization, “ The 400,” which was later reorganized as Agricultural
W orkers Industrial Union No. 110. Members of these organizations were
involved in many scattered strikes and violent conflicts with growers and
law officers. The I.W .W . temporarily abandoned the earlier policy of
street agitation and “ soap boxing” in cities. It functioned instead as a
decentralized union with an army of voluntary organizers or “ camp dele­
gates” who were employed at seasonal farm work to agitate and lead “ job
action” strikes.
The union was subjected to violent suppression by the Federal Gov­
ernment after America’ s entrance into the war. Its organization of agri­
cultural workers in the Middle W est finally disintegrated during the
immediate postwar years, when mechanization of grain-harvesting opera­
tions in the W heat Belt eliminated much of the heavy seasonal demand
for migratory workers from other areas, as local farm hands could perform
most of the work.16

Changing Labor Relations in the Twenties
N o extensive attempt to organize agricultural workers was undertaken
for more than a decade after the disappearance of the I.W .W . in agri­
culture. Some sporadic strikes and short-lived local unions developed in
a few States during the immediate postwar years, most of them in indus­
tries allied to agriculture, such as canning, packing, and shipping of fruits
and vegetables. The American Federation of Labor attempted in 1921
to organize skilled packing-shed workers on the Pacific Coast in the newly
chartered Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union, but the campaign was
abandoned within 2 years.1
7
The decade of the twenties was a period of quiescence in agriculturallabor unionism. It reflected in large part the lack of militancy in the
American labor movement in general. Unions declined in membership
and strength in urban industry, and in agriculture they disappeared en­
tirely for several years. New labor supplies were made available to largescale farm enterprises in special crop areas. Vegetable, fruit, and cotton
growers in Texas, Arizona, and California relied largely upon importing
Mexicans, whose numbers were not restricted by immigration quotas.
Sugar-beet growers and refiners in Colorado, W yom ing, and Montana
also utilized this labor supply intensively and transported large numbers
by rail from M exico and southern Texas. The Pacific Coast States sup­
plemented the Mexicans with several thousand Filipinos. Other highly
commercialized farming areas, such as southern New Jersey, depended
upon recruiting unskilled and substandard labor (including large numbers
of women and children) from nearby cities during the harvest season.18
16See Chapter XXH.
17See Chapter VI.
18See Josiah C. Folsom: Truck Farm Labor in New Jersey. (U. S. Department of Agriculture
Bulletin No. 1285.) Washington, 1925.




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The advent of the automobile served to increase the mobility of
marginal and casual workers. Improved transportation facilities during
the twenties rendered labor more continuously available to grower-em­
ployers, even during a period of industrial prosperity and relative labor
scarcity. Migrant groups were composed increasingly of families working
as units, in contrast to the single male “ stiffs” or “ hobos” characteristic
of the prewar period.
Rising national income and an expanding export trade during the
prosperous twenties increased in the demand for intensively grown crops
like cotton, luxury vegetables, fruits, and nuts. A t the same time large and
accessible labor supplies from foreign and domestic sources furnished the
means for increasing the output of such products. Certain farming regions
particularly on the southern Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, experienced a
rapid expansion in acreage devoted to commercialized crops grown inten­
sively on large-scale farms. The scale of farming grew larger, seasonality
in farming operations in these areas was on the whole accentuated, the
mobility of farm labor was increased, and class divisions among rural
occupational groups were widened.
W hen two or more workers are employed on a farm, in the opinion of
one writer, the labor-employer relationship approaches that characteristic
of urban industry rather than of farming.19 In the United States, by the
nineteen thirties, 56.1 percent of all farm workers were on farms in this
category. The proportion of farm workers employed in groups rather
than as individuals was particularly high in certain States: 66.1 percent in
New Jersey, 78.6 percent in California, 80.1 percent in Florida, and 82.2
percent in Louisiana.20 A n even greater degree of concentration was
indicated for farm workers employed in larger groups:
In January (1935) approximately one-third o f hired laborers as reported to the
Bureau of the Census were on farms with four or more laborers, and about onesixth were on farms with eight or more laborers. The areas o f largest concen­
tration of farms with groups o f hired workers, as distinguished from a single
hired hand, were the Delta cotton (with 54.5 percent on farms o f four or more
and 37.4 percent on farms of eight or more workers) and range areas (with 50.3
percent and 33.9 percent, respectively) and in the group of miscellaneous States
Florida and California. In California 59.1 percent o f hired workers were on farms
employing four or more, and 42.0 percent were on farms employing eight or mort
Corresponding figures for Florida are 60.9 percent and 45.6 percent. In Arizona
the concentration was even greater. In that State, 68.0 percent o f hired workers
were employed on farms with eight or mofe.2
1

The growing numbers and the changing composition of agricultural
wage labor in the industrialized farming areas temporarily reduced its
militancy. Family laborers and newly arrived immigrants were more
difficult to unionize than were single men of the type organized by the
I.VV.W. The farm workers’ bargaining position was further weakened by
the strong and comprehensive control which growers exerted over the
labor market when they were organized into employer associations.
“ Labor exchanges” or “ labor bureaus” were established in California and
Arizona to eliminate competition among individual employers, by stand­
ardizing wage rates throughout entire crop areas22 and recruiting the
19Louise Howard: Labor in Agriculture, London, Oxford University Press, 1935 (p. 32).
^Quoted from Arthur M. Ross: Agricultural Labor and Social Legislation. Ph. D. Thesis in
Economics, University of California, Berkeley, Calif., August 1941 (p. 43).
21 Witt Bowden: Three Decades of Farm Labor (Bureau of Labor Statistics Serial No. R. 976,
pp. 8-9), 1937.
22A precedent for this practice had been established during periods of labor scarcity in the
World War years. Under the initiative of State and county agricultural agents, growers in
many regions of the country sought to decrease wasteful labor turn-over on farms by standard­
izing, wage rates for competing units.




14

LABOR U N IO N IS M IN

A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

required labor supplies. County boards of agriculture took the initiative
in stabilizing wage rates in some sections of New Jersey by setting a
scale before the harvest season began and then influencing growers to
adhere to it.23
Labor exchanges and employers' associations served to strengthen the
position of the grower by releasing him from dependence upon any par­
ticular group of laborers. On the other hand, there is little doubt that such
institutions tended further to depersonalize labor relations in agriculture
and to widen the cleavage of interests and attitudes between farm employ­
ers and employees. H iring of labor by the industry rather than by the indi­
vidual grower lessened whatever element of personal loyalty still remained
in the more commercialized and large-scale farms. W hen employers
utilized farmers' cooperative associations in setting wages and recruiting
workers, they ultimately drove their laborers in turn to organize into
unions and act collectively for self-protection.
23Folsom, op. cit. (p. 28).




Chapter

III.-—
Farm-Labor Movement in the Thirties
Farm Labor and the Depression

A succession of catastrophes in the nineteen thirties brought the
farm-labor problem into new focus. Depression, Government-sponsored
crop reduction and acreage control, drought, and rapid technological
change all had the effect of displacing operators of small and mediumsized farms, particularly tenants, on a mass scale. They contributed large
numbers to a chronic surplus agricultural-labor supply, already enlarged
by sizable additions from the ranks of urban unemployed. The severe
maladjustments wrought by these changes generated among farm laborers
widespread unrest which culminated in a series of strikes of unpre­
cedented scope and intensity throughout the country.
The underlying causes for the outbreaks lay beyond the more obvious
factors of economic hardship and agitation. Migratory and casual wage
earners in agriculture had long suffered— with little or no organized pro­
test— low wages, depressed working conditions, job insecurity, and low
social status. Several areas in which farm labor’s lot was most benighted,
particularly the intensive fruit and truck growing regions of Florida and
other South Atlantic States, never witnessed unionism or strikes on farms.
The most serious conflict was generated in regions where agricultural
workers suffered a sudden and drastic deterioration in economic status.
Farm wage rates were ground between the upper and nether millstones of
low farm prices and increasingly severe competition for jobs. Farm em­
ployers suffered a heavier burden of fixed charges and sought to reduce
their variable costs by cutting wages to the minimum. They could draw
upon the masses of bankrupt farmers, as well as laborers who were dis­
placed from city trades and forced to return to rural areas in a state of
destitution. Farms which hired large numbers of seasonal laborers and
which were accessible to important urban centers thus served continually
as a catch-all for the unemployed and displaced from other industries.
Disparities in wages, hours, and general working conditions between
agricultural and urban industrial jobs had long been a source of dis­
satisfaction, and in prosperous times a m ajor cause for the long-term
rural-urban migration trend. This movement was reversed in depression
years and farm wage rates were further decreased by the increased com ­
petition for jobs. The still greater disparity between rural and urban labor
standards1 accentuated the unrest, particularly among new recruits drawn
from urban industries where they had been exposed to labor unionism.1
1From what measurable data are available for that period, it appears that the decline in
wage rates paid for all types of farm labor was proportionately greater than the decrease in
the cost of living in agricultural areas. (See Yearbook of Agriculture, 1935, U. S. Department
of Agriculture, Washington. Also Sidney Sufrin: Labor Organization in Agricultural America,
in American Journal of Sociology, Vol. XLIII, No. 4, January 1938, p. 525.)
Even more severe hardships were suffered by agricultural workers, particularly the casual
and migratory element, from the much greater irregularity and loss of man-hours in employ­
ment at these lower rates owing to the greater competition for jobs. Seasonal operations on
large farms, unlike many industrial factories, do not have more or less fixed technical co-efficients
with regard to the number of workers required. There is a #wide range in the numbers of
workers that can be employed at any one time to perform a given amount of work. The main
variation occurs in the duration of the job. Thus the hardships suffered by agricultural workers
during a period of labor surplus are primarily those of underemployment and low earnings,
(Continued on p. 16)




15

16

LABOR U N IO N ISM

IN

A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

The agricultural ladder seemed to be working in reverse in main
regions. Heavily indebted owners in large numbers became tenants, and
tenants became dispossessed wage earners who were added to an already
overburdened labor market. By 1930 almost 33 percent of those gainfully
employed in agriculture were wage workers and sharecroppers and their
numbers increased steadily in succeeding years. The Committee on Farm
Tenancy appointed by President Roosevelt in 1937 noted “ an increasing
tendency for the rungs of the ladder to become bars * * * forcing im­
prisonment in a fixed social status from which it is increasingly difficult
to escape.” 2
Depression, in brief, sharpened class divisions which had already been
widened greatly in agriculture during the twenties. Farm laborers in
certain areas concluded that their status as a class was fixed for some
years to come and that opportunities to rise had disappeared. Organiza­
tion of unions for the purpose of collective bargaining became almost the
sole means by which agricultural workers could seek to protect their
meager earning power.

Course o f Unionism and of Strikes
The modern period of labor unionism in agriculture began during
1927-28, with a few short-lived local organizations and small strikes
among melon pickers and shed packers in California, beet workers in
Colorado, and greenhouse and nursery workers in Illinois. In 1930 several
large strikes suddenly broke out in protest against the drastic wage cuts
which were being applied at the beginning of a period of depression and
unemployment. T w o strikes were motivated by racial antagonism, sharp­
ened by greater competition for jobs.
Rural and urban unions both declined in militancy and size o f mem­
bership during the recession years from 1930 to 1933. Unemployment
was increasing rapidly and labor's bargaining power in general was weak­
ened. Labor agitation during those years tended to center on the problems
of obtaining adequate relief rather than higher wages. The few local
unions organized in agricultural industries all but disappeared, and the
strikes that occurred were chiefly small spontaneous protests against con­
tinued wage cuts. A s indicated in table 1, approximately 8,600 workers
had participated in 8 farm strikes during 1930, and the number declined
to about 3,000 workers in 5 strikes during 1931 and less than 3,200
workers in 10 much smaller strikes during 1932.
The situation changed dramatically in 1933, when labor unrest in
American agriculture reached a peak of intensity. Approximately 56,800
workers participated in about 61 strikes in X7 different States throughout
rather than long-continued unemployment. The available man-hours of employment are spread
over more men.
The severity of the farm labor surplus reached in the depression years is indicated in the
Yearbook of Agriculture, 1935 (p. 189):
“ From the postwar depression of 1921-22 until the winter of 1929, the demand for and the
supply of farm labor was below normal, with supply usually above needs for the country as
a whole. By April 1933, farmers were offering only three jobs where they normally offered
five. Meantime, the farm labor supply increased. The excess was increased by the competition
of men thrown out of other employment. There were five workers available in January 1933 for
every two jobs available.”
2Farm Tenancy Report of the President’ s Committee (prepared under the auspices of the
National Resources Committee), Washington, February 1937 (p. 5).




17

C H . I I I .-----F A R M -L A B O R M O VEM EN T IN T H E T H IR T IE S

the Nation. These conflicts continued on a smaller scale of size and fre­
quency in the years immediately following.3
Table 2 .— Strikes in the United States, by Years9 1 9 3 0 -3 9
Year and State
All

States.................................................................................
California.........................................................................
Other...............................................................................
California.........................................................................
Other...............................................................................

California.........................................................................
Other...............................................................................
1932..............................................................................................
California....... .................................................................
Other................................................................................
1933................................... ...........................................................
California.......................................................... ..............
Other................................................................................
California........................................................................
Other...............................................................................
1935...............................................................................................
California.........................................................................
Other...............................................................................
1936................................................................................................
California.........................................................................
Other................................................................................
California.........................................................................
Other...............................................................................
California.........................................................................
Other...................................... .........................................
1939................................................................................................
California.........................................................................
Other............................................................... .............

Number of Number of Number of
strikes
strikers
States
275
140
135

177,788
127,176
50,612

28
—
—

8
3
5
5
3
2
10
6
4
61
31
30
38
18
20
30
12
18
33
24
9
32
15
17
35
13
22
23
15
8

8,605
7,300
1,305
3,005
1,575
1,430
3,162
2,497
665
56,816
48.005
8,811
30,548
19,882
10,666
20,125
6,550
13,575
17,712
13,659
4,053
6,234
3,086
3,148
11,073
5,469
5,604
20,508
19,153
1,355

5
1
4
3
1
2
4
1
3
17
1
16
12
1
11
12
1
11
8
1
7
12
1
11
16
1
15
8
1
7

A n u m ber of in terrelated fa cto rs, all of which served to focus the at­
tention of agricultural laborers on their greatly disadvantaged position,
lay behind this upheaval. Farm wages reached their nadir in mid-1933
and lagged behind a rise in the general price level later in the year. A t
the same time, New Deal legislation like the National Industrial Recovery
A ct and that establishing the agricultural adjustment program ( A A A )
gave wide publicity to the fact that special favors were being granted to
certain occupational groups, particularly farm owners and operators, nonagricultural labor, and urban industry. Agricultural workers enjoyed no
such benefits. Only in the sugar-beet industry did the Government at­
tempt to set minimum wages for field laborers. Farm-labor earnings and
working conditions suffered by contrast with the widely heralded provi­
sions of the N IR A , which established maximum hours and minimum
wages of $16 per week. Section 7a of the act gave tremendous impetus to
urban unionism bv granting legal protection to industrial labor’s right to
organize. Indirectly the N IR A encouraged the formation of unions among
3The strike statistics in table 1 above, and in tables 2, 3, and 4 in Chapter IV , have all been
taken from several sources. Much of the data has been based upon Labor Disputes in A gri­
culture, 1927-38, compiled by J. C. Folsom, Associate Economist in the Bureau of Agricultural
Economics of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Washington. Strike statistics for agricul­
ture in California have been based largely upon reports by the State Bureau of Labor Statistics
and Department of Industrial Relations. Several small strikes which were not reported in the
above sources have been included in table 1 and following tables. Various compilations of strikes
differ in their estimates, for reasons mentioned in Chapter I (pp. 2-3).




18

LABOR U N IO N IS M IN A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

farm workers, despite their exclusion from its provisions.4 Dozens of
new labor organizations, encompassing many different crops, occupational
types, and sources of leadership, were established simultaneously in scat­
tered agricultural areas throughout the country.

Spontaneous Strikes and Local Unions
The rebirth of farm-labor unionism as a social movement of nation­
wide proportions in 1933 developed from many scattered origins. It
tended to assume a different form in each distinct farming region in the
United States. Local unions in many instances grew out of spontaneous
strikes; indigenous, leaders and organizers rose from the ranks and usually
were men more experienced in union affairs than the majority of strikers.
Such was the history, for instance, of the Onion W orkers U nion of
Hardin County, Ohio. Many spontaneous strikes, on the other hand,
were so unorganized that no unions, or even an accepted leadership,
developed to carry on collective bargaining with the employers. The
series of spontaneous strikes in the hop fields of south central Oregon and
in the tobacco plantations of Connecticut and Massachusetts was of this
type.
Several strong indigenous unions were organized among hitherto
nonunionized workers, and they carried out planned strikes for definite
objectives. The initiative again rested generally with leaders and or­
ganizers who had been active previously in other labor movements or
political parties. Such were the Asociacion de Jornaleros, organized
among Mexican onion pickers in W ebb County, Tex., the Beet W orkers
Union of Blissfield, Mich., the United Citrus W orkers of Florida (whose
membership late in 1933 reached a peak of approximately 30,000), the
Southern Tenant Farmers Union of eastern Arkansas, and the Cape Cod
Cranberry Pickers Union of Massachusetts, which later affiliated with
the A .F . of L. through the International H od Carriers and Common
Laborers Union.
A few independent unions which had become inactive during the late
twenties regained vigor, often under new leaders, in the revival o f the
mid-1930,s. Mexican migratory and casual laborers in some areas had
been organized in loose and unaggressive associations which tended to be
under the domination of the Mexican consulates and their “ sociedades
honorificas.,, The Beet W orkers Association of Colorado and the Confederacion de Uniones Obreras Mexicanos (C .U .O .M .) o f southern
California were the most important of these. Under the double stimuli of
N ew Deal publicity and revived urban-labor unionism, and on some oc­
casions under radical leadership, these workers became more militant in
their collective-bargaining relations and used strikes to win economic
objectives.
Several inactive federal labor unions of the A .F . of L . also were revived
during this period. Local affiliates of the Federation at first applied col­
lective bargaining and strikes almost exclusively to the more skilled
4The new wave of unionism was caused in part by ignorance among farm workers of the
act’s provisions. Many farm laborers reportedly sent in proposed codes of fair competition to
the National Recovery Administration, although such proposals did not fall within the jurisdic­
tion of this body. (See Sufrin, op. cit., p. 554.)
Provisions of the NIRA, however, covered a number of the canning and packing industries
allied to agriculture, and unions of workers in these processes often expanded “ vertically” to
include related field workers.




C H . I II.-----FA R M -L A B O R M O VEM EN T IN T H E T H IR T IE S

19

workers in trades allied to agriculture. Outstanding among these were
the packing-shed workers in Monterey and Imperial Counties, Calif., the
citrus packing-house workers in Polk and Highland Counties, Fla., the
sheep shearers in the Mountain States region, and the greenhouse work­
ers in Cook and Logan Counties, 111., Middlesex County, Conn., Ashta­
bula, Ohio, and New Providence, N. J.

Agrarian Program of the Communist Party
Far overshadowing all other organizations in agriculture during the
early thirties was the Communist Party's Trade Union Unity League
(T .U .U .L .) a “ dual” revolutionary federation established on a nation­
wide scale in opposition to the A .F . of L. The T.U .U .L . soon absorbed
or “ captured” many local indigenous unions. It was the first nation-wide
labor union in agriculture to be established since the demise of the In­
dustrial W orkers of the W orld.
Previously the Communist Party of the United States had followed a
policy of “ boring from within” established trade-unions. This program
was largely abandoned after the Sixth W orld Congress of the Third
International in M oscow in 1928. A world-wide campaign against capi­
talism was to be launched by fomenting opposition to the status quo
among the most exploited segments of the population in each country.
The Party in the United States made a concerted effort to organize
elements that had been left untouched by the conservative and “ craft­
conscious” American Federation of Labor. Most promising among these
were laborers in certain branches of marginal industries such as textiles,
mining, and agriculture. Communist unions in these fields were affiliated
with the Trade U nion Unity League.
The “ peasantry” of the United States came in for special attention in
the Party program. Southern N egro and poor white sharecroppers, casual
wage workers in highly capitalistic agricultural areas like California and
Arizona, and debt-ridden small-farm owners and tenants in various re­
gions were all considered to be potentially revolutionary material. O r­
ganizing policy differed for each group. “ Self-determination of the
Black Belt” was announced as the major objective of the Party in the
South, and an ambitious program of agitation was carried out among
southern Negroes. A “ cadre” of advanced urban Negroes was trained to
organize the backward colored “ peasantry,” who were to be united with
the poor white population in a common class struggle of sharecroppers
against landlords on the cotton plantations.5 Supporting these were to be
urban labor unions in such industries as coal and iron mining and steel
fabrication in the Birmingham area, which employed large numbers of
both Negroes and whites.
The first fruits of this program in southern agriculture were gun
battles between organized N egro sharecroppers and law-enforcement offi­
cers in eastern Alabama. Several Negroes were killed or wounded and
many more were arrested and sentenced to prison when hundreds of
armed white citizenry helped officers suppress the movement.6
5John Beecher: The Sharecroppers Union in Alabama, in Social Forces, Vol. XIII, No. 1,
October 1934 (p. 124); Negro Problem, by Abram Harris and Sterling Spero in Encyclopedia of
Social Sciences. *
6See Chapter X VII (pp. 294-296).




20

LABOR U N IO N IS M

IN

A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

Am ong small-farm operators the Party centered its efforts on agitation
throughout the Middle W est and other “ family farming” regions. A
wave of evictions and foreclosures caused much unrest and conflict dur­
ing the early depression years. Communist influence was very limited
among these farmers, how ever; small numbers were drawn into branches
of the Party-organized United Farmers League in several States, but this
body attained no importance comparable to “ reformist” organizations
like the Farm Holiday Association and the Farmers Educational and
Cooperative Union.7
The Party’s most sensational and temporarily most successful organ­
izing venture in agriculture was waged among casual and migratory sea­
sonal workers in large-scale farming areas. The Trade U nion Unity
League first launched its agrarian campaign in California in 1930. Its
representatives assumed control over a large spontaneous strike of several
thousand field workers, and subsequently established a new farm labor
organization, the Cannery and Agricultural W orkers Industrial Union
(C .& A .W .I.U .)
The T .U .U .L . remained comparatively inactive in agriculture for the
next two years, although it led a few scattered and unsuccessful farm
strikes in California and Colorado. The growing problem of unemploy­
ment was turning the attention of Communist organizers towards agitat­
ing for more adequate relief. Unemployed Councils were organized in
cities and towns throughout dozens of States, to act as pressure groups.
H unger marches and demonstrations were mobilized throughout the
country and often ended in violent and bloody clashes with police.
This program was related to the agrarian campaign. Agricultural
workers constituted a disproportionate part of the unemployed population
in many small towns. Unemployed Councils consequently were invaluable
to the T .U .U .L . in facilitating organization in rural areas. They served
also as a medium by which support for farm-labor unions could be en­
listed from organized urban workers and other sympathizers.
The T .U .U .L . held the spotlight in a spectacular wave of 61 strikes of
almost 57,000 farm workers that broke out during 1933. A s shown in
table 1, more than half of all farm strikes that occurred in the United
States in that year, and four-fifths of all strikers, were in California.
Approximately three-quarters of the strikes, covering dozens of crops
and four-fifths of the more than 48,000 workers who participated in that
State, were led by the C .& A .W .I.U .8 Representatives of that organiza­
tion at the same time led or at least were active in strikes of several thou7Clarence Hathaway, in a report to a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party of the United States, May 25*27, 1935, was strongly critical of the Party’ s failure to
organize small farmers. He condemned “ * * * the sectarian tendencies which have run all
through our farm work.” The failure of Communist organizations to gain many adherents from
among small farm operators was laid primarily to this cause. To quote Hathaway: “ * * * It
is the tendency generally to narrow things down, to try to keep the movement within the
narrow confines of our own circles. There has not been the effort to penetrate into the Farm
Holiday Association and the Farmers Union and other farm organizations that have mass in­
fluence in rural districts. To the degree that we have established contact with these farmers,
the tendency has been to draw them away from these bodies, and into the United Farmers
League * * * Our policy has not been the broad mass policy of setting in motion great num­
bers of farmers, but rather one of satisfying ourselves with a relatively small circle of farmers
who were ready to accept our leadership and our program unquestioningly.” (The Communist,
New York, October 1935, p. 653.)
8Strike statistics^ for California, compiled by the California Bureau of Labor Statistics and
the Bureau of Agriculture Economics of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, differ in their
estimates. The divergences rest largely on the fact that (1) the BAE considers a series of
simultaneous strikes in one crop as. constituting one strike, whereas the California Bureau
tabulates them separately, and (2) the BAE does not include processing workers (e.g., in
lettuce-packing sheds) in its calculations. (See Chapter V .)




C H . I I I .-----FA R M -L A B O R M O VEM EN T IN T H E T H IR T IE S

21

sand cotton pickers in Arizona and hop pickers in Oregon as well as in
California.
The Communist Party was by no means the only leader of organized
discontent in agriculture during 1933. O f some 30 strikes which occurred
in 16 States other than California, none appears to have been dominated
and few even directly influenced by Communist organizers. The largest
and most violent movements were led by affiliates of the A .F . of L. and
by independently organized unions.
Farm-labor strikes during 1934 were smaller in size and fewer in num­
ber, and Communist leadership was again limited for the most part to
California. Eighteen of the 38 farm strikes in the United States and al­
most two-thirds of some 30,500 strikers were in that State alone, and
about five-sixths of these strikes and an equal proportion of the participants
were led by the C.&A/Vy\I.U. Its parent body, the T .U .U .L ., estab­
lished a few additional union affiliates in other regions, but on the whole
the most important strikes in States other than California were led by
independent organizations.
Communist unions among agricultural workers began to decline during
1934. The novelty o f large spectacular strikes had worn off, and openly
revolutionary doctrines bad been found unattractive to farm labor in the
long run. The C .& A .W .I.U . in California was suppressed by organized
grower-employers who succeeded in breaking several strikes and finally
securing the arrest and imprisonment of the leading left-wing unionists.
The union became defunct in the summer of 1934 and its parent body, the
Trade Union Unity League, was formally dissolved late in 1935.
The official “ Party line,, in the mid-thirties called for a new “ united
front” program of cooperation with liberal and reformist organizations,
in response partly to the rising dangers of anti-Communist and antiliberal
fascism. Left-wing organizers in the United States abandoned “ dual
unionism” and reverted to their former policy of “ boring from within.”
T o maintain its position of labor leadership, the Communist Party was
forced again to work through established non-Communist organizations
which had contact with large numbers of workers.9

Independent Unions and Federal Labor Unions o f the A.F. o f L.
Unions among seasonal agricultural wage laborers were usually un­
able to sustain themselves, for reasons which became apparent in the
course of many strikes in California and other States. Seasonality, short
duration of jobs, and high mobility, together with exceedingly low annual
earnings as a result of low wage rates and a labor surplus, all raised
obvious financial obstacles. A stable and self-supporting organization
which had to rely upon a steady revenue in fees and dues was difficult to
maintain on such a membership base. The per capita costs of organizing
habitually mobile workers scattered over wide rural areas were far higher
than for most urban trades, in which the labor force was more stable and
concentrated residentially and occupationally.
A union of farm laborers to be effective, then, had to be part of a
larger federation encompassing regularly employed and better-paid work­
ers in related industries like canning and packing. Farm workers’ unions
9Jack Stachel: Some Problems in Our Trade Union W ork, The Communist (New York),
Vol. XIII, No. 6, June 1934.




22

LABOR U N IO N ISM IN

A M E R IC A N A G R ICU LTU RE

required continuous subsidies in money and personnel from other more
financially secure and politically potent occupational groups. Affiliation
with A .F . of L. trade-unions organized in strategic urban industries was
the most feasible policy. These unions could mobilize the resources of
organized industrial labor to support the agricultural workers by sym­
pathetic strike action and other means of pressure.
Left-wing unionists early in 1935 began a campaign to organize local
unions of agricultural and allied workers and to affiliate them with the
A .F . of L. Former organizers of the C.& A.W .I.U ., who had been the
most bitter antagonists of the A .F . of L., now called for labor unity and
urged all workers to use whatever means possible to join this organiza­
tion.10 Representatives and sympathizers of organizations previously affil­
iated with the T .U .U .L . attended a National Conference of Agricultural
Lumber and Rural W orkers held in Washington, D. C., on January 9,
1935, at which a program was planned for organizing agricultural and
rural workers on a nation-wide scale. A National Committee for Unity
of Agricultural and Rural W orkers, with headquarters in Washington,
D. C., was established to coordinate the activities of all existing agricul­
tural workers’ organizations, to obtain the cooperation of organized labor
in industrial centers, and to win the support of organizations among small
farmers and unemployed. It planned later to hold crop-wide,' State-wide,
and regional conferences of farm workers in order to unify local bodies
on a broader basis. The committee’s ultimate goal was a nation-wide
organization of agricultural and allied workers which could be chartered
as an “ international” union by the A .F . of L .1
1
The national committee’s immediate program centered upon organiz­
ing local unions, obtaining federal labor union charters from the A .F . of
L., and affiliating them with central labor councils of nearby urban cen­
ters. Organizers and sympathizers within the existing independent unions
promoted the same policy. Sympathizers in established urban unions
sought to win active financial and moral support for rural organizations
from State and local affiliates of the A .F . of L .12
The A .F . of L. hitherto had been inactive in agriculture, save for
organizing a few short-lived local unions mentioned before. The more
conservative leaders in the A .F . of L. felt that the costs of unionizing sea­
sonal farm laborers outweighed any potential advantages to be derived.
Hence they had relinquished the field to left-wing organizations such as
the C .& A .W .I.U .
A .F . of L. unions during the first upsurge of activity in the early
thirties had been restricted to the more-stable, skilled, and better-paid
occupations connected with processing industries related to agriculture.
Skilled migratory fruit and vegetable packing-shed workers in California
and later in Arizona were organized into unions having “ floating char10Rural Worker (published by the National Committee to Aid Agricultural Workers, W ash­
ington, D. C.), Vol. I, No; 1, August 1935 (p. 3).
^Program and Organization adopted at the National Conference of Agricultural, Lumber
and Rural Workers (mimeographed) Washington, D. C., January 9, 1935.
12Donald Henderson, president of the national committee and editor of its official organ, the
Rural Worker, outlined the organizing program in the second issue of that paper in September
1935 (Vol. I, No. 2). The three main types of unions to be organized were as follows:
“ 1. Crop unions, to be composed of all workers, organized or unorganized, employed or un­
employed, who were connected with particular crops in which certain areas specialized, such
as citrus fruits in central Florida, mushrooms in southeastern Pennsylvania, truck vegetables
in southern New Jersey, and sugar beets in the South Platte Valley of Colorado.
“ 2. General farm workers* unions, designed for local casual workers in towns and villages who
worked at many different farm jobs during various months of the year. In so far as such
workers were unemployed jsl good part of each year, such unions should serve the double
purpose of collective ^bargaining for better wages and working conditions during the working
months, and of fighting for adequate relief during the off-season months of unemployment.
(Continued on p. 23)




CH . I II.---- FAR M -L A B O R M O VEM EN T IN T H E T H IR T IE S

23

ters,” which gave them State-wide jurisdiction. Other packing-house
workers attached to particular crop areas were organized into locals hav­
ing limited jurisdiction. In other States the A .F . of L. organized and
chartered a few scattered locals of skilled and specialized occupational
groups such as sheep shearers, hay balers, tree surgeons, horticultural
workers, and employees of nurseries and greenhouses. Unskilled and
semiskilled workers in agricultural industries organized by the A .F . of L.
usually belonged to heterogeneous federal labor unions which included
labor in nonfarm trades. Twenty-three such organizations altogether had
been chartered by the summer of 1935 in the States of California, Arizona,
Florida, Washington, Montana, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, and Michi­
gan.13 Only a few local unions at this time were organized specifically
for agricultural workers.14 Most of these had developed from spontaneous
strikes or from unions previously organized by the T .U .U .L . and in­
dependent bodies.
Farm-labor strikes in California varied widely in size and number
from those in other States during this period. Suppression of the C.&A.
W .I.U . in California left agricultural workers temporarily without leaders.
Most of the 12 comparatively small strikes that did occur during 1935
were either spontaneous in origin or led by unaffiliated local organizations.
In 11 other States, by contrast, more than 13,500 farm workers partici­
pated in some 18 strikes. A s may be seen from table 1, this represented
the largest number of strike participants outside California for any one
year in the 1930’s. The upsurge was explained in part by the new sup­
port in money and personnel which urban labor organizations were fur­
nishing to agricultural workers for the first time in many areas. The
National Committee for Unity of Agricultural W orkers was of paramount
influence in this program.
The large-scale organizing campaign by left-wing unionists during
1935 and 1936 brought a rapid increase in the number of local and federal
labor unions in agriculture. The National Committee to A id Agricultural
W orkers (renamed) claimed by the fall of 1936 a total of 72 local unions
“ 3. Cannery and packing-house unions, to include workers in the processing stages of agricul­
ture, such as canneries, packing sheds, and dairy plants. Such plants were felt to have a
close functional relationship to agricultural workers, since they often employed the wives and
children of farmers and farm workers.”
Organizers and delegates of farm workers were advised to seek the help of ^A.F. of L.
unions in cities and towns in setting up rural unions and obtaining federal^ labor union charters.
Once chartered, such farm workers unions were then instructed to affiliate with the nearest
central labor union in order to secure the utmost support from organized urban labor. Coopera­
tion was also to be sought with small farmers whose position was precarious, and farm workers’
unions were instructed to support this element. To quote Mr. Henderson: “ W e must point
out that their interests are threatened by the same rich farmers, cannery owners and big busi­
ness class who cheat us. W e should approach organizations of poor farmers and propose united
action where our interests are in common.”
Differences in status and group interests between farm operators and farm laborers were
recognized, however. It was advised that “ the small farmers should not be organized in the
same unions with farm workers, except where the farmer is also a farm worker or on relief.
Even in such cases, as soon as the organization of these farmers has grown to any number,
a separate organization of small farmers should be set up.”
The third important element whose support was considered important^ was the lower middle
class—the small shopkeepers and professionals—of small towns and villages in which farm
workers were organized. Because the livelihood of such groups depended in part on the pur­
chasing power of farm workers, it was felt that a basis for cooperation existed. The most
important union policy, it was emphasized, was to “ neutralize” this class in case of a strike
so that it would not furnish strikebreakers and vigilantes.
#
#
.
13See list in Appendix B : Agricultural, canning and packing unions affiliated to the Ameri­
can Federation of Labor, October 1935.
14These included the Citrus Workers Union No. 18234 of Winter Haven and the United
Citrus Workers Union No. 19180 of Dundee, Fla.; the Citrus, Vegetable and Farm Workers
Union No. 19274 of San Diego, Calif.; the Farm Laborers Union No. 19845 of Casa Grande,
Ariz.; the United Evergreen Pickers No. 19068 of Centralia, W ash.; and the Agricultural
Workers Unions No. 19994 of Blissfield, Mich., No. 19724 of McGuffey, Ohio, and No. 19996 of
Bridgeton, N. J.
654107°—46—3




24

LABOR U N IO N ISM

IN

A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

affiliated to the A .F . of L., including 40 among field laborers, 22 among
canning and packing-house employees, and 10 among dairy workers. The
official dues-paying membership was estimated to number 7,500, while the
unofficial membership was claimed to run as high as 50,000.1
5
The most rapid organizational gains were won in processing industries
related to agriculture. Union organizers tended to focus their activities
on these plants primarily because these industrial workers, unlike farm
laborers, received legal protection under the terms of the newly enacted
National Labor Relations Act. Unions of agricultural and allied workers
revived strongly during 1936 in California, where they were supported
by the increasingly powerful transport workers’ organizations, the Inter­
national Longshoremen’ s and Warehousemen’ s Union and the Interna­
tional Brotherhood of Teamsters. Hence, the rapid increase in size and
number of strikes in that State, as seen in table 1.

State-wide and National Unionism, and Inter-Union Conflict
Local unions of agricultural and allied workers began to federate on a
regional and State-wide basis during 1936. Local unions of migratory
packing-shed workers in California and Arizona had been granted State­
wide jurisdiction in their charters, and steps were taken to establish gen­
eral State federations for all workers in agriculture and related industries.
Local unions of beet workers in Colorado were drawn together into the
Federation of Agricultural and Beet W orkers Unions, which received a
charter from the A .F . of L. Urban trade or industrial unions and central
labor councils established agricultural organizing committees in several
States, such as Florida, Texas, and New Jersey, where farm labor union­
ism was potentially strong but currently limited in scope.16
The National Committee to A id Agricultural W orkers meanwhile
was making plans to federate local and State-wide organizations into one
international union. A s authorized by the constitution of the American
Federation of Labor,17 such a body would include occupational groups of
all types in agriculture and allied industries— field workers, cannery and
packing-house employees. Spokesmen of the national committee stressed
the limitations imposed upon federal labor unions within the A .F . of L . :
These local unions feel that the present lack of a national organization is a
serious obstacle in their work. The membership and the local leaders know from
bitter experience that the federal and local trade-union form is unsatisfactory.
The present federal labor union charter forces them to depend upon inexperi­
enced advice and the overburdened national office o f the A.F. o f L. It forces
them to pay an excessive per capita tax to the national office of the A.F. o f L.
which in most cases cannot be called upon for financial help when it is needed.
(Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 16, December 1935, p. 3.)
15Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 16, November 1936. Because of the high per capita tax pay­
ment to the national executive council of the A.F. of L., required under a federal labor union
charter, the number of official members for whom dues were paid by each local was kept to
a minimum.
16Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 2, February 1936 (p. 6).
17Article IX , section 2, of the constitution states that—
“ The executive council shall use every means to organize new national or international
trade or labor unions, and to organize local trade-unions, and to connect them with the Federa­
tion until such time as there is a sufficient number to form a national or international union,
when it shall be the duty of the president of the Federation to see that such organization is
formed.”




C H . I I I .-----FAR M -L A B O R M O VEM EN T IN T H E T H IR T IE S

25

Agricultural labor organizers and their sympathizers exerted increas­
ing pressure upon the A .F . of L. to charter an international union. T w o
State federations of labor and several central labor councils throughout
the country passed resolutions petitioning the executive council of the
A .F . of L. to take this step. The issue came to the fore at the national
convention of the American Federation of Labor in Tampa, Fla., during
November 1936. Twelve delegates representing agricultural, cannery, and
packing-house unions in the States of California, Colorado, Michigan,
N ew Jersey, and Florida presented six resolutions calling for an inter­
national charter.
The aggressiveness of this small nucleus in the convention was ex­
pressed also in 25 separate resolutions on agricultural labor which it in­
troduced. Resolutions on vigilantism, Tampa floggings, discrimination
against beet laborers on relief, removal of residence requirements for
migratory labor to obtain relief, establishment of adequate transient camps
for migratory labor, and provision for adequate rural housing, were in­
troduced by this group, and passed by the convention. One of the greatest
victories won by the agricultural delegates was the passage of a resolution
putting the American Federation of Labor on record as favoring the
inclusion of agricultural workers and their families in all Federal and
State legislation dealing with social security.
This activity, however, stirred up adverse reactions. The convention
later passed a resolution to remove the right of federal and local unions to
introduce resolutions in all future conventions. It provided that such
locals must submit their proposals to the executive council at least 30
days beforehand.
The executive council of the A .F . of L. finally conferred with the
agricultural delegates and requested them to submit to President William
Green a financial plan for organizing a national union of agricultural and
allied workers. H e refused to charter a new international for agriculture,
at least in the immediate future. A s a compromise measure the executive
council of the A .F . of L. instructed him to call a nation-wide conference
of all local agricultural and allied unions. These were to be united in a
temporary National Agricultural W orkers Council, which would serve as
a clearing house of information and service until a permanent interna­
tional union could be established.18
The A .F . of L. officialdom hesitated to finance the organization of a
new international union of farm labor, for several reasons. The extreme
uncertainty of agricultural employment— the high seasonality and mobility
of the labor, and wide fluctuations in the number employed— made any
such venture precarious. It was possible, also, that such an international,
after the A .F . of L. had made large outlays of money for its establish­
ment might secede and join the Committee for Industrial Organization.
P ro-C .I.O . sympathies had been expressed openly by many agricultural
labor organizers, particularly those formerly connected with the Trade
Union Unity League. John L. Lewis and other high C .I.O . officials on
several occasions had been approached to support farm-labor unionism.
Sentiment for organizing an international to be affiliated with the C.I.O.
grew during the spring of 1937, particularly after a substantial invest­
ment of money by that body for a nation-wide organizing campaign was
assured. Spokesmen of the again renamed National Committee of A gri18Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 3, March 1937 (p. 1).




26

LABOR U N IO N ISM

IN

A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

cultural, Cannery and Packinghouse Unions became increasingly dis­
satisfied with the status of farm laborers in the A .F . of L. They charged
that their federal labor unions were paying $3,500 monthly in per capita
dues to the national office of the A .F . of L., and were getting little or
nothing in return. The A .F . of L. had hired no organizers specifically for
farm laborers. Local unions felt that the money collected from dues
should go to a national organization of agricultural workers to help defray
the direct expenses of unionizing farm and cannery labor over a wide area.
Agricultural workers suffered from political impotence in addition to
weak economic bargaining power. This was manifested particularly in
their exclusion from the benefits of social legislation passed by the Federal
Government, and was attributed to their having no powerful nation-wide
pressure group to act on their behalf. Donald Henderson, secretarytreasurer of the national committee, w rote:
* * * w e need our own national and State offices, leadership, and organizers
with the power and prestige of a national union in back o f them to help us with
our local problems. With a national organization we will command more respect
in our negotiations with our employers; we will be able to secure more effective
support from the other international unions in the organized labor movement.
(Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 6, June 1937, p. 2.)

Henderson argued that the industrial-union structure of the C.I.O .
was better adapted than the A .F . of L. to meet the needs of agricultural
w orkers:
* * * In agriculture, we cannot organize along craft lines of separate unions for
each type o f work. W e must clearly build a union including all workers in agri­
cultural and related fields such as canneries, packing houses, etc. The policy of
the C.I.O. in successfully organizing in industry-wide unions and their policy o f
aggressively assisting the organization o f the unorganized with advice, funds, and
organizers makes it necessary for us to seriously consider affiliation to the C.I.O.
(Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 6, June 1937, p. 2.)

The affiliation issue came to a head during the spring of 1937. Serious
interunion conflict occurred in California, which had long been the center
of the agricultural-labor movement. The State federation of labor was
divided by a growing rift between two strongly opposed union groups,
each of which had a direct interest in organizing field, cannery and pack­
ing-house workers. The pro-C.I.O . wing, led by the International Lon g­
shoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union and its allies (including the more
active left-wing organizers among agricultural and cannery workers)
favored an industrial union which would encompass all types of workers,
skilled and unskilled, who were employed in farming and related indus­
tries. The officials of the State federation, supported by the powerful
Brotherhood of Teamsters, favored separate organizations for the more
skilled and occupationally stable canning and packing workers, as distinct
from the unskilled migratory field laborers. Representatives of the group
favoring the C.I.O . met in a State-wide conference in the spring of 1937
and formed the California Federation of Agricultural and Cannery Unions.
The State federation executive council promptly ousted all local union
officers suspected of being Communist or pro-C.I.O . in sympathy and
revoked the charters of several organizations.
The California Federation of Agricultural and Cannery Unions then
came out in support of the National Committee of Agricultural, Cannery
and Packinghouse Unions, which was attempting to form an international




C H . I I I .-----FA R M -L A B O R M O VEM EN T IN T H E T H IR T IE S

27

chartered by the C .I.O . George W oolf, president of the former organiza­
tion, w rote:
The time has come to take matters in our own hands, call a national conference,
draw up our own constitution, and bylaws, elect our own officers, and form our
national agricultural and cannery union. (Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 6, June 1937,
P. 3.)

A national convention was held in Denver, during July 1937. It was
attended by a hundred delegates from 24 States, representing 56 different
independent and A .F . of L. federal labor unions19 claiming a total mem­
bership of about 100,000 workers. A n international union was established,
and received a charter from the C.I.O. as the United Cannery, Agricul­
tural, Packing and Allied W orkers of America (U .C .A .P .A .W .A .). It
included such diverse occupational and sectional groups as cannery work­
ers from Maryland, landscape and cannery workers from the Middle
West, mushroom workers from New York, sharecroppers and cottonfield laborers from Arkansas and Alabama, beet workers from the Rocky
Mountain States, citrus workers from Florida, and fruit, vegetable and
fish cannery workers from the North Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.20

United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers
of America
Unionism in agriculture and related industries gained new vitality
when the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was organized and financed from the C.I.O.
treasury. Within the first 2 months of its existence it chartered 76 local
unions.21 By the end of 17 months its record appeared truly impressive.
President Donald Henderson, at the second national convention in Decem­
ber 1938, stated that the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was the seventh largest union
in the entire Congress of Industrial Organizations, claiming a voting
membership of 124,750 workers belonging to more than 300 local unions.22
Other industrial-union elements pledged their support to the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . at the constitutional convention of the C.I.O . at Pitts­
burgh. The union delegates passed resolutions favoring the extension of
State and Federal labor legislation to include farm labor within its pro­
visions and to amend the A A A so as to require farm employers who
received benefits to meet certain minimum wage and labor standards.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . claimed to have established itself in W ashing­
ton, D. C., as a recognized spokesman for agricultural workers before
such Federal Government agencies as the National Labor Relations
Board, the W age and H our Division, the Departments of Labor and
Agriculture, the Farm Security Administration, the Social Security
Board, the W orks Progress Administration, and various Congressional
Committees.
19See Apoendix C (p. 426).
20Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 7, July 1937 (p. 1).
21Idem, Vol. II, No. 8, August 1937 (p. 2).
.
.
.
22This and all following material on U .C.A.P.A.W .A. (except where otherwise noted) is
from U.C.A.P.A.W .A. Yearbook, Second Annual Convention, San Francisco, Calif., Vol. I,
December 1938.




28

LABOR U N IO N ISM

IN A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

The union appeared also to occupy a key position for encouraging
closer cooperation between organized labor and farmers. President D on­
ald Henderson of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . and E. L. Oliver of Labor’ s N on­
partisan League met with the national board of the Farmers Union in
St. Paul, Minn., during December 1937, and signed a “ pact of coopera­
tion” which aimed to secure legislation and carry on educational work
of benefit to farm laborers and small-farm operators.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., moreover, was established on a much firmer
base than any previous unions in the field. It claimed nearly 40,000
members who were covered by signed contracts providing wage increases,
improved working conditions, and vacations with pay. A large per­
centage of these contracts also entailed closed-shop and check-off agree­
ments. A large and indefinite number of temporary verbal contracts
were obtained for agricultural workers employed in harvesting various
crops. Particularly large gains in membership were claimed among
field workers in certain specialty farming regions: beet-raising areas
of Colorado and W yom ing, cotton and vegetable growing areas of
Arizona, the citrus belt of Florida, and the Southern Cotton Belt.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . won its most substantial gains in processing
industries related to agriculture. (Som e of these were only distantly
related.) The strongest affiliates, claiming 16,000 members covered
by closed-shop contracts, were organized among fish-cannery and sea­
food workers in the Pacific Northwest and South Atlantic. Unions in
fruit and vegetable canning and general food processing constituted the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s main foundation in the industrial Northeast and
Middle W est. The international by the end of 1938 claimed 12,000
employees in this industry as members, of whom 5,000 were covered
by signed contracts.
In California, which had long been the stronghold o f unionism in
agriculture and allied industries, the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s organizing drive
was a conspicuous failure. It faced strong opposition from well-organ­
ized anti-union farm employers. Furthermore, it was “ frozen out” of
the fruit and vegetable canning industry in that State by the A .F . of L.
which had control over truck transportation vital to food-processing
industries.
A trend away from field laborers in agriculture was apparent in
union policy during this period. From an international union designed
primarily for farm workers, the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . had become a federa­
tion of labor organizations whose main source of strength lay among
the employees of allied processing industries, many of which were not
closely related to farming. The trend continued in subsequent years.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . extended its organization into other processing
industries, like cotton ginning and compressing in California, Arizona,
and Tennessee, cigar wrapping in New Y ork City, basket weaving in
New Jersey, and cigarette manufacturing in Virginia and North Caro­
lina. Its field workers’ unions declined and finally disappeared com ­
pletely.
The reasons for this transition in structure were financial rather
than ideological. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . had “ spread itself thin” dur­
ing the great organizing campaign of late 1937 and 1938, and the high
cost of unionizing low-paid and underemployed agricultural workers




C H . I I I .-----FAR M -L A B O R M O V E M E N T IN T H E T H IR T IE S

29

scattered over a wide area had taken a m ajor part of the funds con­
tributed by the C .I.O . and other allied or sympathetic organizations.2*
Internecine strife further weakened its hold on the workers.
Particularly embarrassing and costly to the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was
its leadership of many large and spontaneous strikes among field work­
ers. These were lost in many cases because of inadequate preparation
and advance organization; nevertheless, they redounded to the discredit
of the union besides involving it in considerable expense. The
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . consequently adopted a policy of refusing to support
agricultural workers whose strikes were not previously authorized by
district representatives. It came to rely more heavily upon the programs
o f the Farm Security Administration and other sympathetic govern­
ment agencies to improve wages and working conditions for farm work­
ers. Direct collective bargaining and strikes were abandoned in large
part. The convention report as early as 1938 stated flatly (p. 20) that
“ U .C .A .P .A .W .A . does not consider strikes as the most effective
weapon in this field. In many cases the international does not encourage
strikes. T o the workers strike means a loss of several days when the
season is already short.” M ost of the 35 strikes involving approxi­
mately 11,000 workers in 1938 and 23 involving about 20,500 in 1939
were spontaneous in origin or led by organizations other than
U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
The international finally divested itself of almost all field workers’
local unions, in the interests of economy and, indeed, of its own survival
as a self-sustaining organization. The executive committee at the 1940
convention decided officially to abandon several districts, and to restrict
the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s jurisdiction to compact areas in which agricul­
tural and allied workers would be accessible to district headquarters.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s decline in agriculture was offset to some
degree by the expansion of A .F . of L. unions. The California State
Federation of Labor in 1937 had established a National Council of
Cannery and Agricultural W orkers, which organized many new locals
during the following 2 years among workers in various processing indus­
tries, and won the affiliation of several of the largest independent unions
o f field laborers. M inor gains of a similar nature were achieved in
other States.
America’s unprecedented war production program diverted the
attention of both C.I.O . and A .F . of L. from agriculture to key urban
industries where more fruitful organizational gains were to be made.
Several of the more able organizers who were formerly active among
farm workers were put on the pay roll of urban industrial and tradeunions. Those remaining in the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . (C .I.O .) and the
National Council of Cannery and Agricultural W orkers (A .F . of L .)
restricted their efforts still more to the processing industries related to
agriculture.
2*It was estimated that the union spent an additional $18,000 from December 1938 to Novem­
ber 30, 1940, in organizing field workers, while little more than $6,000 was collected from them
in initiation fees and dues. The U .C.A.P.A.W .A. consequently fell heavily into debt. (See Pro­
ceedings, Third National Convention of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied
Workers of America, Chicago, 1940 (p. 22); also Harry Schwartz: Recent Developments among
Farm Labor Unions, Journal* of Farm Economics, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, November 1941 (p. 483).)




Chapter IY.— National Perspective
Concentration of Strikes by Area and Crop
The labor movement in American agriculture, with scattered roots
reaching back into the nineteenth century, seemed suddenly to have
attained nation-wide scope during the 1930’s. Labor trouble on the land
appeared to cover a wide area. A s seen in table 2, almost 178,000 farm
workers during the decade participated in some 275 strikes in 28 States
and the District of Columbia.
Farm strikes, however, showed a high degree of concentration by
geographic area. They were notably absent in several distinct regions.
Sparsely settled States in the Rocky Mountains, such as New M exico,
Nevada, and Utah, remained singularly free of farm-labor trouble. Few
or no strikes occurred in the more depressed States of the Southern
Cotton Belt, such as South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. Urban
industries in this region were comparatively undeveloped, industrial
labor unions were weak and ineffective, and the status of the N egro and
poor white farm population was perhaps least secure. States character­
ized by small diversified family-farm economies also remained virtually
untouched by agricultural labor unionism: Kentucky and Tennessee in
the mountain region of the South; Maine, New Hampshire, and V er­
mont in New England; and most of the States in the Corn and W heat
Belts of the Middle W est.
Table 2 .— Agricultural Labor Strikes9 by States9 1 9 3 0 -3 9
State

Number of
strikes

Number of
strikers

Number of
large
strikes
(1,000 and
over)

Number of
strikers

Total, 28 States..................................................

275

177,788

50

112.524

Alabama..............................................................
Arkansas......... ...................................................
Arizona................................................................
California............................................................
Colorado.............................................................
Connecticut.................................... ..................
Florida.................................................................

3
6
6
140
5
7
9

4,500
8,162
5,100
127,176
820
1,012
2,660

2
3
2
34

4,000
7,500
4,500
82,724

i

1,600

Idaho...................................................................
Illinois..................................................................
Indiana............... ................................................
Maryland............................................................
Massachusetts...................................................
Michigan................ ............................................
Minnesota...........................................................

3
5
1
1
8
2
2

2,000
247
35
12
1,882
1,500
54

1

1,500

Missouri..............................................................
Montana..............................................................
New Jersey.................................. ......................
New York. . .......................................................
North Carolina...................................................
Ohio.......................... .........................................
Oregon.................................................................

4
1
7
8
1
11
17

1,072
1,000
1,017
2,666
200
1,535
8,079

1
1

1,000
1,000

1

1,200

2

4,500

Pennsylvania......................................................
Texas...................................................................
Vermont................................. ......................... ...
Virginia................................................................
Washington........................................................
Wisconsin...........................................................
W voming .............................................................
District of Columbia.........................................

6
6
1
1
9
2
2
1

535
4,057
70
25
1,575
250
520
27

2

3,000

30



C H . IV .— N A T IO N A L

PERSPECTIVE

31

The dominant factor determining the size and frequency of strikes
in each agricultural area appeared to be the prevalence of large-scale
farms. California, as the previous chapter has noted, suffered organ­
ized labor-employer conflict out of all proportion to its numbers of agri­
cultural workers. M ore than half of all strikes occurred in this State
alone, and they included more than two-thirds of all participants. H enry
H . Fowler, chief counsel of the United States Senate Civil Liberties
Committee, summarized his findings as follow s:
Although California normally employs only 4.4 percent o f the Nation’s agri­
cultural field laborers, California has been the scene of from 34.3 to 100 percent
o f the Nation’s strikes in this field each year. These California strikes have
involved from 31.8 to 96.5 percent o f the yearly total o f workers involved in the
Nation’s agricultural field operations’ strikes. Although California normally em­
ploys 25.9 percent o f the Nation’s canning and preserving and cane-sugar-refining
workers, California has been subject to from 30.3 to 50 percent o f the Nation’s
strikes in this field four out of six and a half years in the period under con­
sideration (i.e., from January 1, 1933, to July 1, 1939). These California strikes
have involved from 30 to 74.5 percent o f the total o f workers in the Nation’s
canning and preserving and cane-sugar-refining strikes. (Hearings, La Follette
Committee, Part 47, p. 17210.)

Only in this State could agricultural labor unionism be considered
truly a 'Tabor movement,” in the sense that an institutional framework
was maintained continuously for several years to carry on collective
bargaining enforced by organized agitation and strikes. The structure
of California's agricultural economy was particularly conducive to con­
flict. M ore than a third of the Nation’s large-scale farms were in this
State; wage laborers constituted a disproportionately large segment of
the rural population, and they were among the most mobile and seasonal
in job tenure.
The labor-trouble centers within California during 1930-39 are indi­
cated in table 3, in which counties are ranged according to size and
frequency of strikes. A high degree of concentration is indicated. O f
the 149 strikes, 76, or more than half, occurred in 9 of the 35 counties
affected in California. These leading counties included two highly urban­
ized areas, namely, Los Angeles and Alameda (hinterland of metro­
politan Oakland and San Francisco), where agricultural workers em­
ployed in various crops were influenced by urban labor movements.
Other leading strike counties were characterized by specialized largescale farming. Imperial County has long been a center of large and
violent strikes. According to the United States Census of 1930 its
average expenditure per farm for hired labor was nearly 10 times the
average for employing farms in the United States as a whole.1 Average
labor expenditures per farm were similarly high for Monterey, Kern,
and San Joaquin Counties— 8, 6 and 5 times the national average.
The correlation between labor trouble and large-scale agriculture
is brought out also in the statistics for large “ general” strikes, chosen
arbitrarily as those in which 1,000 or more workers participated. San
Joaquin County again led with 5 such outbreaks, followed by Imperial
and Monterey Counties with 4 each. Altogether, 43 large general strikes
occurred in 20 counties in California.
Labor troubles in other States were generally more limited in scope
and duration. M ost of the strikes either were spontaneous in origin
or were led by local organizations that rarely lasted for more than one
1See Chapter V II (p. 70).




32

LABOR U N IO N IS M

IN

A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

Table 3 .— Agricultural Labor Strikes in California9 by
Counties, 1 9 3 0 -3 9
County

Number of
strikes

Number of
large strikes
(1,000 and
over)

Total, 34 counties1. ..

149
12
11
9

5

Number of
large strikes
(1,000 and
over)

44

San Joaquin................
Alameda......................
Los Angeles................
Imperial......................
San Luis Obispo........
Santa Clara................
Sacramento................
Kern............................
Santa Cruz.................
Monterey....................
Orange........................
M erced.......................
San M ateo..................
Tulare.........................
Fresno..................... ...
Santa Barbara............
San Benito..................

8
8

7
7
7
7
6
6
5
5
5
5
5
4

1
2
4
3
2
2
2
(2)
4
3
2
2
1
1

Number of
strikes

County

4
3
3
3
3
3
2
2
1
1

Y olo...........................
K ing..........................
Madera.....................
Ventura.....................
Yuba..........................
Contra Costa............
Butte.........................
Stanislaus..................
Sonoma.....................
Marin........................
Glenn.........................
Sutter........................
Solano........................
Tehama.....................
San Bernardino........
Placer........................
E l Dorado.................

3
3
1
i
l
i

1

1
1
1
1
1
1

*The statistics for this table are compiled from the same sources as tables 1, 2, and 4. Table
3, however, indicates a total of 149 strikes and 43 “ large” strikes (1,000 or more participants) for
California, as compared to 140 and 34, respectively, in the other tables. This divergence was
made necessary by the fact that several “ general” or crop-wide strikes each encompassed more
than one county, so that a tabulation of strikes according to individual counties made duplica­
tion unavoidable. Due to continual intercounty migration on the part of strikers, it was
found impossible to estimate adequately the total number of participants in each county.
aPart of Alameda County’s.

season. The participants in the majority of instances were casual and
migratory day laborers hired for special jobs like chopping, weeding,
thinning, and, above all, harvesting. The essential similarity in tactics
and issues in most instances suggested a fundamental likeness in the
problems faced by farm laborers. California’s structure of farm opera­
tions and pattern of labor relations seemed to represent an extreme stage
Table 4 .— Strikes in the United States, b y Crops, 1 9 3 0 -3 9
Number of
large
strikes
(1,000 and
over)

Number
involved

50
34
16

112,524c
82,724
29,800

9

4
4

10,600
10,600

22,746
18,605
4,141

6

9
8
l

24,977
13,474
1,500

20
7
13

7,283
4,266
3,017

4

2
1
1

3,600
2,000
1,600

Greenhouse and nursery....... - ........
California.............................:
Other..................................

21
3
18

1,327
195
1,132

9

C otton..................................................
California......................................
Other............................................. ji

17
5

47,302
27,650
19,652

6

Crop or occupation, and State

Number of
strikes

Number
involved

Number of
States
affected

Total (number of crops affected, 3 9 ) ..
California.....................................
Other.............................................

275
140
135

177,788
127,176
50,612

1

Vegetables............................................
California.....................................
Other.............................................

29
14
15

15,128
12,627
2,501

Peas......................................................
California.....................................
Other.............................................

27
16
11

Citrus....................................................
California.............................
Other..................................




1
2

J

28
28

j

\

;

12

3
9

|

45,500
27,000
18,500

33

C H . IV.-----N A T IO N A L PERSPECTIVE

Table 4 .— Strikes in the United States, b y Crops, 1 9 3 0 -3 9 — Con.
Crop or occupation, and State

Number of
strikes

Number
involved

Number of
States
affected

Number of
large
strikes
(1,000 and
over)
3
3

Peaches.................................................

15
14
1

6,952
6.940
12

2

H ops.....................................................

13
2
11

8,023
1,025
6,998

3

Apples...................................................

13
2
11

3,466
2.250
1,216

Lettuce: California............. . .............

7

Beets.....................................................

8
4
4

Number
involved
3,000
3,000

2

4,500

2

4,500

6

1
1

2,000
2,000

15,322

1

4

7,900

3,905
1,755
2,150

1

1
1

1,200
1,200

2
2

2.500
2.500

Tobacco: Other...................................

8

1,047

2

Berries..................................................

7
4
3

3,425
2,835
590

3

Dairy............................. ......................
California......................................

7
6
1

1,194
1,094
100

2

Sheep....................................................

7
1
6

3,030
650
2,380

5

1

1,000

1

1,000

Celery: California...............................

7

7,000

1

3

5,400

Grapes: California..............................

7

8,403

1

1

1,000

Apricots: California...........................

6

3,959

1

Poultry.................................................
California......................................
Other.............................................

4
3
1

1,405
205
1,200

2

1

1,200

Onions: Other....................................

4

2,337

3

1

Brussels sprouts: California..............

4

1,008

4

1,935

1

Tomatoes: California..........................
Cherries................................................
California......................................
Other.............................................

4
4
2
2

816
1,125
900
225

1,500

1

1,600

1

Pears: California................................

1,200

1

1
3

Cranberries: Other.............................

3

1,405

1

Melons..................................................
California......................................
Other.............................................

3
2
1

2

1
1

2.500
2.500

Asparagus.............................................
California......................................
Other.............................................

3
2
1

2,595
2,500
95
2,546
2,521
25

2

1
1

2.500
2.500

Beans..............................................
California.................. ...................
Other....................... .....................

3
2
1

550
550
C)
1

2

Potatoes: California...........................

3

500

1

Plums: California...............................

2

700

1

Spinach: California........ ..................

2

140

1

Mushrooms: California......................

2

95

1

Garlic: California...............................

1

500

1

Artichokes: California.......................

1

150

1

Olives: California...............................

1

80

1

Florists and gardeners: Other...........

1

105

1

Corn: Other........................................

1

100

1

Cauliflower: Other.............................

1

100

1

Tree surgeons: Other.........................

1

27

1

(Jnknown: Other................................

4

57

3

lUnkncwr.




34

LABOR

U N IO N ISM

IN A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

of development in a trend occurring spottily in other regions. Strikes
in each State were limited mainly to areas in which farming was con­
centrated in large specialized enterprises, and where class divisions were
pronounced. Outstanding among such areas were certain sections of the
southern cotton-growing region, the citrus belt of Florida, onion-grow­
ing tracts in Ohio and Texas, tobacco-plantation areas in Connecticut
and Massachusetts, cranberry bogs in Massachusetts, truck-farming
sections of New Jersey and Washington, hop-growing areas of Oregon,
sugar-beet fields in Ohio, Michigan, and Colorado, and sheep ranches in
the R ocky Mountain and Pacific Coast States.
Farm strikes showed a high degree of concentration by crops as
well as by geographic areas, as shown in table 4. Ninety-three, or well
over one-third of the total 275 farm strikes in the country, were confined
to four crops— less than a ninth of those affected during the thirties. In
California, as may be seen from table 4, 44 or almost one-third of the
140 strikes occurred in only three leading crops (less than a tenth of
the 31 crops affected). Still greater concentration of labor trouble in
farm crops is indicated by the number of workers involved. A bout
70,000 or almost two-fifths of approximately 178,000 strikers in A m eri­
can agriculture participated in two crops only— peas and cotton. If to
these are added some 15,100 in vegetables and 15,300 in lettuce, then
about 100,400, or well over half of all strikers in the 10-year period,
1930-39, were employed in only four crops, or one-eighth of all those
affected.2 California agriculture shows a similar concentration.
The crops which had the most strikes altogether also experienced,
by and large, the most numerous “ general” strikes involving one thousand
or more workers at a time.3 Fifty such strikes throughout the Nation
affected 18 crops, and in California alone 34 occurred in 14 crops. The
largest number of strikers in any one crop occurred in vegetables, where
there were 29 throughout the country; only cotton and peas surpassed
vegetables in the number of “ general” strikes. Vegetables also experi­
enced strikes in more States (9 ) than did any other single crop. Field
peas came second only to vegetables in number of strikes and number
of States affected, and led in number of general strikes. Special crops,
like lettuce, celery, hops, peaches, and apples, followed closely. Cotton
occupied a singular position; although it had fewer strikes than several
other crops, it far surpassed them in the size of its strikes and the num­
ber of participants— more than 47,300 or well over a fourth of approxi­
mately 178,000 strikers in the country, and more than 27,500 or more
than a fifth of some 127,000 strikers in California. The extreme concen­
tration of strikes in regard to both number and size suggests that some
fields of agriculture were characterized by highly frictional relationships.
Their structure of farming operations and their pattern of labor rela­
tions provoked an unusual degree of collective action.
2The statistics compiled in table 4, for reasons mentioned before, differ from those presented
by Henry H. Fowler in his Introductory Statement in Hearings before the U. S. Senate Com­
mittee on Education and Labor on December 6, 1939. Fowler found that “ 156 out of the total
of 180 strikes (between January 1, 1933, and July 1, 1939) have concerned the so-called field
workers. Nineteen strikes have affected the canning and preserving phase of the industry, while
5 have affected sugar refining. Of the 156 strikes among field workers, 63 pertained to crops
of fruits and nuts, 56 to vegetables, and 37 affected such miscellaneous crops and activities as
cotton, hops, poultry, rice, wool, and dairying. Of the 63 strikes in fruit and nut crops, the
citrus and peach industries were most often affected, with 15 and 11 strikes, respectively. In
the vegetable classification with 56 strikes, there were 20 strikes ^among the pea pickers, with
lettuce and celery ranking second and third with 9 and 6, respectively.” (Hearings, La Follette
Committee, Part 47, pp. 17208-17209.)
3The statistics for “ general” strikes in California and other States are rough estimates, for
reasons mentioned in Chapter I and in footnote 1 to table 3.




CH.

IV.---- N A T IO N A L

PERSPECTIVE

35

Labor trouble in vegetable growing was due to highly intensive and
mechanized cultivation for commercial uses and, as a corollary, to the
heavy demand for seasonal labor which such farming imposed upon
growers. In California, furthermore, vegetable workers were usually
more stable residentially and more homogeneous racially than those
engaged on other crops. Mexicans predominated for many years in
vegetable-growing areas of the Imperial Valley, while Mexicans and
Filipinos together constituted by far most of the labor force in truckvegetable areas of Santa Barbara, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties.
Both groups had special incentives to organize and bargain collectively:
they were concerned with protecting not only their occupational interests
but also their rights as disadvantaged racial minorities.
Vegetable crops in California and other States, furthermore, were
generally grown in close proximity to large cities and towns. Truckfarm workers correspondingly were more accessible to the influence of
urban trade or industrial unions than were other agricultural laborers.
This was even more true of employees in urban semi-industrialized plants,
such as nurseries and greenhouses. Strikes in these two occupations
together came second in number of States affected and third in total
number. By far the majority of strikes in highly urbanized and indus­
trialized States such as Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New
Jersey occurred in vegetable farms, greenhouses, and nurseries. The
total number of strike participants in these last two industries was less
than the number in various crop strikes because the producing units
were usually small.
Several factors contributed to acute labor unrest in pea crops
throughout the country. Many outbreaks were prompted by the abuses
suffered tfnder the contractor system. Pea growers were often largescale speculators who raised the crop on tracts of land which they leased
from individual owners. The intensively grown and highly perishable
crop required large supplies of migratory labor for a few weeks’ har­
vesting each season. A s peas were often raised in areas somewhat removed
from m ajor population centers, growers tended to rely upon agents or
contractors to recruit the labor and supervise the picking operations.
By this means growers were able to avoid some of the risks and burdens
of management. A t the same time, they freed themselves from responsi­
bility for the welfare of their employees and often allowed exploitation
to occur. The extreme susceptibility of peas to spoilage from unforeseen
weather changes meant the constant risk of loss of income to labor,
grower, and contractor alike; this tended to bring tension and group
conflict. Pea pickers were one of the most specialized types of seasonal
agricultural workers. Many of them worked only in this crop, follow­
ing a cycle of pea harvests over several States. They tended to have
greater cohesiveness or group consciousness than did migratory laborers
who worked in a wide variety of crops, and consequently were more
inclined to organize and strike.
Similar job uncertainty and friction prevailed in such crops as ber­
ries, apples, peaches, and hops, all of which suffered numerous strikes,
large and small. They were generally grown in concentrated areas which
required large importations of. migratory labor for harvesting. There
were fewer strikes among the workers in these crops than in peas, per­
haps chiefly because labor contractors were less prevalent. Furthermore,
such fruits and vegetables were usually grown on smaller farms. The




36

LABOR U N IO N ISM

IN

A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

peach industry in California was an exception, being concentrated in
large-scale orchards bordered by highways and crossroads, which ren­
dered them accessible or vulnerable to union agitation, picketing, and
strikes.
The citrus-fruit industry, which was among the leading crops in
size and number of strikes, was perhaps a special case in farm-labor
relations. A ll but one small strike among 20 in this crop occurred in
California and Florida, where the structure of the industry was strikingly
similar. O f all farm crops, citrus fruit was one of the most highly com­
mercialized and integrated. Private or cooperatively owned processing
concerns usually hired most of the labor and performed for passive grove
owners the major functions of production and sale— growing, cultivat­
ing, “ caretaking,” harvesting, packing, shipping, and marketing. Citrusfruit workers were usually employed more continuously throughout the
year than were those in other crops, and the requirements in accuracy
and speed placed them in the category of semiskilled and skilled labor.
In California, moreover, they had been for many years almost all of one
race— Mexican.
F or a long time cotton production has presented the most serious
labor problem in American agriculture. Though fourth in the number of
farm strikes through the Nation during the thirties, this crop was
first in the number of strikers participating, with a total of almost 48,000.
Six large and violent walk-outs in California alone included almost
28,000 workers. The huge scope of the cotton strikes in that State was
attributed to a number of related factors. The crop employed more
seasonal and migratory workers than did any other in California. Cotton
farms in that State, moreover, were extraordinarily large in scale and
impersonal in their labor relations. A s Dr. Paul S. Taylor pointed out,
California produced less than 2 percent of the Nation’s cotton crop in
1929, but contained 30 percent of the Nation’s large-scale cotton farms.4
The specific issue which provoked widespread dissatisfaction and unrest
among workers in this crop (discussed in greater detail later) was the
particularly one-sided bargaining relationship. Growers in California
practised monopolistic wage setting through regional employers’ associa­
tions. Cotton laborers became acutely aware of their disadvantaged bar­
gaining position, particularly after years of repeated agitation and stress
on the part of labor organizers. General discontent tended to flare,
periodically, into overt strike action and conflict during periods of de­
pression and wage cutting. Strikes carried out after work had begun
were the only means of improving wages and other conditions, after
wage scales had been determined by collective agreement among the
growers beforehand. In a highly organized industry of this type, local
sporadic walk-outs were obviously out of the question. They could suc­
ceed only in poorly organized crops like peas, hops, berries, and apples,
in which bargaining was more individualized and competitive. Strikes
in cotton were relatively few but large. They did not develop until
labor unrest was acute and prevalent over an entire growing area. Once
they did break out, they tended rapidly to become crop-wide or “ general”
in scope, involving thousands of laborers.
Extreme specialization in cotton production in the South had created
serious problems of land exhaustion, chronic poverty, and dependency,
4Hearing of LaFollette Committee, Part 47 (p. 17224).




C H . IV .-----N A T IO N A L PERSPECTIVE

37

which in themselves discouraged farm-labor militancy. Rural unionism
was further hindered by the strong racial divisions between N egro and
white, and by the taboos of tradition and caste which were imposed on
sharecroppers and day laborers under the plantation system. A few big
strikes organized by sharecroppers' unions in the South occurred in
areas where the old-style plantations were breaking down and adopting
a structure similar to the large agricultural enterprises of California and
Arizona. This process wrought widespread hardship and group friction
in such areas as the Mississippi bottom lands of eastern Arkansas and
the Black Belt of southern Alabama. Large plantations, in order to
adopt mechanized production methods, uprooted their sharecroppers and
tenants and hired casual day laborers for short periods o f cotton “ chop­
ping” and picking.
Certain crops which were grown widely in several States experienced
strikes only in California. These strikes, some of which were notably
large and violent, tended to substantiate the hypothesis that the special
structure and labor relations of California farming were particularly
conducive to unrest. Lettuce, celery, asparagus, melons, grapes, apri­
cots, peaches, and pears were raised in many States as part of the varied
produce of small diversified farms. In California, large specialized agri­
cultural enterprises dominated the production and sale of these crops.
Lettuce, celery, and asparagus farms in that State had labor relations
in some respects similar to those in the raising of vegetables and citrus
fruits. The crops in certain areas were located close to urban centers—
lettuce near Salinas, and celery near Stockton and Los Angeles— and
the workers were subject to the stimulus of the urban labor movement.
Moreover, they were more homogeneous racially than in most crops,
being almost all Filipino or Mexican. Harvesting these crops, finally,
required more experience than was needed for other fruits and vegetables.
This served to set these workers apart as a group not easily replaceable,
with a bargaining power stronger than most seasonal agricultural work­
ers could achieve. Cutting celery, asparagus, and lettuce was in the cate­
gory of semiskilled rather than unskilled labor, and the wage rates were
usually higher than those paid for other seasonal harvest work. Process­
ing jobs of packing and shipping fruits and vegetables were skilled tasks
earning high rates of pay.
Field and shed workers in these crops both won collective-bargaining
gains hitherto unattained in other agricultural work. Strong unionism
and large strikes in fruit and vegetable industries developed as a by­
product of integration and horizontal combination in business relation­
ships. Large packing and shipping companies frequently owned or con­
trolled a m ajor part of the acreage and output in each special crop area.
These enterprises in turn were prone to organize into producer or
employer associations in order to control marketing policy and labor
relations. Collective bargaining and strikes had to be industry-wide to
be effective against the opposition of such highly organized employers.
Packing-shed work and field labor in celery and asparagus, as in
citrus fruits, were so closely related as to be almost inseparable as col­
lective-bargaining units. A sharper line was drawn between skilled,
white, shed workers and semiskilled or unskilled, nonwhite, field labor in
such crops as fresh fruits, melons and lettuce. W hite shed workers were
the first to organize, and their unions were strong. They established a
pattern of action which field workers attempted to follow. O n some




38

LABOR U N IO N IS M IN A M E R IC A N AG R IC U L TU R E

occasions the two separately organized groups cooperated to carry out
joint collective bargaining and sympathetic or “ general” strikes.
Several crops in which strikes occurred ivere limited to relatively
small and compact farming localities. Climatic or topographical condi­
tions, as well as large-scale operations and special labor requirements,
were important determinants. Unionism and strikes among sugar-beet
workers were restricted to certain highly concentrated factory districts
on the Michigan-Ohio border, the irrigated valleys of the Arkansas and
South Platte Rivers in Colorado, and the Oxnard area of Ventura County
in California. Strikes in sheep raising occurred almost solely in limited
areas of the R ocky Mountain and Pacific Coast States where the indus­
try was concentrated in large-scale ranches hiring itinerant skilled shear­
ers. Large strikes confined to limited crop areas occurred also in the
cranberry bogs of the Cape Cod region in Massachusetts, the tobacco
plantations of the Connecticut Valley in Connecticut and Massachusetts,
and the hop fields of Polk County and nearby areas in Oregon.
The conclusion is unavoidable that strikes were largest and most
prevalent in crop areas where farming was specialized, intensive, and
large-scale, and where growers depended upon large supplies of seasonal
and often nonresident labor for short periods of harvesting. Labor
unionism had the greatest appeal in farm industries in which groweremployers were themselves well organized to control the prices of labor
and produce, and in which the labor supply was more than ordinarily
homogeneous in racial composition and occupational skills.

Strike Issues
Material hardship following a severe depression was the paramount
factor generating widespread labor unrest during the 1930’s. The ob jec­
tives of most strikes were primarily economic, as indicated by the preva­
lence of wage demands. Ham and Folsom estimated that wages were a
source of controversy in five out of every six strikes, and were the sole
issue in two out of three strikes. The influence of expanding unionism
during the middle and late thirties was indicated by 37 strikes in which
demands for recognition and job preference were primary. W orking
hours were important issues in at least 17 strikes, and working condi­
tions in at least 14.5
The main issues that gave rise to California’s numerous strikes in
the thirties have been compiled by several Government agencies. O f 113
strikes analyzed by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60 involving
42,317 workers concerned wages and hours as the major issues, while
34 involving 36,902 workers concerned recognition and discrimination
in employment.6 These included a number of strikes in urbanized process­
ing industries. A more accurate picture of labor trouble in field agri­
culture is furnished in a sample of 96 farm strikes in California reported
by the U . S. Bureau of Agricultural Economics during 1933-38. Issues
regarding wages, hours, and working conditions caused 63 strikes or
almost two-thirds of the total; wages, hours, and recognition caused 14;
recognition alone caused 7 ; organizational issues caused 4 ; and miscel­
laneous or unknown issues caused 8.6
5Testimony of William T. Ham and Josiah C. Folsom, at Hearings of La Follette Committee,
May 8, 1940.
6Hearings of LaFollette Committee, Part 47 (p. 17211).




CH.

IV.-----N A T IO N A L

PERSPECTIVE

39

Organized workers tended t.o be preoccupied with basic economic
demands in a field of employment in which labor’s bargaining power was
weak and annual earnings were among the lowest of any occupation.
Minimum-wage standards and other protective labor legislation passed
by State and Federal Governments were almost completely lacking for
this group. Unionism in most fields of agriculture was a new develop­
ment in the thirties, and labor organizations lasted for more than one
season in only a few crop areas. Advanced union demands, such as closed
shop, union hiring halls, seniority preference, maximum hours, and over­
time rates, became paramount strike issues chiefly in well-organized
processing industries that employed skilled white labor.

Violence in Strikes
Agricultural workers who organized unions and participated in strikes
were subjected frequently to legal and extra-legal intimidation and vio­
lence. Suppression of many kinds could be employed safely against an
occupational group which was heterogeneous in composition, low in
social status, weak in bargaining power, poorly paid, lacking in political
influence, and denied the benefits of protective labor legislation. Many
tenants, sharecroppers, and laborers in Southern States were prevented
from voting, under State poll taxes and Jim Crow laws. Seasonal farm
workers in California and other States were politically impotent because
large numbers were disfranchised by their alien citizenship or their
inability to maintain a stable residence which the right to vote required.
Hence they could count on little protection from elected representatives
of the law in communities where they worked for short periods of time.
Local residents and law-enforcement agencies usually sided with groweremployers. They tended to be violently opposed to unionism and strikes
because of the high perishability of farm crops, and the alleged irre­
sponsibility of casual and migratory laborers.
Agricultural strikes, largest and most numerous in California, were
most highly publicized and investigated there by newspapers, private
research organizations, and government agencies. The record of farmlabor unrest on the whole was one of turmoil, violence, illegality, and
infringement of civil liberties.
In a summary presented before the U . S. Senate Committee on Edu­
cation and Labor, H enry H . Fowler reported a total of 65 strikes involv­
ing civil and criminal disturbances in agricultural and allied industries,
affecting 30 counties in California from January 1, 1933, to July 1, 1939.
Fourteen violent strikes (a number of them in processing industries)
occurred during the peak year 1937. Strikes among field workers alone
reached their peak in 1933. The manifestations o f turmoil in these strikes
were numerous and varied:
Arrests were made in 39 out o f 65 strikes. Riots, violence, and injuries occurred
in 32 strikes. Use o f munitions marked 16 strikes. Ranking fourth in frequency
are evictions and deportations, which took place in 15 instances. Other types o f
disturbances include 11 strikes involving property damage, 10 involving intimidation,
8 involving vigilante action, and 5 involving death. Again it should be observed
that these are only the instances in the press; undoubtedly the information is far
from complete. (Hearings o f La Follette Committee, Part 47, p. 17212.)

This picture of California’s agriculture should not obscure the seri­
ousness of the less-frequent outbreaks in other farm areas. In propor654107° — 46—4




40

LABOR U N IO N IS M

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A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

tion to numbers involved, the tactics. of combat indicating frictional
labor relations appear to have been employed even more intensely,
although less widely, in other States. Various farm areas which adopted
California’s methods of crop production also acquired its pattern of
agricultural labor relations.
Violent disturbances and legal suppression were employed most
widely in industries and crops which experienced the largest, most
numerous, and long-sustained strikes. These conflict situations tended
to develop when grower-employers were well organized in both the pro­
duce and labor markets, so that militant unionism seemed to be the only
effective means by which labor could win economic gains. The agricul­
tural strikes which brought the most violence and death in California
and the Nation as a whole occurred among the cotton workers. The
most long-sustained conflicts between highly organized employers and
employees developed among those in lettuce and in fruit and vegetable
canning.
Violence and legal suppression often accompanied strikes occurring
in very perishable crops, such as peas, peaches, hops, and apples, employ­
ing highly migratory labor groups. These laborers usually were too
unstable and precarious in economic status to be strongly organized.
Neither they nor their employers could afford long-continued strikes, and
hence the issues usually were settled by quick victory or quick defeat.

Strikebreaking and Legal Restriction
Anti-unionism and strikebreaking were spontaneous in most areas.
Short-lived protective associations, vigilante committees, and sometimes
merely unplanned mob action tended to develop where farm strikes
threatened to ruin crops and thus destroy part of a community’s income.
Permanent, anti-union employers’ associations in agriculture were organ­
ized only in States on the Pacific Coast where farm-labor unionism was
a long-sustained and continuous social movement. The seriousness of
farm-labor unrest in California and neighboring States also brought
forth special effort to control strikes through legislative means in that
region.
The violence reached in agricultural strikes aroused in many quar­
ters opposition to the wholesale suppression of civil liberties. The tra­
ditionally western institution known as “ vigilantism” had been designed
originally as the respectable citizens’ method for maintaining order and
protection of property when the established forces of the law had been
found inadequate. It lost a good deal of its romantic aura when employed
by powerful economic interests against laborers who lacked even the
normal amount of security and legal status.
A s was disclosed in the Senate hearings already mentioned, employ­
ers’ organizations like the Associated Farmers of California had been
formed to break farm-labor unionism and suppress strikes by means of
more or less “ direct action.” In time such organizations came to rely
increasingly upon local forces of law and order. Branches o f the A sso­
ciated Farmers in many counties established themselves as groups from
which county sheriffs could choose the required number of deputies
in case of strikes. In this way force could be applied against the strikers,
but in a more disciplined and strictly legal fashion.




C H . IV .-----N A T IO N A L

PERSPECTIVE

41

The Associated Farmers and allied organizations at the same time
attempted to create a more favorable public opinion and pressed for legis­
lation that would curb labor unionism in agriculture. They were remark­
ably successful because the organized weight of resident property own­
ers tended to be paramount in county elections. By the late thirties no
less than 31 of California’s 58 counties, covering a major portion of all
agricultural areas in the State, had passed antipicketing ordinances.
H enry H . Fowler summarized the main prohibitory clauses incorporated
in these ordinances:
* * * Obstruction o f any public passageway prohibited in 27 counties; use o f
language, noise, or gestures in 9 counties; picketing for the purpose of inducing
others to quit work or not to seek employment in 18 counties; picketing with the
intent o f inducing persons to boycott a place o f business in 17 counties ;
obstruction o f any public entrance or approach in 17 counties. A $500 maximum
fine and/or 6 months imprisonment is the penalty in 26 counties. (Hearings of
La Follette Committee, Part 47, p. 17213.)

The Associated Farmers of California was not so successful on a
State-wide and regional scale. State Associated Farmers units were
organized in Arizona, Oregon, and Washington, and joined forces in a
“ Pacific Coast hook-up.” In cooperation with other anti-union employer
associations and sympathizers the Associated Farmers in California,
Oregon, and Washington sponsored a referendum for a popular vote to
enact State antipicketing laws. The measure failed to pass in California
and Washington, but was enacted as State law in Oregon.
The Associated Farmers also acted nationally to influence Federal
Government policy. It cooperated with other employer interests in
lobbies and pressure groups to agitate for the exemption of labor in agri­
culture and allied industries from the provisions of such Federal labor
legislation as the Social Security A ct, the Fair Labor Standards Act,
and the National Labor Relations Act. The last named, in particular,
alarmed agricultural employers, as its jurisdiction had extended to
several important processing industries and thus allowed unions to gain
a foothold in these fields.

Mediation and Arbitration
Many attempts were made to lessen the intensity of labor-employer
conflict in agriculture. Federal, State, and county government bodies
as well as various private groups continually sought to settle strike
issues by mediation and, in a few cases, arbitration. Their efforts were
not marked with success in most - instances. Their main value in the
long run, perhaps, was in bringing controversial issues to the attention
of the public and thus indirectly lessening the intransigeance of the
contending parties.
Mediators faced formidable difficulties in agriculture because pro­
tective labor legislation was almost completely absent. They met with
deep suspicion from both employers and employees. The growers in
particular had a tendency to oppose outside intervention because media­
tion and arbitration of disputes implied a certain recognition of collective
bargaining and unionism among laborers. Farm employer spokesmen in
the early thirties justified their position mainly on the grounds that
agricultural unions were Communist dominated. Later they opposed
just as strongly any recognition or mediation of disputes with full-fledged
organizations affiliated with the A .F . of L. and C .I.O ., on the ground



42

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that labor unionism in itself was a menace to an industry producing com ­
modities as perishable as farm crops.
Mediation and arbitration, lacking compulsory sanction, could do
little of real value in settling strikes satisfactorily. In most cases one
of the contending parties was too weak to enforce upon the other the
provisions accepted in a settlement. Outside intervention was most suc­
cessful (fo r short periods at least) in preventing or settling strikes in
which the contending parties were both relatively well organized.
The turbulence of farm-labor strikes in California aroused persons
in many quarters to demand official intervention. Some experts favored
the establishment of permanent arbitration boards to which employers and
employees could submit their disputes at any time. Such arrangements
would prevent losses from strikes and lock-outs'when agreements could
not be reached voluntarily. Various points of view were represented in
a symposium held by the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on the
question of “ A Farm Labor Disputes Board ?” Profs. Paul S. Taylor
and R. L . Adams of the University of California favored establishment
of such an institution, created in advance of and without reference to
any particular disputes but ready to arbitrate any that developed. Their
views found support from agricultural labor-union representatives and
the majority of the club’s members.7
Representatives of organized grower-employers, however, were doubt­
ful or antagonistic in their attitude.8 John F. Pickett, editor of the Pacific
Rural Press, expressed his views in no uncertain terms :
* * * May I say bluntly so that
posal to set up a permanent farm
agriculture as an impertinence and
else’s business and neglecting their
p. 252.)

it may be more emphatic, that I feel the pro­
labor disputes board would be considered by
cowardly, as seeming to attend to somebody
own. (The Commonwealth, December 1936,

M ost grower-employers and labor-union representatives, as well as
impartial observers, agreed that the prevailing methods of mediation
were on the whole inadequate for settling the problem of agricultural
strikes. Mediators were generally unfamiliar with specific labor condi­
tions and strike issues, and their problems were complicated by the
strong feelings of contending groups. These were serious obstacles,
particularly because of the brief duration of most agricultural strikes.
A s pointed out by one prominent grower-employer, R oy M. Pike, man­
ager of El Solyo R anch: “ Perishable crops do not lend themselves to
mediation because they must be handled in two or three days of their
ripening and cannot await meetings and drawn-out decision.” 9
Public interest in the subject declined during the late thirties, as
agricultural strikes decreased in number, scope, and violence.
7The Commonwealth (Official Journal of the Commonwealth Club of California), Vol. XII,
No. 51, San Francisco. Calif., December 1936 (p. 234).
8Idem (pp. 252-254).
9Idem (p. 242).




Chapter V.— Large-Scale Agriculture and Early Farm-Labor
Unionism in California
Industrialized Agriculture

The preceding chapters have indicated that labor-employer conflict
in agriculture, particularly during the turbulent thirties, was concen­
trated to a disproportionate degree in California. Many studies of farmlabor problems in this State have been made by scholars, research experts,
government agencies, and others. M ost of their findings have been assem­
bled in Hearings and Reports of the Subcommittee of the U . S. Senate
Committee on Education and Labor investigating Violations of Free
Speech and Rights of Labor. Facts brought out in these studies sub­
stantiate the hypothesis formulated in the previous chapter, namely, that
disturbed labor relations are a product of a type of farm structure that
has reached its fullest development in California.
The pattern of land ownership and operation which developed earliest
and most extensively in California has been termed “ factory farming”
or “ industrialized agriculture.” 1 Its most obvious attributes have been
an extraordinarily large scale of operation, extreme specialization, and a
high degree of mechanization. Agricultural enterprises of this type began
early in California because its land, since the beginning of settlement by
early Spanish and Mexican colonists, had been owned, controlled, and
administered in huge units. Large-scale farming remained dominant
during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries as new crops and
methods of production were adopted to meet the demands of new and
expanding markets. Crops were grown more intensively, heavy capital
investments were required for additional farm equipment and land im­
provements, and more labor was required per acre.
Certain topographical and climatic features favored concentration
in specialized large-scale farm production in this State and contributed
to the peculiar nature of its labor problems. The land suitable for farm­
ing lies in a long strip running north and south for several hundred
miles, bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west and high mountain ranges
to the east. Valley land along such rivers as the Sacramento and the
San Joaquin was particularly fertile, and new farm land was continuously
being made available through irrigation. Climatic differences in California
from the Mexican border north to Oregon encouraged the cultivation of
a wide variety of crops maturing at different months of the year, and
each area tended to concentrate on growing one or a few products.
Intensive specialized farming, as stressed before, requires adequate
supplies of mobile seasonal labor available at the periods o f peak demand.
By the time rural California had become largely a series of special crop
areas, almost the entire agricultural economy was dependent upon a
variably sized body of casual and migratory laborers who,' in order to
find continuous employment, had to dovetail brief jobs over a region
encompassing many counties and sometimes several States. Differences *
*Cf. Report of La Follette Committee, Part III: The Disadvantaged Status of Unorganized
Labor in California’s Industrialized Agriculture.




43

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in status and attitude between employer and employee were widened to
an extreme degree by the unusual size of many farming enterprises, the
high proportion of casual workers in the farm population, and the extreme
mobility of these workers. On large farms they were generally employed
as members of gangs or crews to perform standardized repetitive tasks.
Mass production in the large-scale California agricultural enterprise, in
the words of one expert, “ brought about what may be called the mechani­
zation of the human element in the industry/’ 2
In agriculture, wages, hours, conditions of work, living facilities, and,
above all, job security, have long been far below the standards generally
applying to other industries in California. Seasonality precluded the
security to be gained through permanence of employment. Haphazard
hiring methods and uncontrolled individual and group migrations made
job security through seniority preference or other such arrangements
almost impossible to achieve. Low income, intermittent employment,
and high mobility imposed the discomforts of poverty— inadequate hous­
ing, deficiencies in food, lack of educational and medical facilities, and
the like.
The exceedingly low social status and standards o f living of casual
and migratory workers served to set them off as a distinct caste. Legally,
however, they continued to be looked upon as enjoying more than
ordinary security and personal solicitude from their employers. Hence,
more than any other occupational group, they were denied the benefits
of social legislation and protection of their civil liberties.
This seriously disadvantaged position drove agricultural workers in
this State periodically to organize and strike against their employers.
Hardship alone was not sufficient cause for their taking organized action.
On the contrary, their extremely precarious economic position was apt
to preclude the growth of strong unionism. Historically, labor unrest
in California has not always been most widespread when farm wages
and working conditions were worst. Also, though the most militant
farm-labor movements developed in that State, the standards of wages and
employment there have usually been above those of other intensive farm­
ing regions.
The striking inequalities between farm employers and employees and
the wide margin between rural and urban labor standards appear to
have been the most important factors contributing to labor unrest in
California’s agriculture. L ow wages became a source of widespread
complaint and a stimulus to organized protest when they were enforced
by the superior bargaining power of large and well-financed employers.
This was particularly true when growers in certain crop areas cooperated
among themselves in order to fix wages and recruit labor.
The trade-union movement had become strongly established in several
cities and towns of California during the latter part of the nineteenth
century, and many urban trades were better paid in that State than
elsewhere. Contact with industrial labor groups whose economic status
had been raised through collective bargaining gave agricultural workers
a strong and continuous incentive to unionize. Periodically they attempted
to transplant to the rural scene the structure and tactics of established
urban trade-unions.
2Wells A. Sherman, Chief Marketing Specialist of the U. S. Bureau of Agricultural Economics,
quoted in testimony by Dr. Paul S. Taylor, Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 47 (p. 17228).




C H . V.---- LARGE-SCALE AG RICU LTU RE IN C A L IFO R N IA

45

Farm-labor unions usually met with more than ordinary hostility
and violence from grower-employers and their sympathizers in Califor­
nia, as was pointed out in Chapter IV . W ages are almost the only vari­
able cost which farm employers feel they can revise to meet fluctuating
economic conditions; and they usually constitute a more significant pro­
portion of total costs for large, specialized agricultural enterprises than
for small diversified farms. Absolute control over wage rates, free from
intervention by outside agencies, the growers thus deem essential.
Agricultural employers, moreover, constantly fear heavy losses because
of the perishability of many crops. Labor unionism and strikes consti­
tute further risks in addition to wind and weather. In contrast to most
urban industries, a crop loss represents not merely current output, but
investments for an entire season or even a year. A spokesman of the
California Fruit Growers and Farmers summed up the situation as fol­
lows :
The problems o f farm labor are so different from those o f industry, that, while
we farmers have no quarrel with the aims of the legitimate industrial labor unions,
we would regard the unionization o f farm labor, under existing conditions, as
absolutely ruinous to us as well as to the laborers themselves.
The main differences, as almost all o f you know, are as follow s:
1. Owing to the perishable nature o f his crop, a farmer cannot afford to have
his harvesting delayed, while negotiating with strikers.
( x ) A week's delay, or in some cases 2 days' delay, will destroy his whole year's
income and the much larger amount he has spent in producing the crop.
(y ) The labor agitators always plan to call their strikes at the most critical
stages o f the harvesting.3

The causes of the acute labor problems which California’s agriculture
faces lie far back in the history of the State. Large-scale farms growing
intensive cash crops for distant markets had become numerous by the
third quarter of the nineteenth century, and the low-paid migratory
seasonal laborers who harvested the crops were already an important
and identifiable occupational class in the population. Once established,
this agricultural system tended to be self-perpetuating. Land values
rose as more and more capital was invested in improvements, machinery,
and other equipment required for intensive cultivation. H igh land
values were derived from the capitalization of large net profits, actual
and potential, which the land could earn. Profitability o f the land, in
turn, depended in no small measure upon low labor costs. Large and
continuous supplies of cheap mobile labor then became an outright neces­
sity if the established agricultural system was not to be disorganized or
transformed drastically. Farms burdened with large fixed or overhead
costs imposed by highly capitalized land values could continue to operate
profitably only as long as adequate numbers o f low-paid seasonal work­
ers were available.4
F or several decades California growers have been preoccupied, peri­
odically, with the search for new sources of labor. Inferior wages and
working conditions constantly impelled agricultural workers to seek
employment in other industries when they had the opportunity, and their
places had to be filled by new recruits. For the past 70 years or more
these have been drawn from successive waves of low-paid racial and cul­
3Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 47 (p. 17219).
4For a fuller discussion of this subject see Varden Fuller: The Supply of Agricultural Labor
as a Factor in the Evolution of Farm Organization in California, published in Hearings of
La Follette Committee, Part 54 (p. 19802).




46

LABOR U N IO N IS M IN

A M E R IC A N A G R IC U L TU R E

tural groups.5 Chinese came first, followed more or less chronologically
by Japanese, Hindustani, Mexicans, Filipinos, and a minority of other
elements including the native white American “ hobo” of the type studied
by Carlton Parker.6
Each racial group in time acquired some of the techniques and
standards established by urban workers. In California, farm workers
of almost every race have participated in strikes and attempted to organ­
ize unions at one time or another. Periodically, the farm-labor m ove­
ment took the form of organized race conflict.

The Chinese and Race Conflict in Agriculture
Labor unionism and organized conflict in a primitive form first ap­
peared on a significant scale in rural California when the Chinese became
an important part of the agricultural labor supply. They were mobile,
efficient, and available in large numbers at wages much below the ordinary
urban standards, and were an important factor enabling large farms to
convert from intensive grain crops and livestock to intensive fruit and
vegetable growing.7
A s a racial minority excluded from other industries and subject to
considerable intimidation from the white community, the Chinese in
agriculture were not in a position to organize unions for collective bar­
gaining. In fact, their industriousness and lack of militancy made them
the more desirable as employees. Like other immigrant groups in later
years, however, the Chinese developed an indigenous form of labor organi­
zation which they transplanted to rural areas. Quite early, in San Fran­
cisco and other urban centers, they had formed native “ brotherhoods”
or “ protective associations” known as tongs. The California Bureau
of Labor Statistics in its Third Biennial Report for 1888 (p. 84)
described these as a type of “ trade-unions” which “ are very rarely heard
of, but nevertheless exist and are very powerful. In case of a strike or
boycott they are fierce and determined in their action, making a bitter and
prolonged fight.”
Although some organized strikes took place among Chinese workers
in urban trades during these early years, there is little to indicate that
similar developments of any importance arose in rural areas.8
The tong became, instead of a labor union, a type of employment
agency which facilitated the recruiting and hiring of Chinese for seasonal
jobs requiring considerable mobility. It was a forerunner of the laborcontractor system which became more firmly established among other
racial groups. This system, as first developed among the Chinese, in­
volved a division of the entrepreneurial functions of hiring and firing
between the grower-employer and a representative o f the labor group.
s See Paul S. Taylor and Tom Vasey: Historical Background of California Farm Labor,
in Rural Sociology, Vol. I, No. 3, September 1936 (pp. 289-295).
6Carlton Parker: The Casual Laborer and Other Essays, New York, 1920.
7Fuller, op. cit., Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 54 (pp. 19802-19811).
8One strike of Chinese demanding higher wages was reported in 1884. It involved a “ large
force” of hop pickers on the Haggin Grant in Kern County. In this case employers planned ^to
replace the Chinese with Negroes, but the latter were found to be too inexperienced. (Pacific
Rural Press, Aug. 30, 1884, p. 164.)
A limited and short-lived union of Chinese agricultural workers was noted in 1890, but was
regarded somewhat lightly. The California Fruit Grower in its August 23, 1890, issue made
passing reference to <r * * * a Chinese labor union and its $1.50 per day demand for work in
the orchards and vineyards.”




C H . V.-----LARGE-SCALE AG RICULTURE IN CA L IFO R N IA

47

The latter, as contractor, customarily received a flat sum from the grower
for the work of the laborers he represented. From this he paid each
individual worker a wage agreed upon beforehand. A s the system devel­
oped later, the contractor was often allowed a certain amount by groweremployers for each laborer he recruited. Sometimes he made an addi­
tional profit by furnishing supplies or room and board to the crew.
Many abuses developed from time to time under this system, because
of the many opportunities open to the contractor to exploit his lesssophisticated labor force.9 A s first developed, however, it offered the
most suitable means for the occupational adjustment of unassimilated
groups, with tangible advantages to both parties in the wage bargain.
Like the padrone system in the industrial Northeast, the labor-contrac­
tor arrangement prevailed when a language barrier existed between
employer and employees. For workers who were unable to speak English
adequately and were as yet unfamiliar with the labor market in which
they dealt, there were obvious gains in leaving the necessary business
arrangements of job finding to a more sophisticated and experienced
member who could act as official spokesman. The system constituted a
type of collective bargaining in a semi-union form of organization.
There were tangible advantages in this labor relationship for groweremployers also. Their persistent preference for nonwhite labor was ex­
plained in large part by the fact that whites seldom worked under a
contractor. W orkers were more readily available when the employer,
to recruit the labor supply he needed for a certain job, had only to con­
tact the “ Chinese boss” or “ head man” and specify the number of men
wanted, where they were needed, and when. The grower was. relieved
of almost all administrative or supervisory duties of hiring, firing, or
even paying the men individually, since all negotiations were carried
on through one bargaining agent. It was not necessary to provide board
for the working crew (as it generally was for whites) and the most
meager housing was usually accepted. After the harvesting operations
were over, the crew would leave for other seasonal jobs or return to the
cities to subsist on their “ stakes.” 10
The first instances of organized labor-employer conflict or the “ labor
movement” in California agriculture began in the form of race riots
rather than of unions organized for carrying on collective bargaining.
Anti-Oriental agitation gave the trade-union movement in urban centers
a heightened cohesiveness and unity of purpose. In small towns and
nearby rural areas it stimulated a degree of collective action which at
that time was unusual among small farmers and agricultural laborers.
Throughout the late 1880’s and 1890’s the Chinese were subjected to
increasing violence and intimidation. Their emigration in large num­
bers to rural areas brought a pattern of race relations earlier established
in such cities as San Francisco.
9The United States Industrial Commission in 1901 reported that—
“ Hundreds of coolie laborers brought into this country by the vicious ‘high-binder* tongs
were hired out as ‘gangs’ under the supervision of ‘bosses,’ who in turn collected the wage of
the laborers and turned the greater part over to some company of the highbinder.** (Office of
the United States Industrial Commission, Report to Congress, December 5, 1901.)
However, the coolie system of recruiting labor was not prevalent in agriculture as it had
been earlier in railroad construction. Most of the workers on farms had already paid their in­
debtedness to the various labor-recruiting companies and were thus free to seek work where
they pleased. W ith increasing knowledge and experience of individual members, the opportu­
nity for exploitation decreased. (Final Report, Commission on Industrial Relations, Vol. S, pp.
4941. 4950.)
10Fu!ler, in Hearings o f La Follette Committee, Part 54 (p. 19811).




48

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AG RICU LTU RE

A s early as 1877 farmers were reported to have received anonymous
notes warning them to cease employing Chinese.1 Isolated instances of
1
violence against Chinese in rural areas occurred throughout the period
of anti-Oriental agitation in cities. N o organized opposition to their
employment in agriculture appeared until several years later.
General business depression and unemployment from 1883 to 1887
led to considerable labor ferment throughout the United States. The
year 1885 witnessed a virtual epidemic of strikes in many States of the
Union. Labor unrest spread to agricultural areas, particularly in Califor­
nia, where it was manifested chiefly in the form of anti-Oriental agita­
tion.12 Unemployment in urban industries drove many city laborers,
white as well as Chinese, to seek work on farms, and there the competi­
tion for jobs and the resulting wage cuts fanned the flames of race con­
flict. Violence against Chinese became more frequent and widespread,
and boycotts directed against growers employing them were organized
in many districts. B y 1886 this anti-Oriental movement had become
sufficiently serious to impel grower-employers to organize strong meas­
ures in self-defense. In such districts as Vacaville, Mendocino, Petaluma,
Newcastle, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and Sacramento, hop growers,
fruit growers, canners, and sympathetic local businessmen called special
meetings and in a few cases established protective organizations.13 The
Fruit Growers and Citizens Defense Association of Santa Clara County
was organized in April 1886, for the purpose of resisting organized
boycotts and preventing interference with the Chinese labor supply.1
4
A t a meeting of* hop and fruit growers in Grangers Hall in Sacramento
in the same month, the boycott of Chinese was “ discussed and com
demned.,, Rifles were suggested as a means for handling the boycotters,
portrayed as “ unemployed who won’t work.” Said one spokesman:
If you discharge your Chinamen and employ white men you cannot depend upon
your help at all. They will not work in the berry patch, the hop yard, or the fruit
orchard so long as they can drive the header or follow the thresher. (Pacific Rural
Press, April 3, 1886, p. 332.)

Anti-Chinese agitation abated temporarily toward the end of 1886, as
industry began to revive and surplus white laborers were reemployed in
cities and towns. Scattered instances of labor trouble and race conflict
during the next few years dealt more directly with economic issues con­
nected with strikes.15 A strike of white grape pickers was reported as early
as 1887.16 In 1888 a small group of white strikers on a sugar-beet ranch
operated by the Spreckels Co. forced a minority of Chinese to cease
working also. A s reported in the Pacific Rural Press of June 9, 1888, a
crew of 25 white boys collectively demanded wage rates equal to those
being paid a crew of 14 Chinese, viz, $1.15 to $1.25 per day. W hen the
employer refused, the whites went on strike and stoned the Chinese, who
fled the fields until the strikers left.
The relatively peaceful conditions incidental to prosperity and full
employment were temporary. Again, during the 1890’s, the tide of antiChinese sentiment swept through rural areas. Organized boycotts and
11Pacific Rural Press, Vol. XIII, June 30, 1877 (p. 408).
12Idem, March 7, 1885.
13See Pacific Rural Press, issues of February 27, 1886 (pp. 196, 197, 209), March 13, 1886
(p. 278), and April 3, 1886 (p. 332).
14Idem, April 24, 1886 (p. 412).
15David Lubin, in a letter published in the Pacific Rural Press of August 18, 1888, regard­
ing labor troubles on California ranches, blamed -them on the employment of “ coolies,” on
“ gruffness” of employers, and on generally poor working conditions.
16Reports of Senate Committee on Immigration, 1911, Part 25, Vol. II (p. 229).




C H . V.-----LAR G E -SCA LE AG RICU LTU RE IN CALIFO RN IA

49

violent mob action grew in intensity. One writer even claimed that “ a
condition approximating civil war broke out in the great valleys of
California.” 1*
Basic to this conflict, as in the previous instance of 1886, was the
chronic unemployment brought by Nation-wide industrial stagnation. The
labor supply in agriculture was increased to the point of superabundance
throughout , the nineties.1 Unemployed whites were placed in direct
18
7
competition with Chinese and, increasingly, with newly arrived Japanese
who were forced to resort to wage cutting in order to obtain employment.
Racial antipathies were sharpened. Drastic wage reductions were put
into effect in many agricultural areas during 1893 and 1894, leading to a
series of riots and race conflicts.
Beginning in August 1893, in the vicinity of Fresno, some 300 Chi­
nese field laborers were driven from their work by white men. Rioting
soon became general in the San Joaquin Valley, centering in the vicinities
of Tulare, Visalia, and Fresno. A white laborers’ union in Napa Valley
was organized as a result of a mass meeting held to protest the employment
of Chinese in prune orchards. In the vicinity of Compton in southern
California, “ hoodlums” joined by sailors and longshoremen from San
Pedro were reported to have raided fields and driven out the Chinese.
Night raiders in Redlands, heart of the citrus belt, broke into Chinese
camps. Rioting became so acute, according to one writer, that the National
Guard was summoned and 200 special deputy sheriffs were sworn in.
The disturbances spread farther north and culminated in a m ajor outbreak
at Ukiah.19
The turmoil continued on a smaller scale the following year. In Febru­
ary 1894, a gang of Chinese brought into Anaheim to pick oranges was
driven out by organized mobs of whites. Subsequently another gang was
brought in under police guard.20 In Vacaville a mob calling itself the
“ Industrial A rm y” terrorized Japanese and Chinese. A ccording to the
Sacramento R ecord Union of May 18, 1894, “ the county is aroused, and
will assert its right to have its employees continue undisturbed in their
ranch work.” A few days later citizens were reported to be arming them­
selves to protect their Oriental labor.21 In August a “ large crowd of white
men” was reported to have driven a hundred Chinese from their work at
a packing house in Santa Rosa.22 Again, in November 1894, the Pacific
Rural Press reported that “ vandalism” had broken out in the Vaca Valley
as “ marauding tramps, ISO in a bunch, organized in squads with captains
and lieutenants,” raided orchards, cut down fruit trees, and drove out
Chinese and Japanese laborers.23
Anti-Oriental agitation and conflict diminished later in the decade, as
business conditions improved and the farm-labor surplus decreased
through rapid reemployment in city industries. The position of the
Chinese in agriculture improved considerably, as their numbers were
limited by immigration restrictions and as opposition to their employment
in other trades relaxed. According to the California Bureau of Labor
Statistics in its Ninth Biennial Report for 1899-1900 (p. IS ) :
17Carey McWilliams: Factories in the Fields, New York, 1939 (p. 74).
18The Pacific Rural Press in April 1894, for example, reported that it was easier to get men
at 50 to 75 cents per day than it formerly had been at $1. (Pacific Rural Press, Apr. 7, 1894,
pp. 264, 265.)
l9McWilliams, op. cit. (p. 75).
20Pacific Rural Press, March 3, 1894 (p. 174).
21Idem, May 24, 1894.
22Idem, August 18, 1894 (p. 100).
23Idem, November 17, 1894; December 1, 1894 (p. 338).




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Relieved by the operation o f the Exclusion A ct in great measure from the
pressing competition o f his fellow-countrymen, the Chinese worker was not slow to
take advantage o f his circumstances and demand in exchange for his labor a higher
price and, as time went on, even becoming Americanized to the extent o f enforcing
such demands, in some cases, through the medium o f labor organization * * * hence
* * * the question o f his competition with the other labor o f the State has lost much
o f its importance.

Labor Organization Among the Japanese
Towards the turn of the century an acute labor scarcity existed in
every fruit district in the State. Even with advances in wage rates of 25
percent, 50 percent, and sometimes 100 percent, labor was not always
available to harvest fruit as well as grain, hops, hay, and dairy products.24
The deficiency was soon rectified by a large influx of Japanese, whose
numbers had been growing steadily during the nineties. It is almost im­
possible to overestimate the crucial importance of this element in but­
tressing the large-scale farming economy of the State at that time. In the
opinion of Fuller—
Their labor enabled the perpetuation o f an organizational structure which had
been founded with the Chinese. In the interval between plentiful Chinese and
Japanese labor, the structure had been maintained by depression-opportunity whites.
The Japanese came at a strategic moment o f prosperity-opportunity for the local
whites and carried the system through until recurring depression again gave it
security. (Hearings o f La Follette Committee, Part 54, p. 19840.)

It was primarily in field, garden, and orchard work that Japanese first
appeared. The demand for their services was heightened by the rapid
expansion of such crops as sugar beets, rice, and strawberries. By 1898,
according to the Industrial Commission on Immigration,25 the Japanese
were doing most of the work in beets and were rapidly monopolizing the
work in berry cultivation. By 1909 the U .S. Senate Committee on Immi­
gration26 found that Japanese farm workers constituted some 30,000, and
were the most important labor group in almost all types of intensive culti­
vation. In the southern citrus areas they constituted half to three-fourths
of all seasonally employed workers, and in sugar beets, about two-thirds.
They were dominant to almost the same degree in melons, celery, hops,
and other crops requiring considerable amounts of hand labor.26
A t first the Japanese, like the Chinese before them, were favored as
employees because of their relative cheapness and docility. W hen first
introduced into agricultural labor, they not only underbid white laborers,
but at the outset they even worked for less than the Chinese and Hindu­
stani. During the late eighties they had been used on some occasions to
break strikes by white workers.27 W hen jobs became scarce during the
1890’s, they took the initiative in reducing wage rates. According to the
Pacific Rural Press, a gang of Japanese was working in Santa Clara
County for 50 cents per day without board, where previously the rates
for Chinese had been $1 per day and for whites $1.25 to $1.75.28 During
1896 the Japanese competed with Chinese in the sugar-beet fields of the
Pajaro Valley, reducing the contract price from $1.20 to 75 cents per
24Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 54 (p. 19819).
25Reports, Industrial Commission, Vol. 15, 1901.
26Reports, Senate Committee on Immigration, 1911, Vol. 24 (pp. 20-23).
27Idem, Part 25, Vol. II (p. 229).
28Pacinc Rural Press, April 7, 1894 (p. 264).




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51

ton.29 A ccording to Fuller, however, the relation of the Japanese to
the Chinese was one of replacement rather than displacement. Japanese
competed with other labor groups, particularly in the southern citrus
area where Chinese had not penetrated. In consequence, there were
periodic outbreaks of anti-Japanese sentiment from Mexicans and whites
in this area.30*
Like the Chinese before them, the Japanese became established in
various crops by organizing themselves into gangs which dealt through
one spokesman. This made their labor more available and convenient to
grower-employers, for whom it facilitated the problem of recruiting and
hiring an adequate labor supply for temporary jobs of harvesting. Like
the Chinese also, the Japanese had the additional virtue of providing
their own food and housing, thus avoiding intrusion on the family life
of the employer. The advantages to the growers in this system were
stressed by Clemens Horst, large-scale hop raiser, in testimony before
the Commission on Industrial Relations in 1915:
You deal with one Hindu, who will furnish you the whole crew. You go to the
Japanese and they will furnish you with a hundred or two hundred, and you go to
the one man and he will furnish the number o f men. You go to a Chinaman,
and he will do the same thing, furnish any number you want.8
1

W hite workers, on the other hand, were more disorganized and unreli­
able, according to M r. H o rst:
* * * you don’t know which lots o f whites are going to stay [through the season].
If there could be some method devised that they could be made to stay and you
wouldn’t have to change around all the time, the employers’ position would be very
much better.8
1

F or the laborers, job finding was facilitated when one of their number
specialized in locating w ork ; this enabled them to dovetail a series of
seasonal jobs through a greater part of the year. The origins of this
system and its subsequent developments were portrayed by Yam oto
Ichihashi in his book, Japanese in the United States.32
* * * In 1892 a Japanese, Kimura, along with a dozen Oriental laborers, arrived
in Watsonville. The following year he organized what he termed a club for his
followers, as well as for others now entering the district.
* * * These were early organized among the Japanese in the nineties to provide
cheap lodging and boarding facilities, and to effect easy and inexpensive migration
for work and to “ hibernate” successfully. The organizations were sometimes simply
groupings o f laborers under a “ boss” who carried on the business o f finding jobs,
supervising the workers^ and providing cooking and living quarters, with a secre­
tary who arranged for jobs on a commission basis, for which dues were charged.
“ Camps” organized and run by bosses for their own benefit were formed, func­
tioning much as did clubs. These organizations greatly simplified job finding, as
farmers and laborers alike used these facilities.
* * * In time this club became a general rendezvous for the Japanese in the
district, and when employers needed extra hands they went to the club and secured
the men they wanted. Advantages o f the club were soon recognized by other
Japanese leaders. Thus another came into being in 1899. When the writer visited
the town in 1908, there were four o f these clubs with a total membership o f
650 in this district, roughly embracing 100 square miles. Each club had a secretary
whose function it was to find jobs and arrange them so that its members could work
most advantageously. His compensation consisted o f a 5 cent commission collected
from each man per day, but he had no fixed salary. When the demand for the
29Report of Senate Committee on Immigration, 1911, Vol. 24 (p. 27).
30Fuller, in Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 54 (p. 19830).
3JSenate Documents, Vol. 23, No. 6933 (64th Cong., 1st Sess.) 1915-16.
dustrial Relations, Reports, Vol. 5 (p. 4922).
32London, Oxford Press, 1932 (pp. 172-174).




Commission on In­

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men was more than the members could supply, he sought outsiders, who obtained
jobs by paying him the same commission. These outsiders were not given the
privileges o f the club, and remained at boarding houses run for profit. However,
anyone could join the club by paying the $5 annual dues, and avail himself of its
privileges.
When the season o f the district began to slacken, the “ outsider” first withdrew,
and some o f its members migrated whenever it was found advantageous to work
elsewhere. T o assist these migratory members, the secretary studied the situation in
the neighboring districts, if he did not know them already; in fact, he often
arranged with employers o f such districts for the employment o f his members
before [they] were allowed to move, and in this case he collected his 5 cent com­
mission. M ore often, however, in order to obtain accurate information from the
latter, he communicated with the bosses o f such localities, who were more than
glad to furnish the information because they had to secure a labor force fluctuating
with the seasonal needs o f their respective districts. When the men secured their
jobs through the bosses, they paid their 5 cent commission to them and not to the
secretary. Thus the club members kept going from industry to industry and from
place to place until there were no more jobs. Then they returned to their clubs
to spend the winter, doing such casual jobs as they would pick up in their resi­
dential district.

In time the relationship between bosses and workers became more
casual. Often several bosses became associated as contractors, and they
in turn employed and directed the general rank-and-file laborers. W ith
the completion of any given unit of work, the labor gang would disband
and scatter, and succeeding jobs would be performed under new con­
tractors and under different terms.33 B y 1910, according to the Pacific
Rural Press in its issue of June 11—
The Japanese control and domination o f labor in orchards, vineyards, gardens,
and sugar-beet fields in California has been accomplished by the persistent operation
and State expansion o f the boss system.

The Japanese soon lost their docility once they had come to dominate
the labor market in various crop areas. Their contractor system of
organization was utilized as an instrument for militant collective bargain­
ing. Employed primarily for harvesting operations, they were prone to
put pressure on the employer when he was most vulnerable and subject
to maximum loss in case of a strike— just when the crop was ripe and
in highly perishable condition. It was generally conceded, according to
the California Bureau of Labor Statistics, that the Japanese were merci­
less once they had their employer at a disadvantage. They would work
for cheap wages until competition was eliminated and then strike for
higher wages. It was charged by growers that when Japanese found
their employers in need of help, “ they will strike without any provocation,
simply to get an increase, regardless of agreement.” 34 Proceedings of
the 1907 convention of the California Fruit Growers (1907, p. 69)
expressed the increasing dissatisfaction of grower-employers with Jap­
anese, and a strong nostalgia for the more tractable Chinese of earlier
days:
The Chinese when they were here were ideal. They were patient, plodding, and
uncomplaining in the performance o f the most menial service. They submitted to
anything, never violating a contract. The Japanese now coming in are a tricky and
cunning lot, who break contracts and become quite independent. They are not
organized into unions, but their clannishness seems to operate as a union would.
One trick is to contract work at a certain price and then, in the rush o f the harvest,
threaten to strike unless wages are raised.
33California Bureau of Labor Statistics, Ninth Biennial Report, 1900 (p. 23).
34Idem, Twelfth Biennial Report, Sacramento, 1905-6.




C H . V.-----LAR GE-SCALE AG RICU LTU RE IN C A L IFO R N IA

S3

The Japanese employed strike strategy as early as 1891,353but severe
6
unemployment and competition for jobs with other races during the
nineties precluded collective bargaining. In the early 1900’s, when other
labor groups migrated to nonagricultural employments, the dominence qf
the Japanese in agriculture became more pronounced and their position
was strengthened. A series of strikes and boycotts for wage increases was
carried out, the effectiveness of which was noted by the Immigration
Commission in its Report of 1911. Investigators reported that in several
important areas of the State the Japanese “ * * * ]jy securing control
of the situation * * * have reduced the workday from 12 hours to 11
hours, and by means of strikes have raised the wages of all races.,,S6
First of such strikes was among Japanese fruit dryers in Hayward
(Alam eda C ounty), during August 1902, seeking a wage increase from
8 to 10 cents for cutting apricots. The strikfe was broken when they
were replaced by white men.37 Another instance in which Japanese strikers
were supplanted by whites occurred in Santa Barbara County in 1906. A s
reported in the Pacific Rural Press for October 10, 1906, Japanese walnut
pickers employed by the H . R. Owen ranch in Santa Barbara County
struck for an increase in wages. Owen had previously contracted
with them to pick walnuts from the ground at $13 per ton, and they
now asked $15. The request was met with a flat refusal on Owen’s
part, but he made an alternative offer of $1.75 per day. W hen they
refused this, he replaced them with white men.
A strike of Japanese farm workers in Sutter County, in August
1903, was more successful. This walk-out was perhaps typical of many
The growers found themselves unable to recruit an alternative labor
supply at the height of the harvest season and were forced to give in to
the collective demand for a wage increase to $1.40 per day in place
of the prevailing $1.25.38
Japanese gained a dominating position in the vineyards of Fresno
and exerted organized pressure for wage increases.39 On occasion they
utilized some rather unique varieties of “ job action” and “ slow-down”
strikes later made famous by the I.W .W . Fuller describes some of these
practices as follow s:
* * * Once established by working very rapidly on a low time wage, their pace
began soon to slow up. In order to get any quantity o f work done, employers had
to put them on piece rates, whereupon their activity was said to have undergone an
astonishing transformation. They would now work much more rapidly and in
addition their gang bosses would undertake contracts for more work than they
could perform, in both ways giving little satisfaction by way o f quality. A fter being
put on piece rates, the next step frequently was for the Japanese to attempt to con­
tract with the grower to attend the whole detail o f harvesting his crop on a share
basis. As a bargaining argument the Japanese were able to assure the producer that
he would get none o f their countrymen to work for him the following season if he
did not meet their demands. (Fuller, op cit., p. 19834.)

The first important field workers’ strike to cross racial lines took place
in March 1903. It involved approximately a thousand Japanese and
Mexican sugar-beet workers in Oxnard (Ventura County). This inci­
35California Fruit Grower, Vol. VD I, June 13, 1891 (p. 378).
36Reports of Senate Committee on Immigration, 1911, Vol. 24 (p. 229).
37Oakland Tribune, August 4, 1902.
38The Pacific Rural Press of August 15, 1903 (p. 103), in commenting on this incident, ob­
served that “ the Japs are becoming in a measure. schooled in the ways of Americans and on
last Tuesday went on strike. They asked for a raise of 15 cents a day. They were being paid
$1.25 per day and demanded $1.40. The fruit was ripening rapidly, and the little brown men had
their employers in a corner, which they were not slow in realizing, and took the opportunity of
making a raise. Their demands were promptly met by the growers, and everything was soon
working smoothly in these orchards.”
^California Fruit Grower, Vol. XXV III, April 18, 1903 (p. 4).




LABOR U N IO N ISM

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A M E R IC A N AG RICU LTU RE

dent caused reverberations throughout organized-labor circles in southern
California, as it brought to the fore the question of including nonwhite
casual agricultural laborers in the hitherto exclusively white trade-unions.
The extremely low wages paid in the highly industrialized sugar-beet
farms were felt to be demoralizing to the local white labor market. This
strike was one of the first attempts to raise wages by eliminating the labor
contractors who acted as middlemen. They were making money from
their workers from the sale of provisions as well as from the commissions
for jobs. Despite some violent opposition, the workers were successful
in gaining the right to bargain directly with the employers.40
The position of the contractor on issues arising in agricultural strikes
was not the same in all circumstances. H e tended to be a “ marginal
man” in relation to the grower on one side and the labor force on the
other. Sometimes he was primarily the employers' agent who received
a certain amount for guaranteeing the completion of a job and was
interested mainly in obtaining his labor force as cheaply as possible so as
to increase his profit margin. Hence arose the Oxnard strike of 1903
and others like it, designed to eliminate such middlemen. On several
occasions contractors failed to pay their workers, or even absconded
with money provided by the employer to cover ail labor costs. Stricter
licensing regulations under State law eliminated this evil almost entirely
in later years.
In other situations the contractor was more closely associated with
his workers, acting as their negotiator in bargaining for the highest possi­
ble price in the performance of a given job. A m ong the Japanese, con­
tractors and the gangs they hired often had agreements covering wages
and exclusive job areas. Sometimes these approximated closed shops.
A special agent of the Immigration Commission reported in 1911 that
at the time of his investigation in the Fresno area, “ the smaller gangs
who pick small vineyards have the territory distributed among them,
and one gang will not take a ‘job ' in a district belonging to another.” 41
In one instance a strike was conducted by one group of Japanese in
Fresno County to prevent the employment of others of their countrymen
from adjoining Kings County. Pickets were established on roads leading
into the “ exclusive territory,” and were successful in preventing the “ out­
siders” from coming in to work.41
Strong antagonism to the Japanese developed among the rural white
population in many areas of California, partly as a result of their collective­
bargaining tactics. M ore important, however, in stimulating strong racial
antipathies, particularly among smaller growers, was the tendency for
Japanese to abandon wage labor and operate farms as small tenants and
owners. Before the immigration of Japanese was restricted, this occupa­
tional rise did not decrease the labor supply seriously. After the “ Gen­
tlemen's Agreement” with Japan in 1905, however, the number available
as wage workers was reduced markedly. The Alien Land A ct of 1914
and its successors of later years, designed to set limits on land ownership
or control by Orientals, did not serve to drive the Japanese back to farm
labor. It had the effect, rather, of increasing their number in city trades
and occupations. They were replaced by new nonwhite immigrant groups
in many farm occupations.
400akland Tribune, April 1, 1903 (p. 1).
41Reports of Senate Committee on Immigration, 1911, Vol. 24 (p. 591).




CH. V.---LARGE-SCALE AGRICULTURE IN CALIFORNIA

55

The A.F. o f L. and the Casual White Worker
Sporadic efforts were made during the early 1900’s to organize casual
and seasonal white laborers in . agriculture and allied industries. The
unions of whites that were formed, however, do not appear to have been
so effective for collective bargaining as the Japanese associations. W hite
workers employed on California ranches were more disorganized and
individualistic, and for the most part were single migratory males of the
type commonly termed “ hobos” or “ bindle-stiffs.” Growers apparently
preferred Oriental labor for harvesting operations. W hites were more
difficult to recruit and to hold to the j o b ; complaints were legion regarding
their intractability, their continual dissatisfaction with wages and work­
ing conditions, and their undependability.42
A n extraordinarily high rate of labor turn-over was indicated in one
survey made at the time, showing that the average duration of jobs for
individual workers in harvesting and orchard work was only 7 to 10
days.43 However, as was pointed out at the time, the rapid shifting by
white laborers indicated a certain physical and psychological inability to
work efficiently under the substandard conditions accepted by Orientals.
A high rate of labor turn-over, commonly interpreted by employers and
laymen as “ labor undependability,” was said actually to be an “ instinctive”
or unconscious exercise of the “ strike in detail” — simply drifting off the
job— as a protest against unsatisfactory working conditions.43*
W hite workers tended to concentrate in the processing stages of agri­
culture. In industries such as canning and packing of fruits and vege­
tables the work was more skilled, regular, and better paid than in harvest­
ing. It was in these industries that white workers first began to organize
unions for collective bargaining, in a period when farm production was
expanding rapidly and the demand for labor was rising. A s early as
1895, it was reported that a group of 150 girls working in raisin-packing
sheds in Fresno threatened to strike, but this did not materialize. They
had been brought in from San Francisco because the plants were shorthanded, and they attempted to take advantage of a labor scarcity to de­
mand pay increases.44
A strike of draymen in the summer of 1901 attracted considerable
attention from the public and hostile opposition from the growers. The
Pacific Rural Press termed it “ abominable and exasperating,” as it pre­
vented the transportation of farm goods to and from canneries and
wharves.45 It created such “ hateful conditions,” according to a later issue
of the same journal, that farmers began to consider the possibilities of “ a
general law prescribing a closed season for strikers during the gathering
and movement of staple crops.” 46
In following years a series of strikes took place in various operations
associated with agriculture. The Twelfth Biennial Report o f the California
Bureau of Labor Statistics mentioned several during the years 1901-5,
in addition to those carried out by Japanese field workers. A strike of
hop pickers in Sacramento in August 1901, seemed to have been organized
on a quasi-racketeering basis for sharing the gains between the leaders
42Testimony of Horst, Vol. 5 of Report of Commission on Industrial Relations, 1915-16.
43Carlton Parker op. cit. (p. 76).
44Pacific Rural Press, October 5, 1895 (p. 2).
45Idem, July 27, 1901 (p. 50).
46Idem, August 24, 1901.
654107°—46—5




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

and the strikers.47 M ore numerous were the spontaneous strikes and those
organized by local unions— of the raisin pickers in Fresno in 1901 and
again in 1902 (the latter after the organization of a local union), of the
prune pickers in the Fresno area and. the sugar workers in San Francisco
in 1902, and of the orange packers in the Redlands area in 1904.48 Save
for its conclusion, the prune pickers’ strike in Fresno in 1902 was perhaps
typical of the many small and primitive spontaneous strikes taking place
in a period of acute labor shortage. A s reported in the Pacific Rural Press
of September 27, 1902, “ a bunch of young fellows from town,” who had
been employed for $1.50 per day, went on strike at the East Side Fruit
Growers Union prune orchards near Fresno. They demanded $1.75 per
day and were granted the increase because of the acute shortage of help.
A few days later, when there was a “ tremendous rush of prunes,” the
workers took advantage of the emergency to strike again for a further
increase to $2 per day. This time, however, the daughters of the growers
came to the rescue and worked all the following day for $1.75, thus pre­
venting the fruit from going to waste.
The Fruit and Raisin Packing House Employees Union was organized
in Fresno and affiliated with the A .F . of L .49 in 1901, following a suc­
cessful strike of 350 workers against a wage reduction. This organization
concentrated on unionizing the more skilled processing workers in the
packing sheds and ignored the unskilled migratory field labor.
The hitherto anti-Oriental and exclusively white local organizations
affiliated to the American Federation of Labor became interested in un­
ionizing seasonal workers in agricultural industries during the following
year. The national convention of the American Federation of Labor, held
in New; Orleans in 1902, and the convention of the California State
Federation of Labor, held in Los Angeles in 1903, both voted to place an
organizer among the agricultural workers of California.50 One major
incident which prompted this change of attitude was the strike of about
1,000 Mexican and Japanese workers in the sugar-beet fields in the
vicinity of Oxnard (Ventura County) in protest against what the Oak­
land Tribune called “ starvation and bad treatment.” 50 The Los Angeles
Labor Council passed a resolution which was forwarded to the national
executive of the A .F . of L., stating in part—
* * * W e do declare our belief that the most effective method o f protecting
the American workingman and his standard o f living is by universal organization of
wage workers regardless of race or nationality.5
0

The comment of one official of the California Federation of Labor
was highly optimistic:
* * * This is one o f the most important resolutions ever brought to the atten­
tion o f the executive council * * * . It virtually breaks the ice on the question
o f forming the Orientals into unions and so keeping them from scabbing on white
people, in place o f not recognizing Asiatics as at present.5
0
47According to Constable Frank Millard, as quoted in the Sacramento Record Union of Sep­
tember 1, 1901, the promoter of the strike was a man named Schreiber, who wanted the pickers
to strike for $l per hundredweight in place of the prevailing 80 cents, on the understanding that
he was to receive half of the increase for engineering it. He was unable to organize the 200
white workers, however. Only a few went on strike, and Schreiber and his 16 “ lieutenants”
reportedly “ ran out” on them.
48California Bureau of Labor Statistics, Twelfth Biennial Report, 1904-5 (p. 200).
49American Federationist, Vol. 8, No. 11, November 1901 (p. 485).
50Oakland Tribune, April 21, 1903.




CH. V.---LARGE-SCALE AGRICULTURE IN CALIFORNIA

57

The little evidence available does not indicate, however, that the
resolution was favorably acted upon by the executive council of the A .F .
o f L.
During the same year a Fruit W orkers’ Union was formed at San
Jose. Several local branches were established throughout Santa Clara
County and other counties, and these elected delegates to the Federated
Trades Council. The Pacific Rural Press described the movement as
follow s:
During the last two years the organizing committee o f the Federated Trades
[Council] has had pleading requests from the fruit workers, time and time again,
to organize them. Just as the fruit workers o f this county have been organized
during the last few months, so local unions are forming simultaneously in all parts
o f the State, all o f which is not an accidental coincidence but a response to a general
need. (Pacific Rural Press, March 28, 1903, p. 204.)

The program of the new organization, chartered as Fruit W orkers
Union N o. 10770, was quite modest. J. Ryan of San Jose, county pre­
sident of the organization, denied any intention of making exorbitant
requests:
N o demands o f any kind, shape, or form have yet been prepared by this union,
nor is there in existence the demands or resolutions o f any other union that require
$2 for an 8-hour day in fruit work. * * * I am at liberty to state that not a mem­
ber has ever ventured such a radical suggestion as an 8-hour day for every worker
in the fruit industry.515
2

The union continued to function for several years; it failed to develop
into an effective collective-bargaining organization, however, and in time
died out. The only organized action reported among white farm workers
for several years was a small walk-out in Fresno in 1906. Some 200 vine
pickers went on strike for higher wages, manifesting what the Pacific
Rural Press called “ a local phase of organized farm labor.” The strike
was called to enforce a demand for a wage increase from the prevailing
$1.25 per day to $1.50, with board, or from $1.75 to $2, without board.
The strikers pointed out that the cost of living had increased consider­
ably, so that houses which formerly rented for $5 per month now cost $9,
and firewood had risen from $6 to $8 to $9 per cord.62
About this time the casual labor problem again came to the attention
of the American Federation of Labor affiliates. In July 1908, at the sug­
gestion of Andrew: Furuseth, well-known president of the International
Seamen’s Union, the organizing committee of the Oakland Central Labor
Council was instructed to consider ways and means for organizing migra­
tory unskilled workers. A resolution was passed, stressing the exploita­
tion of these laborers and the menace which this constituted to the security
and high standards of organized urban trades.53 This view was repeated
many times during the following year in further resolutions passed by the
State federation and city central bodies of the A .F . of L. in California.
Finally, in 1910, during the national convention of the A .F . of L. in
St. Louis, the executive council was instructed to take steps necessary to
bring casual and migratory workers into the province o f unionism.54
51Pacific Rural Press, May 16, 1903 (p. 306). Earlier a local of the union had been organ­
ized at Gilroy and demanded $1.50 per day with board, at hours from 7 a.m. to 12 noon, and
from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Overtime was to be compensated at the rate of 20 cents per hour. (Idem,
Apr. 13, 1903, p. 37.)
52Pacific Rural Press, December 22, 1906 (p. 386).
53Lewis Lorwin: The American Federation of Labor, Washington, 1933 (p. 110).
54History-Encyclopedia and Reference Book, A.F. of L., Washington, D.C., 1927, Vol. H (p.
237).




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Subsequently, an organizer was put on the pay rolls of the State Federa­
tion of Labor and maintained from 1911 to 1916. Little was accomplished.
.Federal labor unions were formed in cities where migratory workers,
agricultural and otherwise, tended to concentrate in off-seasons. J. B.
Dale, A .F . of L. organizer, stated in 1915 that these bodies, known col­
lectively as the United Laborers of America, were established in San
Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, Fresno, Bakersfield, Sacramento, San
Jose, and San Rafael. Each local was affiliated with the central labor
council of its city and chartered directly by the A .F . of L. The total mem­
bership in the State was estimated to be 5,000, with 2,000 of these in
San Francisco. Dale admitted that few of these were truly agricultural
labor unions. None of the workers were organized on their ranch jobs,
nor did they bargain collectively with their grower-employers through
the agency of a union.55
The A .F . of L /s organizing drive, despite the sentiment expressed in
the resolution by the Los Angeles Central Labor Council in earlier years,
was designed to favor white workers at the expense o f Orientals. In
1911, two A .F . of L. organizers in Fresno attempted to recruit white
workers for the announced purpose of displacing Japanese employed in
harvesting grapes.56 The experiment proved unsuccessful.
Though the A .F . of L. apparently was careful to maintain a mild and
conciliatory attitude, farm-labor unionism was not welcomed by the grow ­
ers. One C. W . Thomas, more self-critical than most, called the attention
of his associates to the fact that “ the conditions which are forced on white
migratory workers have a tendency to degenerate the men,” and warned
that unionization would inevitably follow if conditions were not improved.
“ Labor agitation is already in the hands of men inimical to the farmer
* * * some effort should be made to protect unorganized farm labor
against organized skilled labor.” 57
The organizing drive of the A .F . of L. came to little, and was finally
abandoned during the war years. The migratory and casual workers were
difficult to hold for any length of time in an organization that appealed
primarily to a minority of skilled workers. Casual farm laborers, whose
work was seasonal and poorly paid, could not afford to pay regular union
dues even when set by the A .F . of L. at an especially low level; and the
dues which could be collected from the workers were not sufficient to
maintain the staff of organizers needed to keep a union functioning effec­
tively.
55Report of Commission on Industrial Relations, 1915, Vol. IV (pp. 4972, 4976).
56P. Sioris and T. C. Seaward, the organizers, were furnished Greek laborers to take the
place of Japanese in harvesting grapes in the Fresno area. Their avowed intention was to
eliminate contractors and employment agencies by substituting the union as middleman. Sioris
went further, expressing the opinion that white laborers should be given a preference in em­
ployment since they “ eat American food and spend their money here.” (Fresno Morning Re­
publican, Sept. 9, 1911, p. 9.) Apparently, however, the Greeks, imported from San Francisco
and Sacramento, were found unsatisfactory. The management of the Tarpey Vineyard, for in­
stance, claimed that Japanese could pick 60 to 65 boxes of grapes per day, whereas the Greeks
could only pick 40. (Idem, Sept. 11, 1911.)
57Quoted from McWilliams, op. cit. (p. 101),




Chapter VI.— The I.W .W. in California
“ Educating” the Casual Worker
The revolutionary Industrial W orkers of the W orld ( I .W .W .) , whose
philosophy was sharply at variance with orthodox unionism, was more
effective than the American Federation of Labor in organizing the single,
transient, white laborers. In the prewar era, the major efforts of the
I.W .W . in the larger cities of the Pacific Coast were expended on agita­
tion and propaganda designed to imbue casual laborers with “ class consciousness.,, Several years’ “ education” of casual and migratory seasonal
laborers was considered necessary before effective unionism and direct
action could be undertaken.
Unlike the Orientals, white workers were not homogeneous and did
not at that time specialize in agricultural labor. They accepted seasonal
jobs in the fields only when other, better-paying industrial jobs were
unavailable. According to George B. Speed, I.W .W . organizer, testifying
before the U . S. Commission on Industrial Relations—
* * * the average migratory worker has had no sense o f organization what­
ever. The Japs and Chinese have a far better sense o f organization than has the
native American, and the result is when he eliminates the native out of a given
locality he gets better conditions and wages than the native worker does. The native
worker through the agitation that has been going on in the State during the last
several years is commencing to wake up and realize the necessity o f some form of
organization in order to keep in touch and develop. H e is commencing to realize
that now.1

When asked about the result of some 6 to 8 years’ effort at organizing
the migrants, M r. Speed replied: “ Nothing more than the sentiment and
feeling that is manifest among that class of labor when we go among
them.” 2 From the organization’s point of view this result was all-impor­
tant. In the revolutionary I.W .W . philosophy, the m ajor and final pur­
pose of organizing and carrying out strikes was not to achieve immediate
gains in wages or improvements in working conditions, but rather, to
promote class consciousness and a sentiment of solidarity among the
workers, as a step to final revolution.
“ Harvest stiffs” during nonharvest seasons worked in lumber camps,
railroad construction, or intermittent urban employments. They usually
tried to save a small “ stake” during the harvest and threshing season and
go to the larger cities when the work ended. There, like the Orientals,
they could “ hibernate,” rooming in cheap lodging houses and eating in
cheap restaurants during the winter months. After completion of the
grain harvest in the Middle W est, some would go to Canada, and from
there to the Pacific Coast. Others went straight west from the Dakotas
to Seattle or Portland, and from there to California, where the climate
was warm and living relatively cheap.
In California the I.W .W ., like the A .F . of L., limited its organizing
campaign in the beginning to the cities and towns where seasonal workers
“ holed up.” These places constituted the main concentration points or
1Hearings, Industrial Commission, Vol. 5 (1915), p. 4943.
2Idem (p. 4945).




59

60

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

labor markets for casual day labor. Temporary workers were recruited
in large numbers for farm jobs in surrounding areas from such cities and
towns as San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno, Los
Angeles, Bakersfield, and Brawley. The I.W .W . at one time claimed as
many as 10,000 to 12,000 members scattered through these areas. The
membership fluctuated widely, however, because of the seasonal nature
of farm work and the mobility of the laborers.2

Prewar Years
The “Free Speech Fights9
9
The first important struggles of the I.W .W . in California were not
strikes or “ labor troubles on the job.” They were, rather, the fights for
free speech and the right to carry on agitation and organization in the
cities where casual laborers concentrated. Here the I.W .W . met strong
and violent opposition from the more conservative elements.
The free-speech fight most important to the I.W .W . occurred in
Fresno which, situated in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, had long
been a nerve center or key concentration-point for agricultural labor in
the State. The main issues of the fight involved the right of the I.W .W .
to maintain a headquarters, to distribute literature, and to hold public
meetings. During the 6-month struggle, strong measures of suppression
were employed by the public authorities. The conflict finally won a cer­
tain degree of tolerance for the activities of the I.W .W . and gained for
that organization a status and importance among agricultural laborers far
beyond its numerical significance.3
The struggle in San Diego, beginning early in 1912, was more sen­
sational and violent. There the efforts of authorities to suppress “ wobbly”
meetings culminated in an ordinance which outlawed free speech through­
out the city. The I.W .W . endeavored to combat this move by bringing
outside members into the city to pack the jails. This attempt was coun­
tered by the formation of a vigilance committee the members of which
assisted the authorities in posting armed guards on highways to turn
back incoming transients and to round up all persons suspected of being
connected with the I.W .W . Considerable violence was employed by the
authorities and vigilantes, and several “ wobblies” were seriously injured.
The hostility of the community was perhaps most clearly expressed in
the San Diego Tribune in its issue of March 4, 1912:
Hanging is none too good for them and they would be much better dead, for they
are absolutely useless in the human economy. They are the waste material o f
creation and should be drained off into the sewer o f oblivion, there to rot in cold
obstruction like any other excrement.4

The Wheatland Riot and Other Strikes
Following the free-speech fights, the I.W .W . turned its attention
more directly to economic action. Its prestige was now considerably en­
hanced, and its locals expanded rapidly in key labor centers such as San
2Hearings, Industrial Commission, Vol. 5 (1915), p. 4945.
3Paul Brissenden: The I.W .W .—A Study of American Syndicalism (New York, Columbia Uni­
versity Studies in History and Economics, 1919, Vol. 83, p. 262).
4Idem (p. 264).




CH. VI.---THE I.W.W. IN CALIFORNIA

61

Francisco, Oakland, Fresno, and Bakersfield. Delegates were sent from
these cities into the fields to organize workers on the job and to carry
out “ job action strikes.”
W hat influence the union had in rural areas was attributable in large
part to the fact that the main body of white migratory workers on farms
was composed of unmarried “ bindle-stiffs” or “ boomers,” recruited from
other industries. Many of them had worked in lumber camps, coal mines,
and railroad construction gangs, where they had been already exposed to
the agitation of “ wobbly” delegates. Many in turn became “ job delegates”
or organizers among agricultural workers.
I.W .W . tactics in agriculture followed much the same informal pattern
that had been applied in other seasonal industries. M ost of the organizing
was done not by “ outside” paid organizers but by “ job delegates” who
were actually employed on the job.5 They would form a nucleus of the
more militant or disaffected workers, organize and call a strike, and then
use persuasion or intimidation to get the rest of the workers to join. Since
most of the workers were single men, the restraint imposed by family
obligations was usually absent, and the strikes were often violent and un­
controlled. Organizers imbued with revolutionary zeal were not inclined
to seek settlement of a strike on an amicable basis. They were more con­
cerned with widening each strike to large proportions so as to widen the
scope of class conflict.
From 1913 onward intermittently through the war years, several
spontaneous field w o r k e d strikes and labor troubles were reported to
have been led by I.W .W . “ job delegates,” or at least to have involved
representatives of that organization. During August 1913, newspapers
reported three such strikes. A t the H . Lee Co. orchard in Vina (Tehama
County), a small strike of peach pickers belonging to the I.W .W . resulted
in a 20-percent increase in wages.6 In the vicinity of Perkins (Sacra­
mento C ounty), 125 pickers led by 6 I.W .W . members went on strike,
but the results were not reported. The ranch foreman was said to have
threatened that, if the strikers did not return to work, there would never
be another white man or woman employed on the place.7
Far overshadowing these strikes was the much publicized “ Wheatland
riot,” which, more than any other event at the time, brought to public
attention the problems facing white migratory laborers. This incident was
described by one observer as “ a purely spontaneous uprising * * * a
psychological protest against factory conditions of hop picking * * * and
the emotional result of the nervous impact of the exceedingly irritating
and intolerable conditions under which those people worked at the time.” 8
Following a practice not unusual among large-scale growers, E. B.
Durst, hop rancher, had advertised in newspapers throughout California
and Nevada for some 2,700 workers. He subsequently admitted that he
could provide employment for only about 1,500, and that living arrange­
ments were inadequate even for that number. W orkers of many racial
stocks from many areas poured into the community by every conceivable
means of transportation, and some walked from nearby towns. A great
number had no bedding and slept on piles of straw thrown on floors, in
5Characteristically, a “ wobbly” would hear of a situation where conditions were creating dis­
satisfaction, would travel to the area, get a job if possible, and begin to organize a strike.
During the course of the strike, meetings were usually devoted to an exposition of the revolu­
tionary philosophy as understood by the organizers, rather than to means of settling the issues.
6Sacramento Bee, August 7, 1913.
7Idem, August 20, 1913.
^Hearings, Industrial Commission, Vol. 5 (1915), p. 5000.




62

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

tents rented from Durst at 75 cents a w eek ; many slept in the fields.
There were no facilities for sanitation or garbage disposal and only 9
outdoor toilets for 2,800 people; dysentery became prevalent to an alarm­
ing degree. The water wells were insufficient for the camp, and no means
existed for bringing water to the fields. Durst’s cousin had a lemonade
concession in the fields, selling the drink for 5 cents a glass. Local W heatland stores were forbidden to send delivery wagons to the camp, so that
workers were forced to buy what supplies they could afford from a con­
cession store on the ranch.
These conditions were aggravated by the wage system at the ranch.
The “ going rate” for hop picking in California during 1913 was roughly
$1 per hundredweight. Durst paid 90 cents, with a bonus of 10 cents if
the picker stayed through the harvest. H e was able to pay this discriminatively low rate because of the surplus labor he had recruited. It
was later charged that he purposely permitted the exceedingly uncomfort­
able and insanitary working conditions to exist so that some of the pickers
would leave before the season was over and would thereby forfeit the 10cent bonus. The earnings of the pickers were further reduced by the
requirement of extra “ clean” picking, and by the absence of sufficient
“ high-pole men” to pull down the vines within reach of the pickers.9
The conditions were sufficiently bad to bring the 2,800 people, repre­
senting at least 27 different nationalities, together in a spontaneous
demonstration. It was estimated that only about 100 of the men had
previously been connected with the I.W .W . However, the most active
“ agitator” among the hop pickers, one Blackie Ford, was an active
I.W .W . delegate who had organized a “ camp local” of some 30 members.
A mass meeting was addressed by Ford, followed by other speakers in
various languages. Durst, who attended the meeting, asked for a com ­
mittee to meet with him to settle the grievances. H e promised suitable
toilet accommodations and water on the fields. These were not supplied,
however, and meanwhile resentment against the wage system grew. The
camp was picketed, and a second meeting was held by the pickers in a
public place which they hired for their own use. The meeting, which the
county sheriff later testified was entirely peaceable, was invaded by a
band of armed deputies who came to arrest Ford. One of the deputies
on the fringe of the crowd fired a shot to “ quiet the mob.” This precipi­
tated a riot, in the course of which the district attorney, a deputy sheriff,
and two workers were killed and many more were injured.
Hysteria apparently gripped the authorities after the outbreak. Mass
arrests of “ wobblies” or sympathizers were carried out. Many of the
arrested men were severely beaten or tortured, and many other were held
incommunicado for weeks. Ford and Suhr, the two leading I.W .W .
organizers in the camp, were convicted of murder and sentenced to life
imprisonment.10
Voluntary cooperation offered by Japanese to the organizers in W heatland was an interesting side light on the strike. They pointed out to the
whites that if they as Japanese were to cooperate openly, the whites would
lose what support they had from the A .F . of L. because of the antiOriental sentiment of that organization. The Japanese therefore moved
out of the area in a body, and for several months thereafter published an
advertisement in Japanese-language papers calling upon their fellow
9Carey McWilliams; Factories in the Fields (pp. 158-159). Carlton Parker: The Casual
Laborer and Other Essays (pp. 171-199).
10Hearings, Industrial Commission, Vol. 5 (1915), p. 5000.




CH. VI.---THE I.W.W. IN CALIFORNIA

63

countrymen to abstain from working in the hop industry until the
grievances of the pickers were ended and until the arrested strike leaders
were released.10*
The prevalence of labor agitation and conflict during these immediate
prewar, years was attributed by Carlton Parker, in a report to the Cali­
fornia Commission on Immigration and Housing, largely to bad living
conditions and insecure and intermittent employment caused by the high
seasonality of California's agriculture.1 Fuller, however, pointed out12
1
that these were substantially the same living and employment conditions
that had faced California's casual labor for decades. In his opinion the
unrest was to be explained rather by the fact that severe depression and
industrial unemployment had driven into casual farm labor a class of
people who were unaccustomed to the conditions which it imposed. The
situation was aggravated further by migration of unemployed persons
from other States, following the slogan “ Y ou cannot freeze to death in
California." The economic environment was like that existing during
the middle nineties, when anti-Oriental riots and boycotts in rural areas
reached their height, and like that which was to exist again during the
1930's when radical labor organizations led farm strikes of unprecedented
proportions.
The Wheatland affair was one of the most significant incidents in the
long history of labor troubles in California. It created an opportunity
for effective investigation by the Commission on Immigration and H ous­
ing in California which (under the chairmanship of Simon J. Lubin) did
much to improve living and housing conditions for migratory workers.
Those beginnings toward social control of the problem were to a large
degree nullified, however, by the temporary prosperity during the W orld
W ar.

The I.W.W. During W orld War I
The growth of labor unionism in California agriculture was checked
during W orld W ar I. A chronic shortage of workers led the growers to
seek new sources of labor of a type that could not be organized easily.
State agencies assisted in recruiting youths in large numbers from insti­
tutions and schools. Schools were closed early in order to release chil­
dren for temporary farm work. A campaign to recruit women was
carried out through the W om an's Land Arm y of America, California
Division. This organization involved some degree o f collective bargaining,
since growers were required to sign contracts agreeing to employ a
definite number of women for a fixed period of employment. In addition
to recruiting local labor supplies, growers in the Imperial Valley imported
several hundred families from Texas and Oklahoma. Finally, toward the
close of the war, a large supply of cheap labor was made available through
relaxing the immigration laws and importing Mexicans by thousands.13
10Hearings, Industrial Commission, Vol. 5 (1915), p. 5000.
^ T h e Casual Laborer and Other Essays (pp. 171-199).
12Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 54 (p. 19844).
13The IJ. S. Department of Labor in May 1917 issued an order suspending the head tax,
literacy test, and provisions against contract labor. It expressly authorized farm operators to
bring Mexicans into the United States, where they were to engage exclusively in agricultural
labor on pain of facing arrest and deportation. (Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 54,
p. 19848.)




64

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The war years were marked by intermittent organizational efforts
on the part of the I.W .W . In a period of labor shortage and rising prices
this organization was partially successful in raising wages. Following the
Wheatland affair, the union had become much more active in agriculture
throughout the United States, and particularly in the W heat Belt of the
Middle West. In 1915, local I.W .W . unions of agricultural workers were
federated into a new nation-wide department, the Agricultural W orkers
Organization, chartered as “ The 400.”
The effectiveness of the I.W .W . organization in California was, how­
ever, to a large degree dissipated in jurisdictional disputes and internal
wrangles. Owing to sectionalism of the membership and poor communi­
cations with the national headquarters in the Middle W est, The 400 failed
to become established in the State. A proposal by the Agricultural W o rk ­
ers Organization executive to open a branch office in California which
would absorb existing agricultural workers’ local unions was rejected
by the membership in this State. Instead, the existing locals called a
special conference and applied for a separate charter. It was granted in
February 1916, as the Agricultural W orkers Organization No. 440,
known as the A .W .O . of California. This union lasted only a few months
and died from “ localism and sectarianism.” 14 Local branches of the
A .W .O . remained active for some time afterward, however.
The year 1917 marked the last but most active appearance of the
1. W .W . in the fields of California. The Pacific Rural Press of November
2, 1917, pictured the disturbances in dramatic term s:
Early in the year, the propaganda o f the I.W .W . organized and incited an uprising
in Fresno County, which proceeded to the fields in all the surrounding country and
compelled the men working there to leave their work by threats o f bodily injury
and by the showing o f arms and deadly weapons.

The strike began in a few Fresno vineyards with a walk-out of 50 German
and Italian laborers demanding higher wages and shorter hours. A ccord ­
ing to the Fresno Morning Republican of February 8, 1917, the strikers
“ terrorized” a number of Japanese into joining them. W ithin 2 days the
movement involved several hundred workers organized in various
language branches of the I.W .W . Shortly afterwards D. P. Pagano,
president of the Italian branch of the A .W .O ., announced that about 200
strikers would resume work on a large vineyard which had accepted the
new scale set by the union— $2.50 for an 8-hour day.15 The following
day, at a special meeting in Fresno, vineyardists acceded to the demands
of the remaining strikers, estimated at the time at 2,000.16
The Japanese Association of Fresno, as spokesman for Japanese
pruners who had joined the strike, announced that they would return to
work at a rate of $2.50 for a 9-hour day. In response to criticism from
other members of the A .W .O . still out on strike, the Japanese pointed
out that their scale was the equivalent of that set by the union, because
the Japanese for the most part camped on the work sites and worked
an extra hour for the free rent they were allowed. The Japanese did not
join the union nor did their association endorse the strike; they had not
been consulted beforehand, but had been ignored until after the strike
was called.17
14E. Workman: History of “ The 400,” One Big Union Club, Chicago, III., 1935 (p. 17).
15Fresno Morning Republican, February 10, 1917.
16Idem, February 12, 1917.
17Idem, February 12, 1917 (p. 3).




CH. VI.---THE I.W.W. IN CALIFORNIA

65

Several packing houses in the vicinity of Riverside were closed in
April 1917 by a strike of orange-picking gangs attempting to enforce
higher wage scales. N ot a gang was picking in the district for several
days, it was reported. Packing companies in Redlands soon broke the
strike by obtaining injunctions which restrained strikers from interfering
with pickers recruited to take their places.1
8
In June 1917, farm laborers went on strike in the vicinity o f T u r­
lock. A thousand carloads of cantaloupes were reported lost as a result.
The strike ended when growers enlisted local townspeople to drive “ agi­
tators” from the community.19
Effective organizing and strike action by the I.W .W . ended early in
September 1917, when the nation-wide campaign to suppress the union
was launched. Over 500 persons were arrested and 160 were later con­
victed of criminal syndicalism in Wichita, Chicago, and Sacramento,
where the Federal prosecutions were held.
The most vigorous action against the I.W .W . in California was taken
at first in the vicinity of Fresno, where its successful strike had been
carried out earlier in the year. The organization was accused of sabotage
in Fresno, and many members were arrested on this charge. On Septem­
ber 2, 1917, the Fresno M orning Republican carried a story describing
the sabotage inflicted by the I.W .W . on local grow ers; haystacks had
been burned and many trays of raisins were dumped on the ground and
covered with dirt. A s a result of these and other incidents reported at the
time, a great round-up of the members was launched. On September 6,
1917, the I.W .W . hall in Fresno was raided, over a hundred men were
seized, and some 19 were arrested. Later, raids and arrests were made by
Federal officers in Stockton, Hanford, and elsewhere in the State. The
general round-up continued throughout the fall of 19I7.20 The U .S. D e­
partment of Justice opened an office in Fresno, with W illiam Freeman,
special investigator, in charge. Farmers having labor trouble were directed
to report to that office.21

Toilers of the World
During the late war years the I.W .W . carried on a disguised par­
ticipation in a new organization named “ Toilers of the W orld.” This
short-lived local union developed in the canning industry of San Jose
(Santa Clara C ounty). It was unique in the annals of California labor
history in respect to the ambitious program to which it was committed,
and in its ability, despite violent opposition, to rally and hold together a
body of hitherto unorganized workers. The Toilers of the W orld was a
hybrid group, including in its ranks a number of dissident and active
elements from both the A .F . of L. and the I.W .W . Some of the former
were said to have joined the Toilers after severing their connections with
the A .F . of L. because it was “ too conservative and unreliable.” 22 The
influence of the I.W .W . was more apparent in the organization, both1
1California Cultivator, April 7, 1917 (p. 410).
19Carey McWilliams, op. cit. (p. 172).
"I d e m (p. 170).
21Los Angeles Times, September 11, 1917.
22San Francisco Examiner, March 14, 1918.




66

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

in its name and in its objectives. A number of “ wobblies” joined, appar­
ently, to carry out a sort of “ boring-from-within” policy, hiding their
affiliations with the I.W .W . because of its “ unpatriotic” stigma during
the late war years.
The union began in March 1917 as a more or less spontaneous move­
ment. A mass meeting of fruit workers was addressed by a clergyman
“ representing^ the church labor movement,” by some “ famous Japanese
labor organizers,” and by other speakers who addressed the audience in
English and Italian.23 Out of this meeting the Toilers of the W orld was
organized, and was later chartered as a federal labor union of the A .F . of
L . It was designed to “ organize men and women fruit workers into one
great union through which they would gain fair wages and hours of
labor,24 and was declared “ open to all workers over 16, regardless of race
or creed.” 25 The organizer, E. B. Mercadier, was a printer by trade who
had been in the coal and hay business in San Jose for several years. H e
was described as a “ moderate * * * student of labor problems.” 25
The union included a variety of racial elements and claimed the sup­
port of substantial liberal groups. In a meeting attended by about 1,000
people on May 6, 1917, at which Mercadier presided, the audience was
composed mostly of Americans, Italians, and Japanese. The elected presi­
dent was an Italian named San Filippo. According to the San Jose M er­
cury Herald of May 7, 1917, the Reverend W . L. Stidger, pastor of the
First Methodist Church, promised the support of his church to the union,
and Father W illiam Culligan of St. Joseph Church commended the or­
ganization. By this time, the union had become the largest labor organiza­
tion in Santa Clara County, with 10 delegates in the Central Labor
Council.
The union’s main objective was to achieve a wage increase of 25 per­
cent and, ultimately, the unionization of the whole fruit, vegetable, and
berry industry in Santa Clara County. It aimed to include Chinese wage
earners, a number of whom had asked to be organized.26 Later in the
year the Toilers of the W orld conducted a large cannery strike, as a
result of which it won agreements, covering wages, hours, and union recog­
nition, from the larger canneries of San Jose. This was the first instance
in the cannery industry of California in which the techniques of mass
demonstration and mass picketing were employed to enforce the demands
of strikers and to bring their working conditions to public attention. The
picket lines of the union were apparently well maintained in spite of
considerable violence from local authorities, as well as intimidation from
a National Guard unit dispatched to the strike area.
The Toilers’ position was weakened considerably, as America’s par­
ticipation in W orld W ar I generated strong anti-union sentiments in
many quarters. Agreements reached by the union after the strike of
1917 were maintained throughout 1918. In the spring of 1919, how­
ever, the union was broken. During a period of rising prices and tempo­
rary labor shortage it attempted by strike action to win wage increases to
a standard of $3.50 for a 6-hour day, time and a half for overtime, and
double pay for Sundays and holidays.27 The strike was defeated and the
union declined rapidly thereafter.
23Mercury Herald (San Jose), March 31, 1917.
24San Francisco Examiner, March 14, 1918.
25Mercury Herald (San Jose), May 4, 1917.
26Idem, May 13, 1917 (p. 18).
27San Francisco Examiner, April 21, 1919 (p. 5).




CH. VI.---THE I.W.W. IN CALIFORNIA

67

Postwar Labor Unrest
Labor unrest became widespread throughout the United States during
the immediate postwar years, and California's agriculture and related
industries were affected thereby. The I.W .W . continued to maintain an
organization in the fields, while the A .F . of L. temporarily renewed its
interest in seasonal agricultural and allied workers under the pressure
of numerous spontaneous strikes. Eleven walk-outs occurred between
August 1918 and August 1920, most of them in canneries and packing
sheds. A few resulted in the organization of labor unions, some of which
were later chartered by the A .F . of L.
A series of strikes occurred in northern California in the rural dis­
trict near San Francisco and Oakland. It began with a walk-out, in
August 1918, of some 350 women and 50 men in two canning plants of
the California Packing Corp. in Oakland.28 Other strikes during the next
2 years involved employees of a pickle works in Hayward, a plant of the
California Packing Corp. in San Francisco, and a Libby, M cNeill & Libby
cannery in Sacramento.29
The I.W .W . maintained a State branch of the Agricultural W orkers
Industrial Union No. 110 (successor to A .W .O ., “ The 4 0 0 ") in Cali­
fornia for a few years after the war, and its “ job delegates" were reported
to be numerous. The Industrial W orker, organ of the I.W .W ., by
October 1920, was claiming that “ we have several traveling delegates in
this State [California] during the winter months; a successful campaign
is now being launched which will put No. 110 on the map in this
country."30 These delegates apparently played a leading role in a strike of
citrus workers in the vicinities of San Gabriel, Azusa, and Charter Oak
in Los Angeles County. The Charter Oak Strike Committee was formed
to organize and direct the strikers, whom the California Cultivator de­
scribed as “ American, Mexican, Japanese, and Russian ‘BolshevikiV’31
A .W .I.U . N o. 110 claimed to have active locals in such towns as
Marysville, Knights Landing, W illows, Porterville, Lindsay, and
Exeter.32 Locals in the southern San Joaquin Valley attempted to or­
ganize and win a basic wage of $6 for an 8-hour day in the fruit industry;
they were frustrated, one spokesman reported, because “ the valley-cats all
gather there to jungle up by the river."33
Behind this brief and temporarily revived agitation was the migration
to California of unemployed city or industrial workers and of midwestern
harvest hands who had been displaced by the mechanization of wheat
farming. Indeed the I.W .W ., through its organ the Industrial W orker,
became an early “ booster" for California. It urged migratory workers
to go to that State for the off-season winter months, in order to awaken
agricultural workers to their “ class interests":
There is urgent need in California o f workers who have been through the
battles o f the A .W .I.U . The “ Old Reds,” the militants with their knowledge
o f organizational methods, would do an immense amount of good work in the task
28 San Francisco Examiner, August 1 and 7, 1918.
29Idem, April 12, 1919; October 3, 1919; August 8, 1920.
30Industrial Worker (Everett, Wash.), October 30, 1920 (p. 2).
31California Cultivator, February IS, 1919 (p. 205).
32Industrial Worker, September 25, 1920; October 23, 1920.
33Idem, October 23, 1920.




68

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

o f lining up the California agricultural workers solidly for the One Big Union.
What say you, fellow workers? Shall we go W est this winter and colonize the
California agricultural industry? Shall we put a stalwart band o f Middle Western
harvest stiffs on the job in the Golden ( ? ) West, and teach the bosses the same
lesson that was so hard for them to learn in the wheat country? (Industrial
W orker, December 11, 1920.)

Apparently little came of this appeal. N o strikes or collective bargain­
ing were reported as carried out officially by representatives of the I.W .W .
in California after 1920. Approximately 500 hop pickers in a number of
yards near Santa Rosa (Sonoma County), and 200 grape pickers in the
vineyards near Lodi (San Joaquin County), struck during September
1921. These outbreaks, however, appear to have been spontaneous pro­
tests against wage cuts during a period of recession.34
During the immediate postwar years union organizers became active in
another distinct occupational group in industries allied to agriculture—
fruit and vegetable packing-house workers. “ J°b delegates” of the
I.W .W . were numerous among these workers, and they led several small
strikes. These volunteer organizers laid the groundwork for an ambitious
attempt by the A .F . of L. to organize an international union in this field.
In 1920 the A .F . of L. granted a federal labor union charter to a
group employed in the packing of cauliflower, cabbage, and lettuce in Los
Angeles, the principal shipping point for eastern markets. Verbal or
unwritten agreements were established in certain plants, covering wage
scales, hours, and working conditions for various categories of labor.
W age rates were set at $5 per 8-hour day for packers and $4 for trim­
mers, plus time and a fifth for overtime. Other crafts such as loaders,
lidders, truckers, icers, and crate liners were paid in proportion. The
union was broken during the winter of 1921-22 after losing a month­
long strike for additional wage increases to a $6 and $5 scale.35
The largest organization to be formed in the packing industry by the
A .F . of L. during this period was the Fruit and Vegetable W orkers
Union, which at one time claimed a membership of more than 5,000 in
San Joaquin County alone.36 Its initial impetus was provided by local
independent organizations formed previously in Fresno and Imperial
Counties. A series of strikes involving several hundred fruit and vegetable
processing workers had occurred during late 1919 and 1920 in numerous
packing plants in Fresno, as well as in five towns in San Joaquin County.
The organization leading this movement had been reported originally as
the Green Fruit W orkers Union. It was later renamed the Fruit W ork ­
ers Union of the San Joaquin Valley and, finally, the Central California
Fruit W orkers Union.37 A branch of this union was also reported in
August 1920 to have led a strike of more than 1,200 men and women
employees in the canning industry of San Jose (Santa Clara C ounty),
where the Toilers of the W orld had previously been active.38
From these beginnings the A .F . of L. attempted to organize the en­
tire fruit and vegetable industry of California on a State-wide basis. In
addition to the Central California Fruit W orkers Union, it gained the
affiliation o f an independent packing-shed workers’ . union called the
34 San Francisco Examiner, September 14 and 21, 1921.
35A. ( ‘‘Shorty” ) Alston: A Brief History of the Fruit and Vegetable Industry on the Pacific
Coast (unpublished document), San Francisco, 1938 (pp. 1, 2).
36San Francisco Examiner, August 8 and 10, 1920.
3,7Idem, July 3, 1919; August 2, 1919; and October 3, 1919.
38Idem, August 8 and 10, 1920.




CH. VI.---THE I.W.W. IN CALIFORNIA

69

American Fruit W orkers Association. This had been organized originally
in Brawley (Imperial County), in 1918, and later had established
branches in other localities. A minority of members who were adherents
of the I.W .W . was reported as bitterly opposed to joining the A .F . of L .39
The new union was chartered by the A .F . of L. as the Fruit and
Vegetable W orkers Union, with headquarters in Fresno. Local charters
were issued to other packing centers in California, Washington, and
Oregon. Few gains apparently accrued to the members, and they dropped
out in growing numbers. The F .V .W .U . finally disbanded in 1923, and
for the next 5 years the A .F . of L. had no representation whatever in
agricultural or allied industries.40 The I.W .W . likewise remained largely
inactive in these fields.
39Alston, op. cit. (p. 3).
40Idem (pp. 3-5).




Chapter VII.— California in the Twenties
Concentration in Farm Operations
The postwar decade became one of relative quiescence in rural Cali­
fornia after the demise of A .F . of L. and I.W .W . organizations in agri­
cultural industries. Employment relations were modified somewhat by
rapid expansion in acreage of certain crops, and by the growth o f new
organizations among employers. The underlying structure of farm oper­
ations changed little, however, and the trend toward large-scale farming
continued. California’s agriculture furnished a striking comparison with
the rest of the Nation as regards concentration in ownership and control.
Statistics confirm the view that the dominant type o f enterprise producing fruit,
vegetable, cotton, and specialty crops from the soil in California is the industrialized
farm specializing in one or two commercial crops and operated by an agricultural
employer who hires and fires gangs o f laborers as needed.1

By 1930 more than a third of all large-scale farms in the United States—
those producing a gross annual output of $30,000 or more— were in
that State, and the average value of its farms was more than three times
the national average. Although the large-scale farms numbered less than
3,000, or barely 2.1 percent of all farms in California, they produced 28.5
percent, by value, of all California agricultural products. Although Cali­
fornia produced less than 2 percent of the Nation’s cotton crop in 1939,
it had 30 percent of the Nation’s large-scale cotton farms. It claimed 30
percent of the large-scale crop specialty farms, 40 percent of the largescale dairy farms, 44 percent of the large-scale general farms, 53 percent
of the large-scale poultry farms, 60 percent of the large-scale truck farms,
and 60 percent of the large-scale fruit farms of the United States.2
Large-scale enterprises in agriculture, as in other industries, tended
increasingly to incorporate and to extend their control over productive
facilities by a process of integration. A ccording to the Senate Committee
on Education and Labor—
It is estimated that there are as many as 2,500 corporations engaged in agri­
cultural production in California, and that they have been increasing in importance
since the close o f W orld W ar I. They exceed individual and partnership operators in
average size; many o f them operate lands in other States, have cable addresses, em­
ploy regional and district managers, conduct extensive financing, and have other
appurtenances o f modern large-scale corporations. (Report o f La Follette Com­
mittee, p. 165.)

Large farms played a more dominant role in the labor market in Cali­
fornia than in other regions. The average cash expenditure for labor
per farm was nearly four times the national average; in San Joaquin,
Kern, Monterey, and Imperial Counties the expenditures were roughly
5, 6, 8, and 10 times the national average, respectively. Only 0.5 percent
of all farms in the United States employed five or more laborers, but in
California five times this proportion of farms hired labor in such groups.
Although constituting only 2.1 percent of all farms in the State, large1Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 47 (p. 17217).
2Idem (pp. 17224-17225).

70



CH. VII.---CALIFORNIA IN THE TWENTIES

71

scale enterprises spent 35 percent of all cash outlays for employment of
agricultural laborers. Almost a quarter of such cash outlays, moreover,
was contributed by absentee owned or controlled farms, which were
dominant among large units.3

Grower-Employer Associations
The growing dominance of large-scale farming in California’s agri­
culture during the twenties was paralleled by a transformation in the
pattern of employer-employee relations. Rapid expansion in such inten­
sive crops as cotton, fruit, nuts, and vegetables (which more than
doubled in acreage during the decade) served to increase California
growers’ demands for seasonal labor. Additional workers were made
available partly through a more intensive utilization of existing supplies
and partly through drawing upon new sources.
One of the most significant developments during the decade was the
organization of employers’ associations and labor-recruiting agencies.
They were preceded in many cases by “ area” or “ commodity” producers’
associations, which exerted various degrees of control over member grow ­
ers with regard to output, volume of sales allowed on the market, and
prices charged for products. “ Horizontal combinations” of agricultural
producers could be organized more easily in California than elsewhere
because of specialization of farms in distinct crop areas, together with a
high degree of concentration in ownership and control. The larger and
fewer the enterprises in each crop area, usually the easier it was for them
to agree to restrict their competitive relations. Small growers who
specialized in one or a few crops were often drawn into area or commodity
organizations because these groups offered some of the advantages of
large-scale production.
A s California agriculture became more dependent upon large numbers
of seasonal workers to harvest its crops, area and commodity organiza­
tions of producers became also employer associations. They concerned
themselves with the labor policies as well as with marketing practices of
their members; they became increasingly active in standardizing wage
rates over wide crop areas to eliminate competitive bidding, in recruiting
adequate supplies of labor as a common pool for their members, and in
laying down rules governing collective bargaining. A m ong the more im­
portant of these bodies organized along crop or industrial lines were the
W estern Growers Protective Association, composed mainly of vegetable
and melon producers; the Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of
Central California, with headquarters in Salinas, center of an important
lettuce-growing district; the California Fruit Growers Exchange, a central
organization of citrus cooperative exchanges and packing houses; the
California Dried Fruit Association; and the Canners League of Cali­
fornia, an organization of canning companies.4
Growers in certain areas of the State solved their common labor prob­
lems through labor exchanges or labor bureaus designed to estimate and
plan the labor requirements for a coming harvest, to fix a uniform wage
3Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 47 (p. 17226).
4Report of La Follette Committee, Part I, General Introduction (pp. 19, 20).
654107°—46—6




72

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

rate to be paid by member employers, and then to recruit workers from
whatever sources were available.5
The Valley Fruit Growers of San Joaquin County, established in
1921, was the first of the cooperative employer institutions. It suc­
ceeded in establishing uniform wage scales on a local basis and later
attempted to extend these to the whole Pacific Coast. Subsequently, other
groups adopted similar practices; these were the State Farm Bureau
Federation, State and local chambers of commerce, and various special
growers’ associations. The Agricultural Labor Bureau of the San Joaquin
Valley became the most highly developed labor-recruiting and wage-fixing
agency. It was organized in 1925 under the sponsorship of six county
farm bureaus, six county chambers of commerce, and the raisin, fresh
fruit, and cotton industries of the San Joaquin Valley. Its main support
came from large cotton-ginning companies.6
Similar agencies were established for almost every major crop and
growing area in the State. One writer estimated that they reduced labor
costs by 10 to 30 percent,7 partly through keeping wage rates low, and
partly through the more efficient allocation of existing labor supplies.
Machinery was established for rationalizing and directing labor migra­
tions. Together with improved automobile transportation during the
twenties, the recruiting program enabled labor to be moved with less
delay from one area to another as the different crops matured.
This system also helped to prevent unionization among farm laborers
during the twenties. It increased the bargaining power of the groweremployer and released him from dependence upon any particular group
of laborers, since these could be easily replaced from other sources. On
the other hand, undoubtedly this one-sided method of setting wages served
in time to provoke a corresponding degree of collective action among
the workers. Differences between employees and employers were sharp­
ened as workers came to be employed increasingly by the industry rather
than by the individual growers on whose farms they worked. Under the
system the individual employer tended to lose the sense of personal re­
sponsibility for his employees. Thus the structure of employment relations,
perhaps more than any other single factor, was responsible for the unpre­
cedented wave of industry-wide or general strikes which occurred later.

Mexican and Filipino Immigration
Grower-employers in California, in addition to utilizing labor more
effectively through cooperative agreement, obtained a growing supply of
cheap labor through immigration of large numbers of Mexicans, supple­
mented by Filipinos and migratory whites who were now traveling by
automobile. Mexican-born persons more than trebled in California, in­
creasing from 121,176 in 1920 to 368,013 in 1930. In addition, during the
sThis practice was first used in a simpler form over many specialized agricultural areas in
the country during the World War. In some western States employers and laborers met with
State farm-labor agents or representatives of the Federal Government to fix uniform wage rates
within limited areas. In the Midwestern Wheat Belt standard wage rates were set by State and
county “ Councils of Defense,” often with the county agricultural agents as the prime movers.
During a period of severe labor shortage, the purpose was to eliminate competitive bidding
among grower-employers, which conduced to a high degree of wasteful labor turn-over.
6Report of La Follette Committee, Part I, op. cit.; Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 54
(p. 19861).
7Carey McWilliams: Factories in the Fields (p. 192).




CH. VII.---CALIFORNIA IN THE TWENTIES

73

years 1923-29, some 30,000 Filipinos were admitted into the State,8 of
whom some 16,000 still remained in agricultural employments by the end
of the decade. The volume of this influx created a labor surplus9 and
severe competition among workers who were predominantly new immi­
grants accustomed to low standards of living. For the time being it
caused a low level of wages to continue and precluded the development
o f agricultural-labor unionism.
Farmer-employer organizations throughout most of the decade vigor­
ously opposed any attempts to restrict the immigration of M exicans.10
Growers preferred Mexicans to whites for field work for substantially the
same reason that in earlier decades they had favored Orientals. The
industriousness, docility, and tractability of Mexicans were considered
among their chief virtues. Dr. G. P. Clements, manager of the agricul­
tural department of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, expressed
the view that—
N o labor that has ever come to the United States is more satisfactory under
righteous treatment. H e is the result o f years o f servitude, has always looked upon
his employer as his padron, and upon himself as part o f the establishment. (Cali­
fornia Citrograph, Vol. X V , November 1929, pp. 28-29.)

W hite workers, by comparison, were often considered undependable;
they were unable or unwilling to perform the necessary farm work at the
prevailing wages and working conditions. A W hittier lemon grower
related his experience with white and Mexican citrus workers thus:
Crabbing, grumbling, ill-natured complaining o f conditions, loud-mouthed Bolshe­
vistic propaganda, and other unpleasant behavior seriously interfered with the
[white] crew’s activities. Several men quit before night, and the next morning
only 2 or 3 out of IS reported for duty. * * * Mexicans as a rule work quietly and
uncomplainingly and are well satisfied with wages and conditions. When a trouble­
maker appears, he is discharged at once. (California Cultivator, September 5, 1931,
p. 208.)

Mexican agricultural workers in California and other States remained
one of the most economically depressed immigrant groups during the
twenties. In Los Angeles and other large cities, a disproportionately
large percentage of persons supported by private and public welfare
agencies were members of this race.1 They faced the usual handicaps
1
initially suffered by aliens— inability to speak English and ignorance
regarding the customs and techniques for “ getting by” in the complex
American economy. The Mexicans’ cultural background was an additional
impediment to successful occupational climbing. Largely of Indian blood,
with a history of bondage, illiteracy, poverty, and suppression going back
for several centuries, they tended to be an easy prey to exploitation, not
only from grower-employers but also from the more unscrupulous labor
8Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 54 (p. 19857); see also Part 47 (p. 17426).
9Domestic labor, according to Fuller, was much less scarce during most of the twenties than
it had been during the decade 1880-90 or 1900-10. Even on the employers* own terms, the labor
supply for most of the years 1920-30 was in excess of demand. (Idem, p 19873.)
i°Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 54 (p. 19854). Among such groups were the Cali­
fornia State Grange, the State Farm Bureau Federation, the Farmers* Union, and numerous
producers* associations acting through the Agricultural Legislative Committee, the California
Development Association, and the State and local chambers of commerce.^
11 Emory S. Bogardus: The Mexican Immigrant and the Quota, in Sociology and Social Re­
search, Vol. XH , August 1928 (pp. 372-374).




74

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

agents or contractors of their own race.12 During the 1920’s these agents
had become a more parasitic institution among Mexicans in California
than they had been among Chinese and Japanese in earlier years. M exi­
cans were more dependent upon employers in their labor relationships.
They were usually less skilled and less able than Orientals to transfer to
better-paid urban employments or to rise to the status of independent
farm operators.
Filipinos were recruited for agricultural labor in California when it
appeared that Mexican immigration would be restricted during the
twenties. They were regarded as the sole remaining substitute in the field
of cheap labor, and because of the particular political relationship of the
Philippine Islands to the United States, they could not be excluded as a
definitely alien element.13
Filipino field laborers, like other racial groups, were recruited and em­
ployed largely by contractors. In some areas it appeared that they were
introduced in order to add one more racial element to an already hetero­
geneous occupational group and thus further discourage possible unioniza­
tion. A report of the California Department of Industrial Relations e x ­
plained this practice as follow s:
A t times the growers prefer to have the contractor employ a mixture o f laborers
o f various races, speaking diverse languages and not accustomed to mingling with
each other. This practice is intended to avoid labor trouble which might result
from having a homogeneous group o f laborers of the same race or nationality.
Laborers speaking different languages and accustomed to diverse standards o f
living and habits are not as likely to arrive at a mutual understanding which would
lead to strikes or other labor troubles during harvesting seasons, when work inter­
ruptions would result in serious financial losses to the growers.1
4

Growers at first considered Filipinos to be highly desirable laborers,
as they were even more docile, low-paid, and hard-working than the
more Americanized Mexicans. The Department of Industrial Relations
in its report of 1930 described one instance thus:
The Filipino workers are preferred by this company because they are considered
more careful workers and because they are not averse to having as many men
employed per acre as the company deems necessary, even though the employment
o f the additional workers reduces the average daily earnings per man employed. The
Filipinos are also considered very desirable workers because they are willing to
work under all sorts o f weather conditions, even when it is raining and the fields
are wet.1
5

H owever, the frequent exploitation of Filipinos was an important cause
for their later militancy in agricultural-labor unions and strikes; it was
also partially responsible for their abandoning farm jobs in large numbers.
A s a result of substandard working conditions in agriculture and the dis­
parity between urban and rural wage rates, Filipinos more rapidly than
12Mexicans In California, Report of Governor Young’ s Fact Finding Commission, 1931 (p. 131,
etc.).
Crop owners entered into an agreement with the contractor for harvesting the crop. The con­
tractor in turn hired the harvest laborers and paid their wages from money advanced by the
owner, after deducting varying percentages for his own use. In some cases, it has been shown,
workers were hired for possibly $3 per day, from which the contractor has been known to
deduct for himself as high as $1 per day. In addition, it has been the custom for the owner to
withhold 25 percent of the total wages due until the harvesting was completed, when this final
lump sum was handed over to the contractor for distribution to the workers to whom it was due.
In many instances, dishonest labor contractors faded from the scene with the entire amount, leav­
ing the workers destitute and without funds to carry them on to the next available job.
# 13Transactions of the Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco, Vol. X X IV , No. 7:
Filipino Immigration.
*4State of California, Department of Industrial Relations, Special Bulletin No. 3: Facts
About Filipino Immigration into California, San Francisco, 1930 (p. 12).
15Idem (p. 71).




CH. VII.---CALIFORNIA IN THE TWENTIES

75

other races tended to drift into cities and displace whites in urban occu­
pations.16 They were relatively well-educated upon arrival and were am­
bitious to improve their position where possible. Few of those who found
employment in city trades returned to agriculture.17 Those who remained
in the fields tended to specialize almost exclusively in certain crops, such
as asparagus, brussels sprouts, celery, and rice.

Revival o f Unionism Among Field Workers
Labor unionism among Mexicans and Filipinos in agriculture was
prevented for many years by the obvious weaknesses in their bargaining
position. Like the Chinese and Japanese in the prewar decades, they con­
stituted low-paid labor castes whose occupations and conditions of em­
ployment were substandard in the eyes of urban workers. Urban tradeunions felt that they were too migratory or casual to organize, and the
A .F . of L. agitated instead for greater restrictions on immigration. Some
observers argued that Mexicans in particular were not educated to the
level that unionism required,18 though the rise of powerful labor move­
ments in M exico would have seemed to belie this. Filipinos as a small
minority in competition with whites were subjected during the late
twenties to mob violence reminiscent of the anti-Oriental riots during the
1880’s and 1890’s.
The immediate cause for several riots, as in Exeter in 1929, was
attributed to the Filipinos’ interest in white women. It was apparent,
however, that the underlying factor was economic competition with whites.
A s explained by the California Department of Industrial Relations—
The question o f the displacement o f white labor by the Filipino was a vital
factor in the antagonism that was aroused between the races. The fact that Fili­
pinos found it necessary to hire white female entertainers only added to the tension
o f the situation, and afforded the spark which fanned the racial hostility into open
warfare. (Special Bulletin No. 3, p. 76.)

The discrimination which Mexicans and Filipinos periodically en­
countered as distinct alien minorities in the communities in which they
worked ultimately had the effect of stimulating them to organize in self­
protection. Members of each race tended to withdraw within their own
group, in associations whose ties were stronger than those o f occupational
interest alone. Like other immigrants, they settled in separate colonies
in which their own language, customs, and institutions were maintained.
New institutions served to facilitate the adjustment of Mexicans and
Filipinos to their new social environment. Their brotherhoods, mutualaid societies, and protective associations served a double purpose. They
provided a fuller social life and at the same time sought to protect the
immigrant’s legal and economic rights in his occupation. These institu­
tions were a preliminary groundwork for the development of a “ job­
conscious” labor-union movement among these two racial minorities.
Mexicans, although numerically far superior, did not encounter the
degree of hostility faced by Filipinos. Th e former were more native to
16This was especially true in hotel and restaurant occupations. According to Organized Labor
(official organ of California Building Trades Council), May 12, 1928, the Filipinos in San Fran­
cisco were “ forcing their way into the building industry, many of them working as engineers,
painters, electricians, carpenters, helpers, and laborers.” (California Department of Industrial
Relations, Special Bulletin No. 3, p. 73.)
17Transactions of Commonwealth Club, Vol. X X IV , No. 7 (p. 313).
18E. Bogardus, in Journal of Applied Sociology, May 1927 (pp. 470-488).




76

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

California and were accepted as such. They did not enter nonagricultural trades in competition with whites in the same proportion as did
Filipinos. M ost important, they had a definite status either as American
citizens or as Mexican nationals represented by their consuls. Consular
officials were perhaps their main source of protection in California. On
numerous occasions in later years these officers meditated labor disputes,
served as official representatives in collective-bargaining agreements, and
even organized labor unions among their compatriots.
The disadvantage of their economic position had prompted Mexican
field laborers on a few occasions to organize. A s early as 1903, as pre­
viously noted, Mexican and Japanese workers in the Oxnard area of V en ­
tura County had struck spontaneously to win increased wages and
eliminate contractors from the beet fields.19 The I.W .W . subsequently
had organized and led a few strikes in which Mexicans and other races
participated. Some of the doctrines of this organization were later carried
over into separate Mexican unions.
There is some fragmentary evidence that attempts were made as early
as 1922 to organize Mexican farm workers in California as a distinct
group. A 3-day celebration in observance of Mexican independence was
held in Fresno in September of that year, at which time it was reported
that Mexicans were endeavoring to form a grape pickers’ union in the San
Joaquin Valley.20 A small union was also organized by Mexicans in
Brawley (Imperial County), during a few months of the cantaloup season
in 1922. Sporadic unorganized strikes meanwhile had been breaking out
among Mexican field workers for years, and continued throughout the
twenties and thirties.21
The first stable organization including Mexican farm laborers was
begun in 1927. In November of that year, a committee of the Federation
of Mexican Societies met in Los Angeles. A resolution was adopted
asking the numerous mutual-aid and benefit associations to lend their
financial and moral support to the organizing of Mexican workers into
labor unions.22 Following this meeting, local unions were organized in
Los Angeles and other southern California centers. These in turn com ­
bined to form the Confederation of Mexican Labor Unions, or C .U .O .M .
(Confederation de Uniones Obreras M exicanas). A constitution for the
new organization, adopted in March 1928, was modeled after that of the
Regional Confederation of Labor in M exico (the C .R .O .M .). Its prin­
ciples reflected in part the influence of American leftist organizations,
such as the I.W .W . and the Communist Party.23 The “ declaration of
principles” called for restriction of Mexican immigration and abolition of
employment agencies and commissaries. In addition, it endorsed the
“ class struggle” and favored the “ integration into a single union of all
labor in the world to combat international finance.” 24
19See Chapter V (pp. 53-54).
20San Francisco Examiner, September 16, 1922.
21Paul S. Taylor: Mexican Labor in the United States (Berkeley, University of California
Press, 1928), Vol. 1 (p. 53).
22Mexicans in California, Report of Governor Young’ s Fact Finding Commission, 1931 (p. 123).
23E. S. Bogardus: The Mexican in the United States (University of Southern California Press,
Los Angeles, 1934, p. 41).
24Constitucion de la Confederacion de Uniones Mexicanas, Los Angeles, March 23, 1928.
Radical labor organizers appear to have been working within the Mexican mutual-aid societies
during the late 1920’ s. Most of their organizing activity was sporadic and individualistic until
the policy of revolutionary dual unionism was put into practice by the Communist Party in the
early 1930’ s, when the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union of the Trade Union
Unity League was formed.




CH. VII.---CALIFORNIA IN THE TWENTIES

77

Membership in the newly formed organization fluctuated widely be­
cause of the migratory and casual nature of the Mexican farm workers’
employment. Total membership in May 1928 was estimated at 2,(XX) to
3,000 in some 20 locals in southern California communities: Los Angeles,
El Modena, Garden Grove, Palo Verde, Orange, A twood, Stanton,
Santa Ana, Talbert, San Fernando Anaheim, Gloryetta, Santa Monica,
Placentia, Buena Park, M oor Park, La Jolla, Corona, Fullerton, San
Bernardino, and Colton.25 By March 1929 the number had dwindled to
only 200 to 300 members.26
One of the first Mexican locals formed as a unit of the Confederation
was La Union de Trabajadores del Valle Imperial, organized in April
1928 largely through the efforts of Carlos Ariza, Mexican consul at
Calexico. Later it changed its name and incorporated as the Mexican
Mutual A id Society. Shortly afterward some 70 members of the union
participated in a strike which aroused considerable interest among ob­
servers, as well as violence from local authorities.
Early in 1928, the union, in attempting to improve the conditions
of its members, petitioned the El Centro Chamber of Commerce to
act as intermediary between workers and growers in revising wage
rates. This the chamber refused to do. The union at the same time sent to
each grower in the Imperial Valley a set of courteously worded written
demands for wage increases and abolition of contractors. Growers were
then preparing to sign up with labor contractors for the cantaloup­
harvesting season, and they refused these demands, feeling that some
were exorbitant and that the union did not represent the majority of
Mexican laborers in the valley. The union leaders had hoped to settle the
issues through peaceful arbitration, but some members went on strike.
Immediate and strenuous opposition to the union and its activities
was evinced by growers and local authorities, and the strike was soon
broken through wholesale arrest of participants. Nevertheless, some gains
were won for Mexican laborers in the valley. Although the growers
refused to deal with the union, most of them agreed to pay certain stand­
ard rates demanded. A lso while the major issues— abolition of labor con­
tractors, improved housing, and proper insurance under the workmen’s
compensation act— remained unsettled, some improvements developed as
an aftermath of the strike. A revised contract, prepared with the assistance
of State officials, eliminated the more objectionable features of the laborcontractor system. The practice of withholding 25 percent o f the wages
until the completion of the harvest season was abolished; weekly pay
days were established; and the grower, instead of the contractor, was re­
quired in future to assume full responsibility for complete payment of
wages.27
In addition to the Imperial Valley incident, tw o spontaneous or un­
organized strikes among Mexican and other workers in California were
reported officially in 1928. One, in October, involved an undetermined
number of pea pickers in Monterey County, and the other, in November,
about 80 cotton pickers in M erced County. In neither of these were the
results recorded. 8
25Adelante, El Unico Periodico, Viernese, May 4, 1928.
26See Porter Chaffee: Organization Efforts of Mexican Agricultural Workers, unpublished
manuscript of W PA , Federal Writers Project, Oakland, Calif., 1938 (p. 15).
27For a fuller discussion of this incident see Paul S. Taylor: Mexican Labor in the United
States, Vol. I (pp. 52*56). See also Mexicans in California, Report of Governor Young’ s Fact
Finding Commission.
28Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927*38. (List compiled by Josiah C. FoTsom, associate
economist of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, U. S. Department of Agriculture, Wash­
ington, D. C.)




78

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The Mexican union remained quiescent in the Imperial Valley until
1930, when its members were involved in a spontaneous strike of much
larger proportions. F or several years thereafter the unionization of
Mexican field workers in California was under the domination of the
Communist Party's Trade Union Unity League.

Revival of Unionism Among Shed Workers
Unionism began to revive among fruit and vegetable packing-shed
workers at about the same time that Mexican field laborers were being
organized. Collective action for several years had been informal, con­
sisting of mutual understandings among the workers who migrated
regularly to packing sheds throughout California and Arizona. If a
grower or packer “ chiseled” on the accepted wage scale, employees col­
lectively avoided the job from the beginning or carried out job action
and “ quickie” strikes at the height of the season.29 Field workers of
various racial groups had also used such practices to some degree, as had
the Japanese before the war.30
Informal methods of collective bargaining began to be utilized by late
1927 and 1928, in response to a changing structure in various agricul­
tural industries. The fruit-and-vegetable-packing industry, for example,
had become concentrated in larger units and more centralized in adminis­
tration as a result of adopting new and improved mechanized processes.
Then in the fall of 1927 growers and packers of lettuce in the San Joaquin
Valley formed an employer marketing organization known as the
Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Central California, with head­
quarters in Salinas.
The association in April 1928 attempted to apply an average wage
cut, reported to be about 30 percent, throughout the lettuce-packing in­
dustry. Packing-shed workers responded almost immediately with an
industry-wide walk-out. Recognized leaders among the workers, some of
whom had been through literally dozens of “ job-action” strikes during
the past decade or more, called a mass meeting at the Labor Tem ple in
Salinas to organize the strikers.31
The need for an established labor union with support from other
groups was recognized in view of the strongly organized position of the
employers. A fter considerable internal opposition from a minority, the
strikers applied for and received a charter from the A .F . o f L. as the
Fruit and Vegetable W orkers' Union Local 18016, Monterey County.
The union was almost ruined by the strike, although the wage scales in
the lettuce-packing industry were maintained. W hen the packing season
closed, late in the fall, less than 200 paid-up members remained out of an
original 800 or more.32
Members of F .V .W .U . No. 18016 participated in another strike the
following year, after most of them had migrated to the Imperial Valley
29Thus the San Francisco Examiner for July 25, 1926, reported that a 2-day strike of pear
packers ended with an agreement between workers and plant officials. Officials of the Santa
Clara Pear Growers Association agreed to pay 6J cents per box, a raise of one-half cent per box.
A
30Rajani Kanta Das: Hindustani Workers on the Pacific Coast, Leipzig, 1923 (pp. 29-32).
81A. Alston: A Brief History of the Fruit and Vegetable Industry of the Pacific Coast (un­
published), (pp. 4 and 5).
32Alston, op. cit. (p. 5).
The charter of a Watsonville local union for Santa Cruz County having the same name but a
different number was not obtained until late summer. This union died within a year.




CH. VII.---CALIFORNIA IN THE TWENTIES

79

of southern California to pack winter fruits and vegetables. Unrest was
prevalent in the valley during the winter season of 1929-30. Overproduc­
tion of winter vegetables had resulted from the large acreages under cul­
tivation and a heavy average yield per acre. In order to avoid “ spoiling
the market,” organized shipper-growers used practices which had the
effect of reducing the earnings of packing-house workers. Extra inspec­
tors were hired to enforce more careful packing and, incidentally, to slow
down production so as to allow only a certain amount to reach the market
on a sort of “ prorating” basis. W orkers complained that they Were forced
to put up a “ world’s-fair pack” and in some instances had to repack and
reload cars which already had been filled. Packers and loaders, paid by
the piece rate, claimed that under this new policy they had to do almost
twice the regular amount of work for the same pay.33
The union called a mass meeting and formulated a flexible schedule of
wage demands— 5 cents per box or $1 per hour for packing and wrap­
ping, and other work to be paid in proportion. Committees were formed
to represent shed workers in different packing centers of the valley—
Brawley, El Centro, Holtville, Heber, and Calexico. A central com ­
mittee, composed of one representative from each town, was elected to
negotiate for the whole area.
A strike was called, which lasted for 10 days. Trimmers, who were
paid by the hour, walked out in sympathy with packers and loaders. The
strike was only partially successful, and the central committee of the union
succeeded in winning agreements from only 17 out of 40 shippers in the
valley. The packing-shed workers had not been organized or instructed
adequately beforehand, and a rumor that the committee was calling the
men back to work in order to submit the issues to arbitration broke the
united front of the strikers. The final outcome was maintenance of the
old wage scales and a compromise gain for the union through dismissal
of extra inspectors.33
F .V .W .U . No. 18016 declined soon after. A small group retained the
charter for some time after the main body of members had withdrawn,
but finally, in the fall of 1931, it was returned to A .F . of L . headquarters
with only 12 paid-up members in the union and $75 in the treasury.33
Unionism did not develop again on a significant scale for several years.
33Alston, op. cit. (p. 5).




Chapter VIII.— Cannery and Agricultural Workers;
Industrial Union
Revolutionary Unionism in California Agriculture
During the thirties, California witnessed the largest strikes in the his­
tory of American agriculture. Labor-employer friction was generated in
many farming regions throughout the United States as one aspect of the
severe depression during this period. In California such friction in­
creased in a framework of extraordinarily large-scale farming with its
extreme dependence upon casual and migratory seasonal laborers. Under
left-wing leadership, wage disputes in agriculture were broadened to the
proportions of widespread and intense class conflict.
Labor trouble in the form of strikes and race riots began on a serious
scale during the beginning of the depression in 1929 and 1930. The first
shock of price declines on the produce market, combined with unemploy­
ment, increased job competition, and wage cuts in the labor market, pro­
voked spontaneous protest movements among agricultural workers. Such
militancy, however, soon declined under the pressure of a deepening de­
pression. Unemployment increased steadily from 1929 to m id-1933, and
facilities for organized relief were inadequate to meet the need. Some of
the most intensive labor-using crops in California were grown in p rox­
imity to large urban centers; agriculture consequently tended to become
a catch-all for the displaced from other industries and trades. A growing
labor surplus led to cutthroat competition for jobs and to continuous wage
cutting. In some of the most important growing areas, wage levels of
35 to 50 cents per hour in 1929 and 1930 declined to 15 to 16 cents by
the spring of 1933. The collective-bargaining power of agricultural work­
ers was weakened and their efforts to organize in self-protection had little
success.
California and other States experienced a resurgence o f economic
activity during mid-1933, under the stimulus of the N R A . Simultane­
ously farm-labor unionism revived. Public relief was established on a
more adequate basis than before, and many unemployed were drawn back
to urban trades, while the general level of prices and nonfarm wages rose.
Although the labor provisions of the National Industrial Recovery A ct
did not apply to farm workers, the latter did not regard themselves as an
isolated segment of the working class. The unionizing crusade and strike
psychology prevalent in urban centers soon permeated rural areas in which
seasonal workers were employed in large numbers. Improvements in
wages and hours lagged in agriculture, in California particularly, owing
to a continually heavy migration of dispossessed from other States. The
unfavorable contrast with rising standards in urban industries intensified
the unrest among farm workers. Agricultural-labor unions grew rapidly
in number and size of membership, and by late summer and fall a wave
of general strikes was rising, in a series of crops, in many counties.
Spearheading the revival and expansion of the labor movement in
California agriculture was the Trade Union Unity League controlled by
the Communist Party of the United States. The T .U .U .L ., as pointed
80




CH. VIII.*

AND A. W. I. U.

81

out previously,1 had been established as a separate federation in opposi­
tion to the American Federation of Labor, and its organizing efforts were
directed toward the unskilled laborers largely ignored by the A .F . of L.
These it hoped to organize into militant unions which would function as
part of a world revolutionary movement.
The T .U .U .L . carried out its most ambitious organizing campaign in
agriculture among seasonally employed casual and migratory workers of
California. Farm enterprises in this State were among the most “ capi­
talistic,” class divisions were most pronounced, and class war was con­
sidered most likely. California’s farm laborers, furthermore, suffered
numerous special disabilities because most of them were members of nonwhite racial minorities. A n article in the Daily W orker as early as 1929
had stressed the importance of .mobilizing “ this most exploited section of
the working class.”
A n aggressive campaign of organizing casual farm workers in openly
revolutionary unions and conducting strikes of unprecedented proportions
led to intense and violent conflict. Grower-employers, many of whom
already belonged to marketing associations and labor exchanges, for pro­
tection of their common economic interests, now organized special anti­
union employer associations. New union tactics for striking and picketing
were matched by new methods for breaking strikes and suppressing agita­
tion. Other groups, ordinarily having no direct or immediate interest in
wage disputes on the land, were frequently drawn into organized laboremployer conflicts. Strikes jeopardized the incomes of people throughout
an entire community or crop area and often faced violent opposition from
such groups as well as from employers. On the other hand, the methods
which extra-legal vigilantes and the forces of law and order used to break
strikes were interpreted in many neutral quarters as a serious danger to
the civil liberties of the public.
Farm-labor strikes throughout the thirties, long after the T .U .U .L .
had declined, continued to be larger and more numerous than in previous
decades.

A

pattern o f org a n iz e d g ro u p co n flict and v io le n ce rem ained

imbedded in California’s agricultural labor relations.

Origins o f the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union
The T .U .U .L . received its initial test in agriculture during January
1930, in a second outbreak among Mexican laborers in the Imperial V al­
ley. Starting on a local scale, a spontaneous strike developed to propor­
tions far surpassing the small walk-out of 1928.2 A t its peak it was re­
ported to have involved as many as 5,000 field workers of Mexican and
other racial origins. The Communist Daily W orker of January 6, 1930,
pictured it as—
* * * the beginning o f mass rebellion by all the scores o f thousands o f bitterly
exploited Mexican, Filipino, Hindu, Japanese, and Chinese agricultural laborers who
slave for the big open-shop fruit growers and packers under conditions bordering
closely on peonage.

A t the outset the Mexicans were for the most part members of the
conciliatory Mexican Mutual A id Association, which had been involved in
the 1928 incident, but this organization soon lost control when the Trade
1See Chapter III (p. 19).
2See Chapter V II (p. 77).




82

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Union Unity League entered the field. The T .U .U .L . dispatched organ­
izers to the valley to assume leadership and direction of the strike, to
create a new organization, and recruit new members. The demands of the
strikers were formulated and given wide publicity: A 25-percent increase
in wages above the prevailing average of $1.25 to $1.50 per day, aban­
donment of piece rates, abolition of the contractor system, recognition of
workers’ “ job committees,” and rehiring of strike participants and union
members without discrimination.3 Other affiliates of the Communist
Party, like the W orkers International Relief and the International Labor
Defense, mobilized material and legal aid to support the T .U .U .L . or­
ganizers and their strike followers.
The bold bid of the Trade Union Unity League for leadership was at
first rejected by Mexican workers, who were the decisive element in the
strike. The Mutual A id Association resented the Communist activity in
the strike. A t one strike meeting in Brawley, association spokesmen
denied the floor to representatives of the “ red” T .U .U .L . and condemned
the literature it was circulating.4 Though the T .U .U .L . finally gained
major control, it was not immediately successful, and the strike collapsed.
There were additional reasons for the failure of the strike. The grow ­
ers and local authorities used substantial violence to suppress the m ove­
ment.5 Strikers were inadequately prepared and poorly organized, lack­
ing cohesion in their ranks. The strike was the first in a series of un­
formulated protests by a group of substandard and economically insecure
workers. It was too large in scope to be handled by the Mexican Mutual
A id Association of the Imperial Valley, a conservative nationalistic labor
organization with neither the will nor the experience necessary to carry
on large-scale and sustained collective action. The T .U .U .L .’s efforts, on
the other hand, merely brought confusion and collapse. Out o f the
struggle, however, the latter organization did develop a new and distinct
affiliate for farm workers, the Agricultural W orkers Industrial League.6
A second spontaneous strike broke out in the Imperial Valley during
February 1930. This movement, involving several hundred shed workers,
most of them native white lettuce packers and trimmers, began as a local
walk-out in the southern end of the valley and spread rapidly to several
major packing centers— Brawley, Holtville, Calexico, and El Centro. The
main issues centered in the wage scale; the strikers demanded 5 cents per
crate or $1 per hour as against the 3 cents per crate or 70 cents per hour
voted by the organized shippers in a special wage conference.7
3Daily Worker, January 6 and 7, 1930.
4Brawley News, February 15, 1930.
5The Daily Worker in its issue of January 18. 1930, charged that the local Mexican consul
i cooperated with immigration authorities in arrestirfg and deporting strikers who were Mexican
citizens.
6Daily Worker, January 23, 1930.
7Brawley News, February 12, 1930 (p. 1).




CH. VIII.—C. AND A. W. I. U.

83

Several enterprises acceded to the strikers’ demands after more than
2 weeks had passed, and on February 28 a compromise settlement in­
volving concessions from both sides was reached. The demand of strikers
in the northern half of the valley, for an increase from 70 cents to $1 per
hour, was settled at the compromise rate of 80 cents. In the southern
section, where piecework rates were paid, employers granted a com pro­
mise increase from 3 to 4 cents per crate.8
Again the efforts of T .U .U .L . organizers to edge their way into a
strike and to assume control were unsuccessful.9 The A .W .I.L . head­
quarters in the Imperial Valley meanwhile hummed with activity in prep­
aration for the coming spring cantaloup harvest. Numerous meetings
were held to organize and formulate demands for increased wages and
improved working conditions. The union was successful in winning mem­
bers away from the Mexican Mutual A id Association, and recruited
workers from many other racial stocks. Its preparations, however, were
thwarted by the local authorities. The Brawley News reported that in
April a series of raids, carried out “ in anticipation of the coming opening
of the cantaloup season/’ netted 103 arrests, including Americans, Fili­
pinos, Japanese, and Mexicans.10 Eight union leaders subsequently were
convicted of criminal syndicalism. Elaborate precautions were taken
against a strike; according to the News of April 17, 1930, “ it was offi­
cially stated that the county has purchased more tear-gas gun, shells, and
bombs than ever before.”
Other minor walk-outs occurred as immediate aftermaths o f the labor
struggles in the Imperial Valley. Later in the year 300 unorganized let­
tuce workers went on strike in Santa Barbara County.11 N one o f these
developments appeared to have been under direct union influence. W ide­
spread arrests o f the more active leaders and members seemed to have
limited temporarily any effective action on the part of the union. Labor
unionism underwent a general decline in membership and strength during
the worst depression years— 1930-32. The A .W .I.L ., nevertheless, was
developing a potent organization through various Communist channels
connected with the Trade Union Unity League.
The Communist Party focused its attention on organizing the growing
numbers of unemployed in urban and rural centers. This program
facilitated the later unionizing of agricultural workers, since they were a
disproportionate part of the unemployed in many California towns.12
Unemployed councils constituted effective pressure groups agitating for
more adequate relief. Hunger marches and demonstrations were organ­
ized in numerous counties, and plans were made for a concerted protest
march to Sacramento, the State capital.13
The Communist Party strengthened its following among the agricul­
tural workers also, by upholding the rights of racial minorities. Filipinos
in particular were being subjected to mob violence from whites in a series
of race riots in California and other States. The Daily W orker, as
spokesman for the Party, condemned the outbreaks. After a riot in the
Salinas-Watsonville area early in January 1930, the paper announced
8Monthly Labor Review (U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington), April 1930 (p. 24).
9C. B. Moore, secretary of the Western Growers Protective Association, termed it an “ un­
called-for strike.” He stated that there was no organization with which the striking packers
were affiliated unless it were the A .W .I.L. of the Trade Union Unity League. Brawley News,
February 18, 1930.)
10Brawley News, April 15, 1930.
11Josiah C. Folsom: Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927-38.
12Paul S. Taylor and Tom Vasey: Contemporary Background of California Farm Labor
(in Rural Sociology. Vol. I, No. 4, December 1936, pp. 401-419).
I 3Western Worker (San Francisco), January 1, 1932; August 15, 1932; and December 5, 1932,




84

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

that the agricultural workers' section of the Trade Union Unity League
would begin an organizing drive in the Pajaro Valley in order to combat
race conflict. Representatives of the W orkers International Relief and
International Labor Defense were sent to Watsonville to help Filipinos
who had been arrested and beaten during the disturbances. Protest meet­
ings to agitate against race discrimination were organized in San Fran­
cisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland.14 Mexican and Filipino beet workers
and asparagus cutters were reported attending organization meetings
called by the Agricultural W orkers Industrial League in Sacramento
County during the spring of 1930. Joint meetings of local unemployed
councils and branches of the A .W .I.L . were also held in Stockton and
other central California towns.15
Strikes in California agriculture remained at a low ebb during the
depression years— 1930-32. Altogether, 10 occurred, of which only 3 in­
volved as many as a thousand workers. The A .W .I.L . led or actively
participated in the largest strikes. A ll were short-lived and unsuccessful,
partly for the reason that they were unplanned and spontaneous protests
against the continued wage decreases and poorer working conditions16
made necessary by low farm prices. They did nevertheless furnish test­
ing grounds in which the T .U .U .L . was able to develop organizing tech­
niques and strike strategy, put to use later in larger struggles.

,

,

Cannery Worker’s Strike Santa Clara County July 1931
The first agricultural strike in which the Trade Union Unity League
again became active took place in Santa Clara County in July 1931. A
few months earlier a number of Italian and Spanish workers had organ­
ized an independent local body known as the American Labor Union. It
was short-lived and limited in scope, including at its peak not more than
1,100 workers. It took part in numerous small protest strikes throughout
the Santa Clara Valley, but was involved in no major struggles until the
summer of 1931. Then a 20-percent wage slash provoked a spontaneous
strike in one of the plants of the California Packing Corp. on July 30, and
the walk-out spread rapidly to other canneries throughout the county.17
The Trade Union Unity League succeeded in getting control of the
strike shortly after it broke out and won over most of the membership of
the American Labor Union. The Agricultural W orkers Industrial League
meanwhile had changed its name to the Agricultural W orkers Industrial
Union. W hile leading the Santa Clara strike it again changed its title,
14Daily Worker, January 29, 1930.
15Idem, April 5, 1930.
16Strikes in agriculture and allied industries during these years took place as follows (aster­
isks mark the strikes in which the A.W .I.L. was involved):
Crop or
County
occupation
Number
1930: January ......................Imperial .......................................... Field workers .................... *5,000
February .................... Imperial ..........................................Lettuce shed-workers . . . .
*700
November ...................Santa Barbara ...............................Lettuce workers ................
300
1931: September .................. San Luis Obispo ............................Vegetable workers .............
75
July .......... ................. Santa Clara ....................................Cannery workers ............... *1,500
1932: A p r il............................ Santa Cruz ..................................... Lettuce workers ................
47
May ............................ Tehama .......................................... Peach# thinners ..................
50
May-June .................. San Mateo ..................................... Pea pickers ........................ *1,500
October ....................... Santa Barbara ...............................Tomato pickers ..................
150
November .................. Solano .............................................. Fruit trimmers ..................
*400
17San Jose Mercury Herald, July 31, 1931.




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

85

this time to the Cannery and Agricultural W orkers Industrial Union or
C .& A .W J .U . as it was to be known for the next 2 years. Demands were
formulated by the union leadership: 40 cents per hour instead of the pre­
vailing 30 cents; time and a half for overtime, free transportation, union
recognition, and rehiring without discrimination against union members
and strike participants.1 The strikers were faced with intimidation and
suppression from local authorities, provoked in part by the aggressive
tactics of the union. Open mass meetings and parades were broken up
by police. •Large numbers of special deputies were reported sworn in,
riots occurred, and numerous strikers were arrested.19 The strike was lost
and none of the union demands were met by the employers. The rank
and file was disillusioned with the C .& A.W .I.U ., and for the remainder
of its career the union had little or no influence in the canning industry
in California.
The basic pattern of union demands and strike tactics which the
C .& A .W .I.U . developed in the Santa Clara affair was repeated many
times in subsequent strikes. Some modifications of the principle of union
recognition were later m ade: Preferential hiring of union members
through the union as intermediary; nonreemployment of strikebreakers;
election of rank and file workers’ committees to negotiate with employers,
etc.20
The C .& A.W .I.U . led no other important strikes for almost a year
after the failure in Santa Clara County. The Trade Union Unity League
and other Communist affiliates in California were too deeply preoccupied
with organizing urban unemployed to agitate for improved relief provi­
sions.

,

Pea Strike at Half-Moon Bay May 1932
A brief and unsuccessful bid for strike leadership was made by the
C.& A.W .I.U . in May 1932. A reduction in piece rates from 75 cents to
40-50 cents per sack provoked a spontaneous strike among the pea pickers
in the vicinity of H alf-M oon Bay (San Mateo County), which soon in­
volved, according to the claims of union spokesmen, about 1,500 Filipino,
Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Italian workers.21 C .& A.W .I.U . organizers
gained control over the walk-out shortly after it developed. Union spokes­
men demanded restoration of the wage cut and other provisions, such as
improved housing, free medical service, and abolition of the $4 rental
charged to pea pickers for living quarters.21 The walk-out lasted only 24
hours; the C .& A .W .I.U . discontinued it in recognition of its inadequate
organization and preparation and in the face of intimidation from many
well-armed special deputies.22

,

,

Orchard Pruners9 Strike Solano County November 1932
The first strike deliberately organized beforehand by the C.& A.W .I.U .
occurred in Vacaville (Solano County), in November 1932. From then
until its conclusion in January 1933, the strike remained under the control
18Porter M. Chaffee: A History of the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union
(unpublished manuscript), W P A Federal Writers Project, Oakland, Calif., 1938 (pp. 100*104).
i»Idem (pp. 104*110).
20Idero (pp. 112-114).
21Western Worker, June 15, 1932.
22Chaffee, op. cit. (pp. 123-124).




LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

86

of the union. The C .& A .W .I.U . had been organizing fruit workers in the
district for several months previously. A walk-out, starting on the ranch
of U. S. Congressman Frank Buck, rapidly spread to other farms to
embrace some 400 Mexican, Filipino, and white workers.23 The union
formulated demands that were to be repeated many times in subsequent
strikes: Basic minimum wage of $2.50 for an 8-hour day; time and a
half for overtime; free transportation and work implements; union rec­
ognition; cessation of evictions; and rehiring without discrimination on
grounds of race, color, or union affiliation.23
Police and strikers clashed during a meeting shortly after the walk-out
began, and numerous arrests were made. Special deputies were recruited,
and additional armed deputies were sent into the locality from other
areas. Open-air meetings ended in further clashes between strikers and
the forces of law and order. “ Outraged citizens’ ’ formed a local vigilante
organization and were reported to have kidnapped certain organizers,
clipped their hair, and applied red paint to their persons.24 Outside aid
for the strikers was mobilized by the W orkers International Relief, the
International Labor Defense, and other Communist affiliates. In court­
room trials of arrested organizers, the defendants inserted propagandists
speeches into their testimony for purposes of publicity.
Late in January the rank and file voted to discontinue the strike, after
the growers had steadfastly refused to negotiate with the union. The
failure of this attempt was laid to faulty tim ing; the strike had been called
during the pruning season, whereas it would have been more effective at
harvest time, when the growers would have been most vulnerable to crop
losses and most dependent upon their workers.

State-wide Unionism and General Strikes in 1933
The C .& A.W .I.U . organizing campaign in California agriculture as­
sumed new and more ambitious proportions during 1933. Large numbers
of unemployed were returning to work in urban areas, while relief was
being established on a more adequate basis by the Federal Government.
The Communist Party shifted its attention away from organizing unem­
ployed councils designed to carry out public protest meetings and hunger
marches, and undertook a larger and more carefully planned program of
mobilizing farm labor in a militant State-wide union organization.
Unrest became widespread among the agricultural workers as their
earnings lagged behind nonfarm wages and prices during a period of
temporary business recovery. Grower-employers recognized somewhat
belatedly that this situation contributed seriously to the violent turmoil in
agricultural labor relations. The board of directors of the Los Angeles
Chamber of Commerce at a meeting on September T4, 1933, expressed the
view that—
* * * some o f the labor disputes were brought about by the fact that in some
agricultural sections ridiculously low prices were quoted for agricultural labor which
resulted in these prices being brought up under the threat of strikes or actual
strikes, which lent encouragement to similar operations in other sections. (Hearings
o f La Follette Committee, Part 53, p. 19489.)
23Western Worker, November 28, 1932.
24San Francisco Examiner, December 5 and 6, 1932,




CH. VIII.—C. AND A. W. I. U.

87

M ore critical in tone was a letter to the Associated Farmers from J. A .
Dennis, manager of the Edison Land & W ater Co., written on July 3Q,
1934:
A t the beginning o f the agricultural season o f 1933 one or two serious decisions
were made by the labor department o f this organization that gave the nbcessary
“ cause” for which the professional agitators always look. * * * Labor rates were
determined at the 1932 level o f but 15 cents per hour in the early crop-picking work.
It is unnecessary to comment upon this mistake except to stress the fact that we
must o f necessity be on the alert to avoid giving any cause of creating inquiries in
the labor-employer relationship. The 15-cent rate was not in the cards for 1933. Nor
was it in the cards for 1932. Labor made many personal sacrifices in their standards
o f living in accepting this rate in 1932, and it remained an indirect source o f dis­
satisfaction which grew as time passed until in 1933 it became no longer accepted.
(Hearings o f La Follette Committee, Part 53, p. 19489.)

Other officials seemed to feel that “ Red agitation” rather than low
wages was primarily responsible for the labor troubles of 1933. Sheriff
E. Cooper of San D iego County said:
* * * I find that our troubles now * * * are not serious; they [Communist
agitators] are just trying to create a little unrest, trying to work on the poor devil
who is trying to make a living for his family. They go into a place, a field where
men are working for 15 cents an hour, and try to get them to strike for 20 cents.
When those demands are met they increase it to 25 cents, and so on. (Hearings of
La Follette Committee, Part 75, p. 27604.)

The spring of 1933 ushered in a series of general or crop-wide walk­
outs (m ost of them under the Communist C .& A .W .I.U . leadership),
which affected the more important harvests of California. They began in
the spring pea harvest in the Santa Clara Valley and the berry crops of
El Monte, east of L os Angeles. They continued during the summer in
the sugar-beet, apricot, pear, peach, lettuce, and grape harvests, and
reached a climax in the cotton harvest in several counties of the San
Joaquin Valley.25 Strikes in California altogether involved some 47,575
agricultural laborers during 1933, according to one estimate. Twenty-five
strikes, involving about 37,550 or almost four-fifths of the total, were
under the leadership of the C.& A.W .I.U . O f these, 21 strikes, affecting
about 32,800, resulted in partial increases in wages, while 4 strikes, af­
fecting 4,750,* were lost. Unions affiliated with the A .F . of L. led 2 strikes
involving some 2,200; the larger strike of about 2,000 workers won
partial gains, while a small walk-out of 200 was lost. Independent unions
led 2 strikes, of which 1, affecting 600 workers, gained wage increases,
and 1, involving 2,000 workers, failed. O f 3 spontaneous strikes, 2 were
successful and the results of 1 were not recorded.26
Elaborate planning and an intricate organizational structure lay be­
hind this movement. A t conferences of the T.U .U .L . and C.& A.W .I.U .
executive council, detailed reports were drawn up regarding wages and
working conditions in various parts of the State. Union strategy for
strike action and collective bargaining was formulated on the basis of this
information. The C .& A .W .I.U . headquarters for the western district was
maintained in San Jose, and its jurisdiction extended over California and
Arizona. The district was divided into sections and subsections, and
these in turn were divided into locals. The locals were made the basic
units of the C .& .A .W .I.U . organization.
25Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 54 (p. 19948).
26Hearings before House Committee on Labor (74th, Cong., 1st sess.) on H R 6288 (p. 345).
(See Appendix D: Farm-Labor Strikes in California, 1933, p. 427).
654107°—46-7




LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

88

They were composed of “ farm committees” or “ camp committees” of
representatives elected by workers at mass meetings called by union or­
ganizers in the local growing areas. Committees of this kind provided
workers with a leadership drawn from their own ranks, and furnished
organizers with the necessary connecting link between rank and file work­
ers and the central union executive. N o decisions of policy were valid
without the majority approval of the membership.
There were only two paid functionaries of the union— the district or­
ganizer who received $5 a week, and the district secretary who was
elected at the district conventions. Section organizers were elected at
section conventions, and local presidents and secretaries were elected di­
rectly by the membership of each local.
The actual functioning of this organization has been colorfully por­
trayed by one observer:
The T.U.U.L. organizers, who moved in and out o f the Union Hall on their
way to and from the numerous conferences and organizational meetings that were
held throughout the State, received little or no salary. Those sympathetic to the
organization fed them and donations would be given to them for the purpose of
supplying the other necessities o f life. T o reach the various agricultural regions o f
the State, they traveled in dilapidated automobiles or on freight cars. Some o f them
hitchhiked. When no strike situation prevailed, they visited the shacks and hovels
o f the migratory workers who usually camped along creek banks or on the edges
o f fields and orchards where crops were being cultivated or harvested. The organizers
would also inquire about wages and working conditions and search out the grievances
o f the workers, around which ine men o f the T.U.U.L. hoped to develop a struggle.
For the organizers had a belief, a sanguine and yet mechanical faith in up­
surges o f the working class. They doggedly followed this rule: “ Build the organiza­
tion through struggle!” (Porter M. Chaffee: A History of the Cannery and A gri­
cultural Workers Industrial Union (unpublished), p. 119.)

The Spring Campaign
Pea Strike, Alameda and Santa Clara, April 1933
The first general strike (i.e., one involving thousands of*workers over
a wide crop area) organized by the C .& A.W .I.U . was in the pea fields
of Alameda and Santa Clara Counties during April 1933. One of the
major grievances around which union organizers were able to gather
wide support was the exploitation suffered by the pickers under the laborcontractor system. The Western W orker charged that two contractors
in the counties where the strike developed had made a profit of $60,000
on the labor they had recruited during 1932.27 It was rumored that they
had received 32 cents per hamper from growers and returned only 17
cents per hamper to the pickers— a highly improbable situation. (T h e
17 cent rate was 2 cents below the scale established during the previous
season.28)
Preparations for the strike had been made some time beforehand.
Early in April at a meeting of C .& A.W .I.U . representatives, a tentative
wage scale was established: 32 cents per hamper if the crop was in good
condition, and higher if the crop was poor, with the alternative rate of
35 cents per hour if the work was performed on time rates rather than
piece rates.29 Delegates at a second union conference voted unanimously
27Western Worker, April 8, 1933.
28Oakland Tribune, April 15, 16, and 17, 1933.
29Western Worker, April 8, 1933.




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

89

to strike on April 14 in order to enforce the revised wage demands’ for
30 cents per hamper or 1 cent per pound for piece rates, or 35 cents per
hour for time rates. The union demanded further that all workers be
hired through union committees in each town instead of through private
contractors.
The strike was carried out in highly coordinated fashion. Every
migrant workers’ camp elected a strike committee of 15 members, and
each of these local units sent a representative to the general strike com ­
mittee for aid and advice. Locals were instructed not to settle with
owners, contractors, police, or other officials unless a representative of
the general strike committee was present. Altogether some 2,000 pickers
(M exican, Filipino, Puerto Rican, and white) were reported to have
been called out.
Considerable violence and intimidation attended the strike before it
was finally defeated by the local growers and authorities. Arrests and
deportations were carried out by police, who were reported to have
visited camps and either “ run out of the county” or arrested for vagrancy
those unwilling to accept offers of employment.30 Local charity agencies
were reported as making a special survey among their clients, with the
intention of cutting off from county aid all “ able-bodied men who refused
to work in the fields.” 31 Rumors of “ armed bands of R eds” among the
strikers stirred up extra-legal opposition from other elements in the
community. Guns, blackjacks, clubs, and tear gas were said to have been
used in one riot in the community of Decoto on April 15.32 The
C .& A.W .I.U . finally called off the strike on April 30 with few if any
gains.
A similar walk-out in the pea and beet crops of Santa Barbara County
was concurrent with the pea pickers’ strike. Though the former was not
led directly by the C .& A .W .I.U ., the influence of the union was un­
doubtedly felt. F or more than 2 weeks, during early April, approxi­
mately 1,000 field workers struck for a wage of 30 cents per hour in
place of the prevailing 15-cent rate. The fact that certain labor contrac­
tors had failed to pay wages due their workers was reported to be a
prime factor contributing to this spontaneous outbreak.33

,

Cherry Pickers9 Strike Santa Clara9 June 1933
The C .& A .W .I.U .’s leadership of a cherry pickers’ strike in the
vicinity of Mountain View (Santa Clara County), during June, was
more successful than its previous efforts. Early in the month it had
organized local unions in small towns adjacent to the cherry orchards.
Dissatisfaction among pickers centered on the wage issue. Union spokes­
men charged that wage rates had been reduced generally to 20 cents per
hour from the previous year’s level of 30 cents, despite the fact that the
price of cherries had risen to $80 per ton from the previous year’s $60.
Union demands were formulated in the usual w ay: A basic minimum
wage of 30 cents per hour, an 8-hour day, and union recognition.34 T o
soOakland Tribune, April 14, 1933.
31Idem, April IS and 16, 1933.
32Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 75 (p. 27602).
33Daily News (Santa Barbara), April 13, 1933.
34Western Worker, June 26, 1933.




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

enforce this schedule, approximately 500 pickers on June 14 walked out
of 12 of the largest ranches in the Santa Clara Valley. The strike soon
spread to 8 more orchards, and at its peak was reported to have included
800 to 900 workers.
Local newspapers reported some violence and intimidation of the
familiar pattern. Local authorities raided the C .& A .W .I.U . headquar­
ters in San Jose. One fight resulted in a few injuries and arrests when
special deputies armed with ‘‘pick handles and tear gas” clashed with
“ Reds * * * well armed with clubs, rocks, bolts, and nuts.” The county
sheriff was quoted as threatening to call for the State militia, if necessary,
to quell the strike.35
The strikers nevertheless won compromise gains, and the general
strike committee of the C .& .A.W .I.U ., on June 24, decided to call off
hostilities. Twelve of the larger orchards were reported to have agreed
to meet the most important demand— wages of 30 cents per hour. Only
a few continued to pay the 20-cent rate.36
In the union’s favor was the fact that very little migratory labor was
involved. Cherry picking was performed for the most part by resident
workers of Spanish extraction, a number of whom were respectable
home owners enjoying a higher standard of living than that customarily
possessed by California’s farm laborers. Community opposition was
less united and violent, and the strikers’ ability to hold out was corres­
pondingly greater.

Berry Strike at El Monte, June 1933
The next venture of the C.& A.W .I.U . resulted in dismal failure. It
was reminiscent of the T .U .U .L .’s earlier policy in 1930 and 1931 of
capturing strike leadership from independent or unaffiliated labor organi­
zations. The strike of several thousand workers in berries and other
crops in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County in the summer
of 1933 was one of the largest general or crop-wide strikes in which the
C .& A.W .I.U . participated. It gave rise to correspondingly extensive
and elaborate antistrike preparations on the part of growers throughout
California. The conflict had international repercussions, as well, before
it was settled.
Approximately 80 percent of the 600 to 700 acres of “ bush” berries
in Los Angeles County was in the hands of Japanese, organized in their
own growers’ associations. Picking was paid on a piecework basis and,
at the rates prevailing during the 1933 season, the berry workers, pre­
dominantly Mexican, could average 15 to 20 cents per hour. Leaders of
a locally organized Mexican Farm Labor Union affiliated to the Confederacion de Uniones Obreras Mexicanos called a strike early in June
to enforce a wage rate of 25 cents per hour in the berry harvest. Local
representatives of the C.& A.W .I.U . cooperated with the Mexican organi­
zation. Only 500 workers responded, and they soon showed signs of
weakening as growers were able to recruit adequate help from a current
surplus labor supply.
35Mercury Herald (San Jose), June 17, 18, and 19, 1933.
36Chaffee, op. cit. (pp. 8 and 9).




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

91

Communist strike participants, however, were able to gain outside
support through their affiliations with other groups. They won temporary
control over the conduct of the strike and were able to extend it rapidly.
Mass picketing and demonstra tions were resorted to. The strike spread
to include Mexicans and a minority of Filipinos, numbering altogether
some 7,000 workers in the onion and celery as well as in the berry crops
of Los Angeles County.37
The Mexican Farm Labor Union grew rapidly in the course of the
walk-out, and local branches were formed in each agricultural labor cen­
ter in the county. Members held a convention in Los Angeles on July
15 in order to federate the new local unions, and formed a permanent
organization, the Confederacion de Uniones de Campesinos y Obreras
Mexicanos del Estado de California, or C.tJ.C.O.M . The new union
extended its membership rapidly during 1933; by early 1934 a member
of the executive council estimated that it numbered some 50 local affili­
ates and 5,000 to 10,000 members.38
The rapidly growing scope of the movement in Los Angeles County
soon resulted in outside intervention to attempt a settlement, and in the
process left-wing organizers won indirect support for the strike from the
Mexican Government.39 Later the Mexican consul took an active part
as mediator and spokesman for the strikers. The Japanese consul did
not take part in the struggle directly, but cautioned the growers (largely
Japanese, as noted) to stay strictly within the bounds of the law. Finally
Edward Fitzgerald, Conciliator of the U. S. Department of Labor, en­
tered the discussions.
The El Monte strike was less violent than other large struggles in
which the C .& A .W .I.U . participated. A few overt conflicts resulted in
arrests, but in view of the duration of the strike and the numbers involved,
these occurrences were remarkably few. In fact, according to Lawrence
Ross, strategist of the C .& A .W .I.U ., the police made a special effort to
avoid violence.40
Dr. G. P. Clements, manager of the agricultural department of the
Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, attempted to obtain a signed agree­
ment from the Japanese grower-employers. Mexican strike leaders,
through U. S. Labor Commissioner Marsh and U . S. Conciliator Fitz­
gerald, had demanded certain concessions as a prerequisite to any com­
promise agreement, and finally accepted a raise in wage rates for the
pickers to 20 cents per hour and 45 cents per crate, instead of the pre­
vailing 15-cent and 35-cent levels. A conference was then held with
strike leaders, representatives of local Mexican unions, and the Mexican
Consulate.
Undr the domination of the Communist “ fraction,” however, the labor
spokesmen refused to accept the agreement.41 The strikers at first had
demanded only an increase in pay for berry picking (this had been
granted). N ow that they had the grower-employers “ on the run,” they
37Western Worker, July 17 and August 7, 1933; also Spaulding: The Mexican Strike at El
Monte (in Sociology and Social Research, Vol. XVIII, 1933-34, p. 575).
38Spaulding, op. cit. (p. 578).
39Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 53 (p. 19693).
40Western Worker, August 7, 1933.
41It was the strategy of the leadership, according to Donald E. Marve, attorney for the
Mexican Consulate, to bring about a general strike in the entire area by the time the Federal
Conciliator arrived. By the end of June 7.000 were on strike in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
(Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1933; San Francisco Examiner, June 30, 1933.)




92

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

considered the time propitious for continuing the strike and broadening
it so as to make comparable gains in other crops of Los Angeles County.42
This error in strategy soon became apparent, as the C .& .A .W .I.U . lost
control of the situation and provoked greater opposition from the groweremployers.43 The strike was in effect broken when the growers recruited
Japanese laborers and school children from Los Angeles to pick berries.
W hite employers hired white American laborers and stood guard with
guns to warn “ agitators” away.44 The Mexican consul captured control
over the strikers from the C.& A.W .I.U . and won a signed agreement
entailing compromise gains for the new “ liberal union,” the C .U .C .O .M .:
a minimum wage rate of $1.50 per 9-hour day, and 20 cents per hour
where the work was not steady; recognition of the Mexican union;
preferential hiring for its members; and discharge of strikebreakers.45
The scale of the strike aroused widespread apprehension among grow ­
ers in many counties, and they began to prepare for labor trouble in other
crops throughout the State. Dr. G. P. Clements in a memorandum writ­
ten at the time stated: “ Unless something is done this local situation
is dangerous in that it will spread throughout the State as a whole. In
my opinion this is the most serious outbreak of the Mexican workers
here.” 46

Campaign o f Late Summer and Fall, 1933
The C .& A .W .I.U . held its first district convention shortly after the
El Monte strike. The union indulged in self-criticism in the course of
“ streamlining” its organizational structure and planning a series of more
ambitious ventures. T o cope with the migratory condition of most agri­
cultural workers, the leaders felt they should form a chain of locals in
all important farm, orchard, and cannery centers. These would then
render the union more accessible to workers who otherwise might lose
contact. The convention also called upon C.& .A .W .I.U . members to
apply the “ boring from within” policy more effectively— to penetrate
opposing unions in order to form contacts with dissident elements and
thereby win organizations over to the C .& A.W .I.U .
In planning a wave of strikes for the forthcoming summer and fall
harvest seasons of 1933, the union defined more clearly the relationships
among the local, section, and district groups. The local was to be the
42Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 53 (p. 19693).
43C.&A.W.I.U. strategists themselves were highly critical of their representatives* handling
of the El Monte strike. Lawrence Ross, writing in the Communist Party organ, the Western
Worker, stressed the inadequate preparations. No preliminary study had been made of crop
and employment conditions in the fields, and the union demands were simply copied from those
of the Santa Clara pea strike.' After the walk-out had spread, Party members did not follow
a rational policy, including the possibility of a compromise offer from the growers. As a result,
their rejection of the growers* agreement to a substantial wage increase ruined the Party mem­
bers’ status among the strikers, and with it any possibility of building a strong foundation for
the C.&A.W.I.U. through recruiting new members. Subsequently the strikers turned to the more
moderate program of the consul-controlled C.U.C.O.M. (Western Worker, Aug. 7, 1933.)
44Spaulding, op. cit. (p. 579).
45See Appendix E : “ Agreement between the Confederacion de Campesinos Y Obreras Mexicanos (C.U.C.O.M.) and Japanese Vegetable Growers’ Associations” (p. 428).
46Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 53 (p. 19695).
In other parts of the State I>r. Clements reported that “ Frank Palomares of the Agricultural
Labor Bureau of the San Joaquin Valley, whom we brought down to assist us in this matter, is
afraid that the strike will extend into his district, and left last night to take care of his own
job. I am advising the Western Growers Protective Association to have their agents in the
Imperial Valley keep an eye on the situation down there so they can nip any general strike
in the bud. The other districts have the advantage over us in this respect because the Mexicans
live in homes owned by the employers, so whenever they strike they can be evicted and new
workers brought in.” (Hearings, p. 19695.)




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

93

basic unit of organization, and the latter two were to mobilize assistance
for it when a struggle developed in any local area.
Profiting from their mistakes in the El Monte incident, C .& A .W .I.U .
organizers embarked on a series of more ambitious and successful general
agricultural strikes, some of which embraced workers in several counties.
These followed a markedly similar pattern, not only in the aggressive
strategy employed by the union leadership, but also in the cleavage of
interests exposed within each community, and in the techniques of sup­
pression employed by local growers and authorities.
The C .& A .W .I.U .’s efforts during the 2 months immediately follow­
ing the El Monte berry strike met with varying success. The union
obtained valuable experience in an abortive strike at Lodi and other
grape-producing areas near Fresno and in a later strike of peach pickers
on the famous Tagus Ranch in Tulare County. It recruited and trained
many effective organizers of Mexican, Filipino, and white American
stock, who later proved effective leaders in a series of large walk-outs,
culminating in the great cotton strike of the San Joaquin Valley in the
fall of 1933.

,

Pear Strike in Santa Clara County August 1933
The first general crop strike undertaken by the C.& .A .W .I.U . after
its convention was highly successful. It involved approximately 1,000
pear pickers in the regions of Agnew and Milpitas (Santa Clara County),
during August 1933. W orkers in that area had been thoroughly organ­
ized beforehand; at a conference held in San Jose on August 11, 3 days
before the strike broke, workers in every orchard in the area had been
represented by elected delegates, and a coordinated strike policy had
been designed.
The physical or structural aspect of the pear industry in this area
was an important element in the success of the strike. The technique of
mass picketing commonly employed by the C.& .A .W .I.U . was ideally
suited to large square orchards situated on main highways and cross­
roads. W here pickets in large numbers could be controlled, the dangers
of violence and intimidation from growers and law-enforcement authori­
ties were lessened.
The strike was settled within 4 days. Substantial wage gains accrued
to the strikers, who returned to work still organized under the
C .& A .W .I.U . Though the union had demanded a wage scale of 30
cents per hour instead of the existing 20 cents, agreement was reached
on the compromise offer of 25 to 27Yz cents per hour.47 The strike was
notable also for the arbitration efforts of Louis Block of the California
Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the first time that the C.& A.W .I.U .
had been given official Government recognition.

Peach Strike, August 1933
The peach strike led by the C .& A .W .I.U . during August 1933, was
a more extensive and sustained movement. Starting on a local scale, it
developed into a series of both organized and spontaneous walk-outs
which blanketed the peach-growing areas in 7 counties— Sutter, Yuba,
47Oak1and Tribune, August 18, 1933.




94

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Butte, Stanislaus, Tulare, Fresno, and Merced. A s in the previous pear
strike in Santa Clara County, its success was attributed to the large and
compact structure of the peach orchards.
The first signs of unrest appeared in Fresno County early in August,
when 130 Mexican pickers, after striking for a wage increase of 2 cents
per hour, struck again for a further raise of 5 cents per hour on 5
peach ranches in the vicinity of Parlier and Selma. They justified this
action on the ground that the N R A codes had stipulated a minimum
wage scale of 27 cents per hour for unskilled labor.48
The C.& A.W .I.U ., meanwhile, was active in other communities.
Pat Chambers, district organizer, unionized some 700 workers on the
Tagus Ranch in Tulare County. These men had become dissatisfied
with wages reported to be 15 cents per hour, and now, as an organized
local, they demanded 35 cents per hour and certain improvements in
working conditions. They called a strike on August 14 and placed picket
lines around the ranch.49
T w o thousand peach pickers also walked out of orchards owned or
controlled by the California Packing Corp. in Merced County, in a
demand for 30 cents per hour in place of the prevailing 15 to 17 y 2 cents.
This strike was doubly effective; it not only prevented the harvesting of
the peaches, but also rendered the company canneries idle, since these
depended on the steady flow of fruit from the orchards.49 By the middle
of August 4,000 pickers were estimated to be on strike. Growers and
police offered stiff resistance. . Newspapers reported that deputies and
ranch guards were armed with shotguns and rifles in preparation for
serious trouble.50 Relatively little violence occurred, however, though
raids on strike headquarters were carried out, strikers were evicted in
large numbers, and a few strike leaders and pickets were arrested.
The threat of a general strike throughout the peach crop tended to
bring the growers to terms. Settlements were reached in several locali­
ties through the mediation efforts of the California Department of Indus­
trial Relations.51
First to reach a compromise among the grower-employers was the
California Packing Corp. On August 16, 2 days after its employees
began their walk-out, the company accepted the recommendations of
Timothy Reardon, Commissioner of the State Department of Industrial
Relations. The strikers were granted a wage increase from the prevail­
ing 17y 2 cents per hour to the 25-cent rate, and a 9-hour day. The mana­
ger of the Tagus Ranch held for 2 days longer to the 17 y -c e n t scale,
which constituted a 2j4-cent increase over the scale announced at the
beginning of the peach harvest, by the Agricultural Labor Bureau of
the San Joaquin Valley.52 On August 18, the management finally gave
in to pressure from the C .& A .W .I.U . and the State Department of Indus­
trial Relations for a scale of 25 cents per hour.53 Peach growers in the
Reedly-Parlier district of Fresno County followed suit the next day.
In the presence of Deputy Labor Commissioner Fred Huss, they signed
a wage agreement with C.& A.W .I.U . representatives, establishing the
48San Francisco Examiner, August 3, 1933.
49Hanford Journal, August 15, 1933.
50Idem, August 15, 1933; also San Francisco Examiner, August 17, 1933.
51 Kern County Labor Journal, August 18, 1933.
52Hanford Journal, August 18, 1933.
53Kern County Labor Journal, August 18, 1933.




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

95

25-cent hourly rate and pledging reemployment of strikers without dis­
crimination.34
New conflicts flared in northern California counties less than a week
after these strikes had been settled. After an intensive organizing drive
had been made by the C.& A.W .I.U . in the vicinity of Gridley (Butte
C ounty), 350 pickers struck for higher wages on August 22.55 Some
violence was reported, including an assault on pickets by armed deputies.
A settlement was reached within 2 days, through the mediation efforts of
the State Department of Industrial Relations. T w o hundred strikers
on two of the largest orchards in Butte County56 won an agreement
stipulating a wage rate of 30 cents per hour— the highest rate in the
State for fruit picking.57
The strike sentiment spread to the Marysville-Yuba City area of
Yuba and Sutter Counties. Though there was no definite organization
behind this upsurge, the influence of the C .& A .W .I.U . was felt. Spon­
taneous mass meetings were attended by several hundred local pickers,
who voted for wage increases from the prevailing 25 cents per hour to
30 cents, or from 4 to 5 cents per b o x ; they threatened to strike if these
demands were not met. Labor representatives carried on negotiations
with growers, a number of whom agreed to pay the higher scale.58 Sub­
sequently Sutter County placed a ban upon unlicensed public gatherings.59
Several hundred pickers in Stanislaus County went on strike when
a formal demand for the 30-cent hourly rate was rejected by the grow ­
ers. Here the leadership of the strike, at least in the beginning, was in
the hands of an independent organization known as the M odesto Farmers
and W orkers N R A Union. It proposed to establish a union-controlled
employment center or exchange, from which growers could hire work­
ers without the intervention of contractors.60 After a strike of more than
a week's duration, the union settled with the growers for a compromise
wage of 25 cents per hour 61
A t this point the independent union com e into conflict with an affili­
ated local of the United Farmers' League which called an open-air
meeting under its own name in order to win workers away from the N R A
Union. The U .F .L . bitterly denounced the strike settlement, on the
ground that the participants, by holding out a little longer, could have
won the 30-cent scale they had demanded.62
The substantial gains won by the strikers in this series of walk-outs
were due partly to the particular vulnerability of the peach industry
already noted. The crop was highly perishable and concentrated on a
limited number of large-scale ranches, many of which were owned or
operated by outside corporations such as the California Packing Corp. or
the Bank of America. Instances of arrests, vigilantism, and violence
were few, ow ing largely to the fact that strikers, by mass-picketing
54Fresno Bee, August 20, 1933.
550akland Tribune, August 22, 1933.
56I.e., the Steadman Ranch and the Butte County orchards of California Lands, Inc., affiliated
with the Bank of America.
570akland Tribune, August 22, 1933; Sutter County Farmer, August 24, 1933.
58Idem, August 23, 1933.
59Idem, August 29, 1933.
60Modesto Bee, August 23, 1933.
61Idem, September 1, 1933.
62Western Worker, September 4 and 11, 1933.




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

methods, were able to concentrate their forces around the more import­
ant orchards. C .& A .W .I.U . organizers could reach the main body of
pickers without having to cover large numbers of small ranches. Largescale operations in the industry served also to standardize wages and
working conditions; workers' grievances and strike demands were not
so diverse as they would have been in a crop grown on many scattered
small ranches run by independent operators. The close financial integra­
tion between canneries and peach orchards, furthermore, made it doubly
difficult for firms like the California Packing Corp. to withstand strikes.

,

Sugar-Beet Strike at Oxnard August 1933
The C .& A .W .I.U . led an unsuccessful strike in the sugar-beet area
of Oxnard (Ventura County), at about the same time that the peach
industry was in trouble. Union organizers had been active among M exi­
can and Filipino beet laborers for several weeks. A 17-percent increase
in benefit payments to beet growers had been announced on July 29,
1935.63 A few days later the C.& A.W .I.U ., together with a local Filipino
Protective Union, submitted a schedule of demands to the Beet G row ­
ers Association calling for a minimum wage of 35 cents per hour, and a
comparable 30- to 50-percent increase in piece rates; an 8-hour day;
weekly pay days; free transportation to and from w ork ; union recogni­
tion; employment without discrimination for race or union affiliation;
hiring through a union shop; and abolition of labor contractors.64 A
strike was called on August 7, after the growers had refused to consider
the union demands. (The local chamber of commerce had announced
previously that there were many Mexican relief clients available if a
strike occurred.65)
The situation remained comparatively peaceful for about 2 weeks.
The Oxnard Daily Courier of August 12, 1933, described it as “ one of
the few strikes in the State that has not been accompanied by either
bloodshed or rioting.,, The growers took certain conciliatory measures
almost immediately after the walk-out was called. The Beet Growers
Association granted compromise wage increases and agreed to eliminate
the use of labor contractors where possible.66
The C .& A .W .I.U .’s position was apparently weakened by divisions
in its ranks, and by the fact that surplus labor was available for break­
ing the strike. The Filipinos at first refused to join the Mexicans in the
walk-out, and those who remained at work were protected by heavily
armed guards.67 Mexicans employed at the American Beet Sugar Co.
plant in Oxnard were replaced by white Americans when they walked
out in sympathy with the field workers.68 Although no open conflict
occurred for almost 2 weeks, local authorities intimidated the strikers by
various means. The Oxnard Daily Courier of August 13, 1933, for
instance, reported that “ Deputies broke up one possible incipient riot
in the alley near the strike headquarters by driving their cars with the
630xnard Daily Courier, July 29, 1933.
64Western Worker, August 7, 1933.
65Oxnard Daily Courier, August 5, 1933.
66Idem, August 9, 1933.
67Idem, August 7 and 11, 1933.
68Idem, August 10, 1933; Western Worker, August 21, 1938.




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

97

sirens shrieking at great speed through the crowd of strikers.” The
strikers also charged that two of their number were forced to go to work
under the threat of arrest.
The Mexican W orkers Alliance, an organization on the order of a
company union, was formed to counteract the C .& A.W .I.U . The local
newspaper announced that its purpose was “ to serve as a point of contact
between the farmer desiring Mexican workers and the Mexican workers
desiring to return to work. They have the full cooperation and support
of the authorities, the chamber of commerce, and the farmers of the com ­
munity.” (O xnard Daily Courier, August 15, 1933.)
Estimates of the number on strike differed widely. Union spokesmen
claimed 1,000 to 1,200 participants.69 The Oxnard Daily Courier, A u ­
gust 15) charged that this was a gross exaggeration, and estimated that
fewer than 300 were involved. Other participants were described as
“ idlers, agitators, and others not identified with labor in beet fields.”
The conflict became violent, finally, when a riot occurred between
the strikers and deputies on August 18. Five strikers were arrested,
and police and deputies were reported by the local newspaper to be
patrolling the strike area with “ sawed-off shotguns and tear-gas bombs.” 70
The strike was ended officially by the C.& A.W .I.U ., 2 days later.

Grape Strike at Fresno and Lodi9 September-October 1933 *1
The C .& A .W .I.U . made an abortive and unsuccessful bid for leader­
ship of a strike among seasonal workers in the grape harvest in and
around Fresno and Lodi during the fall of 1933. This movement was
one of the most violent that occurred in California agriculture during the
thirties, particularly in the techniques for suppression employed by
growers and local law-enforcement authorities.
C .& A.W .I.U . organizers wrere active among the vineyard workers
by mid-August. On August 21, State Labor Commissioner MacDonald
announced publicly that a general strike of pickers was impending unless
the growers agreed to pay at least 25 cents per hour, as contrasted with
the prevailing 12^2 to 20 cents, or
cents per tray. The vineyardists
refused, offering instead a standard rate of 20 cents per hour. A strike
followed in Fresno, during the course of which both growers and work­
ers resorted to direct action. The walk-outs around Fresno and Modesto,
inadequately organized beforehand, were broken almost immediately by
arrests and imprisonment of the more active leaders.
The union meanwhile was organizing pickers in the Lodi area, and
the growers were making counterpreparations. On September 7 some
600 vineyardists at a mass meeting agreed upon a standard wage scale
of l /* cents per tray, as opposed to the pickers’ demands for 2 to 4
1
cents per tray,72 Several hundred workers at a mass meeting on Septem­
ber 13 collectively demanded a flat 50 cents per hour and other condi­
tions.73
69Western Worker, August 14, 1933.
70Oxnard Daily Courier, August 18, 1933.
71 Most of the material on this incident is taken from Hearings before the House Committee
on Labor (74th Cong., 1st sess.) on HR 6288; and from an unpublished paper of L. Archibald:
The Lodi Grape Pickers’ Strike of 1933 (Berkeley, University of California, Apr. 26, 1939).
72Hearings of House Committee on Labor (p. 360).
73Idem (p. 361).




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

After fruitless negotiation marked by considerable intransigeance
on both sides, a strike began on September 27, involving more than 500
pickers employed on 150 ranches.74 Some compromises were apparently
made by both growers and strikers, but they were not sufficient to settle
the issues. Local newspapers reported that Lodi growers were now
paying a standard 25 cents per hour, while union demands were scaled
down to 40 cents per hour, an 8-hour day, time and a half for overtime,
and abolition of the contractor system of hiring.73 Several vineyardists
appeared at strike headquarters and offered to pay pickers 40 cents per
hour, but refused to allow the strike committee to designate whom they
were to employ. One rancher succeeded in recruiting at the union wage
about 40 pickers from the ranks of the strikers, and escorted them to
work with the aid of special deputies.
Local authorities used drastic methods to end the trouble on the
second day of the strike. The sheriff moved additional deputies into the
Lodi area, and 70 special deputies from a loosely formed vigilance com ­
mittee were later sworn into office by a local justice, with instructions to
use “ disturbance of the peace charges whenever trouble appeared.” 75
T o combat the “ guerilla picketing” of the strikers, two deputies in cars
were assigned to every carload of pickets, with orders to arrest them
for “ disturbing the peace” wherever they attempted to interfere with
harvesting of the crop. Col. Walter E. Garrison, who became prominent
as a leader of the Associated Farmers of California, was selected to
head this group of volunteer deputies.
Arrests grew in number as the strike began to affect the picking
operations. By the end of the second day, 8 pickets had been arrested.
A vigilante raid on union headquarters in Lodi netted 6 strike leaders,
who were held on charges of conspiracy to obstruct the law.76 By the
end of the third day 28 had been jailed.
The situation became more tense as the strikers’ ranks were swelled
by the arrival of incoming transients seeking employment. The applica­
tion of a “ grape control plan” sponsored by the A A A , which resulted
in the discharge of approximately 35 percent of the workers who had
remained in the vineyards during the strike, further complicated the
problem and gave rise to greater apprehension among local residents.
The strikers held numerous mass meetings in town to formulate
further demands.77 They threatened that all picking operations would
be stopped “ even though it required taking pickers from the vineyards.” 78
Approximately 1,000 local townspeople and ranchers held a mass meet­
ing in response to this threat. A sharp division developed between those
who desired direct action and those who held out for settlement of the
strike by peaceful means. One Lodi businessman and prominent Legion­
naire was reported to have suggested that “ all they [the strikers] have
got is mob rule. Let’s beat them to it.” 79 Colonel Garrison and Sheriff
Odell led the “ peace faction,” cautioning against violence.
74San Francisco Chronicle, September 28, 1933.
75Stockton Record, September 28, 1933.
76Modesto Bee, September 29, 1933.
77Eight specific demands were drawn up at strikers* meetings: (1) An 8-hour day at 40 cents
per hour, with time and a half for overtime; (2) immediate release of all strikers under arrest;
(3) recognition of the union; (4) no discrimination against strikers in rehiring; (5) those em­
ployed before the walk-out must have first chance in reemployment; (6) all hiring must be
done through the union; (7) all nonstrikers who have worked during the strike must be dis­
missed; and (8) the union is to be the arbitrator of all future labor disputes. (San Francisco
Examiner, Oct. 4, 1933.)
78Stockton Record, October 3, 1933.
79San Francisco Examiner, October 4, 1933.




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

99

The following morning several hundred citizens assembled before
the union’s strike headquarters in Lodi, from which pickets were regu­
larly dispatched. Led by a prominent shipper and vineyardist, who was
reported to have shouted, “ W hat are we waiting for? T o hell with the
peace talk! Let’s get them m oving!” , the vigilante mob charged the
ranks of the strikers with guns, clubs and fists, and drove them out of
town.80 Later attempts by strikers to meet and reorganize were reported
to have been broken up by vigilantes with fire hose and tear-gas bombs.8
1
A s a violent aftermath, a striker shot and killed a ranch foreman and
made good his escape.
The strong feeling which the strike had aroused among some elements
in the community were indicated in the remarks made by Justice Solkmore of the Municipal Court to strikers brought up before him for trial.
These were reported by several newspapers and were published in the
Hearings before the Committee on Labor of the U. S. House of Repre­
sentatives :
Some o f you have listened to nit-wits, half-baked radicals. * * * Some o f
you, I am afraid, are not intelligent enough to know what it is all about. I f you were
in the right crowd, I would gamble that many of you would go to work at once.
I am not attempting to threaten or coerce you. I am warning you, if you insist on
jury trials, and if you should be found guilty, you cannot expect leniency from
this court. (Hearings of House Committee on Labor, p. 364.)

On October 6, during the preliminary hearings of one striker held
for trespassing, the justice declared in a dispute with the defendant’s
attorney that—
“ * * * These men are nothing but a bunch o f rats, Russian anarchists, cutthroats,
and sweepings o f creation. This defendant doesn’t know when he is well off if he
wants a jury trial. In some places they would take him and his kind and' hang
them from the town hall.”
The attorney interrupted with the comment: “ But they wouldn’t dare to do that
here.”
“ Don’t you be too sure about that. This town may see a few hangings yet.”

The attorney insisted: “ I want a jury trial.”
“ Juries be damned,” replied the judge. “ Juries are reminiscent o f medievalism.
They are a means o f escape for guilty men. If I were innocent, I would rather go
before a judge. They usually get twelve boneheads to sit on a jury.” (Hearings o f
House Committee on Labor, p. 1364.)

A change of venue was finally granted the striker defendants, on the
ground that they could not obtain a fair trial in the Lodi municipal court.
The unsuccessful conclusion of the Lodi grape strike was not to be
explained solely by the effectiveness of the growers and local authorities
in suppressing it. Union leaders obviously had failed to organize the
pickers adequately beforehand, as was evident from the fact that pick­
ing operations continued only slightly below normal throughout the
strike. The extreme hostility of the growers was due in part to the exhorbitant demands of the strike leaders. In stipulating a wage rate of SO
cents or even 40 cents per hour, the strikers were setting a figure far
in excess of the rate currently paid in other crop areas, and there was
evidence to show that the growers at the time were unable to grant such
demands. That the strike leaders were likewise unwilling to enter into
negotiations except on the basis of their own demands was attested by
80San Francisco Chronicle, October 4, 1933, and San Francisco Examiner, October 4, 1933.
81San Francisco Chronicle, October 5, 1933; San Francisco Examiner, October 5, 1933; Stockton
Record, October 5, 1933.




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

their refusal even to meet with Deputy State Labor Commissioner W il­
liamson after the strike had begun. These were doubtful tactics particu­
larly during a period when the demand for labor in the crop was tempo­
rarily reduced through a marketing-control program sponsored by the
AAA.

,

The Cotton Pickers9 Strike of San Joaquin Valley October 1933s
2
Largest, most sensational, and most ably organized of all strikes led
by the C.& A.W .I.U . was that among cotton pickers of the San Joaquin
Valley during October 1933. It was a dramatic climax to the series
which had begun in late summer.
The significance o f the event is far more than incidental. It exhibits in full
detail the essential characteristics o f numerous lesser conflicts in California agri­
culture both before and since, in which ardent organizers agitate and lead, incensed
“ vigilantes” organize and act, growers, officials, and laborers each overstep the law,
and citizens finally cry to the State authorities for peace, if necessary at the hands
o f troops. (Hearings, p. 19947.)

The “ structure of controls” which prevailed in the cotton industry
of California tended to generate an unusual degree of labor unrest. The
Agricultural Labor Bureau of San Joaquin Valley continually endeavored
to standardize wage rates for chopping and picking throughout the cot­
ton-growing area. Several hundred of the largest grower-employers met
annually at conferences held in Fresno for this purpose. Large cotton­
growing and finance companies, like the Anderson Clayton Co., which
ginned about 35 percent of the total production in Arizona and Califor­
nia, could exert disproportionate pressure on individual growers. Cot­
ton farmers could be “ kept in line” and made to conform to wage scales
and working conditions agreed upon collectively, for their dependence
upon production loans and other financial services, provided by banks
and processing companies on the security of crop or chattel mortgages,
left them little leeway for individual bargaining with their employees.
Chronic unemployment and job competition during the depression
years of the early thirties caused an extreme decline in cotton wages,
6ven while the acreage and demand for labor was increasing. W ages
for cotton chopping, for instance, fell from $1.46 per acre in 1930 and
$1.36 in 1931 to 66 cents in 1932 and 72 cents in 1933. Cotton-picking
rates underwent comparable changes; from well over $1* per hundred­
weight in the late twenties, the scale for picking fell to 40 cents in 1932.
Grower-members of the Agricultural Labor Bureau followed their cus­
tomary practice in 1933 and convened in Fresno late in September to
agree upon a standard rate. In view of the decreased labor surplus and
growing labor unrest, they set a rate of 60 cents per hundredweight,
with the stipulation that they would make no further changes without
holding another meeting.
The pickers’ reactions to this announcement foretold serious labor
trouble. C.& A.W .I.U . agents had been carrying on preharvest agita­
tion, in the southern San Joaquin cotton area, among the pickers of
whom more than three-fourths were Mexican. The Communists had
82Except as otherwise noted, the material describing this strike was obtained largely from
the account by Paul S. Taylor and Clark Kerr: Documentary History of the Strike of Cotton
Pickers in California, 1933, in Hearings of the La Follette Committee, Part 51 (pp. 18578-18599)
and Part 54 (pp. 19947-20030).




CH. VIII.*

I. AND A. W. I. U.

101

won considerable prestige through their leadership of previous strikes in
other crops, in which large numbers of cotton pickers had participated,
and now the one-sided wage policy of organized growers drove many
more pickers to support the C .& A.W .I.U .
The union had recruited and trained a corps of Mexican, N egro, and
white organizers from among those who had been involved in earlier
strikes. They now formed a nucleus of subordinate leaders over a net­
work of some 19 newly organized local unions throughout the cotton
area. A conference of delegates elected by these locals, had been held
in the southern cotton district early in September, in preparation for
the coming harvest operations. A t that time a standard schedule of
demands had been formulated, calling for a picking rate of $1 per hun­
dredweight, as compared to the previous year’s rate of 40 cents, abolition
of labor contractors, and union hiring without discrimination.
B y late September, there were manifest preparations for a large
strike in protest against the wage policy of the organized growers. Mass
meetings were held on farms and vacant lots in towns, and strike litera­
ture and union membership cards were distributed widely. The
C .& A.W .I.U . headquarters at Tulare, established at the time of the
Tagus Ranch strike, became the organization base. Strikers who had
participated in this previous walk-out now furnished the militant nucleus
for organizing the cotton pickers.
The union was favored by the late maturity of the cotton crop
which was retarded by 2 weeks; thus the organizers had more time to
consolidate the ranks of the pickers. Taylor and K err described the
movement as follow s:
* * * The excitement o f the parades, the fiery talks, the cheering, appealed to the
Mexicans particularly, and race discrimination, poor housing, and low pay, especially
the latter, were rallying cries which appealed to a class o f workers with adequate
personal experience to vivify the charges hurled by Communist leaders and rendered
exposition o f the theories o f Karl M arx superfluous. (Hearings, p. 19957.)

The strike began in the southern San Joaquin Valley, centering in
Kern, King, and Tulare Counties, where more than half the cotton acre­
age of the State was to be harvested. It grew to involve some 10,000 to
12,000 pickers for more than 3 weeks, and threatened to spread north
to impede harvesting o f the State’s entire crop.
In the course of the strike, the C .& A .W .I.U . encountered tactical
problems which had not arisen in previous conflicts. Cotton, unlike the
other crops, was not confined to a limited growing area. A successful
strike required the interruption of operations on several thousand ranches
covering a distance of more than a hundred miles over three counties.
H ere the union utilized tactics that had been employed successfully
a few weeks earlier in a similar strike of several thousand cotton pickers
in Arizona. Mass picketing was relied upon to enlist the active partici­
pation of as many workers as possible, and in order to cover thoroughly
the area affected, this was supplemented by guerilla picketing. Caravans
of trucks and automobiles filled with striking families were organized
at camps and union headquarters, and were dispatched every morning
to districts where picking was reported to be going on.
The very scale on which the campaign was organized inevitably
brought violence. Several riots, in some cases ending in the death of one
or more participants, resulted from the attempts of the growers and




102

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

local authorities to disrupt the picketing. The strikers on several
occasions were accused of illegal trespass and intimidation.83
M ost of the instances of forceful suppression of strikers’ activities,
however, took place at times when there was no evidence of property
damage or violence on their part. The legality of picketing was subject
to rather flexible interpretation by local law-enforcement authorities,
particularly as regards the distinction between “ peaceful persuasion”
and “ intimidation.”
The response of growers and their sympathizers to the strike was
immediate. Their first move proved to be a boomerang. A s the walk­
out spread from ranch to ranch, individual growers followed a policy
of evicting all those who refused to work at the prevailing rate, hoping
thus to eliminate “ agitators” and deter other pickers from striking. The
result was to drive thousands of evacuees into large “ concentration, camps,”
where they could be more easily mobilized and dominated by C .& A .W .I.U .
organizers. Large emergency tent colonies, as in Corcoran, McFarland,
Porterville, Tulare, and W asco, served as homes for strikers, centers
for mass meetings, and bases for guerilla picketing, thus facilitating the
conduct of a strike involving pickers from more than a thousand scat­
tered ranches.
The growers next organized protective associations, some public in
character and some semisecret in the vigilante tradition. Members were
allowed to arm themselves in defense of their property. In several com ­
munities prominent business organizations took the initiative. In Kern
County, for instance, it was reported that—
* * * As cotton picking throughout the county has been reported paralyzed to a
great extent and there is no legal recourse for the growers o f the county, citizens are
banding together today, with assistance solicited from the Kern County Chamber
o f Commerce, the Bakersfield Chamber o f Commerce, and the farm Bureau.
* * * These organizations have been solicited by landowners and producers to
join in this movement o f a citizens’ committee to prevent outside radicals and
Communists from dominating and ruining a great industry.
* * * Within 24 hours we will have a county-wide organization for the pro­
tection o f growers and their families, as well as their property. These people have
been threatened and are taking steps to protect themselves against potential hurt
and damage. (Hearings, p. 19962.)

The tactics of such groups were designed to combat and neutralize
those used by the strikers. Public mass meetings and parades of growers
were held to counteract union-sponsored demonstrations, and when they
failed, more violent methods were employed. Many ranchers armed with
guns stood guard over their property to ward off pickets, and in several
instances, as at Arvin, riots involving armed ranchers ended in fatal
shooting of strikers. Other direct means utilized to break the strike
included attempts to arrest and jail the strike leaders and to destroy
the strikers’ “ concentration camps” ; local authorities refused relief to
strikers, hoping to starve them out, and intimidated them with threats
of imprisonment in “ bull pens.” Still other means were efforts to deport
aliens and to disrupt the strikers’ ranks and secure their repudiation of
Communist leadership. Later it was reported that the growers planned
to import thousands of cotton pickers from Texas to break the strike.
83Strikers were accused of having burned the cotton in some fields in Kern County (Bakers*
field Californian, Oct. 4 and Oct. 7, 1933), of having attempted to burn some cotton at the Long
in near Corcoran, of resisting officers trying to arrest a Mexican in the Corcoran camp (Times>elta, Oct. 19, 1933), of ‘ ‘night riding” (Times, Oct. 25, 1933), of overturning cotton wagons m
fields of Kings County (Times-Delta, Oct. 23, 1933), and of firing shots into the home of a
grower indicted for manslaughter in a riot in Pixley (San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 20, 1933).

f




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

103

In several local communities, school children were recruited to work in
the fields.
A s a wedge between strike leaders and the rank and file, the growers
endeavored to use the Mexican consul to persuade Mexican workers to
organize into separate unions which could deal directly with growers
rather than through C & A .W .I.U .-controlled organizers. Active support
was sought from local, State, and Federal administrative and law-enforce­
ment officials as well as business and nonrural labor groups.
Local newspapers were vitriolic in their condemnation of the strike,
blaming it almost entirely on outside “ Reds” and “ agitators.” The Fresno
Bee in an editorial of October 6 stated:
Our people are getting exceedingly weary o f the activities o f the professional
Communist leaders mostly from New York, who are motivated by no honest desire
to improve working conditions, but rather propose to feather their own nests while
promoting the cause o f social anarchy and red revolution. * * * They loaf between
working seasons, and then descend on the scene like vultures who have smelled
carrion from afar.

The Tulare Advance-Register, in its issue o f October 16, declared:
The “ strike” would vanish into thin air overnight if the outside agitators were
rounded up en masse and escorted out o f the country as they should be. And in the
future we should guard against allowing them to get a new foothold for sowing
the red seeds o f radicalism among an otherwise happy and contented people.

Local forces of law and order tended to side with the growers. The
latter were a long-established and well-organized group of residents
who paid taxes and voted regularly. They constituted the main economic
base of each community and wielded considerably more influence and
pressure than the newly organized transient and nonvoting laborers,
whose economic position was at best marginal. One undersheriff declared
in an interview:
W e protect our farmers here in Kern County. They are our best people. They
are always with us. They keep the country going. They put us in here and they
can put us out again, so we serve them. But the Mexicans are trash. They have no
standard o f living. W e herd them like pigs. (Hearings, p. 19992.)

It was not surprising that the civil liberties of the strikers were vio­
lated on numerous occasions, as the Governor’s Fact Finding Commis­
sion later revealed. Arm ed suppression and arrest were applied continu­
ally ; the W estern W orker of November 20 and the Hanford Journal of
October 28 both reported a total of 113 arrests in four counties. In some
localities the State highway patrol was dispatched to police the strike,
thus relieving pressure on local deputies and shifting the cost from
county to State. In the closing days of the strike there were rumors
that the National Guard would be called out.
Strikers grew in number and remained cohesively organized under
the C.& A.W .I.U . to the end, despite the extent and power of the oppo­
sition. Violence and the arrests of strike leaders only heightened the
morale of the rank and file by convincing them of the essential sincerity
of their “ labor martyr” organizers. Strikers were further sustained by
private and public relief in considerable quantity. The C .& A .W .I.U .
through its Communist affiliations, particularly the W orkers Inter­
national Relief, raised substantial sums from sympathizers in various
metropolitan communities. M ore important was the precedent-breaking
action of the California Emergency Relief Administration. Probably for
the first time in labor history in the United States, a public agency under
654107°-—
46—8




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Federal direction provided public relief to workers actively involved in a
large-scale strike.
Several efforts were made to settle the strike with the aid o f outside
mediating and arbitrating agencies. The first offer of mediation, from
the Labor Commissioner of the State Department of Industrial Relations,
was flatly rejected by the growers’ representatives. Later attempts by
Edward J. Fitzgerald, Conciliator of the U . S. Department of Labor, who
had just completed the settlement of a similar cotton pickers’ strike in
Arizona, met with more response. In order to circumvent the growers’
intransigeant opposition to the Communist leadership, the Conciliator,
in company with Mexican Consul E. Bravo, selected representative
cotton pickers from each camp in the strike area to present their case
before a fact-finding board appointed by the Governor of California.
The hearings made clear the contending groups’ views on the wage
issue. Growers justified their 60-cent rate on the ground that it was
the highest for any cotton-picking area in the United States, outside of
Arizona, and constituted a substantial increase over the 40-cent rate
for 1932 and the 50-cent rate for 1931. The C .& A .W .I.U ., claiming
this to be inadequate compensation for the work, demanded a minimum
scale of $1 per hundredweight and recognition o f the union as repre­
sentative of agricultural workers in California.
The Governor’s Committee, under the chairmanship of Dr. Ira B.
Cross of the University of California, recommended a compromise set­
tlement in its final report. It nevertheless implied a condemnation of
the growers’ tactics during the strike:
It is the judgment o f the committee that upon evidence growers presented,
growers can pay for picking at the rate o f 75 cents per hundred pounds, and your

committee begs leave therefore to advise that this rate of payment be established.
Without question, civil rights o f strikers have been violated. W e appeal to con­
stituted authorities to see that strikers are protected in rights conferred upon them
by laws o f the State and by Federal and State constitutions. (Hearings, p. 20002.)

Acceptance of the committee’s recommended 75-cent rate was in
effect made mandatory by various Federal and State agencies. The Fed­
eral Intermediate Credit Bank exerted pressure on growers to accept
the terms.84 Grower-employers met in a valley-wide conference in Fresno
at the office of the Agricultural Labor Bureau of the San Joaquin Valley.
A fter some opposition they voted to accept the 75-cent scale “ in the
interests of good American citizenship, law and order, and in order to
forestall the spread of communism and radicalism and to protect the
harvesting of other crops.” 8 The union was prevailed upon to accept
5
settlement on the same terms. Food relief was discontinued by the Cali­
fornia State Emergency Relief Administration, and growers threatened
to import new workers from other areas. The Slate highway patrol was
dispatched to the main strike areas and threatened further arrests of
strike leaders.
The aftereffects of the struggle were felt by both sides. Many active
union members faced blacklists in local areas as a result of their activities,
while in some localities growers who had violently opposed the strike
had difficulty in recruiting pickers.
Despite the prestige it gained in leading the strike, the C .& A .W .I.U .
failed to hold its position. Locals in such centers as Bakersfield, Shatter,
84San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 1933.
85Times-Delta, October 25, 1933.




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

105

W asco, Corcoran, Delano, McFarland, Pixley, Visalia, Dinuba, H an­
ford, Fresno, and Kingsbury declined in membership and influence soon
after completion of the cotton harvest, when ex-strikers migrated to other
sections of the State to work in various crops. By the end of the year
only the Tulare headquarters of the union remained, and no more than
a skeleton organization had survived.

Collateral Strikes
The strike wave organized by the C.& A.W .I.U . during 1933 and
1934 indirectly affected agricultural laborers in many nonunionized crop
areas. T w o hundred unorganized celery workers in the vicinity of Los
Angeles won partial gains after a 1-month strike during May and June
of 1933. H op pickers in Sacramento County, variously estimated at
300 to 500, won wage increases after a 5-day strike during late August.86
Certain racial groups also carried out spontaneous strikes as well as
participating in the C .& A .W .I.U . and their own independent “ ethnic”
unions. In Santa Cruz 150 Filipino artichoke workers won a reduction
in working hours at the same rates of pay after a 1-month walk-out
during September and October of 1933.87 Unorganized Mexican workers
participated in small strikes of walnut pickers in Los Angeles,88 and
olive pickers in Tulare County.89

The C.&A.W .I.U. in 19349
0
Until its demise in the summer of 1934, the C .& A .W .I.U . became
much more restricted in the scope and intensity of its organizing activities.
The movements which it led during the months following settlement of
the cotton strike were indicative of its decline; they were fewer, smaller,
and less successful than its previous attempts. O f the 15 strikes in agri­
culture and allied industries in California during 1934, 10 were led or at
least strongly influenced by the C .& A .W .I.U .; most of these were small
and of short duration.
N The success of the union’s campaign during 1933 had been due in
large part to the advantage of novelty and surprise. F or the first time in
the history of American agriculture a well-financed and closely knit labor
union used tactics which it had planned carefully and executed efficiently
in organizing huge strikes of farm workers. The campaign was perfectly
tim ed; the C .& A .W .I.U . was able to ride on the general upsurge of labor
unionism unleashed in part by the N R A , at the very moment when labor
unrest in agriculture was most widespread. Depressed farm laborers
caught in a pincers of lagging wages and rising costs of living were easily
led to participate in the excitement of a large and spectacular mass move­
ment. The strikes led by the C.& A.W .I.U . caught growers unprepared
at the height of the harvest season, when their position was most vulner­
able.
The situation changed considerably during late 1933 and 1934. The
growers recognized that inordinately low wage rates were a basic cause
860akland Tribune, August 22, 1933; Western Worker, September 4, 1933. The California
Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1933 reported two strikes in the hop industry, involving a total
of 1,025 workers.
870akland Tribune, September 9, 1933.
88San Francisco Examiner, September 27, 1933.
89Idem, November 24, 1933.
90Except as otherwise noted, data in this section are based mainly on Hearings of the
La Follette Committee, Parts 53-55.




106

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

of labor unrest and agitation, and they announced substantial increases in
order to forestall further trouble. From the lowest standard of 15 cents
per hour, established early in 1933, wage rates were raised by the sum­
mer of 1934 to a level of 20 cents to 25 cents per hour throughout the
San Joaquin Valley.91 These improvements dampened the militancy of
agricultural workers, for whom the novelty and glamor of strikes had
worn thin under the stress of severe hardships. Improved relief facilities
developed by Federal and State agencies during late 1933 and 1934 served
further to allay labor unrest.
The C .& A .W .I.U ., at its second district convention early in 1934,
made strenuous efforts to revive and improve its flagging organization.
Plans were laid to broaden and strengthen the membership. The union
addressed itself to all workers on ranches, packing sheds, and canneries
in California. Organizers were particularly anxious to reach workers in
agricultural industries who belonged to local A .F . of L. affiliates and in­
dependent unions of Mexicans and Filipinos. The Y oung Communist
League and youth sections of the C .& A.W .I.U . were directed to organize
cannery workers in order to bring them into support of agricultural
laborers. T o combat vigilante opposition from farmers during strikes,
the C .& A.W .I.U . laid greater stress on dividing the ranks of groweremployers; it hoped to make special agreements with small farmers to
induce them to withdraw their support from larger growers.92
Particular stress was laid also upon proper organization and prelimi­
nary planning of strikes. The union laid its defeats to its assuming the
leadership of spontaneous strikes which had broken out prematurely. A
m ajor weakness of the C.& A.W .I.U . lay in the inadequate contact of the
Communist Party leadership with large sections of the agricultural labor
population. A report at the second convention stated:
Probably the outstanding shortcoming o f the leadership o f the 1933 struggles was
that too large a part o f the leadership consisted of comrades who were not native
to the situation that existed, and did not know the territorial conditions o f the
industry, or the relation o f the contending forces. (Hearings, Part 54, p. 20028.)

T o rectify these shortcomings, the C.& A.W .I.U . executive council
planned in the future to allow nonparty workers a larger share in the
direction of union-organized strikes. A resolution at the convention stated
that—
In organizing our leading committees in such a situation, we must be extremely
careful to bring the rank and file into the leadership, and especially to bring them
into those posts which are decisive for making decisions as to the course o f their
strike. (Hearings, Part 54, p. 20030.)

Several other resolutions were passed to improve the effectiveness of
union tactics in strike situations. Strike committees, for instance, were
to be democratically elected and “ representative of every race and color,
of every ranch, shed and cannery involved in the strike.”
The union’s organizational efforts were in large part neutralized by
the temporary apathy of agricultural workers and, more important, by
organized grower-employers’ elaborate preparations to suppress any re­
currences of labor trouble. The San Joaquin Valley cotton-pickers’ strike
had aroused apprehension among growers in other crop areas in Cali­
fornia. Protective associations were organized in many localities to com ­
bat the “ Communist menace,” and early in 1934 these were federated into
91 Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 49 (p. 18148).
92See Appendix F, Organizing Tactics of the C.&A.W.I.U. (p. 429).




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

107

a powerful State-wide organization known as the Associated Farmers of
California, Inc. It launched an aggressive campaign against farm-labor
unionism and finally succeeded in having the more active left-wing or­
ganizers arrested and sentenced to several years’ imprisonment.

Imperial Valley Strikes, November 1933-March 1934
The C .& A.W .I.U . suffered its first serious setback in several months
when it attempted, early in 1934, to organize field workers in the Imperial
Valley for a large strike in the spring melon harvest. In this area, which
had long been a “ trouble spot” in California, labor-employer conflict had
developed as a concomitant of the extraordinarily large-scale and com­
mercialized nature of the farm operations. A s portrayed in an official
report by the Phillips Committee, representing the California State
Chamber of Commerce and the State Board of Agriculture—
* * * The major part o f the total vegetable production o f lettuce, canteloups,
carrots, etc., is contributed by the large-scale corporate type of farming and but a
minor part by operators who own or lease the holdings that they farm. The major
portion o f the pea and tomato output, however, appears to be produced on the
smaller farms. In general, the corporate type o f farming is o f greatest importance
from the standpoint o f acreages farmed and value o f output.
This difference in the prevailing types o f agriculture creates dissimilar problems.
Operators o f relatively small farms do not appear to have problems that are
identical with those of the so-called “ grower-shippers.” The latter group, because
o f its influence, largely determines the course o f action pursued by the smaller
growers. The problems, therefore, tend to be those incident to the concentration o f
an industry in relatively few hands, working with the better class o f lands, operating
on a relatively large scale, leasing much o f the land that is thus farmed, planned,
and directed by nonresident managers, financed with considerable borrowed capital,
conducted with paid resident farm managers, superintendents, and farm hands. The
goal is one o f profit making, accompanied by a lack of permanency inherent in a
combination o f leased lands and salaried positions. The growing o f vegetable crops,
therefore, is largely of a speculative nature (in so far as marketing is concerned)
and every effort is directed to producing crops as economically as possible and
marketing them to the best o f the operators* abilities in order to produce as wide
a margin o f profit as may be possible. (Hearings, Part 55, p. 20135.)

The precarious economic situation in the valley also contributed to its
explosive labor relations and the proclivity o f local residents for adopting
extra-legal violence and vigilantism. This condition was portrayed in a
report by Gen. Pelham Glassford, a special mediator appointed by the
Federal Government early in 1934:
It is a 1-industry community. Unless these valuable crops are harvested, rents
are not paid, merchandising bills are not paid, professional services are not re­
munerated, taxes are not paid; in other words, the whole economy o f the popula­
tion depends upon the successful harvesting o f these valuable crops.
It, therefore, can be quite well understood that all engaged in business are going
to support the shippers and growers against militancy in labor and, furthermore,
that they are going to control the politics o f the Imperial Valley and elect officials
who will carry on their desires in matters that are essential for the economic welfare
o f the valley. Particularly characteristic o f Imperial Valley is the fact that it is
isolated, bounded on the east and west by large expanses o f sand; on the north by the
Salton Sea, and on the south by M exico. (Hearings, Part 55, p. 20150.)

Field workers’ strikes had first occurred in the valley in 1928 and
again in 1930, the latter being the C .& A .W .I.U .’s baptism of fire. U n­
ionism in both instances had been crushed temporarily through arrests
and suppression of civil liberties. Labor conditions had deteriorated con­
siderably during the following 3 years. Though the labor-contractor




108

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

problem was far less serious than it had been earlier, chronic unemploy­
ment and labor surpluses had led to a continuous decline in wages. By
the spring of 1933 the wage level was 16% cents per hour for irrigators
and 15 cents per hour for other field workers, as compared to levels of
35 to 50 cents per hour in 1929 and 1930.93 A n absence of standardization
in wage levels and noticeable differences in wage rates paid by differ­
ent growers were a further source of irritation to the workers.
The wave of farm strikes during late summer and fall prompted the
growers in the Imperial Valley to adopt a more conciliatory attitude. In
order to forestall an impending invasion of the valley by the C .& A .W .I.U .,
they took steps to negotiate with their employees and grant certain con­
cessions.
Early in October 1933, the Union of Mexican Field W orkers was
revived in the valley under the encouragement of the Mexican consul,
and on November 1 a committee of the union met with representatives
of the growers. The latter agreed, among other things, to pay 2 2 cents
per hour for harvesting lettuce and to provide a minimum of 5 hours’
work for any laborer taken to the field.
Some 2 weeks later, alleging that the growers were not living up to
their agreement, the Mexican union called a 1-day strike on November
17, 1933. W ith the Mexican consul at Calexico acting as intermediary,
representatives of the two groups met again in December to consider the
union charges. During the last few weeks of December, however, the
C .& A .W .I.U . entered the valley and began to organize a local. The union
recruited new members rapidly and was reported to have won control
temporarily over the members of the Mexican union.94 Consequently,
at the next meeting between worker and grower representatives labor
spokesmen, under the domination of the C .& A .W .I.U ., demanded wages
of 35 cents per hour. W hen the growers flatly rejected this demand the
union called a strike.
The provocative tactics of the union stimulated correspondingly violent
suppression from growers and local authorities.95 A caravan of union
members from Brawley, formed to attend a meeting in El Centro, was
dispersed by police and citizen volunteers using tear gas. A union meeting
in Brawley also was broken up when local police and State highway
patrolmen, together with local armed citizens, entered the meeting hall
and threw tear-gas bombs. Local vigilantes kidnapped and assaulted
several labor attorneys and “ outside” spectators. In one 2-week period in
the middle of January, 86 arrests were made.
The Imperial Valley during 1934 became one of the most highly pub­
licized localities in the country for its suppression of civil liberties. General
Glassford stated in a report to the Board of Supervisors of Imperial
V alley:
93Wages paid on an hourly basis to field workers remained fairly constant throughout the
valley during 1929, 1930, and the spring and summer months of 1931. but in August a downward
trend began. A reduction in the prevailing scale of wages was again recorded in April, August,
and November 1932, and in April 1933. The period from April to June 1933 registered the lowest
scale (16 2/3 cents per hour for irrigators and 15 cents for other workers as contrasted with
35 cents and 50 cents in 1929 and 1930). Beginning in July 1933, the wage scale started to rise,
with increases taking place in July and November 1933. (Hearings, Part 55, p. 19482.)
94The officers of the Mexican union, unsuccessful in obtaining satisfactory recognition for
their organization, were reported to have turned it over to the C.&A.W I.U. (Hearings,
Part 55, p. 20140; see also Report to National Labor Board by Lubin Committee.)
95General Glassford, Special Conciliator of the U. S. Department of Labor, claimed that
representatives of the C.&A.W.I.U. attempted^ to make the Imperial Valley a “ laboratory” or
proving ground for class struggle and revolutionary theories. (Hearings, Part 55, p. 20150.)




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

109

* * * A fter more than 2 months o f observation and investigation in Imperial
Valley, it is my conviction that a group o f growers have exploited a “ communist”
hysteria for the advancement o f their own interests; that they have welcomed labor
agitation, which they could brand as “ Red,” as a means o f sustaining supremacy by
mob rule, thereby preserving what is so essential to their profits, cheap labor; that
they have succeeded in drawing into their conspiracy certain county officials who
have become the principal tools o f their machine. (Hearings, Part 55, p. 20148.)

A report to the National Labor Board by a special commission made
up of J. L. Leonard, W . J. French, and Simon J. Lubin seemed to concur
in this v ie w :
* * * W e uncovered sufficient evidence to convince us that in more than one
instance the law was trampled underfoot by representative citizens o f Imperial
County and by public officials under oath to support the law. (Hearings, Part 55, p.
20142.)

Their views, however, were severely criticized in a Report on The
Imperial Valley Farm Labor Situation, by a special investigating com ­
mittee composed of C. B. Hutchinson, Dean of the College of Agriculture,
University of California, W . C. Jacobsen of the State Department of
Agriculture, and John Phillips of the State Assembly, now a member of
Congress. This group had been appointed at the request of the California
State Board of Agriculture, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and
the agricultural department of the California State Chamber of Com­
merce. Its report published on April 20, 1934, stressed the provocative
nature of the Communist labor organizers* activities, and their potential
danger to the harvesting of the specialized, highly perishable crops on
which the residents of the valley depended. The committee asserted
furthermore that “ technically there is no strike in the Imperial Valley,
nor any imminent.,,9e It claimed that there were uninterrupted shipments
of lettuce and that growers had a working agreement with a revived
Mexican union having some 1,800 members. A s there was no strike, the
committee decided, there could be no official mediation and no interven­
tion by the State or Federal authorities.
The growers were successful in preventing the effective organization
of field workers by the C .& A .W .I.U . and thus counteracted the attempted
strike. The separate Mexican union was organized under the direction of
Consul Joaquin Terraza, and was named the Asociacion Mexicana del
Valle Imperial. It negotiated an agreement with the growers, and in time
won enough workers from the C .& A .W .I.U . to render the latter’s strike
ineffective. General Glassford considered the Asociacion a company union
because it was encouraged by growers, who refused jobs to anyone but its
members.
The C .& A .W .I.U . persisted without success in its efforts to organize
the field workers in the valley in preparation for a strike in the cantaloup
harvest during the spring. It could claim only a few limited successes in
small 1-ranch strikes.
The only large strike led by the C.& A.W .I.U . in Imperial County
was one in February involving some 3,500 to 4,000 pea pickers in the
vicinity of Calipatria, at the northern end of the valley. A strike bulletin
issued by the union at the time announced that “ 10,000 American, M exi­
can, Filipino, and Puerto Rican workers are on strike in the Calipatria
pea field area, demanding 2 cents per pound, recognition of the C. &
A .W .I.U ., clean water on the job, sanitary conditions, scales for every
96Report on The Imperial Valley Farm Labor Situation, by a Special Investigating Com­
mittee, San Francisco, April 20, 1934 (p. 24).




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

150 workers, release of all arrested strikers/’ The union claimed that
considerable “ police and vigilante terror” had been employed against its
members. Several strikers were reported as having been arrested on
charges of carrying firearms. The Calipatria Herald, in its issue of
February 10, 1934, had reported that the influx of a surplus of pickers had
created a chronic problem of local relief, and Federal aid was sought.
During the strike several camps were closed by county health au­
thorities because of outbreaks of “ pink eye,” measles, and typhoid.
The strike was settled through the mediation of State government
representatives. After a conference, the growers agreed to accept arbi­
tration through a committee composed of four growers and two repre­
sentatives each from the Mexican and white strikers. Thomas Barker,
State Commissioner of Industrial Relations, acted as chairman.97

Miscellaneous Strikes: February-April 1934
W hile the Imperial Valley struggles were at their height, the C.&
A .W .I.U ., in cooperation with independent unions, made scattered forays
over numerous crop areas of California. Several hundred citrus-fruit
pickers and packing-shed workers in Los Angeles County struck early
in January for wage increases and union recognition. Members of the
Confederacion de Uniones de Campesinos y Obreros Mexicanos
(C .U .C .O .M .) voted a united-front policy of cooperation with the C.&
A .W .I.U . Strike organizers reported that a small A .F . of L. local, though
refusing to join forces with the first two unions, nevertheless refused to
“ scab.” 98
Several hundred Filipino vegetable workers in the vicinity of Pescadero (San Mateo County) were organized by the C .& A .W .I.U . in
January, and struck for. union recognition and a wage increase of 5 cents
per hour, to a 25-cent scale. The growers imported Japanese strike­
breakers, and the sheriff warned strikers to leave the county or face
arrest. Several hundred pickets remained, nevertheless, and a com pro­
mise settlement was reached.99 According to the Agricultural W orker of
February 20, 1934, the strike raised wages from 20 cents to 2 2 cents per
hour and won recognition for the C .& A .W .I.U . A union contract was
signed with several growers.
The C.& A.W .I.U . failed early in February to gain control of one
small strike of agricultural workers belonging to a local Socialist-con­
trolled “ N R A Union.” Communist spokesmen charged that the strikers
were “ sold out” through a premature settlement brought about with
the help of Labor Commissioner Crook and Administrator George
Creel.98 C .& A .W .I.U . organizers during March also failed to carry
out a threatened strike of citrus workers in the Fresno area.1
A large spontaneous walk-out of potato cutters near A rvin (K ern
County) was narrowly averted during February 1934. Halfway through
97 San Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 1934.
" T h e Agricultural Worker (published by C.&A.W.I.U., San Jose, Calif.), February 20, 1934.
" S a n Francisco Examiner, January 24 and 25, 1934; Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1934.
iSan Francisco Examiner, March 7, 1934,




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

I ll

the harvest, the cutters won a pay increase of 1 cent per bag by threaten­
ing to strike. Several walked out a few days later to demand that the
pay increase be made retroactive. The strike was soon broken by the im­
portation of new workers guarded by special deputies.2
Following the Imperial Valley debacle, the C.& A.W .I.U . shifted
its activities farther north, in the Salinas and Sacramento Valleys. A few
dozen Filipino asparagus cutters organized by the union on a ranch in
Sacramento County won a small strike during March. The grower-em­
ployer in this instance was paying wages below standard for the area.
Neighboring growers exerted pressure on him to pay the accepted rates,
in order to settle the strike and forestall further agitation. The asparagus
area was described as being “ on edge,” as C.& A.W .I.U . organizers were
active among the 7,000 Filipino workers employed in the crop.3
A large strike under C.& A.W .I.U . leadership broke out in Sacra­
mento County during April. Early in the month some 500 to 800 Mexican
and Filipino strawberry pickers in the Florin district refused to begin
picking until rates were raised from 20 to 25 cents per hour. There was
one instance of violence, when local authorities used tear gas against
strikers who were reported to have attacked workers in the fields. One
organizer was arrested on the charge of stabbing two ranchers.4
The strike ended with a partial victory for the union. Before the strike
was a week old, several growers had signed the union agreement, granting
25 cents per hour, union recognition, and other conditions.5 A C&
A .W .I.U . bulletin for April 17, 1934, claimed that 75 percent of the
growers finally signed the agreement. Almost all the growers, most of
whom were Japanese, were paying a rate of at least 22^2 cents per hour
when the strike was settled.
The C .& A .W .I.U .’s first attempt in several years to organize a
processing industry was unsuccessful. In April 45 mushroom workers in
the Golden State Mushroom Co.’s plant in Redwood City struck for a
minimum scale of $15 per week, an 8-hour day, and abolition of dis­
criminatory hiring and firing. The walk-out was broken, union spokes­
men claimed, when the chamber of commerce and local welfare agencies
sent in unemployed as “ scabs.” 6
The C.& A.W .I.U . made some gains in other scattered strikes. A
walk-out of about a hundred pea pickers in Alameda County won a few
limited concessions early in April. Later in the month a larger C.&
A .W .I.U .-organized strike of 2,000 to 3,000 in Monterey County was
settled with compromise gains to the workers.7 This walk-out was or­
ganized in the familiar pattern; before the strike about 100 camp dele­
gates, representing an estimated 3,000 pickers, convened and formulated
demands for 35 cents per hour, union recognition, and abolition of con­
tractors.8 A strike of approximately 1,000 pickers in San Mateo County
during M ay likewise won a compromise wage increase of 2 cents per
hamper.9
2Los Angeles Times, February 8, 1934.
3San Francisco Examiner, March 15, 1934.
4Tdem, April 9 and 11, 1934.
5See Appendix G: Sample Agreement between Strawberry Growers and Pickers, Sacramento
County, April 1934 (p. 430).
6C.&A.W.I.U. Bulletin (San Jose), April 17, 1934.
7Western Worker, April 23, April 30, 1934.
A gricultural Worker, April 17, 1934.
9San Francisco Examiner, May 22, 1934.




LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

112

,

Apricot Pickers9 Strike, Contra Costa County June 1934
The end of the C .& A .W .I.U . as an effective labor union in Cali­
fornia agriculture was signified in June 1934, when it suffered a serious
defeat in a strike of apricot pickers in Contra Costa County.
Structurally the apricot crop in the Brentwood district seemed vulner­
able to strike action. It was highly centralized and dominated by three
large grower-shipper enterprises, the Balfour-Guthrie Co., the H . P.
Garin Co., and the D. D. W ilson Co. The rest of the district was occupied
by individual growers operating ranches of 15 to 21 acres and larger.
W hile the crops controlled by the three dominant companies were
harvested largely by migratory Filipino and Mexican labor, this was not
true of the smaller individual ranches. The latter frequently sold their
fruit “ on the trees” to the large shipping company, which usually brought
in its own crew of pickers and cutters at harvest time. The individual
grower who harvested his own crop, however, employed mostly local
labor. In the cutting sheds of the large companies as well as of the small
farmers, the work was performed almost entirely by local women and girls.
Local resident workers presented no particular housing problem, but
the available facilities for handling the large seasonal influx of migratory
workers were inadequate. A survey by a committee of ministers from
churches in nearby towns expressed the opinion that “ the problem of
migratory labor with an influx of three times as many workers as can
find employment produced an acute situation.” 10 Unrest and discontent
generated by the unsatisfactory living conditions of these surplus workers
were fuel for agitators of the C .& A.W .I.U .
Strike meetings were held by the C .& A.W .I.U . organizers, as migra­
tory pickers arrived in motor caravans. Demands were made for an
hourly rate of 35 cents instead of the prevailing 20 cents, or piece rates of
15 cents per b ox for cutters instead of the prevailing 8 cents; an 8-hour
day; and union recognition. By June 11 the union claimed that about
1,000 workers were on strike, and picket lines were established around
the largest ranches.1
1
Local growers and businessmen at a meeting in Brentwood appealed
to county sheriff R. R . Veale for protection against the activities of tran­
sients. The sheriff issued orders forbidding picketing ,in the Brentwood
area, and about 75 persons were deputized specifically to carry out these
instructions. Assisted by State highway patrolmen, they broke up one
strike caravan. One hundred and fifty pickets were led to a corral in
the railroad yards, where they were fed, and later were conducted to the
San Joaquin County line. Thirteen ringleaders were arrested on charges
of violating Section 416 of the Penal Code, which prohibited disturbances
on public highways. The Oakland Tribune described this action of the
authorities as a “ round-up and deportation of undesirable agitators.” 12
The San Francisco Labor Council, however, condemned the action as
“ outrages by mobs of farmers aided and abetted by State highway
police.” 13
10Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 49 (p. 18157).
^W estern Worker, June 11, 1934.
12Oakland Tribune, June 5, 1934.
13Labor Clarion (San Francisco), June 15, 1934.




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

113

A t this point a newly organized local of the A .F. of L. entered the
strike in competition with the C .& A.W .I.U . This organization, Can­
nery W orkers Union No. 18893, finally gained control.14
A strike committee of 5 members from both unions was established,
including Caroline Decker (district secretary of the C .& A .W .I.U .). W .
H . Urmy, a deputy labor commissioner, presented its demands at a meet­
ing of large growers, which rejected them on the ground that the com­
mittee was composed of outsiders who did not represent the mass of
pickers.1
5
The strike was finally ended by the last week in June. A few growers
and contractors acceded to the union demands for increased wage rates
and an 8-hour day, but the larger companies continued to pay the same
wages under the same working conditions as before.16

,

Apricot Strike at Hayward June 1934
The last strike led by the C .& A.W .I.U . was significant in terms of
its implications rather than its accomplishments. It was one of the few
instances in American labor history in which organized agricultural
workers carried out a sympathetic strike to support an urban labor move­
ment. Four hundred apricot pickers near Hayward (Alameda County)
struck for wage increases early in July 1934. They demanded also that
troops be removed from the San Francisco waterfront, where the great
maritime strike of 1934 currently was raging.1
7

Death o f the C.&A.W.I.U.
The C .& A .W .I.U . became inactive soon after the Hayward strike,
and finally died. Some “ labor trouble” was reported late in July 1934, in
San Joaquin Valley vineyards, where C .& A .W .I.U . organizers were
active among workers harvesting the grape crop. Growers organized in
vigilante associations had made extensive preparations beforehand to
combat the union, and the threatened strike failed to materialize.18
The Associated Farmers and allied urban commercial and industrial
interests struck directly at the C.& A.W .I.U . to forestall further
unionization. The highly publicized general strike of San Francisco dur­
ing the summer of 1934 had generated a strong antiradical reaction
throughout California, and a round-up of the more active Communist
organizers resulted. A cting partly under the pressure of agricultural in­
terests, police raided C .& A .W .I.U . headquarters in Sacramento and
arrested 17 leaders on charges of criminal syndicalism. Several of these,
including such leading district organizers as Pat Chambers and Caroline
Decker, were sentenced in 1935 to several years’ imprisonment.
14In an unpublished report of May 28, 1935, J. B. Nathan, business agent of Local 18893,
claimed that an almost unanimous vote endorsing the leadership of the A.F. of L. was polled
at a meeting of about 2,000 workers. A strike committee was given authority to sign contracts
in the name of the Cannery Workers Union with every grower or contractor willing to meet
union conditions. Within half an hour, according to Nathan, agreements were signed with 6
growers employing over 300 workers.
15Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 49 (p. 18155); and Contra Costa Gazette, June 9,
1933.
16Qaims by spokesmen of the C.&.A.W.I.U. (as represented by the Western Worker in
its issue of June 25, 1934), that control by the A.F. of L. local resulted in a decrease of wages
from 20 cents per hour to 15 cents after the strike was lost, were not substantiated.
17Western Worker, July 15, 1934.
18Bakersfield Californian, July 16 and 17, 1934.




114

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The formal termination of the C .& A.W .I.U . came on March 17,
1935, when its parent body, the Trade Union Unity League, and all
affiliated organizations were dissolved in accordance with a general change
in the party line. A t that time the Communist Party officially adopted
a policy which it had in fact been following for several months: Com­
munist labor-union organizers and affiliated bodies were to merge with
or enter independent labor organizations and unions in the A .F . of L .19

The C.&A.W.I.U. in Perspective
The C .& A .W .I.U . during its brief span of less than 4 years, led
dozens of strikes, large and small. Some were spectacular successes, others
were dismal failures. Though in the end the union was crushed, its cam­
paign was not without lasting effects. W ages were raised in all m ajor
growing areas of the State as a result of the upsurge in 1933, and they
have never since then fallen to the low levels of late 1932. Perhaps more
important, the C .& A .W .I.U .’s organized agitation served to attract
sympathetic public attention to some of the more pressing problems of agri­
cultural labor in California. State and Federal Government agencies in
time undertook various measures to ameliorate some of the worst hard­
ships suffered by farm workers in that State.
A s a collective-bargaining organization, the C .& A .W .I.U . followed a
policy that was in some respects self-defeating. It was a revolutionary or
“ fighting” union, in contrast to the conciliatory “ business” unions which it
opposed, and its tactics were aggressive and provocative. Its strike cam­
paigns aroused a latent mob spirit in many communities. Because its
organizers injected revolutionary doctrines into wage disputes, the em­
ployers were able to enlist support from many groups on other grounds than
those of mere economic interest. The announced objectives of most
vigilante organizations formed to “ drive out the Reds” had much moral
and patriotic appeal in conservative rural areas. W hen an anti-union m ove­
ment was mobilized and coordinated on a State-wide scale by a wellfinanced body such as the Associated Farmers of California, it proved to
be more than a match for any organization of farm laborers.
The C & A .W .I.U /s strength and effectiveness rested on wide rank
and file support, won by low initiation fees and monthly dues, and by ap­
parently democratic participation in union affairs. This support it utilized
to organize and direct general strikes designed to involve all workers em­
ployed in each intensive crop area. The union was sometimes disinclined
to accept separate agreements with individual growers willing to meet its
demands; on several occasions strikers refused to return to work until a ll
grower-employers had accepted the union’s terms.
Its bargaining policy proved to be a boomerang, as it solidified the anti­
union sentiments and interests of growers. The union sought to win its
demands in toto by continuing and expanding strikes, rather than by sub­
mitting to mediation which would bring settlement through compromise.
The growers, consequently, were likely to regard a strike situation as one
of “ rule or ruin,” and often were intransigeant in their refusal to meet
with representatives of strikers or to listen to their grievances. A s a result
of the attitudes of the two contending groups, impasses frequently occurred.
19Labor Fact Book, Vol. Ill, p. 101 (New York, Labor Research Association, 1936).




CH. VIII.---C. AND A. W. I. U.

115

The inner contradiction of Communist unionism was nowhere more
apparent than in the struggles of the C .& A .W J .U . in rural California. Its
ultimate revolutionary objectives were in many ways incompatible with the
immediate need for seeking improvements in wages and working conditions
in order to retain the support of its members. The San Joaquin Valley
cotton strike of 1933 was the best organized and the most successful of any
large-scale walk-outs led by the C .& A .W .I.U . or any other union in agri­
culture. Party members, however, were severely criticized in the official
organ, the Western W orker, for not infusing more propaganda into union
meetings, and for being too greatly concerned with the immediate problems
of the strike. On the other hand, when political objectives were made para­
mount, the rank and file lost interest, and many joined the more oppor­
tunistic and conciliatory affiliates o f the American Federation o f Labor
and independent racial unions.
Overcentralization of union control and direction also proved a major
weakness of the C .& A .W .I.U . Though minor officers and organizers were
often drawn from the rank and file, the main leaders in each strike were
usually the same— chiefly a few able organizers who were gifted as orators
and thoroughly imbued with revolutionary spirit. This very continuity of
leadership was fatal; it was seized upon by the Associated Farmers and
others as in itself proof that agricultural strikes were all part o f a concerted
attempt to overthrow the Government. W hen the leaders were arrested and
convicted under the criminal syndicalism laws of the State, the union or­
ganization collapsed.




Ch a p t e r

IX.— Spontaneous Strikes and Independent Unions

Labor-employer conflict in California farming decreased in scope and
intensity after the death of the Cannery and Agricultural W orkers In­
dustrial Union. The Communist Party's State organization for agricultural
workers was temporarily disrupted, and the most able and active leaders
were imprisoned. F or some time after the summer of 1934 the m ajor
efforts of left-wing unionists were drawn away from agriculture and
focused on key urban centers. Industrial labor organizations, particularly
the powerful maritime unions, had gained substantial momentum following
the general strike in San Francisco.
Meanwhile the agricultural labor movement in California was relatively
dormant. Farm workers' unions were decentralized, and collective action *
was intermittent and local. In the absence of an adequate State-wide union
structure, Communist labor organizers followed a “ knight errant" policy
somewhat reminiscent of the Industrial W orkers of the W orld. A gricul­
tural workers were reached primarily through unemployed councils and
independently organized unions in a few rural areas. Itinerant party
members organized scattered locals where the labor outlook was promising
and sought to gain control of unions already established by the American
Federation of Labor and other bodies. A m ong the most effective field
workers' organizations that appeared, in the years before the California
Federation of Labor began a State-wide campaign, were the separate
unions of Mexicans and Filipinos. On several occasions these were torn
by internal dissension between radical and conservative elements struggling
for control.
Labor organizers, both right and left wing, began to lay greater
emphasis on establishing stable local unions in agriculture and allied
industries than on agitating and leading strikes. N o m ajor farm walk-outs
were called officially by Communist Party affiliates after those in the apri­
cot orchards of Contra Costa and Alameda Counties in July 1934. The
most important strikes during late 1934 and 1935 were spontaneous or
nonunionized outbreaks, although they were undoubtedly influenced and
stimulated indirectly by the militant campaign which the C .& A .W .I.U .
had carried out in previous years. Some spontaneous strikes later came
under the control of Communist organizers, and others were taken over
by members of the A.F. o f L. or independent unions.

Spontaneous Strikes
Historically, spontaneous strikes had preceded the formation of labor
unions in agriculture. They usually indicated an amorphous dissatisfaction
which unions periodically could focus on specific issues. However, the
trend in extent and intensity of spontaneous strikes among farm workers
reflected, by and large, the changing fortunes of farm-labor unionism. A t
least four such outbreaks, ranging in size from a few dozen to a few hun­
dred workers, had occurred during the first years of depression, from
1930 through 1932. During 1933 and 1934, under the indirect stimulus of

116



CH. IX.---SPONTANEOUS STRIKES AND INDEPENDENT UNIONS

117

the C .& A .W .I.U .’s widespread and militant campaign,1 they had increased
in number to eight, most of which involved several hundred participants.
Spontaneous or nonunion strikes in California continued to grow in
scope and frequency in succeeding years. They constituted a large pro­
portion of all farm-labor outbreaks in 1935, chiefly because the collapse of
the C .& A .W .I.U . had left workers without a large organization to repre­
sent them for collective bargaining; hence, they had to rely mainly on un­
planned local action. A s has already been seen (table 3, chapter V ) , farm
strikes in California decreased considerably in size and number during
1935, then more than doubled in both respects during 1936.

Relief Policy and Farm-Labor Strikes
The prevalence of spontaneous as well as union-organized farm-labor
strikes during the mid-thirties and later was due in large part to a
glutted labor market and to the problems which this raised for public
relief agencies. Mexicans had constituted the main postwar labor supply
for California’s agriculture. In off-season months they had regularly con­
tributed a disproportionate number of public welfare cases in large cities
such as Los Angeles. Although many were deported or repatriated to
M exico during the early depression years, those remaining, including
the naturalized, were sufficient to meet the reduced needs of California
farms.
Growers began to complain of labor shortages during 1935, when
the Federal Government was establishing systematic relief measures for
the unemployed. Relief income gave agricultural workers an increased
bargaining power, because some were no longer forced to work at sub­
standard wages. Spokesmen of the employers claimed that the labor
shortage became acute when the W orks Progress Administration was
established by the Federal Government in 1935. “ W ith hundreds of
thousands of people on the relief rolls of California,” wrote Dr. G. P.
Clements, manager of the agricultural department of the Los Angeles
Chamber of Commerce, “ California in 1935 has experienced the most dis­
astrous labor famine in her history.” 2
The alleged shortage was rapidly being filled through a large and
growing influx of “ Dust Bowl refugees” from the Middle W est and
Southwest, which reached flood proportions in 1937 and 1938. This huge
migration had the effect of reducing average earnings for farm work,
even at higher wage rates. The average duration of seasonal jobs was
reduced, the mobility of those forced to rely on farm work was increased,
and friction of a type leading to strikes became widespread.
These fundamental changes in the labor supply for California’s agri­
culture caused much concern among grower-employers. Dr. Clements
expressed their alarm as follow s:
This year 90 percent o f the labor consisted o f migratory labor from the South,
mid-South, and Southeast. This labor, mostly white, is supposed to supplant the
former Mexican laborers who were what might be termed versatile labor, since
when the 150 days o f agricultural labor were over they could turn their hands
to the manual labor o f rough industry and public utility and tighten their belts and
exist on the minimum o f subsistence. Another feature in their favor was that they
1See preceding chapter.
2Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 53 (p. 19674).




118

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

were adaptable labor in the agricultural field. They were impossible of unionizing;
they were tractable labor. Can we expect these new white transient citizens to fill
their place ?
The white transients are not tractable labor. Being American citizens, they are
going to demand the so-called American standards o f living. In our own estimation
they are going to be the finest pabulum for unionization for either group— the
A.F. o f L. or the subversive elements. They are not going to be satisfied with
160 working days. I f our government, whether county, State or Federal, takes care
o f them, at the end o f the year they become California citizens and a part o f our
economy or lack o f economy. (Hearings o f La Follette Committee, Part 53, p.
19467.)

Agricultural workers who were residents of California came to rely
in growing numbers upon W P A work relief and cash disbursements
from the State Relief Administration. Many migrated less, as relief
grants freed them from the ceaseless pursuit of brief jobs on farms. They
could reside in one locality the year round, and need perform agricul­
tural labor only for a few weeks during the harvest season. W ork on
Federal projects usually paid 50 cents or more per hour, and work or
cash relief totaled sometimes $40 or $50 or more per month. F or many
families it became as important a source of livelihood as farm work and
was often more attractive.
The effect on agricultural labor was twofold. Relief payments were
often higher than earnings in agriculture, leading the farm laborers to
agitate more strenuously for higher pay for farm work. They took steps
at the same time to protect their status as relief clients, since relief checks
were often more important than intermittent farm wages in providing a
subsistence. Unions of relief clients and unemployed consequently grew
in number and size during the mid-thirties. On some occasions they took
the initiative in organizing field laborers and leading local strikes during
1935 and 1936. In rural areas, however, they were largely occupied with
counteracting the efforts of organized growers who were endeavoring to
close relief projects and displace the clients in order to increase the avail­
able farm-labor supply. Dr. G. P. Clements sounded a warning at the
tim e:
The Mexican on relief is being unionized and is being used to foment strikes
among the few still loyal Mexican workers. The Mexican casual labor is lost to
the California farmer unless immediate action is taken to get him off relief. (H ear­
ings o f La Follette Committee, Part 53, p. 19675.)

The Associated Farmers and other agricultural employers’ associa­
tions, supported by certain prominent newspapers, exerted increasing
pressure on relief administrators during 1935 and 1936 to release clients
for farm work. The W estern Grower-Shipper stated categorically that
“ all unskilled labor capable of working in agricultural districts must be
released from W P A .” 3 The Associated Farmers condemned the granting
of relief to strikers, on the ground that it forced the public to subsidize
strikes and thus to finance Communist unions of agricultural and relief
workers.3 Farm-union spokesmen charged that grower-shipper interests
were “ using the relief administration as a club to beat down wages,” and
that relief clients were being dropped from the rolls and forced to work at
20 cents per hour.4
Far from weakening unionism, the organized growers’ campaign
stimulated the farm workers and unemployed to organize more strongly
3From Apathy to Action (organ of the Associated Farmers of California, San Francisco), No.
30, November 23, 1936 (p. 2).
4Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 14, September 1936 (p. 4).




CH. IX.---SPONTANEOUS STRIKES AND INDEPENDENT UNIONS

119

for their own protection. A number of relief organizations had been
established in the early thirties as “ unemployed councils.0 After 1934, as
already noted, organizers from the C .& A .W .I.U . and other Communist
affiliates reverted to the “ boring from within” policy and worked in col­
laboration with other groups to form numerous public-works and unem­
ployed unions. These and similar bodies in California and other States
were next merged and federated on a national scale in the W orkers A lli­
ance of America. Left-wing elements acting through this organization were
able to agitate effectively for closer unity among unemployed and seasonal­
ly employed field and processing workers to resist attempts to cut them off
from relief. Affiliation with the A .F . of L . now had greater appeal, as
it held out the prospect of support from well-organized and politically
weighty State and county union affiliates of the State federation of labor.
The W orkers Alliance, with its central headquarters in Washington, D.C.,
achieved a status recognized by the Federal Government. It attempted to
dovetail its program for the unemployed with the organizing policies of
the A .F . of L. and the Committee for Industrial Organization. In each
agricultural area the Alliance drew up agreements for a regular inter­
change of workers with other unions. It was to release members when
they were employed seasonally on farms and reinstate them when their
work was finished.
It was suspected that certain spontaneous walk-outs, as well as some
led by local unions of unemployed and others during 1935, had been
organized by form er C .& A .W .I.U . organizers hiding their Communist
affiliations under the new united-front policy. Such were the strikes of
milkers in Los Angeles County during April, of 50 farm workers in Butte
County during May, of several hundred potato diggers belonging to a
local vegetable workers’ union in Santa Barbara, during August, and of
apple pickers in Sonoma County during the same month.5 N o Communist
control, however, was imputed to a minor strike of grape pickers in Kern
County during September, in the course of which several arrests were
made,6 nor to a strike of cotton pickers in the San Joaquin Valley during
September and October.7

,

Sonoma Apple Pickers9 Strike August 1935
The most highly publicized strike of agricultural workers during 1935
involved some 2,000 apple pickers in the vicinity of Santa Rosa (Sonoma
C ounty). It began as a spontaneous movement and later came under the
domination of radical organizers who were active in the local public-works
and unemployed union.
Late in July some 1,200 workers in the apple crop held a preharvest
mass meeting in Santa Rosa and voted unanimously to strike in order to
raise wages to 25 cents per hour, as compared to the prevailing level of
20 cents.8 Since the season*was delayed, the growers were able to ignore
the strike vote until 200 packing-house employees joined the field work­
ers. Definite steps were then taken to suppress the movement. Early in
August, 250 growers and sympathizers made a vigilante raid and broke
up a meeting addressed by alleged Communist Party members.8 Pressure
5Pacific Rural Press, September 12, 1936.
^Oakland Tribune, September 8, 1935.
’ Western Worker, December 28, 1935.
®Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 2, September 1935.
654107®—46—9




LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

120

was exerted on relief authorities to release clients for farm work, as the
crop was ripening and the labor shortage created by the strike was be­
coming critical. A vigilante group, including some prominent local busi­
nessmen and civic leaders, finally resorted to direct violence late in
August. A mob of several hundred men was reported to have tarred and
feathered, and severely beaten two alleged Communist organizers and to
have driven them out of the county.9
This attack proved a boomerang to the growers. A premature migra­
tion of apple pickers from the county resulted, and the labor shortage in
both the apple and hop orchards became even more acute. W age rates
were raised, and relief clients were released from the rolls in an effort to
recruit sufficient workers. The San Francisco Chronicle for September
7, 1935, reported that—
♦ * * the mob action o f the vigilantes has frightened away so many workers that
the county is 20 percent under the number of pickers needed. Pay was increased
% cent a pound, with payment o f transportation, to induce pickers to come here, but
the increase has had little effect in this regard.

Relief headquarters in San Francisco, in response to a hurried request,
sent large numbers of workers to help with the harvest. W P A officials,
according to the San Francisco News of August 18, 1935, loaded relief
clients on trucks and dispatched them to the hop fields, where many o f
the inexperienced earned as little as 50 to 75 cents per day. T h e San
Francisco Chronicle of September 7, 1935, reported that the State
Emergency Relief Administration (S E R A ) sent more than 150 men into
the fields in 1 day. The Simon J. Lubin Society stated that John Small,
S E R A Relief Director for San Francisco, took a total of 5,000 men o ff
relief during the harvest season in order to force them to pick hops in
Sonoma County.10
The entire incident aroused widespread and unfavorable public atten­
tion, even in some rather conservative circles. The American Civil
Liberties Union offered a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the
arrest and conviction, for felonious assault, of any of the 300 vigilantes
who had taken part in the tarring and feathering episode.11 T w o prom i­
nent San Francisco newspapers, the News and the Chronicle, called upon
State Attorney General W ebb to take action.12
M r. W ebb finally acted when Governor Merriam several months later
made $20,000 available as a special investigating fund. Warrants were
served on 23 alleged vigilantes on charges of kidnapping and assault with
deadly weapons. The defendants, portrayed in a News editorial on
August 18, 1935, as a “ pack of lawless bullies masquerading as patriots,”
were indicted but later acquitted.

Spontaneous Strikes and Wage Increases in 1936
Spontaneous strikes among agricultural workers became noticeably
larger and more numerous in California during 1936. Th ey reflected a
renewed militancy and strength among farm-labor unions organized both
by the A .F . o f L, and by unaffiliated Mexicans and Filipinos. The
9San Francisco Chronicle, August 23, 1935.
i°Report Submitted to the President’ s Committee on Farm Tenancy, by Simon J. Lubin
Society, San Francisco, January 12, 1937 (p. 3).
11Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 2, September 1935.
12The News was reported to have interviewed him every day for 11 months, to ask what
steps had been taken to apprehend the vigilantes.




CH. IX.---SPONTANEOUS STRIKES AND INDEPENDENT UNIONS

121

largest spontaneous strike during 1936 included some 2,500 pea pickers
employed on several large ranches in San Joaquin County during April.
Violence was notably lacking, and 'the strikers won a rapid success in
raising picking rates from the prevailing 20 to 30 cents per hamper.
Organizers failed to form a union, however, because of the extreme
mobility of the labor.13
Success also attended a spontaneous strike of several hundred potato
pickers and packing-shed workers in Kern County during July. The
movement began on a small and apparently unsuccessful scale. The
Fresno Bee of May 30, 1936, reported that only 40 pickers in the Shatter
area quit work, and that all of these were replaced by unemployed. The
Rural W orker in its July 1936 issue, however, claimed that a later 4-day
strike of several hundred potato workers was successful. Fifty cents per
hour was demanded for general' field workers and 50 to 75 cents per
hour for packing-shed workers, in place of the prevailing 30 cents per
hour. Despite the growers' refusal to meet a committee elected by the
strikers, and despite their alleged use of armed vigilantes, the strikers
were reemployed at a compromise increase in wage rates to 40 cents
per hour.14
Other spontaneous field workers' strikes during 1936 were all small
and short-lived. None involved as many as 300 workers, and only 2 lasted
more than several days. A ll of them did, however, win at least partial
wage increases for those participating. Chronologically these strikes
occurred as follow s:
Sfarch— 75 poultry workers in Alameda County over the issue o f working condi­
tions. Results unknown.
April—35 fruit workers in Los Angeles County. Issues and results unknown.
June—250 pea pickers in Y olo County. Compromise wage gains.
July— 52 vegetable workers in Merced County. Compromise wage gains.
July—250 peach pickers in Merced County. Compromise wage gains.
July— 85 grape packers in Merced County. Compromise wage gains.
September— 175 brussels sprouts and artichoke workers in Santa Cruz. W age gains
in full.
September— 150 sugar-beet toppers in Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara. Com­
promise wage gains.

The spontaneous strike of sugar-beet toppers in the strongly unionized
Santa Maria Valley began on September 10, when workers demanded an
additional 10-percent increase in wage rates after one 10-percent in­
crease had already been granted the previous week. The strike was
settled after a week by a compromise 5-percent increase. Tom ato grow ­
ers in the area, who had just settled a wage dispute with their shed
workers, complained of a shortage of field laborers. They were forced to
increase all pay by 5 cents per hour in order to recruit sufficient help to
love their crop.15
That spontaneous strikes were successful during 1936 was attested by
the fact that nearly all of them won at least compromise gains. The general
level of farm wages for almost all important crop areas of California
had been raised by the end of the year. Substantial wage rises were
granted voluntarily by growers on several occasions. T w o hundred of
the largest cotton raisers represented by the Agricultural Labor Bureau of
the San Joaquin Valley, for instance, announced an increase in cotton­
picking rates to $1 per hundredweight— 25 cents higher than the 1935
18Stockton Record, April 13, 1936.
14Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 12, July 1936.
18Loe Angeles Times, September 11 and 12, 1936.




122

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

scale. The Bakersfield Californian applauded this move and stated opti­
mistically that-“ the workers and the farmer will thus benefit from the
new rate, and a harmonious relationship will be maintained to the ad­
vantage of the farmer, the worker, and the community.” 16
The revitalized Associated Farmers of California, despite its unprec­
edented strength and success during 1936 in breaking some of the
largest strikes, nevertheless applied many conciliatory measures to nullify
the growing militancy of agricultural workers. A t a quarterly meeting
of the board of directors during the summer of 1936, a resolution was
passed requesting farmers not to ask for more workers than they actually
needed, nor to ask workers to report until employers were ready to hir<
them.
T o do otherwise is to create dissatisfaction and provide the workers with jus
cause for complaint; also it lessens the willingness o f the public employmen
agencies to cooperate fully with farmers. (From Apathy to Action, No. 23, Augu
31, 1936.)

The Associated Farmers later announced that its executive committe,
had voted unanimously to refuse membership to “ any man who is no
willing to pay a fair wage to his employees in accordance with the pre
vailing wage in the community.” 17
Voluntary wage increases and other conciliatory gestures were de?
signed to forestall agitation and counteract the accelerated organizing
drive being carried out by left-wing elements in the A .F . of L . and inde­
pendent unions of Mexicans and Filipinos. The readiness of growers tc
concede wage increases where unorganized spontaneous strikes broke ot^
may have been prompted by the fear that recalcitrance would lead strikers
to seek more militant leadership from the outside. There were good
grounds for these apprehensions. The majority of spontaneous strikes
that broke out during the next few years soon came under the control
of unions, some of which were independent and some affiliated to the
A .F . of L . and C.I.O.

Unionism Among Mexicans
The most effective agricultural-labor unions during 1935 and 1936
were those organized among Mexicans. They had furnished most of the
membership in the C .& A .W .I.U . during the turbulent strike years of
1933 and 1934. Conflict had at times attended Communist organizers
efforts to “ capture” Mexican organizations. Mexican consuls on occasion
had attempted to split the C .& A .W .I.U . by organizing their compatriots
into independent racial unions which could bargain as separate groups
with grower-employers. In the Imperial Valley this contest had resulted
in the defeat of both organizations.18
A Mexican union which had undergone a similar conflict in Los!
Angeles County survived, and soon became the most active farm workers
organization in the State. This was the Confederacion de Uniones de
Campesinos y Obreros Mexicanos del Estado de California, or
C .U .C .O .M ., which had developed out of the general strike in strawberries,
16Bakersfield Californian, September 10, 1936.
17San Francisco News, August 19, 1937.
18See Chapter V III (pp.107-110).




CH. IX.---SPONTANEOUS STRIKES AND INDEPENDENT UNIONS

123

celery, and other crops, during June 1933.19 By 1934 this organization
claimed as many as 10,000 members. Its policy and leadership were again
coordinated with the C .& A .W .I.U . and the two unions carried out at
least one strike under a united-front agreement.
Several nominally independent local Mexican unions in addition to the
C.U .C .O .M . were organized following the collapse of the C .& A .W .I.U .
Some of these, the growers charged, were fronts for Communist organ­
izers. Such were the Mexican Agricultural W orkers U nion in Santa
Barbara, which led a strike in August 1934 of some 300 vegetable
w orkers;20 and the American Mexican Union in San Joaquin County
which, in June 1935, led a small strike of cherry pickers in the* vicinity
of Lodi, to enforce a demand for 6 cents per box instead of the prevailing
rate of 4 y2 cents. Deputy sheriffs armed with tear-gas bombs were re­
ported to have patrolled the area and made a few arrests.21
N o Communist affiliations, however, were imputed to the independent
Mexican Labor Union of the Santa Maria Valley, in Santa Barbara
County, which cooperated with a local union of Filipinos and a local
union of white vegetable packing-house workers in joint strikes and col­
lective-bargaining agreements (see page 126).
Left-wing farm-labor organizers placed their main support behind the
C .U .C.O.M . and ultimately assumed control o f it. Six of the 18 strikes
reported in field and processing industries in California during 1935 came
under the leadership of this union. Orange and San Diego Counties in
southern California, seat of the union’s strength, were the trouble centers.
Though minor in comparison to the great mass movements of 1933,
these strikes contributed notably to the techniques of collective bargain­
ing and labor arbitration in agriculture. Even without resorting to strikes,
the C .U .C .O .M . was able to gain several signed contracts granting wage
increases, improvements in working conditions, union recognition, and job
preference for members.
A series of strikes involved organized workers in Orange County
during 1935. A 1-day walk-out in January won compromise wage gains
for 200 celery workers belonging to the C .U .C .O .M .22 This was followed
on February 15, 1935, by a short and unsuccessful strike of 150
C .U .C.O.M . members working in pea and squash crops near Santa Ana.23
A few days later a general strike developed under the leadership of the
Mexican organization, supported by working members of the local inde­
pendent Filipino Labor Union and the white International Farm Labor
Association, Branch N o. 3, Orange County (a short-lived body reportedly
established by Communist organizers after dissolution o f the C.&
A .W .I.U .). The strike, which lasted almost a month, covered a major
part of the pea, celery, and lettuce crops of the county. A settlement was
finally reached, partly through the efforts of the Orange County Arbitra­
tion Board. A signed agreement was drawn up between the organized
strikers and various local and county Japanese growers’ associations,
granting a minimum wage scale of $2.15 per 9-hour day for permanent
labor, 25 cents per hour for temporary labor, and time and a half for
overtime.24
19See Chapter V III (pp. S9-90).
20San Francisco Examiner, August 19, 1934; Pacific Rural Press, September 12, 1936.
21Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1935; Western Worker, June 6, 1935.
22Western Worker, January 14, 1935.
23Idem, February 18, 1935.
24Idem, February 28, 1934.




LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

124

During October and November 1935, the C .U .C.O.M . again was sup­
ported by the independent Filipino Labor Union and the American In­
dustrial W orkers Union (successor to the International Farm Labor
Association) in a strike of 400 citrus workers near Santa Ana.25 Previ­
ously, during May, a small strike of 85 orange pickers in San Diego
County under the combined leadership of a local branch of the C .U .C .O .M .
and the new Vegetable and Citrus Federal Labor Union of the A .F . of L .
had won compromise adjustments in wage scales.26 The C .U .C .O .M .
in July 1934 had negotiated an agreement with organized Japanese grow ­
ers of the county, providing for standard wages, union recognition, and
arbitration of disputes.27 This was renewed in August 1935. Some 3,000
workers were estimated to be covered.

Federation of Agricultural Workers Unions of America
Left-wing organizers during 1935 had plans under way to coordinate
the policies of farm-labor unions along broader State and regional lines.
The National Committee for Unity of Agricultural and Rural W orkers
had been established for this purpose, and it rendered substantial aid
to rural organizations of all types. The immediate program called for
affiliating all such local unions to the A .F . of L . as federal labor unions.
Ultimately it was planned to federate these into a separate A .F . of L. in­
ternational union of agricultural and allied workers.
Independent Filipino and Mexican unions in southern California, com ­
posed solely of low-paid and seasonally employed field workers, could not
afford the high initiation fees and dues charged by the A .F . of L .28 On
the other hand, the notable gains in collective bargaining won by the
C .U .C .O .M ., and its successful cooperation with other racial groups in
several strikes, made the prospect of establishing a State-wide organiza­
tion of agricultural and allied workers more hopeful. It was recognized
that unified control and cooperation among organized racial groups would
be necessary if collective bargaining and strike action were to be made
effective over wide crop areas in which the growers were highly organized.
A temporary Federation of Agricultural W orkers Unions of America
was formed during January 1936, at a convention in Los Angeles of
organized farm-labor representatives of southern California. It was com ­
posed of several independent local organizations of Mexicans, Filipinos,
and others, and a few months after its formation it was joined by the
newly organized Japanese Farm W orkers Union. The key group in the
Federation was the C .U .C.O.M ., which furnished the chief leaders and
most of the rank and file membership.
CELERY STRIKE, APRIL 1936

The Federation’s attempts to enforce a schedule of union demands in
the celery crop of Los Angeles County precipitated a series of strikes
25Pacific Rural Press, September 12, 1936.
26Western Worker, June 6, 1935.
27See Appendix H : Agreements between Japanese Farmers and the Union of Laborers and
Field Workers, San Diego County, 1934 (p. 430).
28Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 13, August 1936 (p. 5),




CH. IX.---SPONTANEOUS STRIKES AND INDEPENDENT UNIONS

125

during the spring of 1936. The first was a small strike of Mexican and
Filipino workers on the farms of the H . P. Garin Co. in San Diego
County, who in February attempted unsuccessfully to enforce demands for
union recognition, 60-percent union preference, and a minimum wage
scale of 30 cents per hour. This was followed in April by a walk-out of
300 workers in the Venice area under the leadership of the C .U .C .O .M .,
when that organization’s request for higher wages and union recognition
was refused by the organized Japanese growers.29
Eleven unions affiliated to the Federation of Agricultural W orkers
Unions of America then presented these blanket demands to the grow ers:
That 90 percent of the laborers in the field should be members of the
F .A .W .U .A .; that union men in the field when at work should be paid
a minimum of 30 cents per hour, and celery workers a minimum of 40
cents per hour, for a 9-hour d a y ; and that overtime, including Sundays
and holidays, should be paid at the rate of time and a half.30 W ithin a few
weeks the walk-out had grown to include some 2,600 celery workers (in ­
cluding a minority of Filipinos) in such localities as El Monte, Torrence,
H arbor City, Lovita, Palos Verdes, Norwalk, Carmentia, and Bell­
flower.31
Authorities took strong measures to suppress the movement. Union
spokesmen claimed that a force of approximately 1,500 armed men, in­
cluding deputy sheriffs, special guards, and Los Angeles city police led
by Capt. W illiam ( “ R ed” ) Hynes, was mobilized to break up parades
and picket lines. Several strikers were reported struck and burned by
tear-gas bombs, and many were arrested.32 The Public W orks and U n­
employed Union of Santa Monica sent a message to the W hite H ouse
protesting “ provocation and intimidation” of strikers and sympathizers
by the Los Angeles “ Red Squad.” 33
The constituent unions of the F .A .W .U .A . showed signs of winning
after more than 2 months on strike, despite the severity of the opposition.
The long duration o f the walk-out was due to a deadlock which developed
in negotiations between representatives of the Japanese Growers A sso­
ciation and its affiliates in Los Angeles County on the one hand, and those
of the C.U .C .O .M ., the Filipino Farm Labor Union, and the Japanese
Labor Union on the other. Growers claimed that the unions were Com­
munist-controlled. Chinichi Kato, secretary of the Southern California
Farm Federation, stated flatly that his organization would not meet with
the workers while a “ radical and Communist-dominated group, led by
Lillian Monroe, was in control.” 83 The F .A .W .U .A . nevertheless claimed,
by July 1936, that 385 growers had signed an agreement granting union
demands.34 Mediation by the U .S. Department of Labor finally settled the
strike on the basis of 60-percent union preference in employment and a
minimum wage of 30 cents per hour for field labor.35
CITRUS STRIKE IN ORANGE COUNTY, JUNE-JULY 1936

The Los Angeles celery strike during the spring and summer of 1936
had repercussions in other crops and in adjoining counties. Late in May,
300 strawberry pickers struck for wage increases and union recognition.
29Los Angeles Examiner, April 22, 1936.
30Field notes.
31Western Worker, August 17, 1936.
32Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 11, p. 1; Carey McWilliams, Factories m the Fields (p. 244).
33Field notes.
34Western Worker, July 9, 1936.
35Idem, August 17, 1936; Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 13, August 1936.




126

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

In July, about 200 bean pickers belonging to the C U .C .O .M . went on
strike in the vicinity of Palos Verdes to enforce similar demands; although
they won a wage raise from 22 y2 to 30 cents per hour, they lost their de­
mand for union recognition. Union spokesmen claimed that “ vigilante
terror” was on occasion employed against strikers.36
Violence in labor relations reached its climax in southern California
during a strike of 2,500 to 3,000 citrus-fruit pickers and packers in Orange
County. It occurred while the celery strike was still in progress, and was
under much the same leadership. The C .U .C.O.M . called the strike on
June 15 in order to enforce a series of union demands: W age increases
from the prevailing 5 j4 cents per box (which averaged 22 cents per hour)
to 2 7 cents per hour, free transportation instead of the prevailing
charges of 10 to 20 cents for being taken to and from groves, union
recognition, and other minor provisions.37
The methods of suppression corresponded closely to those used in the
L os Angeles celery strike. Large numbers of strikers were evicted from
their hom es; 400 special armed guards were recruited by growers to patrol
fields and protect strikebreakers; highway police disrupted strikers’
parades and picket lines; some 200 people were arrested and jailed in a
stockade; and numerous strikers were injured when growers (to quote
the Los Angeles Examiner, July 11, 1936) commissioned “ bands o f
armed men, armed with tear gas and shotguns,” to conduct “ open private
warfare against citrus strikers.” The Los Angeles Times pictured one
clash as follow s:
H undreds J ailed as C itrus R ioters A ttack W orkers
(Placentia, July 6 ). A miniature civil war broke out in Orange County this
afternoon as hundreds o f citrus strikers in a concerted offensive swooped on groves
in a wide area and attacked growers and workers with guns, chains, knives, and
rocks.
^
:
A prominent citrus-association official was beaten on the head with a chain, 1 agita­
tor was shot, dozens o f persons were hurt, and 75 strikers were seized in a pitched
battle near Placentia. By late afternoon more than 200 agitators had been arrested
and taken to the county jail at Santa Ana.

A counterattack against the strikers a few days later was described
no less colorfully, in the July 11, 1936, issue of the Tim es:
V igilantes B attle C itrus Strikers in W ar A gainst R eds
Tw o Meeting Places Smashed up;
Roving Carloads o f Ex-W orkers Hunted by Authorities
(Anaheim, July 10). Drawing first blood in the retaliation against Communist
disorder in the Orange County citrus area, night riders struck again early today with
clubs and sent one man to a hospital and nearly demolished a rendezvous.
Tear-gas bombs and clubs flew and men went down like tenpins when a group
o f 150 asserted strikers in a conclave in a public handball court in Placentia was
attacked.

W alter Cowan, vice-president of the State Federation of Labor, and
J. W , Buzzell, secretary of the Los Angeles Central Labor Council,
were arrested while investigating the strike. They declared in a special
communication to Attorney General W ebb that all law had been suspended
in Orange County in an effort to terrorize and starve strikers into sub­
mission.38
Organized growers represented by the Associated Farmers charged
that the labor trouble was due entirely to the activities of Communist
36Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 14, September 1936.
37Idem, Vol. I, No. 12, July 1936; Vol. I, No. 13, August 1936.
38Hollywood Citizeft News, July 17, 1936.




CH. IX.---SPONTANEOUS STRIKES AND INDEPENDENT UNIONS

127

labor leaders in the F .A .W .U .A ., most active of whom were Velarde and
Avila (M ex ica n ), Mensalves (F ilipin o), and Deguchi (Japanese).
Growers maintained further that the situation constituted a “ labor boy­
cott” rather than a strike. It was argued that as the laborers had refused
beforehand to take the jobs, the growers were under no responsibility to
deal with them.39
Gilermo Velarde, president of the Mexican C .U .C.O.M . conducting
the strike, charged that representatives of the local Mexican consul’s
office were trying to trick the strikers into signing an unfavorable agree­
ment with growers.40 The Associated Farmers, on the other hand, claimed
that the consul and his aides were “ constantly active in fomenting
trouble.” 41
It was evident by the end of July that the strike was lost, as pickers
returned to work in steadily increasing numbers. The union, in the final
settlement, won some minor gains in wages and working conditions, but
failed to attain union recognition from the organized growers in the citrus
industry.42

Beginning of State-wide Unionism
The citrus strike marked a turning point in agricultural relations in
California. One result was the revival of the powerful anti-union A sso­
ciated Farmers of California, which had been inactive since crushing the
C .& A .W .I.U . in 1934.43
The series of outbreaks under radical leadership in southern Cali­
fornia, culminating in the large celery and citrus strikes, again aroused
grower-employer interests throughout the State and impelled them to
join protective organizations under the aegis of the Associated Farmers.
A t the same time, the violence employed by law officers and vigilantes
in several strikes caused widespread apprehension among organized labor
circles. Urban affiliates of the State Federation of Labor foresaw an
ultimate threat to their own security and thus sought to guard their “ back
door” by encouraging strong labor organizations in rural areas. Inde­
pendent unions of Mexicans and Filipinos saw their weakness as separate
organizations of field workers lacking the support of the more powerful
urban labor bodies, and their interest in affiliation with the A .F . of L. and
other unions grew accordingly.
The C .U .C.O.M . and other farm-labor organizations, during 1936
and 1937, participated in several conferences held to form a State-wide
federation of agricultural and allied workers to be chartered by the A .F .
of L. Local unions at the same time cooperated more closely than before
with organizations of unemployed in order to prevent relief authorities
from releasing their clients for farm work. A s already noted, the
C .U .C.O.M . and other agricultural-labor unions drew up an agreement
39From Apathy to Action (San Francisco), Bulletin No. 20, July 29, 1936.
40Hollywooa Citizen News, July 17, 1936.
41From Apathy to Action (San Francisco), Bulletin No. 20, July 29, 1936.
42Idem, Bulletin No. 20, July 29, 1936; New York Times, July 27, 1936.
43The association had almost ended because of a shortage of funds and a declining mem­
bership. After the major drive of the C.&A.W.I.U. had ended, and the threat to the main
grower-employers was temporarily over, urban and agrarian interests were little inclined to
make large financial outlays for maintaining it. (See Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part
49, pp. 17931-33, 17938-47.)




128

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

with the W orkers Alliance in several towns to provide for transference
of membership44 and prevention of strikebreaking by unemployed. A c­
cording to Alliance spokesmen, its aim was to “ secure relief for striking
agricultural workers and support their strikes with pickets.” 44
Grower-labor relations on the whole were more stable and peaceful
during 1937 than they had been for years. In Los Angeles County, which
had witnessed the celery workers’ violent strike during the previous year,
representatives of nearly 5,000 farm workers in April signed a new union
contract with the Central Japanese Association of Southern California,
representing growers in the Venice Palms area. The provisions of theagreement were as follow s:
(1 ) Recognition o f the unions as agents for collective bargaining, including their
right to have delegates in the field to make contacts with workers.
(2 ) Growers to refrain from interfering with union activities o f the workers.
(3 ) Abolition o f the contractor system in fields.
(4 ) Minimum wage o f 35 cents per hour for all field workers.
(5 ) Contract to last 1 year, with no strikes or lock-outs.
(6 ) Grievance committee o f 3 (1 from growers, 1 from the unions, 1 neutral) to
settle all disputes that may arise.4
5

The agreement was drawn up in negotiations between representatives
of the Japanese growers, the Mexican consul (fo r the w orkers), and the
State Labor Commissioner’s office. It was then ratified by the Mexican
Agricultural W orkers Union, the Filipino Labor Federation, and the
Japanese Farm W orkers Union.
Mexicans organized in their own unions participated in a few strikes
in southern California during 1937. Approximately 450 celery workers
in San Diego County struck for 6 days during January under the leader­
ship of the C .U .C .O .M . They returned to work without achieving the
wage increases and union recognition demanded. Three small walk-outs
of unorganized Mexican workers took place in the citrus orchards of
southern California. In Ventura County, in February and again in May,
two 1-week strikes of 120 and 100 workers, respectively, as well as one
small strike of 45 citrus workers in San Diego County during the latter
month, were all settled with compromise wage gains.46
Most of the Mexican and other farm-labor organizations in California
sent delegates to the Denver convention in July 1937, and joined the
C .I.O .’s new United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied W orkers
of America (U .C .A .P .A .W .A .). A few “ race conscious” M exican unions
continued to function separately. In some areas, as in the Santa Maria
Valley, they cooperated effectively with other labor organizations in
collective bargaining; in other areas, as in Orange County, they became
involved in jurisdictional disputes with the A .F . of L. and C.I.O .
44Under the terms of the agreement, paid-up membership books of the Workers Alliance
were accepted by the Agricultural Workers Union in place of its own initiation fee when an
Alliance member went to work in the fields. A farm worker who belonged to the C.U.C.O.M.
likewise could join the Workers Alliance without paying additional fees when unemployed.
(Rural W orker, Vol. I, No. 16, December 1936.)
45The wage scale specified 35 cents per hour for specialty crops, chiefly celery and cauliflower,
in Los Angeles County. The agreement did not, however, include workers in the Venice celery
area, scene of the major strike in 1936, nor did it apply to berry pickers. (Los Angeles Illus­
trated News, Apr. 30, 1937; Commonwealth Times, Vol. I, No. 8, Apr. 23, 1937.)
46Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1937; Josiah Folsom: Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927-39.




CH. IX.—SPONTANEOUS STRIKES AND INDEPENDENT UNIONS

129

Unionism Among Filipinos
Filipinos as well as Mexicans had been an active element in strikes
led by the C .& A .W .I.U . This union, from its beginning, had gained
the affiliation of many Filipinos because it had been one of the few or­
ganizations to come to their defense when they were the victims of mob
action in the race riots early in the depression.47 They were reported to
have participated in large numbers in at least TO strikes led by the union
during its 3 most active years. Chronologically these occurred as follow s:
Strikes In W hich Filipinos Participated
County

Demands

Wage increases, im­
proved housing, and
medical services.
Solano ..................... Wage increase and an 8hour day.
Alameda and Santa Wage increases.
Clara.
Monterey (Salinas
Wage increases.
and Watsonville).
Kern....................... Wage increases.
Ventura (Oxnard).... Elimination of contrac­
tors, and union recogni­
tion.
San Mateo .............. Wage increases.
San Joaquin
Wage increases.
(Pescadero).
Sacramento ............ Wage increases.
Sacramento ............ Wage increases.

May 1932 ................. Pea pickers ........... . San Mateo ..............
November 1932 • • • • Orchard workers .... .
•••
April 1933 .......... .
August 1933
August 1933 ............

Pea pickers............ .
Lettuce workers ..... •
Grape pickers........ •
Beet workers..........,•

January 1934 .• • • •
••••
February 1934 .••••••»
March 1934 ..............
April 1934 ................

Spinach cutters • • •.
••
Brussels-sprouts
workers.
Asparagus cutters .. .
Strawberry pickers .,.

August 1933 ............

Independent farm labor unions grew rapidly among Filipinos, as
among Mexicans, after the C .& A .W .I.U . became inactive.48 Some of
their organizers had been active previously in the Communist organiza­
tion The strike of lettuce-field workers in the Salinas-Watsonville area,
for instance, had involved the Filipino Labor Chamber, and the Filipino
Protective Union had participated in the strike of beet laborers in the
Oxnard area of Ventura C ounty48 Other organizers tended to be na­
tionalistic and anti-Communist in sentiment. Independent Filipino unions
in a few notable instances acted jointly with the A .F . of L. in strikes and
collective-bargaining agreements.
One o f the most important field workers’ unions to be organized by
this racial minority was the Filipino Labor Union Incorporated, chartered
in the early summer of 1934. Shortly after its formation it joined a local
A .F . of L. shed workers’ union in a general strike throughout the lettuce
industry of Salinas. The Filipino union had been negotiating with organ­
ized grower-shippers for wage increases and improved working condi­
tions. Failing to win these demands, the members voted to strike on
September 1. W hite shed workers organized in the Salinas Vegetable
Packers Association N o. 18211, A .F . of L., also drafted a schedule of
demands regarding wage scales and working conditions and voted to join
47See Chapter V III (pp. 83-84).
48Among the organizations developed at one time or another m California, according to vari­
ous observers, were the following: The Filipino Labor Association, the Filipino Labor Supply
Association, and the Filipino Agricultural Labor Association, all of Stockton; the Philippine
Labor Chamber of Salinas; the Filipino United Labor Economic Endeavor of Santa Maria
Valley, Guadalupe; the Filipino United Labor Association of San Joaquin Valley, Delano; the
Filipino Unity Labor Association of Dinuba; the Filipino Labor Association of Fresno; and the
Filipino Labor Union Incorporated of Guadalupe, which by 1935 reported 7 branches with a total
membership of 2,000. (See Carey McWilliams: Exit the Filipino, in The Nation, Sept. 4, 1935.)




130

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

the Filipinos in a joint collective-bargaining effort. Field workers' wages
were to be raised from the prevailing 30 to 40 cents per h ou r; men and
women trimmers being paid 40 to 50 cents per hour were to be advanced
to a minimum of 60 cents; and a 48-hour week was to be established,
with time and a half for overtime, Sundays, and holidays.49 Representa­
tives of the two unions signed an agreement stipulating that neither
would return to work until the demands of both were satisfied.
Outside mediators from State and county government agencies were
reported to have appeared on the fourth day of the strike, addressed
mass meetings of strikers in the Rodeo grounds, and appealed to them to
return to work and disregard “ outside agitators." Shed workers' Local
N o. 18211 at a separate meeting then voted to let the Monterey County
Industrial Relations Board50 settle the issues. The Filipino field workers
voted to continue to strike and maintain their picket lines; apparently they
were misled by “ runners" who were supposed to keep them informed
of developments. A number of white shed workers attempted to resume
the strike but were forced to return to work when J. M . Casey, west
coast representative of the A .F . of L., threatened to revoke their charter.51
Thus isolated, the Filipinos were subjected to violent attack. W hile
the Industrial Relations Board was in session, vigilantes burned a large
labor camp owned by the president of the Filipino Labor Union Incor­
porated and inhabited by most of the union members. Some 800 Filipinos
were reported to have been driven from the county at rifle point.52
The Filipino Labor Union Incorporated subsequently transferred its
headquarters to Guadalupe, in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara
County.53 By September 1936, it claimed 10 branches, having a member­
ship of several thousand, and had built an $8,000 labor temple.54
The union worked in close cooperation with an independent Mexican
labor union of field workers and a local branch of Vegetable Packets
Association Local N o. 18211. Mexicans and Filipinos in the valley pre­
viously had gone on a strike together, under the leadership of the C.&
A .W .I.U . in 1933. This effort had failed because of inadequate prelimi­
nary organization and the successful recruiting of strikebreakers by
contractors and growers.55 M ore than 3,000 workers of all three racial
groups (Filipino, Mexican, and white) participated in a strike of almost
3 weeks, during November 1934, and were successful in winning wage
increases to 30 cents per hour and other concessions.55 F or several years
afterward, Filipinos, Mexicans, and whites were organized in their own
unions and continued to cooperate. Under joint arbitration agreements
they maintained peaceful collective-bargaining relations with organized
grower-shippers in the Santa Maria Valley.
Organized Filipinos during 1935 and 1936 cooperated with other
racial groups also in Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties. In
Orange County they participated with the Mexican C .U .C .O .M . and a
49W es tern Worker, August 30, 1934; also A. Alston: A brief History of the Fruit and Vege­
table Industry of the Pacific Coast (unpublished) (p. 12).
5°This board had been formed in the spring of 1934, through the efforts of Local No. 18211
and other unions to find a satisfactory alternative to a projected antipicketing ordinance that
the City Council of Salinas attempted to pass.
51Alston, op. cit. (pp. 12-14).
52San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 1936.
The final decision by the Industrial Relations Board was a slight raise for all classes of shed
workers, time and a half for overtime, Sundays, and holidays, time and a third for all work
after 10 p.m., union recognition, and other concessions. (Alston, op. cit., pp. 12-13.)
53Pacinc Weekly, Vol. TV, No. 17, April 27, 1936 (p. 228).
54Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 13, August 1936 (p. 5).
55Idem, Vol. I, No. 8, March 1936 (p. 5).




CH. IX.---SPONTANEOUS STRIKES AND INDEPENDENT UNIONS

131

local union of whites, in a strike of vegetable workers during February
and March 1935 and a strike of orange pickers in November. Early in
1936 a local of Filipinos joined other field workers’ organizations in the
F .A .W .U .A . During the summer it participated in a minor capacity in
the large celery and citrus strikes in Los Angeles and Orange Counties,
and later in negotiations for signed union agreements with Japanese
growers’ associations in southern California.56
In the Imperial Valley during this period, on the other hand, the grow­
ers claimed that the Filipinos created a labor problem. They were sup­
planting Mexican laborers in lettuce and other crops through underbidding
wages. B y working for from $3.25 to $4.50 per acre at thinning lettuce,
instead of the $5 rate usually demanded, Filipinos were displacing M exi­
cans, who in turn were going on relief so as to be available for dam-con­
struction jobs. Growers were having to depend increasingly on white
migrants and Filipino laborers, and as the Brawley News observed, "since
the latter in other years have brought labor disturbances in the valley,
growers are not pleased.”
The Filipino Labor Union Incorporated meanwhile was meeting with
mixed success. It assumed control of a spontaneous strike of 100 pea
pickers in the vicinity of San Luis Obispo during January 1935, and
organized a new local. The strike failed. During September 1936, some
175 to 200 union members carried out a successful strike in the artichoke
and brussels-sprouts crops of Santa Cruz County. The walk-out occurred
during the peak harvest season, at the same time that the famous strike
of lettuce-shed workers was in progress in Salinas. The Filipinos on the
larger ranches were able to win wage increases, establishing a union scale
of 35 cents per hour. "Harassed growers” were reported attempting
to import nonunion white workers from other counties, because, at the
time the strike broke out, there were not enough local whites to supplant
the Filipinos.57
A dissident group in the Filipino Labor Union Incorporated organized
a separate union and submitted the following schedule of demands to the
Japanese Growers Association of San Luis Obispo County, early in 1937:
(1 ) That the employers recognize the Filipino Labor Union, Pismo Beach branch,
as the collective-bargaining agency on all matters regarding wages, hours, and work­
ing conditions in the San Luis Obispo County vegetable industry.
(2 ) That an agreement be signed by the employers and the union which shall be
in force and effect for the period o f 1 year.
(3 ) That a minimum wage o f 35 cents per hour be paid field workers.
(4 ) That no discrimination because o f union affiliation be applied in hiring
workers.
(5 ) That a 10-hour day be in force, with time and a half for overtime, Sundays,
and holidays.
(6 ) That wages be paid every 15 days.®8

A strike of about 200 fruit and vegetable workers was called on ranches
in the vicinities of Oceana, Pismo Beach, and A rroyo Grande to enforce
these demands, but only a few minor .gains were won. The strikers were
checked by numerous arrests, after the county board of supervisors
passed an antipicketing ordinance.
Filipino agricultural labor unions lost other strikes in early 1937. A
small walk-out of 40 spinach cutters in Milpitas was broken immediately
through complete replacement by other workers.59 The largest field
56See pp. 127-128.
57Oakland Tribune, September 17, 1936.
ssRural Worker, Vol. II, No. 2, February 1937 (p. 5).
59Farm Labor News (Modesto), April 9, 1937.




132

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

workers’ strike of the year, a spontaneous walk-out of more than 1,000
pea pickers in San Luis Obispo County, during April, was suppressed
within 2 days by local law-enforcement authorities. They declared the
strike was illegal because it was not called by a recognized organization,
despite the fact that it was supported by the Filipino Labor Union and the
county central labor council.
The impotence of spontaneous strikes and independent local unions
in the face of strong opposition from organized grower-employers was
becoming steadily more apparent. Revival of the anti-union Associated
Farmers of California and its county subdivisions generated widespread
sentiment among Filipinos, as among Mexicans, in favor of affiliation
with the A .F . of L. Unions of Filipinos had won their greatest gains
when they had cooperated closely with organized Mexicans and whites,
as in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange Counties, and in the Santa
Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. By themselves they had lost
heavily in membership, as workers migrated seasonally to crops grown
in other areas. Federation of these local unions’ on a State-wide basis,
allowing for transference of members among locals as they changed
location, was urged as the only means for keeping migratory workers
unionized.61 Left-wing elements, in particular, in the Filipino unions,
favored affiliation with the A .F . of L. in a general federation of agricul­
tural and allied workers in California. Their representatives attended the
State-wide conferences held during late 1936 and 1937.62
Other Filipino groups opposed this move. Labor contractors organ­
ized in the Filipino Labor Supply Association of Stockton were racially
exclusive in policy. They refused membership to non-Filipino contractors,
and petitioned the Central California Grower-Shipper Association to
grant preferential hiring of the laborers they recruited and to pay the
contractors a minimum of 60 cents per hour for field supervision. Although
primarily a type of employers’ organization, the association at times at­
tempted to utilize methods of collective bargaining common to labor
unions. Left-wing organizers, however, considered this group a form of
company union.63
Leaders of the Filipino Labor Union Incorporated also favored a
policy of racial exclusiveness and opposed affiliation with other labor
organizations. A split developed within the union during the Salinas
shed packers’ strike of 1936. The left-wing element led by Secretary
C. D. Mensalves attempted to organize a sympathetic walk-out of Filipino
field workers in support of the A .F . of L. Fruit and Vegetable W orkers
Union N o. 18211.64 W hen this move was opposed by other officials of
60San Francisco News, April 15, 1937; Commonwealth Times (Organ of the Filipino Labor
Union, Guadalupe) April 23, 1937.
61 Commonwealth Times, Vol. I, No. 18, April 23, 1937.
®2See Chapter X (pp. 145-146).
63In an address to the association, President M. M. Insigne claimed that Filipino labor in
Salinas, under the “ paternal and sane guidance of the labor contractors,” felt confidence in the
“ spirit of fair play and mutual cooperation between Filipino laborers and their employers.”
He opposed accepting non-Filipino contractors as members, and stated that “ even without
having to organize the Filipino farm hands into a union, they are already enjoying the right
of collective bargaining and preferential hiring through the labor contractors who rebargain
for them with the employers.” (Philippines Mail, Salinas, Vol. VII, No. 19, Feb. 8, 1937, p. 1.)
The more articulate elements in the Filipino community upheld the views of organized
Filipino contractors. The Philippines Mail, in an editorial commending the election of “ humani­
tarian and progressive young community leaders” to the Filipino Labor Supply Association,
felt that outside Salinas there were “ unjustified distrust and unfair rumors” leveled against
the organization by union labor. The paper commented: “ W e found it not an easy task to
justify the faith of our laborers in the fairness of our labor contractors.” (Philippines Mail,
Salinas, Vol. VIII, No. 6, January 17, 1938, p. 2.)
64See Chapter X (p. 139).




CH. IX.---SPONTANEOUS STRIKES AND INDEPENDENT UNIONS

133

the union, Mensalves and his supporters withdrew and formed the sep­
arate Filipino Labor Union (unincorporated). This organization attended
the convention at Denver in July 1937, and was later absorbed into the
C I .O .’s new international, the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
The original Filipino Labor Union Incorporated late in 1937 under­
went a second split. President Reyes of Branch No. 4 at Guadalupe formed
a new organization, the Philippine Islands Labor Union Incorporated, and
assumed control of the $8,000 labor temple. H e claimed that Branch N o. 4
of the Filipino Labor Union Incorporated had been dissolved, and that
the Philippine Islands Labor Union Incorporated had been organized
as a new corporation. Officers of the Filipino Labor Union Incorporated,
on the other hand, contended that Branch N o. 4 could not be dissolved
without authorization from the union’s executive council.65 The new
Philippine Islands Labor Union Incorporated survived the ensuing litiga­
tion and continued to function effectively in the Santa Maria Valley in
cooperation with the local Mexican Labor Union. It remained the most
important independent union of Filipinos in California until the spring
of 1939, when the powerful Filipino Agricultural Labor Association, or
F .A .L .A ., was formed in Stockton.
®5Philippines Mail, December 6, 1937 (p. 1); Philippines Journal, August 26, 1939 (p. 2).




Ch a p t e r

X .— The American Federation of Labor

The A.F. o f L. and Left-Wing Unionists
Far overshadowing other farm-labor movements following the collapse
of the Cannery and Agricultural W orkers Industrial Union was the
expansion of the American Federation of Labor in agriculture and allied
industries of California. This organization in time absorbed most of
the independent unions that had been organized among racial minorities
or developed from spontaneous strikes. In the late thirties it furnished the
foundation for the extensive organizing campaign launched by the Com­
mittee for Industrial Organization in agriculture.
The A .F . of L /s new interest in agricultural and allied workers began
partly as a byproduct of the general revival in labor unionism under the
indirect stimulus of the National Industrial Recovery A ct during 1933
and 1934. Unions in key transportation industries rapidly increased in
power, particularly the Brotherhood of Teamsters in highway trucking,
and the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen in ocean and
inland water transportation. These constituted a strong spearhead for
organizing field and processing workers in California agriculture.
The A .F . of L .’s new campaign was stimulated also by the infiltration
of left-wing organizers into its ranks. The C .& A .W .I.U . policy had
been too aggressive and revolutionary to appeal to its rank and file mem­
bers for very long, and to survive as a movement having close contact
with the masses of workers the Communist union was forced to align itself
with other organizations. Independent racial unions and federal labor
unions of the A .F . of L. were more conciliatory in policy and their ulti­
mate objectives were more limited and tangible, so that in the long run
they were more acceptable than the C .& .A .W .I.U . to the agricultural
workers. The Communist Party therefore abandoned during 1934 its
policy of opposition and “ dual unionism,” and formally dissolved its Trade
Union Unity League in 1935. It adopted again its former policy of boring
from within and of enlisting the support of the A .F . of L. and other
unions. The influence of liberal and left-wing labor leaders, supported by
an enlarged representation of unskilled and semiskilled production work­
ers who had been unionized during 1933 and 1934, led the A .F . of L . to
adopt a broader organizing program.
The new campaign among agricultural and allied laborers began on a
Nation-wide scale in early 1935, when the National Committee for Unity
of Agricultural and Rural W orkers was formed in W ashington, D . C. This
body was designed to enlist the aid of urban trade-unions and other
sympathizers in organizing farm-labor unions. The latter were to be
chartered as federal labor unions of the A .F . of L. and ultimately united
in a new international federation of agricultural, packing-house, and
cannery labor.1
The more active leaders of the formerly “ dual” and antagonistic C.&
A .W .I.U . in California now became the strongest supporters of the A .F .
of L. Pat Chambers and Caroline Decker, district organizers of the
1Program and Organization adopted at the National Conference of Agricultural, Lum ber and
Rural Workers (mimeographed), 4 pp., Washington, D . C., January 9, 1935.

134




CH. X.---THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR

135

C .& A .W .I.U . in the m ajor strikes of 1933 and 1934, had been convicted
of criminal syndicalism in 1935. From prison they issued a “ call for
unity” to all agricultural and cannery workers, urging them to join the
A .F . of L.
Instead o f allowing ourselves to be divided, we should all unite to fight for our
common demands. I f we remain divided, the employers will continue to use one
group against the other. Therefore, the District Committee o f the C.&A.W .I.U.
urges all workers, organized and unorganized, to join the A.F. o f L. (Rural W orker,
Vol. I, No. 1, August 1935, p. 3.)

Donald Henderson, president of the renamed National Committee
of Agricultural W orkers, later wrote a lengthy article in that organiza­
tion’s official paper, the Rural W orker, explaining more fully the failure of
the C.& A.W .I.tJ. and the need for the shift in union p o licy :
* * * It [the C.&A.W .I.U.] failed * * * to develop a stable organization. Three
reasons should be recognized for this failure so as to prevent a repetition.
First, it was an independent trade-union unaffiliated to the rest o f California’s
trade-union movement. It received little or no support, and in many cases bitter and
active opposition, from the official A.F. o f L. unions, central and State bodies.
This was due as* much to the unwillingness o f the A.F. o f L. groups at that time
to help organize the agricultural field workers as it was to the fact that the
C.&A.W.I.U. was an independent union.
Second, the C.&A.W.I.U. was based too exclusively on the migratory field
workers. The union failed to concentrate sufficiently on the more regularly em­
ployed and higher-paid workers who would have supplied a more stable group for
permanent organization.
Third, the weakness o f the trade-union movement in the smaller cities and o f
small farmer organizations in the rural regions made it difficult to stop terror and
vigilantism against the union.
Important aspects o f the situation in California give hope that a real beginning
is being made in developing a stable trade-union movement on a State-wide scale.
O f fundamental importance is the growth o f the A.F. of L. trade-unions generally
throughout the State, and the increased unionization in the smaller cities. Accom ­
panying this growth in trade-union membership, there has developed a more pro­
gressive and intelligent union and central labor-union leadership that recognizes the
importance and necessity o f organizing workers in agriculture.
A greater willingness to assist agricultural trade-unions get charters and help
in solving their organizational problem is apparent in a large number of the
central labor unions throughout the State. (Rural W orker, Vol. I, No. 15, Novem­
ber 1936, p. 2.)

Packing-Shed Workers’ Unions in the A.F. o f L.
Hitherto the A .F . of L., dominated by the skilled craft unions, had
evinced little interest in organizing seasonal workers in agriculture and
allied industries, and its officials had tended to ignore the low-paid casually
employed laborers. A ccording to Paul Scharrenberg, former secretary
of the California State Federation of Labor, “ Only fanatics are willing
to live in shacks or tents and get their heads broken in the interests of
migratory labor.” 2 Strong racial divisions, paralleling occupational lines,
had impelled the federation to confine such organizing efforts as were
made to the skilled and semiskilled white workers in packing sheds and
canneries, and to exclude unskilled and predominantly nonwhite field or
“ stoop” laborers on farms.
The A .F . of L. began to broaden its campaign during the thirties, by
organizing unions of skilled fruit and vegetable packers in Salinas and
2New York Times, January 20, 1935.
654107°—46—10




136

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

the Imperial Valley, which furnished the opening wedge for a later
drive among other agricultural and allied workers.
A n independent union, composed exclusively of melon packers in the
Imperial Valley, had been formed and incorporated as the Fruit and
Vegetable Packers' Association in 1931. It had grown rapidly after win­
ning a sit-down strike during the 1931 cantaloup season, and at its peak
claimed well over 1,000 members, many of whom migrated seasonally from
California to Arizona, Oregon, and Washington. It failed in a strike in
the 1932 season, and the shippers were reported to have broken the union
by importing large numbers of strikebreakers, most of whom were
Japanese.3
The Salinas Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union Local 180164 mean­
while had been reorganized and rechartered as the Vegetable Packers
Association, or V .P .A ., Local N o. 18211. It was given State-wide juris­
diction over all vegetable-packing workers, in the first charter of its kind
granted by the A .F . of L. Under a “ floating charter" arrangement its
offices could be transferred to various centers, following the main body
of union members in their seasonal migrations. The association maintained
its headquarters in Salinas during 8 months of the year, and in El Centro
in the Imperial Valley during the remaining 4 months of winter and early
spring. Branches or sublocals were organized in several localities, as
among fruit packers in San Jose and vegetable packers in the Santa Maria
Valley.
Local No. 18211 (the V .P .A .) conducted an 11-day strike in Salinas
during the fall of 1933, while the C .& A .W .I.U . drive among the field
workers of California was reaching its height. Continuous wage cutting
had reduced earnings in the packing industry to the lowest levels reached
for many years. The union struck for wage increases to 75 cents per
hour for packers, equal pay for other men and women employees at a
minimum scale of SO cents per hour, and certain improvements in working
conditions. The strike was settled with compromise wage increases to 70
cents per hour for packers and minimum wages for other employees of
45 cents per hour for men and 40 cents for women. Joe Casey, W est
Coast representative of the A .F . of L., together with George Creel, Con­
ciliation Commissioner of the U. S. Department of Labor, persuaded the
strikers to return to work on the promise that 90 percent of them would
be reemployed and that wages would be arbitrated by an impartial body.5

Cooperation with Organized Filipinos
Th e A .F . of L .'s first experiments in cooperating with nonwhite
organizations for collective bargaining in agriculture met with mixed
success. The general strike of field and shed workers in the Salinas let­
tuce area during the fall of 19346 was in one sense a setback. By with­
drawing from the strike, the members of V .P .A . were awarded im­
proved working conditions, shorter hours, and higher wages: 75 cents
per hour for packers, 50 cents per hour for men trimmers, and 45 cents
3Brawley News, April 21, 1932; May 20, 1932; May 26, 1932. See also A. ( “ Shorty” ) Alston: A
Brief History of the Fruit and Vegetable Industry of the Pacific Coast (pp. 6*7), (unpublished
manuscript, Simon J. Lubin Society, San Francisco, Calif., 1938).
4See Chapter V II (pp. 78-79).
5Alston, op cit. (p. 9).
6See Chapter IX (pp. 129-130).




CH. X.---THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR

137

for women.7 In leaving the Filipino union members unprotected and
subject to attack from vigilantes, however, the organized white shed
workers had lost the good will of nonwhite field workers and reduced the
chances of winning sympathetic strike support from them in the future.
Whether V .P .A .’s action was motivated by race prejudice or by expe­
diency is not recorded.
Cooperative strike action between organized whites and nonwhites
was more successful in another locality, later in the year. A branch of
the Vegetable Packers Association in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa
Barbara County participated with local unions of Mexicans and Filipinos
in a joint strike of several thousand workers in the vegetable industry.
The unions voted to allow arbitration of their demands, and all three
groups won signed agreements granting union recognition and improve­
ments in wages and working conditions. For several years thereafter
they continued this cooperation in their collective bargaining with local
grower-shippers under arbitration agreements.8

,

Imperial Valley Strike 1935
Vegetable Packers Association No. 18211, as a separate union o f
processing workers, had won substantial gains for its members during
1934. Later, however, it lost several large and important strikes through
its failure to win the organized support of the field workers.
The first defeat was suffered early in 1935. W hen union officers and
members migrated to the Imperial Valley to pack and ship vegetables in
the “ fall deal,” they attempted through collective bargaining to establish
the wage standards which they had won by arbitration award in Monterey
County. Grower-shippers refused to negotiate with the union, despite the
mediation efforts of U. S. Conciliation Commissioner Fitzgerald. Finally
the union drafted a set of demands for union wage scales and working con­
ditions, and served an ultimatum on the employers. W ithin a week 8
grower-shippers signed an agreement meeting the demands, and the
union declared a strike against the 52 who refused.®
* The strike involved some 1,500-2,000 shed workers and was financed
through a levy on union members in other areas. A fund of $7,000 was
raised to provide soup kitchens for such packing centers as Brawley, El
Centro, Holtville, and Calexico. Both sides allegedly used considerable
violence and intimidation during the strike. Tw o union members were
shot to death while picketing one plant. Joseph Casey, west coast rep­
resentative of the A .F . of L., blamed this incident on “ unrestrained
deputizing and arming of strikebreakers.” 10 In his official report to W il­
liam Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, M r. Casey
condemned State and local police in strong terms:
* * * a crew o f irresponsible and unknown morons was prevailed upon to break tKe
strike with the law-enforcing bodies arming them with pick handles, pistols, and
deputies’ badges. This unnecessary and promiscuous deputizing of nonresident strike­
breakers finally resulted in the uncalled-for and cold-blooded murder o f two striking
7Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 55: California State Chamber of Commerce—
Origin of the Associated Farmers of California, Inc. (p. 20195).
8Field and shed workers as well as truck drivers again united in a small strike on a potato
ranch. The strikers demanded 45 cents per hour for field labor and 50 cents per hour for shed
workers, but apparently failed to win these gains. (Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 2, September
1935, p. 1.)
9Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 55 (p. 20195).
10Idem (p. 20198).




138

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

pickets. Next we find the State o f California shamefully aiding and abetting this
land o f terroristic vigilantism and fascism by sending in police from the State High­
way Patrol. The attitude o f these “ cossacks” was so bitterly biased that union
strikers were hunted from the public streets like dogs. (Hearings o f La Follette
Committee, Part 55, p. 20199.)

Shed owners and local law-enforcement authorities, on the other
hand, alleged that violent methods were necessary in the face of intimi­
dation and threatened violence from the strikers. A grand jury con­
cluded that the shooting of the two strikers had occurred in self-defense,
and refused to return indictments.11 The strike ended within a few
weeks with heavy losses to the union. It won none of its demands, and
less than a third of the strikers were rehired.12

,

Miscellaneous Strikes 1935-36
The Salinas shed packers' organization, renamed the Fruit and V ege­
table W orkers Union N o. 18211, won several union gains and extended
its influence throughout California during 1935-36. The contracts which
had been won by organized shed workers after the strikes of 1934 in the
Salinas-Watsonville and Santa Maria districts, were renewed for another
year. Delegates from the Imperial Valley, Salinas-Watsonville, and Santa
Maria districts attended the union's second annual conference early in
1936, where they made plans to win signed union contracts in other crops
besides lettuce, and to organize other workers besides those in the packing
industry.13
The F .V .W .U . met with some success in organizing scattered groups
of workers employed at packing such crops as pears, peaches, and small
fruits throughout California. Some 12 small strikes were called by union
members during 1935 and 1936. M ost of these occurred in newly organ­
ized districts and only a few were reported in the newspapers. A 2-day
strike of 165 members employed at packing pears in Santa Clara County
won wage increases. Union spokesmen claimed that fiery crosses were
burned at night in the vicinity of San Jose in order to intimidate the
strikers.14 Compromise wage gains were won during August by 100 fruit
packers striking for a 10 to 33 percent wage increase at the Fruit Growers
Association sheds at Placerville,15 and by 140 fruit packers in a 10-day
strike in another town in El Dorado County.16

Salinas Strikes of 1936
The Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union suffered its severest defeat
in the famous Salinas lettuce strike during the fall of 1936. The organiza­
tion never fully recovered after the loss of this large and prolonged
struggle, one of the most violent in the history of agricultural labor in
California.
Trouble in the Salinas area began with a small strike carried out by
F .V .W .U . N o. 18211 in M ay 1936. Union members in one plant walked
out in protest against the employment of four “ Imperial Valley scabs"
on the crew. W hen the management sent the lettuce to another company
11Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 55 (p. 20199).
12A. ( “ Shorty” ) Alston: A Brief History of the Fruit and Vegetable Industry of the Pacific
Coast, p. 14.
13Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 7, March 1936 (p. 1).
14Idem, Vol. I, No. 14, September 1936, (p. 4).
15Sacramento Union, August 16, 1936.
,6Josiah C. Folsom: Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927 to 1928 (unpublished).




CH. X.---THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR

139

to be packed, the crew in the second plant also struck, refusing to handle
the “ hot lettuce.” The strike grew in this manner until operations at
four plants were at a standstill for 10 days. It was settled by an arbitration
board which included among its members a conciliator from the U .S.
Department of Labor, and 12 “ scabs” altogether were dismissed.17
The Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association, together with the re­
vitalized Associated Farmers of California, made elaborate preparations
to break the Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union when its industry-wide
contract came up for renewal in September. The two organizations
engaged a public relations counsel, primarily to organize a “ citizen’s
association,” and hired private detectives and investigators to supplement
the functions of local and State police.18
A strike developed when negotiations over the union contract failed
to bring agreement. Representatives of the union and organized growershippers came to a deadlock over clause 39, which guaranteed preferential
hiring of union members. T o the employers this was “ an effort of the
union and a radical minority to set up a closed shop” 19 and was therefore
unacceptable.
The Associated Farmers gave its full support to the grower-shippers
in Salinas. This organization had been revived in full force earlier in the
year, in southern California, to combat renewed unionism and strike
activity among Mexican field laborers. The threat of a State-wide A .F .
of L. organizing campaign stimulated its reorganization on a larger and
stronger basis, and brought considerable financial and moral support
from important urban business interests. Organized agricultural em­
ployers saw a strong identity of interest between farmers and packingshed owners, and for this reason supported the grower-shippers in Salinas.
The Associated Farmers’ official journal, From Apathy to Action, warned
its subscribers in its October 6, 1936, issue that—
* * * should the strikers win and succeed in “ unionizing” farm labor in the Salinas
Valley, it would be but a step towards the same efforts in other areas o f Cali­
fornia * * * grapes, cotton, peaches, peas, grain, hay and all crops included.
* * * Although they pay the highest prices in the world for agricultural labor,
California farmers would be told definitely whom they could hire and whom not—
and whether they could harvest their crops at all or not.

The embattled employers and their allies displayed an extremely strong
and well-organized opposition that finally defeated the Fruit and Vegetable
W orkers Union. Individual members of the Grower-Shipper Vegetable
Association were held strictly in line; one company which attempted to
make a separate agreement with the union was boycotted and was unable
to obtain ice, paper, boxes, and other equipment necessary for packing
and shipping lettuce.
Organized labor throughout the State supported the strike and placed
bans on “ hot lettuce.” 20 Left-wing organizers in the Filipino Labor Union
Incorporated made unsuccessful attempts to bring the lettuce-field workers
in the Salinas area out on a sympathetic strike, but most of these workers
were Filipinos and only a few were organized. The more nationalistic
union members opposed these efforts, and the organizers faced an unfenthusiastic group of workers who had been somewhat disillusioned by
17National Labor Relations Board, Report of Cases 178-178ee, Washington, July 14, 1939; Rural
Worker, Vol. I, No. 11, Tune 1936.
18National Labor Relations Board, Report of Cases 178-178ee, Washington, July 14, 1939
(p. 1-20).
19From Apathy to Action, Bulletin 26, October 6, 1936 (p. 1).
20Rural Worker, Vol. 1, No. 14, October 1936.




140

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

their experiences in the strike of 1934. A split ensued within the Filipino
organization, and the left-wing faction withdrew to form the separate
Filipino Labor Union. Representatives of the latter organization by late
September claimed to have brought 500 field workers out on strike in
sympathy with the white shed workers, but the number was insufficient to
affect the outcome of the struggle. Further agitation was checked when
Rufus Conate, president, and Chris Mensalves, secretary, of the Filipino
Labor Union were arrested for “ vagrancy.” 21
The strike at times approached the scale of a local civil war, with
some 4,000 organized lettuce packers, teamsters, and their sympathizers
facing armed State and city police, vigilantes, and imported strikebreakers.
Violence and intimidation to an unusual degree were directed against
strikers. The official report by the National Labor Relations Board stated
that “ the impression of these events obtained from the record is one of
inexcusable police brutality, in many instances bordering on sadism.” 22
The strike was finally terminated, after 6 weeks, by a vote of 613 to
342 among the strikers. Edward Vandeleur, secretary of the California
State Federation of Labor, together with officers of the Fruit and V ege­
table W orkers Union N o. 18211, negotiated the terms of settlement with
representatives of the Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association.

Field Workers’ Unions in the A.F. o f L.
The serious defeats suffered by the Fruit and Vegetable W orkers
Union N o. 1&211 in the Imperial Valley strike of 1935 and the Salinas
strike of 1936 demonstrated the weaknesses of an organization restricted
to white workers employed in processing industries only. The union
had encountered an extraordinarily well-organized and violent opposition,
but this was not the major reason for losing the strikes. It was to be
found, rather, in the union’s failure to organize the unskilled and semi­
skilled nonwhite field laborers employed in harvesting crops owned or
controlled by grower-shippers. In the last analysis both strikes had
been broken by the almost uninterrupted flow of produce from field to
shed, where it was packed by imported strikebreakers protected by
hundreds of heavily armed deputies and police.
Complete “ vertical” unions were necessary if workers of all occupa­
tions in agriculture were to wield a degree of bargaining power equal
to that of employers. Large agricultural industries had become highly
integrated, technologically and financially. Unions had to be organized
on an industry-wide or State-wide scale to cope with business enterprises
and employers’ associations whose operations covered a broad territory.
The California Federation of Labor and its affiliates organized in food­
processing industries consequently were impelled to make an effort to
unionize seasonal and migratory agricultural workers in the State.
A n interest in affiliation with the A .F . of L. was growing among
organized field workers. Left-wing unionists and representatives of the
National Committee to A id Agricultural W orkers were taking steps
to unite local farm-labor unions and to bring them into close working
relationships with the organized employees of allied processing industries.
21San Francisco Examiner, September 24 and 28, 1936; Voice of Federation (California State
Federation of Labor, San Francisco), September 24, 1936.
22National Labor Relations Board, Report of Cases, 178-178ee, Washington, July 14, 1939
(p. 20).




CH. X.---THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR

141

Donald Henderson, president of the National Committee, stressed the
importance of processing workers as a core of relatively well-paid and
regularly employed labor within agricultural unions; they would provide
greater stability of membership and income and serve as an important
contact with urban trade-unions. The Salinas Fruit and Vegetable W ork ­
ers Union N o. 18211 he considered to be of strategic importance:
Its membership is largely composed o f American workers nearly half o f whom
are former “ Dust Bowl” farmers from Oklahoma and Texas. While many o f the
wives o f these workers are employed in the industry, large numbers o f the women
also work in the restaurants and other shops in lettuce and fruit centers. Wherever
they are, they unionize their shop.
Equally important in realizing the key position which this union holds is the
fact that their jobs are semiskilled, fairly regular the year round, and wages are
a great deal higher in the sheds than in the fields. These factors are o f importance
to the building o f a stable, financially capable and permanent trade-union. (Rural
Worker, Vol. I, No. 15, October 1936, p. 2.)

Farm workers in California during 1936 were in a temporarily stra­
tegic position to improve their economic status by collective bargaining.
A comparative labor shortage existed in many crop areas, as various
groups were withdrawn from agricultural work. Mexicans had been
deported or repatriated in large numbers, and many resident workers were
being reemployed in better-paid nonagricultural occupations during a
period of general business recovery. The less successful could obtain
relief from the W orks Progress Administration and the California State
Relief Administration. “ Dust B ow l” refugees from the rural Middle
W est and Southwest had not yet arrived in such numbers as to compen­
sate for all withdrawals from agricultural work. W age rates throughout
California’s agriculture consequently tended to rise during 1936. Efforts
to increase the labor supply by cutting relief rolls merely stimulated farm
workers and unemployed to unionize and cooperate more closely among
themselves. Affiliation with the A .F . of L. now carried still greater appeal,
as it held out the prospect of support from well-organized and politically
powerful State and county union affiliates of the State Federation of Labor.
The A .F . of L .’ s earlier efforts to organize field workers in competi­
tion with the C .& .A .W .I.U . in 1934 had been unsuccessful. Attempts
to win Mexican citrus workers in Redlands to a branch of the V .P .A ., and
later to local Federal Labor Union No. 19060,23 had soon failed. Can­
nery W orkers Union No. 18893, which had wrested control from the C.
& A .W .I.U . in the strike of apricot workers in Contra Costa County,
suffered a defeat.24
A .F . of L. unions of agricultural workers grew rapidly after the
C .& .A .W .I.U . had been abolished and left-wing organizers had aban­
doned their former policy of opposition. The National Committee for
Unity of Agricultural W orkers enlisted the support of organized labor
and other sympathetic bodies to build local farm-labor unions; where
possible these were chartered by the A .F . of L. and affiliated to central
labor councils of nearby towns and counties. Federal labor unions, organ­
ized in many cases from local spontaneous strikes, grew side by side
with independent racial unions of Mexicans and Filipinos. By September
1935, there were 16 such A .F . of L. local organizations of field, cannery,
and packing-house workers in California.25 O f this number, 4 were
field workers* unions chartered in Portersville, Delano, •Visalia, and
23Daily Press (Riverside), March 1, 1934.
24See Chapter V III (p. 112).
„
„ „
f
AJ . .
A
.
w
,
A
25Unpublished List prepared by U. S. Resettlement Administration, Washington, April 24.
1935.




142

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Tulare, and charters were pending for local unions organized in the
towns of Arvin, Fresno, San Jose, and San Diego.26
Unions occupying key positions in the transportation industries of
California furnished additional momentum to the A .F . of L .’s organizing
campaign in agriculture. Labor organizations composing the Maritime
Federation of the Pacific pushed unionism almost literally to the very
doors of growers and shippers. Following the San Francisco general
strike, unions were organized among bargemen and warehousemen on
inland-waterway towns as well as in coastal ports. Both these groups
handled crops harvested by field workers and later processed by canning
and packing workers. Often the same companies employed both agri­
cultural and transportation workers. The Maritime Federation’s “ march
inland” thus provided an ever-widening base for the A .F . of L .’s program
of organizing the canning and packing industries. A t the same time
such unionization was necessary if the Maritime Federation was to main­
tain and consolidate its gains.27
The “ march inland” stimulated the Brotherhood of Teamsters, main­
stay o f A .F . of L. strength e n the Pacific Coast, to launch a counterdrive
to “ organize everything on wheels.” T o maintain its own proportional
strength within the State Federation and constituent central labor coun­
cils, the Brotherhood was forced to extend its jurisdiction to agricultural
processing industries such as a creameries and dairies, vegetable-packing
sheds, canneries, and fruit- and nut-packing plants. Unions in these
industries, to be fully effective, required, in turn, a supporting base of
organized field laborers.
The competing aims of these two transport unions caused increasingly
bitter jurisdictional disputes and internecine friction within the California
State Federation of Labor. There were unprecedented organizational
gains, nevertheless, for labor in agriculture and allied industries.
The most stable and militant local unions o i field and processing
workers were organized in the vicinities of key transportation centers
for agricultural products. In such cities as Oakland, Stockton, Sacra­
mento, San Jose, and Bakersfield, pressure from the teamsters and long­
shoremen forced the central labor councils to support agricultural work­
ers’ organizations. From these centers, organizers formed additional
locals and branches in other sections of their counties.
The Central Labor Council of Santa Clara County in October 1935
passed a resolution to organize a Committee for Agricultural Organiza­
tion, which would enlist unified support for local farm-labor unions. The
committee was finally formed early in February 1937, shortly after Can­
nery W orkers Union N o. 20325 of San Jose had received its charter from
the A .F . of L .28 Since the majority of agricultural workers in this area
were migratory, the organizing campaign was designed primarily to
establish a union that could raise and standardize wage scales over the
entire county. Such an organization was felt to be particularly necessary
in. view of the steadily increasing job competition from newly arrived
“ Dust B ow l” refugees from the Southwest.20
The Santa Clara Central Labor Council and the San Jose Cannery
Union cooperated with the newly organized Agricultural W orkers Union
26Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 1, August 1935 (p. 3).
27Idem, Vol. I, No. 15, October 1936 (p. 2).
28Sacramento Valley Union Labor Bulletin (Northern California Agricultural and Cannery
Conference, Sacramento), February 2, 1937.
29See footnote, p. 143.




CH. X.---THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR

143

N o. 20221 of Stockton in unionizing field workers involved in numerous
spontaneous strikes. The unions negotiated wage increases of from
2 2 /2 to 30 cents per hour for Mexican grape trimmers in the vicinity
l
of Los Gatos, for spinach cutters in Milpitas, and for cherry pickers
in Mount V iew .29 A local farm-labor union was organized and chartered
in M ay 1937, as Field W orkers Union N o. 20686, which succeeded in
signing unusually favorable agreements with growers in field and orchard
crops. The union asserted it had won closed shops on some farms, and
union representatives were entitled to inspect companies’ books to see
that all employees were union members. A schedule of wages was reported
established at a minimum of 50 cents per hour for an 8-hour day and 60
cents per hour for overtime, 60 and 70 cents per hour for tractor-drivers
and irrigators, and 75 cents to $1 for sprayers.30
Agricultural W orkers Union No. 20289 of Kern County began on a
modest scale in Bakersfield early in 1936. By November it claimed only
85 members, though 1,000 Filipinos promised to join as soon as 100
white workers were enlisted. It expanded rapidly during the early part
of 1937, establishing branches in such communities as Delano, W asco,
Shatter, McFarland, and Arvin, and by April it claimed a membership
o f several hundred whites and more than 1,000 resident Filipinos. It
planned to require the seasonal influx of 4,000 to 5,000 additional Filipino
workers to present union cards from other organizations or to join the
county organization, before permitting them to work.31
Agricultural W orkers Union No. 20221 was organized among Filipino
field laborers in the Stockton area late in 1936. Its first strike was a
failure. In concert with Agricultural W orkers Union N o. 20241 of
Sacramento, it organized the Filipino celery workers and announced as its
objectives a general 10-cent increase in hourly wage rates, union recog­
nition, and a hiring hall for local farm workers.32 A strike was called on
November 25, after grower-shippers had refused to negotiate. Though
union spokesmen maintained that some 3,500 celery workers responded,
the movement soon collapsed and the union won none of its demands.33
Spokesmen for the grower-shippers charged that the union was a
“ racket” for collecting membership fees as high as $25 from Filipinos,
and could not be an effective collective-bargaining unit.34 W ill Hutchin­
son, spokesman of the newly organized Celery Growers and Shippers
Association, asserted that no white men except the business agent had
joined the organization and that no effort was being made to enlist other
than Filipino members.35
Union spokesmen, on the other hand, blamed the failure of the strike
on the “ excessively close” cooperation of State and county police officers
with the grower-shipper interests. County Sheriff Odell, it was charged,
barricaded the public highway against pickets 6 miles from the main
packing sheds, and provided heavily armed convoys for trucks loaded
with “ hot celery” and strikebreakers. W hen peaceful pickets attempted
to call out workers in sheds near Isleton, 11 were reported arrested for
“ trespassing on cultivated ground.” 36
29Farmer-Labor News (Central Labor Council of San Joaquin County, Modesto), May 7, 1937.
30Idem, May 28, 1937.
31Idem, April 23, 1937. Previously the union had complained that several strikes undertaken
in late 1936 were rendered ineffective by the continuous influx of migratory workers from other
counties. (Letter to the Simon J. Lubin Society, San Francisco, Nov. 22, 1936.)
32W estem Worker, November 23, 1936.
33San Francisco Examiner, November 24, 1936.
34Pacific Rural Press, November 26, 1936.
35Idem, November 25, 1936.
3®Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 1, January 1937 (p. 2).




144

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Agricultural W orkers Union No. 20241 of Sacramento County was
first organized and chartered in May 1936 among a group of laborers in
Knights Landing. Later it transferred its headquarters to the city of
Sacramento and joined the Federated Trades Council.37 W ith the
assistance of organizers from the Stockton Local N o. 20221 and the
Sacramento local of the International Longshoremen and W arehouse­
men's Union, it established branches in Hollister, Brentwood, Riverbank,
and Chowchilla. The Chowchilla branch in May 1937 was chartered
separately as Federal Labor Union N o. 20675 of agricultural workers.38
Later it won a written agreement with organized asparagus growers in
the Walnut Grove area.39
Another local organization of agricultural workers in Yuba and Sutter
Counties was chartered as a federal labor union during May 1937. The
union's executive board sought to negotiate with growers for a standard
wage of 35 cents per hour throughout the peach-growing area during the
summer harvest season.40
Filipino and Mexican farm workers' unions in several crop areas be­
came affiliated to the A .F . of L. early in 1937. American, Mexican, and
Filipino agricultural workers in Santa Maria Valley, who had cooperated
remarkably well for several years in separate organizations, received an
A .F . of L. charter in February 1937, as Field W orkers Union Local N o.
20326. Local union representatives insisted that workers of all races
be accepted without discrimination.41
The transition was not always this smooth. In the spring of 1937 a
majority of the members in a local branch of the Confederation de U niones de Campesinas y Obreras Mexicanas in Orange County withdrew to
join a new A .F . of L. Farm Laborers Union No. 20688. The C .U .C .O .M .
local continued, however, retaining enough of its membership to create
considerable jurisdictional trouble the following year.42
The question of affiliation with the A .F . of L. also was one cause of
the split that occurred in the Filipino Labor Union Incorporated, and led
to the establishment of the separate unincorporated Filipino Labor Union
already noted.43 Early in 1937 the Lom poc, Salinas, and San Luis Obispo
County branches of the latter organization voted to affiliate with the A .F .
of L. and seek federal labor union charters.44

State-wide Federation o f Agricultural Workers
W hile local unions were being established throughout California, labor
organizers were attempting to federate local organizations of all types
into one State-wide union covering agriculture and allied industries. The
support of the organized teamsters and longshoremen was vital in this
campaign. Nevertheless it brought to a head the growing conflict between
these two groups within the California State Federation of Labor and re­
sulted finally in the secession of the Maritime Federation of the Pacific.
37Farmer-Labor News, June 4, 1937.
38Idem, May 21, 1937.
39Sacramento Valley Union Labor Bulletin (Sacramento), February 3, 1937.
40Sacramento Bee, May 24, 1937.
41 Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 2, February 1937.
42Field notes.
43See Chapter IX (p. 131).
44Rural Worker, Vol. H, No. 3, March 1937 (p. 5).




CH. X.---THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR

145

The Federation of Agricultural W orkers Unions formed in Los
Angeles in January 193645 was the beginning of a State-wide union in
agricultural industries. The Coordinating Council of Agricultural and
Packing W orkers of California was established shortly afterward to enlist
the support of the more strategically located central labor councils in the
State. This body published a semiweekly farmer-labor newspaper as a
means of promoting “ trade-union education” and providing workers with
information regarding crops, prices, and wage and hour conditions. The
Coordinating Council depended upon the general organizer of the A .F . of
L. for support in obtaining federal labor union charters when opposition
was encountered from officials of local central labor councils.46
A n unofficial California Conference of Agricultural W orkers, attended
by representatives from A .F . of L. affiliates and independent Mexican
and Filipino unions, was held in Stockton during June 6 and 7, 1936.
Delegates passed resolutions endorsing the establishment of a State Fed­
eration of Agricultural, Cannery and Packing W orkers, and calling for a
standard $3 per 8-hour day with overtime pay for seasonal farm workers,
and $65 per month with board for year-round employees.47
The conference was not officially recognized by the California State
Federation of Labor. However, a few months later the strike of Salinas
lettuce-shed workers in the fall of 1936 focused attention on the desir­
ability of organizing field laborers to cooperate with unions of processing
workers. The State federation at its annual convention in November
1936 passed a resolution endorsing the demands of the Stockton confer­
ence for a State-wide charter for labor in agriculture and allied industries.
A 1-cent monthly per capita tax was levied on all State federation mem­
bers to finance an organizing campaign.48 The text of the resolution read
as follow s:
Whereas, agriculture, the largest industry in the State, is still unorganized, and
its peculiar make-up necessitates special consideration on the part o f the State
Federation to organize, and
Whereas, agriculture is State-wide in scope, and is seasonal and ^localized by
crops, and compels the bulk of its workers to migrate, covering the entire State and
sometimes adjacent States, during a season o f 8 or 9 months, and
Whereas, the workers engaged in agriculture and its numerous branches require
little or no skill, Therefore be it
Resolved, That the State Federation o f Labor assembled in convention at Sacra­
mento, September 1936, petition the American Federation of Labor to grant an
international charter for agriculture covering all workers in the production of
farm products and the processes o f manufacturing o f a consumable product; and
further be it
Resolved, That pending the establishment o f an international union a State-wide
federal charter be asked for California to cover all field workers engaged in
agriculture.4
8

The State Federation of Labor in February 1937 officially endorsed
and sponsored a State-wide conference of agricultural workers in San
Francisco. Accredited delegates represented 14 local or federal labor
unions chartered by the A .F . of L., 15 locals of the Mexican C.U .C.O.M .,
4 branches of the Filipino Labor Union, and the newly organized Japanese
Agricultural W orkers Association of Southern California.49
45See Chapter IX (p. 124).
46Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 14, September 1936 (p. 4).
47Idem, Vol. I, No. 12, July 1936 (p. 1).
48Idem, Vol. I, No. 16 (p. 1).
4®Official Roster of Delegates, State Conference of Agricultural Unions,
February 27, 1937 (Minutes of California State Federation of Labor, Feb. 27).




San Francisco,

146

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The State federation in a special bulletin expressed its concern over
the growing strength of the Associated Farmers and other anti-union
forces in the State and indicated the main objective:
Because o f many serious and acute problems and the strong organized opposition
that confronts the agricultural workers o f this State in their attempts to organize
and better their low economic and social conditions, it is imperative that there be
established one State-wide organization with a uniform program with no conflict in
jurisdiction between local unions. (Call for Conference of Agricultural W orkers,
California State Federation o f Labor, San Francisco, February 1937.)

The delegates approved a proposal for chartering a State-wide organ­
ization that would absorb all existing field and cannery workers’ unions.
U nder the proposed plan, all existing federal labor union charters were
to be surrendered, and the new organization was to issue cards to workers
for general use in agriculture and allied industries in the State. A ll can­
nery and field labor unions, whether A .F . of L. or independent, would be
affiliated to the new federation, a branch of which would be established in
each central labor union territory. By referendum vote, workers in each
county would elect one representative to a State executive committee,
which would be the responsible governing body for the State organization.
Each local branch would elect a suborganizer.50 Meanwhile a temporary
Agricultural and Cannery W orkers Union was formed, and George
W oolf, president of the Alaska Cannery W orkers Union N o. 20195, and
part-time organizer of the International Longshoremen and W arehouse­
men’s Union under H arry Bridges, was elected president.
It was further proposed at the conference that the State federation
provide a fund of $20,000 for the new union, to finance its projected or­
ganizational campaign. Another resolution was passed requesting that half
of the money raised by the 1-cent monthly per capita tax, levied on all
members of the State federation by the convention in September, be
allotted to the new organization.51 A committee was appointed to present
these resolutions to the executive council of the California State Federation
of Labor.
A t the meeting held at Sacramento in March 1937, the executive coun­
cil refused these requests on the ground that, if it had to provide the funds
to finance an organizing campaign in agriculture, it should have direct
control over any new State-wide union. It ruled further that field and
processing workers should be organized in separate State-wide unions
rather than in one integrated organization, because the existing federal
labor unions of the A .F . of L. already were under contract to their em­
ployers.51 W alter Cowan, vice president of the California State Federa­
tion of Labor, was appointed temporary secretary of the proposed union
and was given the power to appoint organizers and control the allocation
of funds.
George W oolf and other representatives elected at the San Francisco
conference denounced the State federation’s stand. They were supported
by H arry Bridges, president of the International Longshoremen and
Warehousemen, W alter Mahaffey, president of the Central Labor Council
of Stockton, and other important urban union officials.52 Bridges charged
that the State federation officialdom was trying to “ build up its own polit­
ical set-up” so as to allow no control in the hands of the local unions
50Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 2, February 1937 (p. 5).
51Official Report of Proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, Cases No.
XX-C0362 to 377, Bercut Richards and California Processors and Growers v. U.C.A.P.A.W.A., Oak­
land, Tune 1938 (pp. 10744-10746); Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 5, May 1937.
52See footnote, p. 147.




CH. X.---THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR

147

themselves.52 W oolf and his supporters threatened indirectly to secede
from the federation :
* * * the more than 200,000 workers in field, shed and canneries in California should
be organized into one union which would elect its officers and control its affairs
democratically. The time is ripe for such an organization, and something will be
done whether we operate under C.I.O. or form an independent group. (Rural
W orker, Vol. II, No. 4, April 1937, p. 4.)

The insurgents called another convention of agricultural field and
processing workers in April. Delegates from 18 federal labor unions and
independent organizations, claiming to represent a total membership of
15,000, met in Bakersfield and established the California Federation of
Agricultural and Cannery Unions. The executive board elected to direct
this organization represented the left-wing element in the agricultural
labor movement including George W o o lf; Dudley Sargent, secretary of
Agricultural W orkers Union N o. 20221 of Stockton; Marcella Ryan, or­
ganizer of Cannery W orkers Union 20099 of Oakland; C. W . John­
son, organizer of Agricultural W orkers Union N o. 20289 of Bakersfield;
C. D. Mensalves, secretary, Filipino Labor U n io n ; and Bernard Lucero,
secretary, M exican Confederation of Agricultural W orkers.53
Organized grower-shippers found the State Federation of Labor's
proposed organizing campaign in agriculture highly disturbing. The A s­
sociated Farmers of California had regarded with suspicion the Confer­
ence of Agricultural W orkers held in Stockton in June 1936 and claimed
that it was dominated by radicals and had received little support from rec­
ognized labor unions.54 A few months later, however, this farm organiza­
tion had fought the strike called by the recognized A .F . of L. shed work­
ers' union in Salinas. The appointment of W alter Cowan and Fred W est
as A .F . of L. organizers for farm labor brought the comment from the
Associated Farmers' bulletin that—
* * * assuredly they constitute a good pair, fully qualified because o f their experi­
ence with restaurant workers and window cleaners to tell the farmers of Cali­
fornia how they should conduct their business. (From Apathy to Action, Bulletin
No. 33, January 5, 1937.)

The split between right- and left-wing elements within the California
State Federation of Labor caused even more consternation among organ­
ized grower-employers. A s between the conservatives led by Edward
Vandeleur (secretary of the State federation) and the Brotherhood
of Teamsters on one side, and the International Longshoremen and
Warehousemen led by H arry Bridges on the other, agricultural in­
terests favored the former. They charged Bridges with being “ dom­
inated by C.I.O. leanings and support of the Communists."55 The Asso­
ciated Farmers were particularly hostile to the I.L .W .U ., as this union
had been aggressive in pushing the campaign to organize agricultural
field and processing workers. From Apathy to Action alleged that
longshoremen had been sent to act as pickets in several agriculturallabor disputes, including the milk strike in Alameda, the lettuce strike in
Salinas, and the celery strike in San Joaquin. “ W hat lawful right these
52W oolf and Bridges were supported by tbe officers of Agricultural Workers Union No. 20241
of Sacramento and No. 23228 of San Jose; Dried Fruit and Nut Workers No. 20020 of Alameda;
the Employees Security Association of Fresno; the Filipino Labor Association of Knights Land­
ing; Agricultural Workers Union No. 20221 of Stockton; the Cannery Workers Union of Pitts­
burg; the Mexican Agricultural Workers Union of Los Alamitos; and the Central ^ Labor
Councils of Alameda, Contra Costa, Stanislas, and Santa Clara Counties and the cities of
Vallejo and Bakersfield. (SaH Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 24, 1937.)
53Farmer-Labor News, April 20, 1937; San Francisco Chronicle, April 26, 1937; Rural Worker,
Vol. II, No. 5, May 1937 (p. 3).
54From Apathy to Action, Bulletin No. 39, April 3, 1937.
5«Idem, Bulletin No. 41, May 4, 1937,




148

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

waterfront workers have to interfere with the harvesting of farm crops,”
the official organ of the Associated Farmers commented, "goes beyond
human understanding.” 56 A s regards the Bakersfield conference in April,
farm employers observed that—
* * * the apparent intention was to create a situation under which agricultural
workers would be affiliated with the Longshoremen’s union and be under the domina­
tion o f the dictatorial alien, Harry Bridges. (From Apathy to Action, Bulletin No.
41, April 20, 1933.)

The Associated Farmers of California nevertheless was unwilling to
accept organization of farm laborers at the hands of conservatives in the
State Federation of Labor. Secretary Vandeleur, at a legislative com ­
mittee hearing at Sacramento, expressed the view that farmers had either
to consent to having their workers organized by the orthodox A .F . of L.,
or they would be unionized by the C.I.O . with the backing of Communists.
The Associated Farmers dismissed this argument with the reply that
"the A .F . of L. has not been able to keep Communists out of its older
unions, and so it cannot guarantee that they would be barred from any
farm-labor union.” 57
The rift between unions within the State Federation of Labor was
widening. The National Committee to A id Agricultural W orkers (fo r­
merly the National Committee for Unity of Agricultural W ork ers), backed
by the executive of the C.I.O., was making preparations to hold a nation­
wide conference of local unions in order to establish a separate interna­
tional organization of agricultural field and processing workers. The
conflict within the California State Federation o f Labor helped to speed
events. George W oolf, president of the temporary Cannery and A gricul­
tural Federation of California established at the Bakersfield conference,
came out flatly in favor of an international chartered by the C .I.O . H e
claimed the complete backing of the maritime unions of the Pacific Coast,
which at that time were voting to affiliate with the C .I.O .58
Labor unionism in agriculture and allied industries of California
seemed by late 1936 to hold promise of achieving a degree of strength
and stability it had not hitherto attained. It had survived several serious
strike defeats during 1936, and labor organizers were taking steps to
unify all local unions on an integrated State-wide scale. Unlike the C.&
A .W .I.U . during the early thirties, the A .F . of L. was organizing the bet­
ter-paid and more regularly employed processing workers as well as field
laborers. These groups, moreover, enjoyed the support of far more pow ­
erful urban labor unions than had the C .& .A .W .I.U .
This support, however, had its negative aspects, from the point of
view of farm-labor unionism. Leading urban industrial labor organizations
drew agricultural workers into their jurisdictional disputes. Farm-labor
unionism in California was disrupted within a few years when it became
part of the general conflict between the American Federation of Labor
and the Committee for Industrial Organization.
56From Apathy to Action, Bulletin No. 33, January S, 1937.
57Idem, Bulletin No. 40, April 13, 1937.
58Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 6, July 1937 (p. 3).




Ch apter

X I.— Inter-Union Conflict

Conflict between the two most powerful groups within the California
State Federation of Labor came to a head in m id-1937. Unions in the
Maritime Federation of the Pacific under Harry Bridges competed with
affiliates of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for control over
industrial establishments that were dependent upon transportation by
highway or waterway— warehouses, packing plants and canneries par­
ticularly. The executive council of the American Federation of Labor
attempted to settle the dispute by handing jurisdiction over inland ware­
houses (which were presumed to be more immediately dependent upon
highway transportation) to the teamsters.1 The Maritime Federation
seceded from the American Federation of Labor to join the Committee
for Industrial Organization in 1937. Jurisdictional disputes between the
two m ajor transport unions then increased to major proportions. The
conflict became general in the field of agriculture and allied industries,
when the C.I.O . chartered a new international, the United Cannery,
Agricultural, Packing and Allied W orkers of America (U .C .A .P .A .W .A .).
The organizing campaign among field laborers during 1937 was inci­
dental to that carried out in processing industries related to agriculture.
Unions won m ajor gains in the wineries, dairies and creameries, vege­
table-, fruit-, and nut-packing plants, and canneries of California. A gri­
cultural employers considered these new unionizing drives as a prelude
to an extensive union campaign among seasonal field laborers on farms.
E. P. Loescher, leader of the State-wide agricultural committee of the
California State Chamber of Commerce, summarized his views as follow s:
As I see it, the big question in 1938 faced by farmers regarding organization o f
field workers is not what will take place in the field, but rather what degree o f
pressure will be brought from the unions in related industries.
There is every indication that the new C.I.O. leaders are going to attempt to
extend their contracts to include all growers o f vegetables and if possible the
growers o f citrus and walnuts and other crops. (Stockton Record, November 4,
1937.)

The American Federation o f Labor, 1937-38
The Canning Industry
Inter-union conflict in agriculture and allied industries o f California
was concentrated in fruit and vegetable canning during 1937 and 1938.
The largest and most violent strike of the year and, subsequently, the
most important organization gains for unions, were experienced in this
industry.
A m ajor weakness of the campaign o f the Cannery and Agricultural
W orkers Industrial Union (C .& A .W .I.U .) during 1933 and 1934 had
been its failure to organize the cannery workers. Communist labor
organizers and their supporters began to pay more attention to this
occupational group in 1935 and 1936, after the policy of dual unionism
had been abandoned in favor of cooperation with the A .F . of L. In
several of the larger northern and central California towns locals were
1Report, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377 (pp. 72-86).




149

150

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

organized and given charters from the A .F . of L. as federal labor unions
and were then affiliated to nearby central labor councils.
The first cannery workers’ locals were organized in metropolitan San
Francisco and Oakland, where the International Longshoremen and
Warehousemen’s Union was expanding rapidly and growing in power
following the general strike of 1934. In July 1935, 150 cannery employees
at plants of the Santa Cruz Packing Co. and the California Packing Corp.
joined in a sympathy strike with organized warehousemen who had been
locked out.2
A t about the same time some 350 workers belonging to the newly
organized Dried Fruit and Nut Packers Federal Labor Union No. 20020
were involved in a 3-week strike in Oakland. Cannery W orkers Union
No. 20099 was formed in Alameda County during the fall of 1935 by
Marcella Ryan, who had credentials from the Machinists Union, and was
able to enlist the financial support of the Alameda Central Labor Coun-

ciL3
Union activity among canneries in the Bay area gained greater
momentum during the fall of 1936, as the State Federation of Labor
began to take a more direct interest in the industry. A joint organizing
campaign was conducted during November by Local N o. 20099 and the
International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s U nion among em­
ployees of the Filice & Perelli Co. in Richmond. A 3-week walk-out
began when several union members were discharged, and lasted until
the company agreed to rehire them. The union later charged the com ­
pany with failing to live up to its agreement and attempting to promote
a company union among its employees.4
A more serious strike over the issue of union recognition for Local
N o. 20099 occurred in the Heinz Co. plant at Emeryville (Alam eda
County) during January, February, and March, 1937. W ith the
cooperation of the Alameda Central Labor Council and local unions of
teamsters and warehousemen, the Cannery W orkers Union was success­
ful in forcing the company to negotiate. The Central Labor Council of
Alameda put the company on the “ W e D on’t Patronize” list, and its two
warehouses were closed by sympathetic-strike action on the part of team­
sters and warehousemen.
The strike was continued and the cannery closed for almost 2 months
while negotiations remained at a stalemate. Both sides sought allies in
order to improve their position for collective bargaining. The Heinz Co.
empowered the Canners’ League, an organization composed of all can­
ning companies in the district, to handle its labor relations. Cannery
W orkers Union N o. 20099 and Warehousemen’s Union Local N o. 3844
meanwhile established a joint organizing committee to conduct a union­
izing drive among workers in all East Bay canneries. The Warehouse­
men’s Union cooperated with the Cannery W orkers U nion in preparing
contracts to be submitted to the management in negotiations.6
The California Conserving Co. of Hayward (Alam eda County) was
the first cannery to be organized in the new drive. This company used
2Report, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-367 (p. 2686).
Subsequently, the National Labor Relations Board ordered the Santa Cruz Co. of Oakland to
cease discouraging its employees from joining unions, and to reinstate with pay some 31 work­
ers who were discharged for joining Local 3844 of the International Longshoremen and W are­
housemen’ s Union. (Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 10, May 1936, p. 4.)
^Report NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377 (p. 2690).
4Idem (pp. 293 and 3786).
®Idem (p. 2704); Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 3, March 1937.
CReport, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377 (p. 2709); Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 4, April 1937.




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

151

anti-union tactics similar to those used by Filice & Perelli and the Heinz
Co.— discriminatory discharge, adverse publicity, and fostering of com­
pany unions. In retaliation, picket lines were placed around four plants
and the company was put on the “ W e D on’t Patronize” list of the A .F .
of L .7
A committee of union members met with the attorney for the Califor­
nia Processors and Growers, a newly established organization of can­
nery operators, to negotiate the terms of settlement, and the strikes were
finally ended with an agreement stating that all strikers would be rein­
stated without discrimination.
The most notable conflict during 1937 involved cannery workers in
Stockton during April. In the course of an 8-day strike more than 60
participants were injured in battles in which tear gas, axe handles, shot­
guns, and rocks were used.8 Conflict between the left-wing farm and
cannery labor organizers and the executive board of the California State
Federation of Labor came to a head during the settlement of the strike.
Agricultural W orkers Union No. 20221 in March 1937 had been
granted financial aid and personnel from the San Joaquin County Cen­
tral Labor Council to organize cannery workers in Stockton.9
The Stockton local International longshoremen and warehousemen’s
union gave sympathetic strike support by refusing to move “ hot cans.” 1
0
The strike began in one plant over the familiar issue of discriminatory dis­
charge of union members. It spread rapidly and soon included several
hundred employees of the four major canning companies in the city:
Stockton Food Products, Packwell, M or Pack, and Richmond-Chase.
Agricultural W orkers Union N o. 20221 formulated the following sched­
ule of demands, which included substantial wage increases and recog­
nition as sole bargaining agency:
(1 ) 62Y* cents per hour for men, and 50 cents per hour for women;
(2 ) 70 cents per hour for skilled workers;
(3 ) 8-hour day and 6-day week;

(4 ) Tim e and a h a lf fo r Sunday and holiday w o rk ;
(5 ) Agricultural W orkers Union No. 20221 as sole bargaining agency.

W hen some 1,200 special deputies recruited by and from the ranks
of the Associated Farmers attacked the picket lines with gunfire, the
union threatened to call out the field workers on a sympathetic strike.10
The State Federation of Labor helped to finance a joint strategy com­
mittee which the Central Labor Council of San Joaquin County and the
Federated Trades Council of Sacramento together had established to
carry on negotiations for settling the strike. The canning companies
refused to accept Agricultural W orkers Union No. 20221 as bargaining
agent, on the ground that it did not represent the cannery workers. The
joint strategy committee consequently ordered the strikers to return to
work pending negotiations. A new cannery workers union which ex­
cluded field laborers was organized at a mass meeting of strikers on
^Report, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377 (pp. 2704, 2716-2718, 3212).
8Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 50 (pp. 18242-18319).
©it had applied for jurisdiction over the cannery workers, and proceeded to organize them
with the understanding that when the State Federation program for State-wide organization of
cannery workers was under way, Local No. 20221 would have to surrender them. (Report, NLRB
Case No. XX-C-362-377, p. 237.)
.
, , t
t
0
. .
.
Previously, instructions had been issued to central labor councils by the State federation
that no more charters were to be issued to agricultural or cannery workers* unions until the
plan for a State-wide organization had been completed. Thus when Local No. 20221 applied to
the San Joaquin Central Labor Council for a cannery workers* charter, it was refused. How­
ever, a resolution asking for authorization to organize cannery workers under the .existing local
charter was approved. (Idem, pp. 330-332.)
lOReport, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377 (pp. 336-337).
54107 ®— 46—11




152

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

April 25, and its newly issued charter as Federal Labor Union Local
N o. 20676 granted it jurisdiction over canneries in San Joaquin County.1
1
A settlement was reached at a conference called by Governor Merriam
on the following day, April 2 6 ; Cannery W orkers Union Local No.
20676 was recognized as bargaining agent, and all details regarding
wages, hours, and working conditions were deferred for later negotia­
tions.12 Secretary Vandeleur proposed a “ master contract” to the em­
ployers’ representatives, on the basis of which the State Federation of
Labor would represent cannery workers in collective-bargaining rela­
tions.13 H e justified the State federation’s assumption of powers on the
ground that the strike had involved illegal and unrecognized action on
the part of Agricultural W orkers Union Local N o. 2022L Vandeleur
asserted that the trouble had begun when the Central Labor Council
granted unwarranted control over the organizing of cannery workers
to the Stockton farm workers’ local. He charged that the subsequent
actions of those workers did not constitute a legally recognized strike,
because “ outside Delta agricultural workers” had placed a picket line
around a cannery and closed it in order to force its employees into the
union. H e concluded that the State federation was justified in repre­
senting the cannery workers in collective-bargaining negotiations until
such time as a new and separate union had been organized and chartered
for them.13
The Stockton cannery strike served as a test case, a turning point
in the California State federation’s entire organization program in agri­
culture and allied industries. The victory of the conservative executive,
under Vandeleur, over the left-wing faction supported by the Inter­
national Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union started a whole­
sale purge of all cannery unions and central labor councils suspected of
being pro-C .LO . or radical in sympathy. W illiam Green, president of
the A .F . of L., granted Edward Vandeleur the direct power to oust any
established local leadership, to revoke existing cannery-union charters,
and to issue new charters in their stead.14
Oakland Local N o. 20099 came to an end in June 1937. Its charter
was revoked on the grounds that it was not paying its dues, that its
leadership was communistic, and that it was planning to join the C .I.O .15
In its place were chartered Cannery W orkers Unions N o. 20843 for
South Alameda and N o. 20905 for North Alameda.
Cannery W orkers Union No. 20324 of Sacramento was similarly
reorganized during the early summer of 1937. Like the other locals, it
had been organized originally with the assistance of the Longshoremen
and Warehousemen’s Union. In June 1937, it conducted a strike against
the California Packing Corp., a move which the Federated Trades Coun­
cil had refused to sanction. The State federation executive under Secre­
tary Vandeleur forced the union officers to resign on the charge of being
11Report, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377 (pp. 7279, 7301, 8852).
12Farmer-Labor News, Vol. 14, No. 60, April 30, 1937.
13Report, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377 (pp. 8846-8860, 11034).
14Idem (pp. 10749-10814).
15In more detail, Mr. Vandeleur charged that Local No. 20099 refused to comply with the
laws of the Alameda County Central Labor Council and the State federation, that it was not
paying its dues to these bodies, and that it was preparing to join the C.I.O. He alleged that
the officers controlling the union were not themselves cannery workers, but were “ radicals”
under the domination of Harry Bridges, president of the Maritime Federation of the Pacific,
and George Woolf, allegedly Communist organizer of the Alaska Fish Cannery Workers Union.
(Report, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377, pp. 10749-10814.)




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

153

^communistic,” and threatened to revoke the union’s charter if they
irefused. The union elected new officers, and Federated Trades Coun­
cil officials appointed by the State federation negotiated a settlement of
the strike with the cannery employers. The agreement they reached was
(Submitted to the cannery-union membership, which voted to ratify it.16
Another important cannery workers’ union, Local N o. 20325 of
Santa Clara County, underwent a change in control during this period.
T h e Central Labor Council protested to A .F . of L. President W illiam
Green that the executive of the State federation had arbitrarily issued
a new charter, N o. 20852, without previous notice and without preferring
charges against the officers of the existing organization.17 The members
o f Local No. 20325 were later transferred to the Dried Fruit and Nut
[Packers Union Local No. 20184, and voted to affiliate with the newly
organized U .C .A .P .A .W .A . (C .I.O .). The organizing board of the
Central Labor Council filed charges with the regional office of the Na­
tional Labor Relations Board against several cannery employers of the
county on the ground that they were forcing workers into Local No.
20852, newly chartered by the State federation. This latter, the council
claimed, “ functions more in the nature of a dues-collecting agency than
as a trade-union.” 18
The State federation soon extended its control over the entire can­
ning industry of northern California. The unionizing drive was accel­
erated in A p r il; 18 organizers were placed in the field and they brought
an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 cannery workers into the A .F . of L.
within a few months. The Teamsters Union supported the drive by
Organizing several thousand truck drivers handling fruit going from fields
to canneries and from canneries to ships and railways.19
The negotiations begun in settling the Stockton strike were broad­
ened. The State federation executive bargained on an industry-wide
basis with the California Processors and Growers, representing a score
o f the larger canneries. Finally, in July 1937, a blanket agreement was
drawn up in contract form and signed by both parties. It granted closed
shops and recognition as sole bargaining agency to 10 cannery unions,
most of them newly organized and chartered, having jurisdiction over
several counties:
N o.
No.
N o.
N o.
N o.

20905
20794
20852
20676
21104

of
of
of
of
of

North Alameda
Contra Costa
Santa Clara
San Joaquin
Yuba-Sutter

No. 20843 o f South Alameda
No. 20889 o f Fresno and Kingsburg
No. 20592 o f Stanislaus
No. 20324 o f Sacramento
No. 20823 o f Rio Vista

T h e number of cannery unions included under the master agreement
had increased to 21 within a year and covered an estimated 50,000 to
60,000 workers.20
A State Council of Agricultural and Cannery W orkers, with Charles
Real of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as president, was
established during the annual convention of the State Federation of
Labor at L ong Beach in September 1937. The State council at a meeting
in Los Angeles on December 13, 1937, then instituted a tentative Na­
tional Council of Agricultural and Cannery W orkers as a counterbalance
leReport, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377 (pp. 5738, 5759-5764, 5780).
17Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 7, July 1937.
18Progress Report, Subcommittee of the organizing board, Central Labor Council of Santa
Clara County, San Jose, September 20, 1937 (p. 1).




154

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

to the C .I.O .’s new United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied
W orkers of America, or U .C .A .P .A .W .A .2
1
The methods by which the State federation extended its control in
order to exclude the C.I.O . had raised criticism in many quarters, includ­
ing affiliates of the A .F . of L. itself. Cannery employers, as represented
by the California Processors and Growers and other organizations, had
indicated a decided preference for dealing with the conservative union
bloc led by Vandeleur and the teamsters. This preference became more
pronounced when the left-wing group, led by organized longshoremen
and warehousemen under Harry Bridges, seceded from the federation
to join the C.I.O. and at the same time organized the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
Accusations of “ selling out” and “ promoting company unions” were
directed against the State federation from many sides. The FarmerLabor News, organ of the Central Labor Council of San Joaquin County,
had suggested that there were “ irregularities” in the settlement of the
Stockton strike.22 A n editorial entitled “ Company Unions— 1937 Style,”
voiced these charges:
The employers have taken full advantage of the A.F. o f L .-C .I.O . rivalry that
exists in the labor movement They have appealed to the A.F. o f L. leaders who,
frightened by the spread o f C.I.O. influence, became panic-stricken and have aided
and abetted the extension o f employer domination in A.F. o f L. unions. Charters
o f unions organized by central labor bodies have been revoked and given over to
unions that are obviously controlled by employers. (Farmer-Labor News, Vol. X V ,
No. 10, July 2, 1937, p. 3.)

Similar sentiments were expressed by bodies such as the Alameda
Industrial Union Council (which represented unions suspended from
the Central Labor Council by the State federation) and the Central
Labor Council of Santa Clara County which had protested to W illiam
Green against the issuance of a new cannery-union charter without prior
consultation.23 The members of the new Santa Clara cannery union
later refused to approve the uniform wage and hour provisions established
in the State federation’s blanket agreement with the California Proces­
sors and Growers.24
The president of Sacramento Local N o. 20324 filed charges with
the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that cannery operators
were using coercion and interfering with elections.25 In Alameda County,
special resentment was aroused during a series of strikes in the summer
of 1937, when the Teamsters Union refused to recognize picket lines
established by a C.I.O . cannery workers union around the Filice & Perelli
plant at Richmond. Rowland W atson, an A .F . of L. organizer at the time,
later testified before the N L R B that the State federation took over and
chartered several company unions (in the form of employee associations)
in plants of Filice & Perelli and other companies. A former member of
Local N o. 20099 employed in the Heinz plant at Emeryville asserted that
the company had helped organize the newly chartered A .F . of L. Union
N o. 20905 and had circulated a petition among the employees urging them
to withdraw from the old union and join the new one.26
The new C.I.O. organization, U .C .A .P .A .W A ., finally filed formal
charges with the National Labor Relations Board against canneries rep21 Report, NLRB Case No. XX-C-362-377 (pp. 2404-2408).
22Farmer-Labor News, Vol. X V , No. 8, June 18, 1937 (p. 8).
23Idem, No. 11, July 9, 1937 (p. 3).
24Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 7, July 1937 (p. 1).
25Farmer-Labor News, Vol. X V , No. 9, June 25, 1937 (p. 5).
26Report, NLRB Case No, XX-C-362-377 (pp. 2966, 9949),




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

155

resented by the California Processors and Growers. The chief allega­
tion was that the organized cannery employers’ master agreement with
the State Federation of Labor and the methods by which the agreement
was enforced constituted “ company unionism” in violation of the W ag­
ner Act. After more than a year of investigation and testimony at official
hearings of the N L R B , the record was set aside and no judgment was
rendered. This in itself would seem to justify the State federation’s
assertion that its cannery workers’ organizations were bona-fide labor
unions.27
The State federation’s National Council of Agricultural and Can­
nery W orkers meanwhile was negotiating with the California Proces­
sors and Growers for a new contract to cover the more than 60,000
northern and central California fruit and vegetable cannery employees.
The union announced early in February 1938 that it would seek a 20percent wage increase and an 8-hour day, with time and a half for over­
time up to 10 hours and double time thereafter.28 N o such gains were
won, however, and the contract of the previous year was renewed. Secre­
tary Vandeleur claimed that “ harassing tactics” by the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
and the National Labor Relations Board, which began its investigations
in April, had weakened the bargaining power of the cannery unions.29

The Dairy Industry
N ext to fruit and vegetable canning, the most impressive organiza­
tion gains by the A .F . of L. in the field of agriculture and allied indus­
tries were made among dairies and creameries. The Brotherhood of
Teamsters played a crucial role, becoming involved again in a threesided conflict with the C.I.O. and the Associated Farmers of California.
The union campaign centered in the rural areas near San Francisco
and Los Angeles, when the dairy industry was concentrated to a degree
not found in other sections of the United States. Dairying, more than
any other type of farming, had highly urbanized business relations.
Because its product was very perishable, the various stages of produc­
ing, transporting, distributing, processing, and retailing were intimately
related, and the industry was extremely dependent upon truck trans­
portation. Dairy farms in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas,
moreover, had become specialized, large-scale, and industrialized,30 with
a factory pattern of labor relations that left them peculiarly vulnerable to
27Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 60 (p. 22059).
28The existing agreement, drawn up in 1937, provided for a base pay rate of 52$4 cents
per hour for men, 42J4 cents per hour for women, and an 8-hour day. (San Jose Mercury
Herald, Feb. 3, 1938.)
29Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 60 (p. 22059).
3°Idem, Part 58 (pp. 21336-21338). Arthur W . Stuart, economist on the La Follette Committee,
stated:
#„
“ The production of milk for the Los Angeles County market shows a degree of specialization,
intensity of operation, and large-scale operation found in no other area in the United States. * * *
Very little feed is raised on dairy farms in Los Angeles County. Hay and concentrated feeds
are purchased by dairy farmers and fed to mature stock which are raised in other counties and
States and shipped into Los Angeles after they have reached maturity. * * * Milk Products
Industries, Inc., a distributors* organization, has cited census data to indicate that Los Angeles
County had the highest volume of milk production of any county in the United States in 1934.
* * * Dairy farms in Los Angeles County are larger, in terms of income received, than is the
rule in other sections of the country. In 1929, according to the Census, 504 dairy farms, or
three-fifths of dairy, farms in the county, received incomes of $10,000 or over. * * * The average
size of commercial dairy herds in Los Angeles County is larger than in other milksheds of which
I have knowledge, with the exception of San Francisco. In San Francisco, less than 200 farms
supply all of the city’s fluid-milk requirements. * * * However, Los Angeles displays a con­
siderably higher degree of concentration of cows on large dairies than is the case in San Fran­
cisco.”




156

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

unionization. Also, in contrast to most types of farming for cash pro­
duce, employment was relatively stable and nonseasonal.
Extensive organization among dairy farm workers in the two major
California milksheds is recent, dating only from early 1934. Labor
relations in the industry had become more casual during the period of
severe unemployment in the early 1930’s. Dairy hands were recruited
largely through private employment agencies in the “ skid row ” sections
of Los Angeles. W orkers suffered from job insecurity and the employ­
ers’ power of arbitrary dismissal; they ordinarily worked 11 hours a
day, with no days off. Dairy workers organized primarily in order to
win holidays, and union hiring halls in place of private fee-charging
agencies.31
The first dairy workers’ local was established in the Los Angeles
milkshed area early in 1934 by organizers of the Trade Union Unity
League. Several small strikes for union recognition and wage and hour
improvements were called by this organization. Dairy-farm proprietors
complained about the spread of labor agitation from field crops to dairies.
The California Cultivator of January 20, 1934, stated that “ investigation
has proved that behind the movement, which is supposed to be for recog­
nition of an unknown union not recognized by the A .F . of L., is a group
of well-known Communists and red agitators * * * some of whom were
said to have been mixed up in the San Joaquin Valley cotton strike last
fall.” It also stated that many of the larger dairies were reported to be
operating with nonunion milkers under armed guard, while smaller
ones were compelled to submit to the terms of the strikers.
The center of union activity during the next few years shifted to
counties in the San Francisco milkshed where the Brotherhood of
Teamsters was most strongly organized. Unionization of dairy workers
in this area was more thorough. By the end of 1939 more than fourfifths of the workers in the dairy farms supplying San Francisco were
reported to be members of a local of the Brotherhood of Teamsters,
which included milk-wagon drivers and milk-plant employees as well
as dairy-farm workers in its membership.32
A series of strikes occurred during 1936 mainly over the issue of
union recognition. A 2-month walk-out from April to June won sub­
stantial gains for 40 members of the dairy workers’ branch of the Brother­
hood of Teamsters in Marin County. A comprehensive agreement be­
tween the Dairy and Creamery Employees Union and the larger milk
companies in June granted a minimum wage of $65 per month with
board and 2 holidays per month. It provided also for an “ adjustment
board” composed of two union members and two employers’ representa­
tives empowered to settle all differences.33 Later disputes involving
some 950 dairy workers in Alameda and 22 in Contra Costa Counties
won for the union compromise gains in wage increases and recognition.34
The Marin County milkshed, supplying San Francisco and the East
Bay area, by early 1937 had become well organized in the Milkers Union
of the A .F . of L. The union won agreements from dairymen entailing
provision for preferential hiring. The Teamsters Union, which included
milk-wagon drivers and creamery employees, used the tactic of the
secondary boycott and made rapid organization gains among dairy-farm
31 Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 58 (pp. 21457-21459).
32Idem (p. 21339).
33Rural W orker, Vol. I, No. 2, July 1936 (p. 4)
34Josiah C. Folsom: Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927-38.




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

157

hands. In some instances the Teamsters declared milk from certain
dairies "h ot,” in order to force their employees into the union. Injunc­
tion proceedings were undertaken by some milk producers; farm em­
ployers hoped thus to establish important principles relating to restraint
of trade which, if successful, could be applied to other agricultural indus­
tries as well.35
The "h ot cargo” issue was given considerable publicity in a small
strike in Santa Clara County during 1938. By that year some 700 mem­
bers of the Milkers' Union, affiliated to the A .F . of L. Teamsters, had
formulated proposed agreements with employers establishing a wage
of $90 per month plus room and board, 2 days off per month, and a
union shop. These agreements were to cover dairies in the counties serv­
ing metropolitan San Francisco and Oakland— i.e., Santa Clara, San
Joaquin, San Mateo, Marin, Alameda, San Francisco, and Sonoma.36
Three dairy-farm proprietors in Santa Clara County refused to
meet the union conditions or even to discuss the matter with union rep­
resentatives. Eleven union milkers on the three farms were then called
out on strike. Milk from the dairies was declared "h ot” by the Team­
sters and other A .F . of L. affiliates, and San Francisco distributors
refused to handle it. In response to this move, the employers diverted the
"hot milk” from the fresh-milk market to a cheese factory to sell it at
half price.37 The union followed the "hot milk” to the cheese company
and threatened a union boycott of that firm and any others that accepted
the milk.38
Both disputants enlisted immediate support from their respective
organized groups. E. Moorehead, president of the Santa Clara Central
Labor Council, endorsed the stand of the union, while the executive
committee of the Associated Farmers met in San Francisco and voted
resolutions pledging full backing to their Santa Clara dairy-farmer
members.39 L. Edwards, president of the Santa Clara County unit of
the Associated Farmers, upheld the employers' assertion that the
Teamsters Union did not have the right to act as spokesman for the
milkers. H e expressed particular opposition to a closed shop on dairy
farms or other agricultural enterprises. Indeed, he threatened to call
the attention of the Humane Society of Santa Clara to the fact that cows
were going unmilked because of the strike.40
The milkers’ representatives in the Dairy and Creamery Employees
Union, on the other hand, denied that they were seeking a closed shop
or union hiring hall. They were requiring merely a provision that any
one hired apply to the union for membership within 2 weeks. The union
justified its demands on the ground that it was merely asking the struck
dairy owners to grant the same wages, hours, and working conditions
provided by other dairies in the Bay region, since all were in direct com­
petition for the metropolitan milk markets.40
Labor-employer conflict in the dairy industry became more widely
publicized and vitriolic when the Teamsters Union extended its organiz­
ing campaign to the Los Angeles milkshed. The union had not organ­
ized the transportation industry in this area to the same degree as in
San Francisco. Throughout its campaign of 1937 and 1938, in Los
3SStockton Record, November 4, 1937.
36San Francisco News, May 28, 1938.
37San Francisco Examiner, March 26, 1938.
38San Jose Mercury Herald, March 26, 1938.
39San Francisco Examiner, March 26, 1938.
40San Jose Mercury Herald, March 25, 1938.




158

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Angeles, it faced the organized hostility of the Associated Farmers of
California, allied with powerful open-shop associations. A second obsta­
cle was encountered in jurisdictional disputes with a local C .I.O . union
of dairy workers.
Left-wing unionists organized an independent Milkers Recreation
Club in 1936, after the Trade Union Unity League was dissolved.
Later, under the name of the Dairy W orkers Union, it won several
signed union-shop agreements with dairy farms in Los Angeles County.4
1
A s a separate farm workers’ organization, it faced obvious limitations
in collective bargaining, in an industry in which the relationships
among producing, processing, and selling were very close and very de­
pendent upon truck transportation. Consequently, the union turned to
the C.I.O . early in 1937, before the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was formed, and
became affiliated as Local No. 49, having about 1,000 members. The
C .I.O . meanwhile had been active in organizing milkers, dairy drivers,
and creamery operators.42
Local N o. 49, though still in existence by 1940, had lost consider­
able ground when the A .F . of L. Teamsters Union launched its new
organizational campaign. Occasionally minor conflict broke out between
the two organizations. Early in November 1937 the regional director
of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . (C .I.O .) met with organizers of the dairy
workers to plan an increase in the number of union contracts signed
with Los Angeles milkshed dairies. He threatened a “ milk holiday” in
protest against “ A .F . of L. goon-squad tactics used against us in the
dairy industry.” 43
The Teamsters Union had an advantage in organizing dairy-farm
workers, as it was able to exert pressure through the distributing and
processing stages of the industry, in which the truck drivers were highly
organized. Through this control it could force contracts upon dairyfarm producers by declaring their milk “ hot” and thus cutting off access
to urban markets.44
The larger producers in the milk industry adopted a protective anti­
union position as a result of a vigorous campaign by the open-shop
Merchant and Manufacturers Association. Dairy Industries Limited
was organized by dairy employers in October 1936, for the purpose of
handling labor relations collectively. In its constitution was a clause
prohibiting a member from entering into any oral or written agreement
with any labor organization without prior notice to the corporation.45
Milk producers belonging to Dairy Industries Limited became more
conciliatory toward the A .F . of L. Teamsters after the C.I.O . dairy
workers’ local called a series of strikes in the Hynes area. Contracts
were signed in August 1937 with Teamsters Local No. 93 of the Milk
41 Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 58 (p. 21460).
42Idem (p. 21457).
43Los Angeles Examiner, November 2, 1937.
44Joe Casey, western representative of the A.F. of L., justified this organizational drive, on
the grounds of precedent, as follows:
“ There is one particular industry in which we always went inside of the factory, and that
was in the dairy industry—the milk industry. When we organized the drivers years ago, the
milk driver was everything. He was generally a small farmer who maintained a few cows,
milked those cows, and took the milk then and distributed it himself. The whole operation was
handled more or less by a handful of people around a small dairy farm. At that time we organ­
ized those people and we also had jurisdiction reaching right into the actual milker.^ Of course
the dairy end of it has become highly specialized now, but we have never lost our jurisdiction.
W e have always maintained and always attempted to organize everything connected with the
milk industry inside the plant as far as pasteurization, bottling and cleaning up things—as far
as things of that sort are concerned—right down to the milking of the cows.” (Hearings of La
Follette Committee, Part 58, p. 21363.)
45Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 58 (p. 21342).




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

159

Drivers Union. By the end of the year about 45 percent of the milk
production and at least 75 percent of the distribution in Los Angeles
County were unionized.46
Attempts to sign up independent distributors and producers caused
some conflict. Milk-wagon drivers went on strike against 14 major
dairy employers in Ventura County who refused to deal with "a union
and picket line which does not represent our employees.,, Though many
organized milkers failed to participate in sympathy with the drivers,
the walk-out spread to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Counties before
it was settled.
The contractual arrangement between dairy union and employers’
association was unstable and temporary at best. Dairy Industries
Limited was disbanded shortly after the agreements were signed. A
new organization, Milk Products Industries Incorporated, was established
to cooperate more closely with urban anti-union organizations. A report
of the Associated Farmers of Los Angeles County, dated December 1,
1937, summarized the labor situation as follow s:
These contracts expire on February 1, 1938, and indications point to serious
troubles if closed shop is demanded. This struggle will center in a battle between
the C.I.O. and the milkers’ division of the Teamsters Union for control o f pro­
duction during 1938, with the dairies o f nearly every southern California county
involved. Steps are being taken for coordinated action against all unionization of
milk production. (Hearings o f La Follette Committee, Part 58, p. 21365.)

Branches of the Associated Farmers in the five southern counties
in the Los Angeles milkshed— Ventura, Orange, Los Angeles, San
Bernardino, and San Diego— held a series of meetings, and a “ dairy
committee” was established for the entire area. Its official position was
that the dairy farmer came before the distributing group, and it would
not approve any contract which would stop “ hot” milk at the distribu­
tors’ platforms.48 The Associated Farmers upheld the opposition of the
Milk Products Industries Incorporated to the closed-shop clause proposed
by the union in February 1938. A letter from the secretary of the
Associated Farmers to the Milk Products Industries Incorporated, on
February 22, 1938, expressed these sentiments:
The Associated Farmers o f Orange County through their dairy division wish to
commend your attitude in taking a definite stand against the closed-shop practice in
the milk industry. W e are asking you to continue on this basis, and want to assure
you that you will have our complete support in your program as long as you insist
upon keeping control o f your own business. (Hearings o f La Follette Committee,
Part 58, p. 21395.)

Other open-shop organizations of Los Angeles, such as the Neutral
Thousands and the W om en of the Pacific, stiffened the dairy employers’
opposition to union demands. Mrs: Bessie Ochs of the former organi­
zation discussed the issues in a special radio broadcast:
46Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 58 (p. 21365).
47 Los Angeles Examiner, October 19, 1937.
48Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 58 (p. 21366). A. E. Clark, field secretary
for the Associated Farmers of Los Angeles County, explained the opposition to unions as owing
primarily to the current C.I.O.-A.F.L. conflict. In his own words, “ there was a serious prospect
of jurisdictional dispute between the C.I.O. and the A.F; of L. during the organization of the
milk business here, and as soon as the teamsters’ organization entered into the contracts with
the distributors in town, those distributors who had those contracts were fearful that^ on their
farms, if the C.I.O. should get a foothold, they would be subjected to very serious situations,
and rather welcomed the opportunity of having the same union involved in both cases.” (Idem,
p. 21379.)




160

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Not men seizing an opportunity to rob and kill, but men sitting in comfortable
city offices who calmly and deliberately plan to control the roads that are the prop­
erty o f the community. Any rogues who believe the roads are the vital link between
dairy farm and home and as such plot to stop all milk trucks unless both producer
and consumer pay them tribute are the greatest rogues o f all. Several times in the
past 6 months these men have seemed ready to carry their plans into effect and then,
frightened by the vigilance o f organizations such as the Neutral Thousands that
are working for industrial peace, have decided to wait a little longer.
But I tell you that, because the milk trucks roll unmolested between the orange
groves and the fields o f lupin today, it is not because the plot has been abandoned.
No, these plotters have only made strategic retreat. The instant they believe we
have relaxed our vigilance, they will strike swiftly and suddenly. So we must
not relax our watch for a second. For the sake o f our babies and children, we
must keep eternal sentry duty, so that the milk trucks shall never cease rolling, so
that the wild flowers growing along our highways shall not be desecrated by over­
turned trucks or splashed with spilled milk— or, perhaps, with blood o f the drivers.
(Hearings o f La Follette Committee, Part 58, p. 21393.)

Negotiations ended in a stalemate during 1938 as a result o f the
organized opposition to union demands. A new contract granting an
increase in wages was not reached until October, after the Teamsters
Union had threatened the milk industry with a general strike. Milk
Drivers Union No. 93, Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Milk Prod­
ucts Industry Incorporated, finally signed an agreement in November
1939, granting a compromise union shop to 2,000 to 3,500 organized
workers.49
M inor labor troubles continued as the Teamsters Union extended its
organizing efforts to dairy employees in more outlying areas. Twenty
organized milkers struck in June 1939 on the 1,000-acre Panorama
Ranch dairy farm near Van Nuys (L os Angeles County), to enforce
union demands for the standard $90 per month and board for milkers,
as against the prevailing $75 to $80. Authorities feared that the Team­
sters Union might attempt a road blockade to prevent pick-up of the
ranch’s milk. However, the strike was quickly settled.50

Produce Trucking
The Teamsters’ success in unionizing dairy workers aroused a great
deal of apprehension among farm employers. They felt that this was
the entering wedge for an A .F . of L. campaign to organize agricultural
workers in other fields. Joe Casey, western representative of the A .F .
of L., denied, however, that the Teamsters intended to go beyond their
usual jurisdiction, which he claimed to include by precedent milkers
and helpers on dairy farms as well as truck drivers.
A unionizing.campaign in the produce-trucking business provoked
organized opposition from farmers. The Teamsters’ representatives denied
allegations that they were attempting to force union conditions upon
farmers, members of farmers’ families, or their farm hands who were
hauling their own produce to and from markets. The union was con­
cerned only with farmers who entered the transportation business,
hauling other people’s produce for a fee, in competition with trucking
companies which had contracts with the union.52 It came into conflict
49Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 58 (p. 21415).
50Los Angeles Examiner, June 24, 1939.
In mid-January, 1940, another strike at this ranch, involving the same 20 milkers, was settled
in less than a week by the Teamsters* representative, Paul Jones. (Los Angeles Evening News,
Jan. 20, 1940.)
51 Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 58 (p. 21362).
52Idem (p. 21362).




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

161

with the Associated Farmers despite the latter's preference for the A .F .
o f L. Teamsters rather than the C .I.O . Longshoremen. In a press
release dated October 19, 1937, the Associated Farmers explained its
position to the Teamsters’ representatives:
W e are informed o f the record o f the Teamsters Union and have knowledge of
the fact that for more than 37 years you have endeavored to follow a conservative
and constructive policy. W e are fully aware o f the magnitude o f your present fight
against the C.I.O. and the notorious alien, Harry Bridges, and in that fight we are
with you.
However, we cannot admit that the Teamsters Union, or any other organization
or individual, has a legal right to prevent the free movement o f transportation along
our public highways or the delivery o f our goods to market. Y ou may enter into a
contractual arrangement governing or controlling such transportation and delivery
and the contract should be adhered to, but it must always be considered as an extralegal contract.
* * * It would be economically impossible for the farmer in question to employ
a union teamster all the year round and pay him union wages to operate a truck
perhaps once a week on a casual trip to town for supplies. It would likewise
be impractical to hire union teamsters to operate the other farmer-owned trucks
during the brief season when the harvest is being reaped, and where the hauling
would take only 2 or 3 hours during the day.
In neither instance is the farmer interfering with the contractual arrangements
that teamsters have been striving for years to complete with the ordinary industrial
concerns. (Hearings o f La Follette Committee, Part 58, p. 21360.)

A s opposition to the Teamsters’ drive strengthened, the Associated
Farmers began to support nonfarm business firms which were wiling
to fight the union. This was disclosed in the course o f a small but highly
publicized strike against an independent firm, the Knudsen Truck &
W arehouse Co.
The Knudsen Co., as a member of the Orange Belt Draymen’s
Association, had had contractual relations with the Teamsters for several
years. The union drew up a new contract in 1938, calling for a wage
increase from the prevailing 75 cents per hour to 87j^ cents. U pon the
company’s refusal to sign, it was suspended from the Draymen’s A sso­
ciation and its union drivers were called out on strike.53
Knudsen, whose company hauled farm produce chiefly, was a mem­
ber of the Associated Farmers of San Bernardino County. This group
came to his aid, obtaining business for his lines and giving him protec­
tion where he felt it was needed. Hugh Osborne, secretary-manager
of the Associated Farmers of Imperial Valley, announced that his organi­
zation intended to make an issue of Knudsen’s case, and that ranchers
in five southern counties had formed a committee to prevent a “ unionharassed farm-commodities truck operator” from being put out of busi­
ness. In Osborne’s words, “ Knudsen now is a symbol with us. W e
find we have a government within our government. There is a great
American principle at stake. W e are going to help him stay in busi­
ness.” 54
Knudsen continued to operate with nonunion drivers. A ccording to
his own testimony, he was subjected to intimidation from the union and
faced considerable losses. In one instance 30 growers accompanied a
truckload of oranges, driven by nonunion men, to San P e d ro ; the convoy
encountered difficulty when longshoremen of the I.L .W .U . (C .I.O .)
refused to handle cargo brought onto the docks by strikebreakers.55
53Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 58 (p. 21478).
54Idem (p. 21484).
Mldern (pp. 21481-21483, 21490).




t62

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Teamsters Local No. 898 was balked in its efforts to organize hay
loaders, grocery drivers, and warehousemen in the Imperial Valley dur­
ing 1938 and 1939. In these attempts also the union faced organized
opposition from the Associated Farmers, explained by Hugh Osborne
thus:
W e know this to be a fact, that the first move on the part o f the union is to
unionize the wholesale groceries. Then they can say to the retail groceries, “ Come
in line,” because they get their supplies from the wholesale grocers.
* * * W e don’t propose to allow the closed shop to get in here, and increase
the cost o f living in our community 10, 15, or 20 percent, and stand idly by to see
that done.5
6

Miscellaneous Processing Industries
The A .F . of L . made substantial gains in 1937 and the following
years in many small processing industries related more or less distantly
to agriculture. Federal labor union affiliates conducted a few small
strikes in nurseries and greenhouses. Twenty-two members of an A .F .
of L. local in Alameda County participated in an unsuccessful 10-day
strike late in January 1937, over the issue of discriminatory discharge.
One hundred union members in June carried out a 1-day strike that
won partial union recognition and wage increases.57 Seventy-five mem­
bers of Federal Labor Union No. 20218 of Niles (Alameda County)
struck in March 1937 against the California Flower Nurseries. Violence
flared on March 12, 1937, when 75 pickets were reported to have been
surrounded by deputies and highway patrol officers, attacked with clubs,
and chased 2 miles.58 The most substantial union gains in this field were
won in San Francisco. A n industry-wide collective-bargaining agree­
ment was negotiated and signed in June 1938 between six major whole­
sale flower-growing companies, represented by the Industrial Associa­
tion of San Francisco, and the Gardeners and Nursery W orkers Union
of the A .F . of L. The contract, renewable in a year, provided for preferen­
tial hiring of union members, minimum wages ranging from 47 cents
per hour for general laborers to 72 cents per hour for foremen, $25.50
to $39 by the week or $110.50 to $169.50 by the month, a 9-hour day,
and 6-day week.59
Union jurisdiction over the wine industry of California was divided
between affiliates of the A .F . of L. and C.I.O . The workers in almost
all wineries in the San Francisco Bay region and two in the San Joaquin
Valley, according to a survey by the California State Chamber of Com­
merce, were organized by the C.I.O. International Longshoremen and
Warehousemen's Union. Most of those at Fresno and several in the
Lodi district were organized by the newly established W inery W orkers
Union of the A .F . of L .60 These unions were loosely organized and
provided little security for their members in collective bargaining. Fed­
eral Labor Union No. 20574 of Lodi, for instance, in a verbal agreement
with the companies, conceded that in event of rush work the winery
could employ nonunion men freely. The growers were also protected
against sympathetic action in event of strikes of field workers during
56Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 58 (pp. 21497-21509).
57Josiah C. Folsom: Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927-38.
58Los Angeles Evening News, March 13, 1937.
59San Francisco News, June 3, 1938.
60Stockton Record, November 4, 1937.




CH. XI.—INTER-UNION CONFLICT

163

the harvest season; winery workers could walk out only if a general
strike were called from the Washington headquarters of the A .F . of L .61
M inor conflict between the A .F . of L. and the C.I.O. unions occurred
in other processing industries. Rival unions attempting to organize labor
in almond-shelling plants were unable for some time to agree upon de­
mands. In the poultry industry, the unions made little or no progress
among farms; but substantial organization gains, about equally divided
between A .F . of L. and C.I.O., were achieved in northern California
among feed handlers, chicken and turkey pickers, candlers, warehouse­
men, and teamsters. The only strikes reported in this industry were
small, though long in duration. During November a strike of 50 turkey
pickers in Stanislaus County resulted, after a month, in compromise
wage increases. In Sacramento County during the same period, a strike
by 80 members of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . for jurisdictional control and
recognition was won after almost a month.62 The greatest single vic­
tory in this industry came late in the year when Local No. 17 of the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . won a contract with the Runnymede enterprise in the
vicinity of Resida (L os Angeles County), reported to be the world's
largest poultry farm. The terms included recognition of the union as sole
bargaining agent; wage increases of $1 per day for all employees; senority
rights; a week of 40 hours for women and 48 hours for m e n ; time and a
half for overtim e; and 1 week's vacation with pay.63
The most confusing jurisdictional overlapping and interunion con­
flict between A .F of L. and C.I.O. developed during 1937 in the lettuce­
packing industry of Salinas, which at that time was under investigation
by the National Labor Relations Board for anti-union activities. Local
No. 18211 of the A .F . of L. had lost heavily in membership because of its
defeat in 1936 and, following this, an effective blacklist imposed by the
employers.64
A new independent and unaffiliated Fruit and Vegetable W orkers
Association was organized during the spring of 1937 to supplant Local
No. 18211. Its spokesmen claimed that it represented “ 1,300 of the
more conservative lettuce workers." A. J. Doss, president of Local N o.
18211, was critical of the new organization: “ They say they are just
the conservative workers, but it's a company union. W e ’ve had re­
ports that Imperial Valley strikebreakers are helping to organize the
new bun ch ."65
A union contract was drawn up in June, after more than a month's
negotiations, between the new independent union and representatives of
the Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association. Included in the terms were
wage scales of 65 cents per hour, time and a half for Sundays and holi­
days for truck drivers, a wage increase of 5 cents per hour for carrot
packers, washers, and crate dumpers, and overtime pay after 8 p.m.
an d /or 10 hours per day. The Berkeley Gazette in its issue of June 18,
1937, observed optimistically that “ the agreement ends a controversy
which reached its height in the strike last year."
The issues were far from settled, however. By November 1937, a
survey by the agricultural committee of the State Chamber of Commerce
reported four factions working at cross purposes: The new union, which
61Sacramento Bee, May 7, 1937.
62Josiah C. Folsom: Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927-38.
63Commonwealth Times (Santa Maria), Vol. II, No. 23, November 22, 1937; Stockton Record,
November 4. 1937.
64Rura* Worker, Vol. II, No. 1, January 1937 (p. 5); NLRB Report of Cases 178 to 178ee.
65San Jose Mercury-Herald, May 17, 1937; San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 1937.




164

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

had an agreement with the industry; a newly organized local of the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . (C .I.O .) ; a small group which wished to revive the
old A .F . of L. Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union No. 18211; and a
large number of workers who wanted no affiliation with any union.66
Subsequently, the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . obtained local jurisdiction by win­
ning an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

The U.C.A.P.A.W.A. Drive During 1937-38
Processing Industries
The newly organized C.I.O. international, the United Cannery, A gri­
cultural, Packing and Allied W orkers of America, or U .C .A .P .A .W .A .,
won few major organizing gains in the processing industries of Cali­
fornia. Its efforts were frustrated by the A .F . of L .’s control over
truck transportation and particularly by its closed-shop contract cover­
ing the important fruit and vegetable canning industry of northern Cali­
fornia. The C.I.O. organization’s main victories were won in fish can­
ning, where it had the strategic support of the allied International Lon g­
shoremen and Warehousemen’s Union. Early in November, despite
alleged company support for the A .F . of L., the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . won
jurisdiction over 600 fish-cannery workers in San Diego in a N L R B supervised election.67 There were more important achievements in the
Alaska salmon-canning industry; a union contract was signed with the
employers, granting wage increases, union recognition, and other con­
cessions for w o r k e r s h i r e d from San Francisco and Seattle.
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . Locals Nos. 5 and 7 in these two cities became the
“ anchors” for the international union on the Pacific Coast. Later other
locals were organized in cotton compresses and gins in Bakersfield,
Madera, and other San Joaquin Valley towns.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . met reverses in other minor processing indus­
tries. Mushroom workers in one of its locals struck unsuccessfully against
the Golden State Mushroom Co., in Redwood City, during December
1937. The strike was lost because of inadequate organization and in­
ternal discipline, which led to disorder and costly court action. Three
strikers were arrested and subsequently convicted by the San Mateo
Superior Court on charges of rioting; they had boarded a truck loaded
with “ hot” mushrooms and dumped them over the side.68
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s efforts to unionize the walnut industry of
southern California led to one of the numerous test cases before the
National Labor Relations Board. Six workers at the plant of the Cali­
fornia Walnut Growers Association in the fall of 1937 lodged a com­
plaint with the N L R B that they had been locked out for refusing to
join a company-sponsored union. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . previously had
filed a charge with the Board to the effect that the Walnut Growers’
Employees Association was a company union in violation of the W agner
A ct.69 The Walnut Growers Association, claiming to be an “ agricul­
tural” enterprise, unsuccessfully challenged the N L R B ’s jurisdiction
over its employees.70
66Stockton Record, November 4, 1937.
« 7CIO News, Vol. I, No. 48, November 5, 1938.
68San Francisco Examiner, April 21, 1938.
69Los Angeles Illustrated News, October 14, 1937.
70Los Angeles Examiner, November 25, 1937.




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

165

Unionization of Field Workers
The A .F . of L .’s organization achievements and jurisdictional dis­
putes with the C.I.O. in the processing industries during 1937 and
early 1938 overshadowed the union campaign among field workers.
Unionizing field workers by themselves had long been considered a
losing proposition. A self-sustaining union of agricultural laborers re­
quired in advance a strong base membership of more-skilled and betterpaid workers in allied processing industries, whose dues could subsidize
a long organizing campaign in rural areas.
The C.I.O. program for agricultural labor was checked when it
lost control of the more important processing industries, particularly
fruit and vegetable canning, to the A .F . of L. Financed by substantial
advances of money from the central executive of the C.I.O ., as well as
by donations from various sympathizers, the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in Cali­
fornia and other States was able for a time to organize unskilled field
laborers hitherto neglected by the more conservative A .F . of L . It
maintained a skeleton staff of organizers in rural areas to direct strikes
and enroll the workers in local unions.
Particularly costly were the numerous unorganized spontaneous strikes
which periodically broke out, and which the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . felt
morally obligated to direct when appealed to for aid. A n adequate finan­
cial and membership base to support this program was lacking, and ulti­
mately the union had to abandon its organization of field workers. In
California it turned over its locals to the A .F . of L., whose National
Council of Agricultural and Cannery W orkers supported by the Team­
sters Union, was better able to carry on.
California’s farm laborers were relatively quiescent during 1937
and 1938, as measured by the number, size, and violence o f the strikes
in which they participated. A s compared to the 24 strikes involving
more than 13,600 workers during 1936, only 15 small strikes totaling
less than 4,000 workers in 1937, and 13 strikes of less than 5,500 work­
ers in 1938 occurred. The decline in the militancy of farm labor was
explained in part by the preoccupation of both A .F . of L. and C .I.O . with
organizing allied processing industries. A more important reason was
the chronic surplus of farm laborers and consequent weakening of their
bargaining power. Influx of “ drought refugees” from the Middle W est
and Southwest was reaching a peak in numbers during 1937 and 1938.
These newcomers, individualistic small-farm operators for the most part,
had had little experience with labor unions. In the dependent and pov­
erty-stricken condition in which many of them arrived in California, they
were little inclined to jeopardize by strike action what brief jobs they
could get.
Minor jurisdictional disputes between the A .F . of L . and C.I.O.,
nevertheless, did extend into agriculture. Most field workers’ organi­
zations of California by early 1937 had become affiliated to the A .F . of
L. as federal labor unions. These, together with several cannery work­
ers’ unions and independent Filipino and Mexican organizations, sent
official delegations to the first convention of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . at
Denver in July. Subsequently, they became part of the new organiza­




166

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

tion.71 Jurisdictional problems arose when the A .F . of L. attempted to
maintain its local union charters and refused to recognize new
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . locals. In some localities it chartered new federal labor
unions to parallel and compete with established C.I.O. organizations.
The problem became even more confused in areas where independent
Filipino or Mexican unions remained more or less apart from both C.I.O .
and A .F . of L .72
APRICOT STRIKE IN YOLO COUNTY73

Conflict between the A .F . of L. and C.I.O. in agriculture first ap­
peared in one of the only two general or crop-wide strikes in California
during 1937; this was a walk-out involving some 500 apricot workers
in Y olo and Solano Counties during June. This incident was of special
interest in illustrating the reactions and conflicts of various interest
groups in a rural community.
Early in May 1937, the “ intelligence service,, of the Associated
Farmers of California had reported that “ the International Longshore­
men and Warehousemen have now organized a Union of Farm and
Field W orkers at Knights Landing, Y olo County, close to the city of
W oodland, and have now applied to the national for a charter.”
The union, chartered as Agricultural W orkers Union Local N o.
20241 of Sacramento, took in members throughout the Sacramento
Valley and established branches in Winters, Marysville, Knights Land­
ing, Walnut Grove, Isleton, and Woodland. Organizers were active in
Yolo, Solano, Yuba, and Sacramento Counties, creating local “ workers’
committees*’ in various communities.74 The union was estimated to
have about 500 paid-up members in good standing by June 1937, and
an additional 1,000 workers had paid admission fees and applied for
membership.
A strike of apricot workers began in the vicinity of W inters (Solano
County) in the middle of June, after organized growers had refused
union demands for 40 cents per hour and union recognition and had
agreed upon a flat wage of 35 cents per hour. The labor surplus ren­
dered the strike ineffective. The W inters Express in its June 25, 1937,
issue claimed that “ it was not a workers’ strike— it was an attempt of
the unemployed to stop the work of the employed.”
The first step was a series of open meetings addressed by union
organizers, who planned to call a strike after the growers had refused
^Official Proceedings of First National Convention of U .C.A.P.A.W .A., Denver, Colo.,
July 9*12, 1937. The official list of delegates included representatives from the following unions
in California: Agricultural Workers Union—No. 20221 of Stockton, No. 20241 of Sacramento,
No. 20539 of Marysville, and No. 20289 of Bakersfield; Fruit Workers Union No. 18211 of W at­
sonville; Field Workers Union No. 20326 of Guadalupe; Citrus Workers Union No. 20539 of Santa
Ana; Cannery Workers Union No. 20325 of San Jose and No. 20099 of Oakland and Richmond;
Cannery and Preserve Workers No. 20686 of Santa Clara; Dairy Workers Union (C.I.O.) of Los
Angeles; Filipino Labor Union of Los Angeles: Confederacion do Campesinos y Obreras Mexicanos (C.U.C.O.M.), Los Angeles; Union de Obreras y Campesinos, San Diego; and Japanese
Farm Workers Union of California, Los Angeles.
Some of these organizations, such as Agricultural Workers Union No. 20211 of Stockton,
Cannery Workers Unions No. 20325 of San Jose, No. 20099 of Oakland, and No. 20686 of Santa
Clara, were “ paper organizations/’ since their leadership previously had been ousted and new
unions chartered in their place by the State federation.
72Some of these formerly independent unions, working in collaboration with or directly affili­
ated to the U .C.A.P.A.W .A.. charged the A.F. of L. with creating “ dummy unions” in the
form of competing “ paper” organizations sanctioned by federal labor union charters. (See
Rural Worker, July 1937, p. 1; Commonwealth Times, December 24, 1937.)
73Except as otherwise noted, data in this seel ion are from Hearings of La Follette Commit­
tee, Part 49 (pp. 17949-17955, 17965-17987, 18124, 18213).
74Sacramento Union, June 2, 1937.




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

167

the union demands. Complications arose when the organizers suddenly
announced a change of affiliation from the A .F . of L. to the C .I.O . They
explained to the rank and file that the A .F . of L. had “ sold out” the
workers, and that the International Longshoremen’s Association was
soon to change to the C.I.O. (apparently on the widely held rumor that
John L. Lewis had appropriated $50,000 to organize agricultural laborers
on the Pacific Coast, and that Harry Bridges was to direct the campaign).
This sudden change stiffened the opposition of growers and brought
jurisdictional conflict with representatives of the A .F . of L. A group
from the Teamsters Union addressed meetings of strikers, cautioning
them against joining the C.I.O ., “ an organization of Communists,” and
warning them that a strike would have no official standing with the A .F .
o f L.
Growers faced the prospect of crop losses if the Teamsters Union
declared the apricots picked by the C.I.O. to be “ hot,” and refused to
transport them. The local Associated Farmers organized the groweremployers and their supporters to cooperate with local law-enforcement
authorities in combating the strike A t an annual meeting of the A sso­
ciated Farmers in December 1936, B. A . Schwartz, president of the Y olo
County unit, described his organization in the following w ords:
I have found that the Associated Farmers is an organization carrying the fight
for the industrialists. W e must work together and realize that there is an inter­
dependence. The sheriff, the district attorney and supervisor practically form the
Associated Farmers in Y olo County. (Hearings, p. 17952.)

The pickers organized a system of “ flying squads” to make contact
with nonstriking farm workers. W hen they attempted to stop cannery
trucks from gathering up fruit, county ordinances were passed prohibit­
ing picketing and camping on highways. The strike was in effect
broken through the arrest of almost two dozen pickets. W orkers will­
ing to take jobs were placed on ranches, while those not willing were
given “ floating orders” out of the community.
The Winters Express, in its June 25, 1937, issue, summarized the
strike situation dramatically:
The week of June 21 will go down in the history o f Winters as one o f the most
eventful periods in the life o f this unusually peaceful and quiet community. With
the sheriffs o f both Y olo and Solano Counties, and squads from the State highw ay
patrol, plus specially appointed deputies, the citizens o f the district succeeded in
breaking up a labor disturbance which has been brewing for the past 3 weeks, and
reached its climax Tuesday.
VEGETABLE WORKERS’ STRIKE IN-SANTA MARIA VALLEY

Mexicans and Filipinos, organized in their own independent unions
in the Santa Maria Valley, participated in the only other field workers’
strike of importance in 1937. This area had been free of strikes for
several years, as local Mexican, Filipino, and white workers’ unions
had carried on peaceful bargaining relations with the Grower-Shipper
Vegetable Association. A ll disputes and controversial issues between
organized labor and employers had been submitted for settlement to an
arbitration board under the chairmanship of Prof. R. L. Adams of the
University of California. The board was finally dissolved in January
1937, when it was felt that labor relations had become so stabilized that
arbitration was no longer necessary.
654107 ° — 4 6 -1 2




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The contract between the union and the association expired in Decem­
ber 1937. The field workers demanded wage increases in a new agree­
ment for the coming year, and when these were refused by the organized
growers, the Filipino and Mexican unions called a strike. Approximately
3,000 workers were involved directly and an additional 1,000 indirectly.
The walk-out ended within S days, when the unions withdrew their de­
mands. Union spokesmen explained that adverse economic conditions
and low market quotations for vegetables, in a period of general economic
recession, did not warrant the wage increases demanded. The 1937 con­
tract was renewed.75
Spokesmen for Filipinos organized in U .C .A .P .A .W .A . locals N o.
69 of Guadalupe, N o. 71 of Lom poc, and N o. 72 of Pism o Beach claimed
that the settlement was a defeat for the independent Philippine Islands
Labor Union Incorporated. They blamed the defeat on that union’s
refusal to cooperate with the C.I.O. Prior to the strike, Filipino field
workers in the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . (C .I.O .) had formulated a schedule
of demands to be submitted to the growers and had invited the president
of the Philippine Islands Labor Union Incorporated to cooperate in
enforcing them.76 That organization had opposed the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s
efforts, and on one occasion had ejected C.I.O . members from its meet­
ing.77
CITRUS WORKERS

The C.I.O. and A .F . of L. both made progress in unionizing field
and packing-shed workers in the citrus industry during 1937 and 1938.
Organizational advances for several years were somewhat nullified by
interunion rivalries. However, the unions did win one notable legal
victory; citrus exchanges and employers’ associations, ordinarily con­
sidered to be “ agricultural,” were brought under the jurisdiction of the
National Labor Relations Board.
Local unions among Mexican citrus workers of Orange, Los Angeles,
and Ventura Counties had had a relatively long and involved history of
internecine strife, and the A .F . of L.-C .I.O . split in agriculture and allied
industries led to further confusion. In Orange County, for instance, a
local Mexican union had been in existence since 1933, and had taken
part in several strikes. Early in 1937 many of its members withdrew
to join the newly chartered A .F . of L. Farm Laborers Union Local No.
20699, though enough remained to maintain the original organization.
A few months later most of the members of Local N o. 20699 left it, in
turn, to join a local of the new C.I.O. international, the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
Twenty members remained with the A .F . of L. organization, which was
rechartered as Citrus W orkers Union Local No. 20688. Thus, three dis­
tinct unions were claiming jurisdiction simultaneously. This situation
seriously impeded the settlement of strikes in the area.78
The A .F . of L. renewed its organizing drive in July 1937, shortly
after the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was formed. It immediately faced strong
opposition from employers, who made anti-union threats, circulated
notices vilifying “ outside agitators,” and discharged union members.
The union lodged complaints with the N L R B ,79 which in January 1939
^Philippines Mail (Salinas), Vol. 7, No. 26, November 28, 1937, and Vol. 8, No. 3, December
20, 1937.
76Western Worker, November 25, 1937.
77Commonwealth Times, Vol. II, No. 24, December 21, 1937.
78Field notes.
79Hollywood Citizen News, August 21, 1937.




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

169

finally issued “ cease and desist*' orders against the North Whittier
Heights Citrus Association of Puente, a cooperative packing plant owned
by 200 citrus growers. It was ordered to reinstate with back pay 27
packing-house workers, to end “ interference with their self-organization’*
as members of an A .F . of L. local, and to refrain from spying on union
meetings.80
The A .F . of L. by the fall of 1938 claimed to have organized and
chartered six local unions of citrus-fruit packing and byproducts work­
ers in Corona, Ontario, Pasadena, Puente, and Upland.81 The
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . during 1939, however, superseded it in this field, and
it did not regain its dominant position until early in 1941.
W hen it was ruled that citrus associations were nonagricultural, this
A .F . of L. victory brought to a head the opposition of the organized
employers to Federal legislation. The National Labor Relations Board
had rendered several decisions that were unfavorable to employers in
processing industries allied to agriculture, including citrus fruits, wal­
nut packing, and lettuce packing and shipping. California farm interests,
acting through the Agricultural Producers Labor Committee, launched
a drive to persuade Congress to curb the extension of Federal legisla­
tion over agriculture. They wished particularly to check the National
Labor Relations Board's decisions, to limit what they regarded as en­
croachment of the new W age and H our Administration onto the farm,
and to procure exemptions for agricultural and allied workers from the
jurisdiction of the Social Security Board. A committee of three, includ­
ing C. B. M oore of the W estern Growers Protective Association, went
to Washington to formulate and direct the program.82

Farm-Labor Unionism in 1938
The agricultural labor front in California was even quieter during
1938 than it had been in 1937. The farm-labor surplus had become
chronic and was continuously fed by an influx of southwestern refugees.
The labor movement in general, and particularly the C.I.O ., had suffered
a temporary decline in membership and financial strength because of the
serious recession of late 1937 and 1938. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . organizing
drive in rural areas consequently lost a good deal of momentum.
Twelve strikes, the same number as in 1937, were reported among
field laborers during 1938, and the total number of workers involved also
remained roughly the same as the year before. Most of the walk-outs
were small, localized, and spontaneous. Three large crop-wide or general
strikes temporarily captured public attention. These included approxi­
mately 650 sheep shearers in Kern County and surrounding areas during
April, 2,000 pea pickers in Sacramento County during May, and 5,000
cotton pickers in Kern County during August and September. The
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was more active than the A .F . of L. among field work­
ers; the only affiliate of the latter to lead an agricultural strike was the
Sheep Shearers Union of North America. This incident, the longest and
most bitterly fought labor conflict in farming during 1938, is described
8°New York Times, January 21, 1939.
81Proceedings, 1938, of California State Federation of Labor (San Francisco), (pp. 41-45).
82Los Angeles Times, January 4, 1939.




170

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

in more detail in Chapter X I V (pages 229-230). It constituted a serious
defeat for rural unionism.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . restricted its activities considerably because
of financial stringency. Its activities in strikes were confined almost en­
tirely to assuming leadership and control of movements which had de­
veloped spontaneously. The District No. 2 office reported that in a dozen
instances workers in unorganized spontaneous strikes came to the
union for aid.83

Pea Pickers* Strike
The first union-supported strike in 1938 occurred among some 2,000
pea pickers in Sacramento County during May. It began with a spon­
taneous walk-out of a few hundred pickers, demanding restoration of a
previously announced rate of 25 cents per hamper, as against the prevail­
ing 21-cent rate being paid by labor contractors.
The strikers enlisted the aid of organizers from the local U .C .A .P .­
A .W .A . headquarters in Sacramento. W age demands were raised to a
rate of 1 cent per pound or 30 cents per hamper, and pickets were sent
to other centers, such as Valdez, Central Souza, and W illow Point, to
extend the strike throughout the pea-growing area.84 Within a few days
approximately 2,000 pickers were reported to be taking part.85
The strike was remarkably peaceful, considering the numbers in­
volved, and no arrests were made. After a few days the strikers won
their wage demand of 30 cents per hamper; this rate benefited some
5,000 pickers employed throughout the crop area.85
This easy victory was explained in part by the sympathetic attitude
of employer groups themselves. The Sacramento Valley Council of the
State Chamber of Commerce, representing 10 northern California
counties, flatly charged “ chiselling” labor contractors with responsibility
for the outbreak. It exonerated the pea growers and laid the trouble to
the 21-cent rate paid by contractors who previously had promised the
pickers 25 cents. The council further advised laborers to “ locate the
source of false representation of farm labor needs” and to demand prose­
cution as a means for averting such disturbances later in the season.86
According to U .C .A .P .A .W .A . spokesmen, “ so hard boiled were shippers
and labor contractors in their wage slashes that even the Clarksburg
branch of the Associated Farmers refused to support them.” 87
Further labor trouble was not averted in this area, however. A few
days after this strike, the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . placed pickets in front of the
State Employment Service office to protest the hiring of beet-field workers
at 35 cents per hour. The union asserted that the minimum Government
rate was 40 cents per hour for labor employed by growers receiving
A A A benefits.88
Another strike of several hundred pea pickers occurred in San Benito
County during September 1938. These workers, who according to some
reports had been averaging TO to 15 cents per hour at a rate of 21
830fficial Report (mimeographed) U .C.A.P.A.W .A. District No. 2. San Francisco. Decern*
ber 1938 (pp. 1, 2).
84Sacramento Bee, May 12, 1938.
85Labor Herald (Sacramento), May 19. 1938.
86San Francisco Examiner, May 14, 1938.
87Labor Herald, Sacramento, May 19, 1938.
88Sacramento Union, May 19. 1938.




CH. XI.---INTKR-UNION CONFLICT

171

cents per hamper, struck spontaneously for a 30-cent rate. Again the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was appealed to for aid. In this instance, according
to union spokesmen, some 200 members of the Associated Farmers co­
operated with the State highway patrol to drive labor organizers out of
the county and to carry on a policy of “ forceful eviction” against the
strikers.89

Cotton Pickers9 Strike in Kern County
The most serious labor troubles during 1938 were centered in Kern
County. A small strike of some 68 grape pickers broke out spontaneously
during January, in protest against wage decreases. A restoration of
previous wage rates was won with the help of C.I.O. organizers. Again
in August the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . helped 150 peach pickers win a sponta­
neous strike for wage increases.90
These minor outbreaks culminated in a spontaneous walk-out of ap­
proximately 3,000 cotton pickers in the Shatter area of Kern County
during September. The strike was in protest against the organized
growers’ offer of 75 cents per hundredweight instead of the 90-cent scale
of the previous year. Strikers demanded an increase in rates to $1
per hundredweight.91 The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . declared itself taken com­
pletely by surprise. A n organizer who was rushed from its San Francisco
headquarters found the strikers without leadership and uncertain of
their course of action.92 New demands were formulated, under union
direction, calling for the testing of weighing machines, jo b stewards for
each field, payment of wages in full each Saturday, drinking water near
the cotton wagon, and rehiring of strikers without discrimination 92
Both strike and strikebreaking tactics reminiscent of 1933 were re­
vived. Caravans of strikers and organizers drove from field to field
endeavoring to extend the walk-out in scope and effectiveness. The
Associated Farmers of Kern County sought to prevent this by tabulating
the strikers’ auto licenses as a means for applying a blacklist.93 The union
claimed that many independent growers who were willing to agree to the
strikers’ terms were prevented by the Associated Farmers from doing so,
by the threat that money to finance the next year’s crop would not be
forthcoming from banks and cotton-ginning companies.94 The San Fran­
cisco Chronicle of October 28, 1938, reported that several growers who
raised picking rates to 85 or 90 cents per hundredweight under the threat
of the strike, were “ urged” by other growers to return to the prevailing
75-cent scale and did so. The Associated Farmers refused to negotiate
with strike representatives and ignored mediation offers from a Con­
ciliator of the U .S. Department of Labor. Grower-employers maintained
that no strike existed, since full picking crews were available.95
The strike collapsed before strong and unified opposition from groweremployers and local government officials. Roger W elch, district attorney,
announced that he would enforce Kern County’s antipicketing ordinance
and that officers would be instructed to “ stop strikes before they got
89CI0 News, Vol. 1, No. 43, October 1, 1938.
90Josiah C. Folsom: Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927-38.
91 San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 1938.
" C I O News, Vol. 1, No. 47, October 29, 1938 (p. 8).
"H earin g s of La Follette Committee, Part 51 (p. 18623).
" C I O News, Vol. 1, No. 47, October 29, 1938 (p. 1),
" F ie ld notes.




172

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

started.” 90 Numerous arrests subsequently were made. On one occasion
more than 100 pickets in a caravan of 30 automobiles were arrested
near A rvin on a charge of “ conspiracy to break and enter with intent to
incite a riot.” The sheriff charged that the strikers assaulted pickers on
one ranch with stones and clubs.97 H . Pom eroy, director of the State
Relief Administration, was also reported to have used his office to help
break the strike, by refusing relief to those able to work as strikebreakers
in the fields at the rate set by growers.98 Protests were expressed by the
W orkers Alliance and several C.I.O. affiliates, including Dairy W orkers
Local No. 49 of Los Angeles, the United Fishermen, and the State,
County and Municipal W orkers of America.99 The strike ended after
several weeks.

Vegetable Workers9 Strike in Orange County
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was more successful in a strike involving some
750 vegetable workers in the vicinity of Santa Ana (Orange County).
This dispute, also, began as a spontaneous protest against wage cuts. Its
settlement was delayed for several weeks by jurisdictional disputes among
three unions: A local of the Mexican C .U .C.O.M ., which had been in
the county for almost 6 years, the A .F . of L. Citrus W orkers Union Local
N o. 20688, and a local of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
Grower-employers, represented jointly by the Orange County Farm
Federation, the Japanese Vegetable Growers Association, and the
Associated Farmers of Orange County, refused to recognize the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . or to accede to strike demands for wage increases.1
Pat Callahan, district U .C .A .P .A .W .A . organizer, charged that the
Associated Farmers was exerting pressure on Japanese growers to refuse
agreements with the union, promising them full compensation for any
losses incurred in holding out. The strikebreaking campaign was being
financed, he asserted, through levies imposed upon citrus growers in
the county. The State Relief Administration again was charged with
sending relief clients from Santa Ana to take the places of strikers in
the fields.2
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., nevertheless, claimed to have cleared the fields
of strikebreakers within a month and to have defeated an “ underhanded
campaign” seeking to prevent the C .U .C.O.M . and A .F . of L. locals from
affiliating with the C .I.O .2 W ith the aid of the U .S. Conciliation Service
the union was successful in winning one closed-shop contract covering 50
workers and three working agreements covering another 150 workers.®

Miscellaneous Strikes
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . took part in other field workers’ strikes of
smaller size. A short spontaneous walk-out of 25 lettuce workers, oppos­
ing a wage decrease, ended with no gain to the workers. Strikes of a
" S a n Francisco Chronicle, October 20, 1938.
97Idem, October 26, 1938.
98Idem, October 12, 1938.
" S a n Francisco News, October 25, 1938.
Two months previously the U .C.A.P.A.W .A. had passed resolutions praising the W P A for
requiring that current relief subsistence wages be paid to agricultural workers before it re­
leased them from work relief. At the same time it condemned the State Relief Administration
for “ separating from its rolls workers for agriculture on a wage offer as low as 20 cents an
hour.” (San Francisco News, June 3, 1938.)
1Field notes.
2CIO News, Vol. 1, No. 38, August 27, 1938 (p. 2).
193^0fficial Report <mimeographed), U .C.A.P.A.W .A. District No. 2, San Francisco, December




CH. XI.—INTER-UNION CONFLICT

173

dozen apricot workers in San Benito County and 150 pear pickers in
Y olo County during July were similarly unsuccessful/ Slight wage
increases were won during November in a walk-out of 200 brussels-sprout
workers in the vicinity of San Mateo (Santa Cruz County).
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A won compromise wage gains in the citrus in­
dustry of. Los Angeles County. Its Citrus W orkers Union had begun a
strike against the San Fernando Heights Lemon Association, which
countered by closing down its packing houses and locking out 150 em­
ployees, justifying this action as a move for “ quieting of an agitated
situation” among Mexican citrus-fruit pickers and packers in the valley.
The National Labor Relations Board was called in to investigate and
arrange a settlement.5

General Results of Organization Activity in 1938
The activities of U .C .A .P .A .W .A . (C .I.O .) in rural California during
1938 apparently resulted in a net loss, despite numerous partial victories.
The various strikes it led probably prevented wage cutting and tempo­
rarily increased its membership in many crop areas. A ccording to its dis­
trict representative, however, these strikes did not bring organization
gains proportional to the effort and cost expended. The district executive
board consequently ruled at a meeting in November 1938 that thereafter
no spontaneous strike would be supported until it had been thoroughly in­
vestigated by a district representative.6
Impressive achievements throughout the United States were recorded
by the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . at its second annual national convention held
in San Francisco during December 1938. It claimed to have grown from
a nucleus of scattered A .F . of L. federal labor unions to 408 locals with
some 125,000 members throughout the Nation, and to have won over
200 contracts covering 40,000 members.7
The organization had little to show for its efforts in California, how­
ever. By December 1938 it could claim only 15 local unions in the State,
and some of these were hardly more than paper organizations. Cannery
W orkers Unions N o. I f of San Jose, No. 14 of San Francisco, and No.
15 of Oakland were chartered from the former Federal Labor Unions
Nos. 20325, 20989, and 20099, respectively, and had little importance, in
view of the fact that the A .F . of L. had already won exclusive recognition
from the major canneries in these communities. U .C .A .P .A .W .A . locals
No. 12 of Marysville, N o. 20 of Stockton, and N o. 33 of Sacramento,
which had been chartered from the former Agricultural W orkers Federal
Labor Unions Nos. 20539, 20221, and 20241, respectively, were tempo­
rarily inactive. They were revived later, in strikes during the summer and
fall of 1939. Agricultural W orkers Federal Labor Unions No. 20284 of
Bakersfield, No. 10912 of Watsonville, No. 20886 of Santa Clara, and
N o. 20326 of Guadalupe, all of which had been represented at the first
national convention in Denver during July 1937, were no longer in
existence. U .C .A .P .A .W .A . Locals No. 69 of Santa Maria, No. 71 of
Lom poc, and N o. 72 of Pismo Beach, chartered from branches of the
Filipino Labor Union, likewise had disappeared or become inactive.
4Josiah C. Folsom: Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927-38.
5Los Angeles Times, August 27, 1938.
60fficial Report (mimeographed), U.C.A.P.A.W .A. District No. 2, San Francisco, December

1938 (p. 46).

^CIO News, Vol. 1, No. 53, December 12, 1938 (p. 3).




174

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Of the older established locals, only No. 3 of Dairy W orkers in Los
Angeles, No. 5 of Alaska Cannery W orkers in San Francisco, N o. 18 of
Shed W orkers in Salinas, and No. 29 of Citrus W orkers in Santa Ana
(chartered from the former A .F . of L. N o. 20539 and local Mexican
C .U .C .O .M .) appeared to be active. No. 58 of Modesto, No. 233 of
Brentwood, No. 23 of Camarillo, No. 24 of Chowchilla, and N o. 203 of
Lodi were newly chartered locals which developed from spontaneous
strikes described above.8
The A .F . of L., by comparison, had reached unprecedented strength
in agriculture and allied industries. The proceedings of the California
State Federation for 1938 listed the following affiliates, claiming a total
membership of 65,000 to 75,000:
Cannery W orkers: 16 local unions with an estimated 50-60,000 members in the
localities o f Antioch, Benicia, Hayward, Kingsburg, Marysville, Modesto, Oakland,
Oroville, Richmond, Rio Vista, Sacramento, Salinas, San Francisco, San Jose,
Stockton, and Suisun.
Citrus Fruit-Packing and Byproducts W orkers: 6 local unions in Corona, On­
tario. Pasadena, Puente, and Upland.
Fruit and Vegetable Packing and Preserve W orkers: 5 local unions in Oakland,
Salinas, San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Maria.
Dairy and Creamery Employees: 3 local unions in Fresno, Lemoore, and San
Francisco.
Winery and Distillery W orkers: 3 local unions in Fresno, Lodi, and Morgan
Hill.9

Farm-Labor Unionism in 1939
Agricultural laborers' strikes during 1939 were fewer in number but
larger in scope than they had been for some years. A few even approached
the extent and violence reached in the campaign of the Cannery and A gri­
cultural W orkers Industrial Union in 1933. This revival of unionism
was only temporary, however. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., the main field
workers' organization in California, continued to decline. A newly estab­
lished independent union of Filipino workers in central California won
the most important organization gains in the State during 1939. The
A .F . of L. meanwhile remained inactive among field laborers.

Activities of the U.C.A.P.A.W.A.
SPONTANEOUS STRIKES

The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . attempted to restrict its strike activities and
to concentrate on building a stable organization based on the processing
industries. Though on several occasions it felt forced to give support to
spontaneous strikes, on the whole it exerted a moderating influence on
labor relations in the fields. Several Avalk-outs it ignored completely.
The first strike in which the union was active occurred early in April
among several hundred pea pickers in the vicinity of Modesto (Stanislaus
C ounty). T w o hundred workers meeting in a Federal labor camp near
W estley elected a committee of 5 to negotiate with growers for an in­
creased picking rate of 30 cents per hamper in place of the prevailing 25
8Labor Herald, Sacramento, December 29, 1938.
P roceedings of California State Federation of Labor, 1938 (pp. 41-45).




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

175

cents. They threatened to strike if the demands were not met*10 Fifteen
or twenty members of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., however, opposed calling a
strike until a majority of the workers had been organized into the union.
Overriding this opposition, some 240 nonunion workers under a '“ gentle­
men’s agreement,, refrained from picking and sent delegates to several
labor camps in the pea-growing area in an effort to extend the walk-out.1
1
Several hundred pickers, representing about a third of the total employed
in the area, finally joined the movement. The strike soon collapsed be­
cause of inadequate preparation.12
Another spontaneous movement developed among the pea workers
late in September, when about 200 migratory pea pickers in a dozen
ranches in the lower Santa Clara Valley near Gilroy struck unsuccess­
fully for a wage increase to 25 cents per hamper from the prevailing
21 cents.13
Small and unsuccessful strikes occurred in other crop areas during
the year. Walk-outs of a few hundred fruit pickers in the vicinities of
Patterson (M adera County), and Pittsburg (Contra Costa County)
during June and July were broken by importation of strikebreakers.
T w o alleged agitators in one strike were arrested and held on $500 bail
on charges of violating the county antipicketing ordinance.14 A n unsuc­
cessful small strike of plum pickers in one orchard near Fresno was
conducted under the leadership of a local independent union known as the
Farm W orkers Association. Its secretary-treasurer was Lillian Monroe,
formerly an active left-wing organizer of the C .& A .W .LU . during the
San Joaquin Valley cotton strike of 1933. T w o college students acting as
pickets were jailed on charges of being “ labor agitators * * * attempt­
ing to incite orchard workers to join the strike.” 1®
ORCHARD STRIKES IN YUBA COUNTY

The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . endeavored to build county-wide agricultural
workers’ unions which could work in close cooperation with other labor
groups, particularly those of unemployed and relief clients in rural areas.
The most important of these bodies was the W orkers Alliance of America,
which claimed 12,000 members in California in 1939.
The joint organizing efforts of the two unions in Yuba County led to
serious labor-employer conflict in the peach orchards near Marysville.
Early in May about 650 fruit workers (including spray men, peach
thinners, irrigators, pear blight-control men, and general ranch laborers)
carried out a brief strike. It began as a spontaneous walk-out on the
Dantoni and New England orchards of the Earl Fruit Co., in protest
against the resignation of a foreman who had refused to hire Filipinos
to replace whites.16 W hen the unions took control, they enlarged the
strike and made additional demands. Organizers extended the walk-out to
three other large orchards in the area in an unsuccessful effort to raise
wage levels from 25 to 30 cents per hour for general labor, and from
30 to 3 8 % 0 cents per hour for skilled work.17 The dispute was settled
when the company agreed to rehire strikers without discrimination.
10Sacramento Union, April 14, 1939.
11Stockton Record, April 14, 1939.
12San Francisco Chronicle, April 15, 1939.
13San Rafael Independent, September 28, 1939.
14Stockton Record, June 30, 1939; San Francisco Examiner, July 29. 1939.
15San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1939.
16Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 48 (p. 17556); Sacramento Bee. May 6, 1939.
17Idem, Part 48 (pp. 17539, 17545-17546).




176

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Conflict broke out anew 2 months later, when the Earl Fruit Co. was
alleged to have applied a lock-out against union members. The revived
Marysville local of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A (the reorganized local W orkers
Alliance) established picket lines in protest against the replacement of
union members by white and oriental strikebreakers employed to harvest
pears and nectarines.
The strike was easily broken by the county sheriff. Twenty-two
pickets, including the more active union organizers, were arrested for
violating the county antipicketing ordinance. The management of the
Earl Fruit Co. refused Governor Olson’s offer to mediate the dispute,
choosing instead to hire enough strikebreakers to harvest the crop.18
COTTON STRIKE, SAN JOAQUIN

The W orkers Alliance had been active also among agricultural work­
ers in southern and central California. Local government officials in
Santa Barbara County complained that Alliance organizers were inter­
fering with the county agricultural commissioner’s program to ban
itinerant labor and harvest the pea crop with resident pickers taken from
S R A rolls. On one occasion, it was reported, the county S R A coordinator
recruited a truck load of pickers but W orkers Alliance “ agitators” per­
suaded them to leave the truck.19
The combined organizing efforts of the W orkers Alliance and the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in the cotton fields of the San Joaquin Valley resulted
in the most violent agricultural labor conflict of 1939. W ages and employ­
ment conditions in this crop still tended to generate more than ordinary
labor unrest.
W age rates set by organized growers under the auspices of the A gri­
cultural Labor Bureau of the San Joaquin Valley had varied considerably
from year to year in the cotton-growing industry. They had been raised
immediately after the militant campaign of the Cannery and Agricultural
W orkers Industrial Union in the early thirties. Cotton choppers had been
paid $1.15 per acre in 1934 as compared with 72 cents in 1933. The
collapse of the C .& A .W .I.U ., the disorganization of farm laborers, and
reported discriminatory relief policies which favored the growers’ interests
all served to reduce wages in following years. By 1936 the rate for cotton
chopping had fallen to 75 cents per acre or 20 cents per hour. During
1937, a peak prosperity year, the rates were raised again, this time to $1
per acre or 25 cents per hour.20
This situation, however, did not last beyond that year. Cotton culti­
vation had been increasing steadily— from 130,000 acres in 1924 to 670,000 acres in 1937. This was reduced Irastically to 340,000 acres during
the following 2 years, under the restrictive program o f the A A A . De­
mand for labor was thus being reduced at the same time that its supply
was increasing rapidly. The influx of drought refugees to California
was reaching unprecedented proportions, and they were supplemented by
unemployed who were being displaced from urban industries in a period
of general business recession. A doubly burdensome problem of under­
employment and declining wage rates faced cotton choppers and pickers
in the State. Chopping rates declined to 75 cents per acre or 20 cents per
18Sacramento Union, July 18, 1939; Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 48 (pp. 17594*
17614, 17638-17641).
19Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1939.
20Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 51 (pp. 18578-18584).




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

177

hour in 1938. In the fall of that year, as described before, an abortive
strike of pickers had broken out in Kern County.
The W orkers Alliance had been organizing seasonal workers in cotton
and other crops in the San Joaquin Valley for several years. Since relief
was the chief livelihood of many seasonal agricultural workers during
the off-season months, some such organization as the Alliance represented
almost their sole hope for attaining any degree of security and self-protection. W hen the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . established locals in the valley, Alliance
members were transferred to them during the chopping and harvesting
seasons.
The two labor unions became influential among agricultural workers
in the San Joaquin Valley from 1937 to 1939, as relief authorities co­
operated closely with growers belonging to the Agricultural Labor
Bureau. Labor spokesmen complained almost continually that clients
were being cut off from relief and thereby forced to work at “ starvation”
wages.21 A s already noted the S R A , through cutting clients off relief
during the harvest season, had helped to break the spontaneous strike of
several thousand cotton pickers in 1938. In spite of this evidence of labor
unrest, or perhaps because of the relative ease with which the strike had
been broken, grower-employers at their annual conference in Fresno,
in April 1939, again adopted the 1938 wage scales for cotton chopping.
Labor dissatisfaction with the wage situation became widespread.
The W orkers Alliance requested the right to be represented at the wage­
setting convention. W hen this was ignored, the union held a mass meet­
ing in Madera to agitate for a wage increase to 30 cents per hour or
$1.25 per acre. Though it did not declare a formal strike, the Alliance
tried to discourage relief clients from chopping cotton at the current
rates. Growers meanwhile exerted pressure on relief officials to drop
clients from the rolls so that they would be available to work at the 20
cents per hour scale.
Governor Olson finally appointed a committee of State officials to in­
vestigate the cotton-wage situation. Chairman Carey Me W illiams’ report
on May 12, 1939, condemned the rate of 20 cents per hour or 75 cents
per acre for chopping, as not representing “ even a subsistence wage.” A
minimum scale of 2 7 cents per hour or $1.25 per acre was recom­
mended.22
The Associated Farmers of California strongly criticized the indirect
intervention of the State government. The executive committee stated
on May 26, 1939:
Farmers want to pay the highest wages conditions will permit, but an arbitrary
wage fixed by some governmental agency would be disastrous because prices received
for crops cannot be controlled by the farmers. The State is also powerless to con­
trol the numerous conditions inside and outside California which determine prices
received for agricultural products.
Attempts by the State to fix agricultural wages will place farmers at a further
disadvantage in selling in eastern markets in competition with other producing areas
paying less than half the present level in California, and having a much shorter
haul to the major markets, and will put more California farmers out o f business
and add further to unemployment. (Hearings o f La Follette Committee, Part 51, p.
18897.)
21Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 51 (pp. 18603-18605).
22Idem (pp. 18633 and 18969).




178

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

M ore serious labor trouble developed during the cotton-picking
season in the fall of 1939. Late in August the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was re­
ported as entering the San Joaquin Valley to cooperate with the W ork ­
ers Alliance. The unions jointly held mass meetings and launched an
organization campaign to draft and enforce wage increases in the forth­
coming cotton harvests.23 W age demands were set at $1.25 and $1.50 per
hundredweight for first and second pickings, as against the prevailing 65
to 75 cents. W hen growers refused to meet union negotiating committees,
the demands were printed and distributed widely among pickers.
A local strike, authorized at a relatively small union meeting, began
in the vicinity of Madera. It rapidly developed into a series of spon­
taneous strikes involving several thousand cotton pickers over a wide
area, on a scale approaching the strike of 1933. The movement became
too large for the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . to control and coordinate effectively.
Both grower and labor representatives estimated that by mid-October
almost 90 percent of the pickers in Madera County were affected.24 A
field agent of the Associated Farmers reported that—
The present situation constitutes the worst agricultural strike in the State since
1933, although to date we have played it down for obvious reasons. However, we
plan to break loose on it now as we cannot hurt the situation by giving it the
works in certain areas. (Hearings, Part 51, pp. 18653-18654.)

The strikers faced strong violence and intimidation from growers
and local authorities. There was wholesale eviction of strikers from their
cabins and armed vigilantes attacked pickets.25 In Madera County 142
pickers were arrested on “ John D oe” warrants, for violating the anti­
caravan ordinance which prohibited automobile caravans without a county
permit, but they were later released when the district attorney explained
that they had not engaged in violence and intimidation, and that “ the
offense of which they appear guilty is trivial.” 26 Judge Campbell Beaumont
issued a temporary injunction in November to restrain authorities in
Madera County from enforcing the antipicketing ordinance.27
Tactics employed by both groups were patterned closely after those
of 1933. Strikers endeavored to extend the walk-out by forming flying
squadrons of pickets who traveled by auto caravan from ranch to ranch.
Farmers organized a growers’ emergency committee, which planned
similar caravans which could converge on any picketed ranch to counter­
act the efforts of the strikers.28
There were occasional violent outbreaks between organized growers
and strikers. Fights between flying squadrons from both sides occurred
at picketed ranches and cotton gins, in the course of which clubs were
used and guns displayed by growers. Several strikers reported to the
county hospital for treatment of wounds and bruises.29 One fight between
cotton growers and pickets in the Dairyland district sent nine strikers
to the hospital with minor injuries. The growers claimed that the fight
began when a group of pickets went into a field to intimidate 30 non­
striking pickers.30 The most serious riot occurred in the Madera County
23Fresno Bee, August 26, 1939.
24Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 51 (pp. 18633-18634. 18654).
25Oakland Post Enquirer, October 24, 1939.
26Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 51 (pp. 18640-18643, 18694).
27Daily Worker, November 12, 1939.
28Hearings of La Follette Committee. Part 51 (p. 18664).
29Idem (pp. 18667-18669, 18922).
3°San Francisco Examiner, October 20, 1939,




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

179

Park. Several dozen strikers and spectators were injured, 12 seriously
enough to require hospital treatment, when 300 vigilantes broke up a mass
meeting of strikers.31
Governor Olson, previous to the outbreak, had incurred the resent­
ment of growers by appointing a Cotton W age Hearing Board to air
the issues under dispute and to seek terms for settlement of the strike.
The State highway patrol meanwhile was dispatched to the Madera
trouble center to “ escort” and protect caravans of pickets.32 Growers
held a mass meeting of protest in Madera on October 25, 1939. Speakers
served Colonel Henderson, representing Governor Olson, with an ulti­
matum to the effect that if the strike leaders were not imprisoned and
picketing prevented, the growers would take the law into their own hands.
A s one representative expressed it, “ W e will be the law !” They planned
to break up by force a forthcoming strike meeting in Madera County
Park.33 Some 300 growers armed with clubs and rubber hoses invaded
the park the following day and forcefully disrupted the gathering. The
State highway patrol fired tear-gas bombs into the crowd to quiet the
melee.34
The strike subsided, after several weeks, into a series of local actions.
The publicity attending the Cotton W age Hearing Board rendered both
groups more willing to compromise. U .C .A .P .A .W .A . spokesmen re­
ported that cotton pickers in Madera. County were returning to work by
groups, as one grower after another broke away from the standards of the
Associated Farmers and the Agricultural Labor Bureau and accepted
the union compromise wage offer of $1 per hundredweight. In many
places, however, strike and picketing activities continued for months.

Filipino Agricultural Labor Association
One of the most notable labor developments during 1939 and 1940
was the revival of independent, race-conscious unionism among the
Filipinos in central California, particularly in the asparagus- and celery­
growing areas of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.
The divisions of opinion regarding labor unionism and other questions
within Filipino communities of California had become deeper and more
complex as C .I.O .-A .F . of L. conflict was intensified from late 1937
onward. The majority of unionized Filipinos tended to be partial to the
C.I.Q . because of its “ sincerity in internationalism,” to quote one observer.
Several Filipinos had been elected to fill executive posts in C.I.O . unions
and to act as delegates at national conventions. The A .F . of L., on the
other hand, had, it was reported, consistently opposed the immigration
of Filipinos and tried to exclude them from organized trades.35
The more articulate elements in Filipino communities favored a
separate racial labor movement which would remain unaffiliated with
either the A .F . of L. or C.I.O . The Philippines Mail of Salinas, one of
the important language papers of this group, stated the separatist view
in an editorial in its issue of December 6, 1937:
31Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 51 (p. 18922).
32San Francisco Examiner, October 23, 1939.
33Hearings of La Follette Committee, Part 51 (pp. 18678-18680).
34Idem (pp. 18748. 18755-18756, 18922).
^Philippines Maii, Vol. 8, No. 19, May 13, 1938,




180

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The Mail is convinced that the A.F. o f L. has for its basic purpose the elimina­
tion o f Filipino labor in the American scene; it is likewise convinced that the
C.LO. is only a temporary emotional flare-up and that its leadership may soon revert
back to the A.F. o f L. * * * Should it be necessary to organize U. S. Filipinos into
a union, the Mail is sympathetic to the suggestion o f an independent Filipino
union. The Mail believes and maintains that the Filipino workman in the United
States is a distinct factor as a labor unit. It offers no unfair competition with any
of the existing American organized labor. It keeps its own standard o f efficiency
and productiveness acceptable to its employer and, because o f that, it can place its
own values based on that efficiency and productiveness. * * * Filipino labor can
sell on its own merits without involving itself in partisan quarrels between the
A .F. o f L. and C.I.O.

The successful organization of Filipinos in the independent P.I. Labor
Union Incorporated in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County
appeared to justify the Mail's assertions. In cooperation with the local
independent Mexican Labor Union, this organization in February 1939
again negotiated an agreement providing union recognition, preferential
hiring, a minimum wage of 35 cents per hour for field labor, overtime
rates, special working conditions, and a representative grievance board
to settle disputes.36
Independent racial unionism among Filipinos won added support when
the Philippine Islands gained a more independent status from the United
States Government. Late in 1936 President Quezon appointed the H on.
Francisco Varona, member of the National Economic Council, as Resident
Commissioner of the United States. His main function was “ to uphold the
dignity of the new nation and to take care of nationals abroad."37 M r.
Varona expressed the view that Filipino workers should not join either
the A .F . of L. or C.I.O., but should form independent unions closely
bound to the Philippines Government through the Resident Labor Com­
missioner's office.38
The Filipino community was receptive to the views of the new Resi­
dent Commissioner, who offered a means for unifying conflicting tribal
and occupational groups. Filipino businessmen and contractors stood to
gain by organizing stronger associations not only among themselves, but
among the workers also, since the economic interests of the two groups
were interdependent. If both could be unified in one organization, the
bargaining position of each would be strengthened for dealing with
grower-employers. A writer in the Philippines Mail of March 15, 1940,
stated the main issues as follow s:
Conflicting group interests surround the social and economic life o f the Filipino
community. * * * Certain elements * * * have assumed the power to represent Fili­
pino labor without giving the workers a voice in determining the terms and condi­
tions under which they work and live * * *.
No one questions the sincerity and honesty o f every contractor as a labor leader
to help the workers advance themselves beyond a mere primitive stage o f existence.
But his relation with the company or employer, and his constant fear o f cutthroat
labor competition, which is so widely practised among his fellow contractors, make
36Field notes.
37Philippines Mail, Vol. 7, No. 20, April 12, 1937.
38C. D. Mensalves, Filipino president of the C.I.O. Industrial Union Council of Guadalupe,
was highly critical of this view. He pointed out that Filipinos had made their greatest gams
in C.I.O. unions, particularly those organized among Alaska cannery workers. (Commonwealth
Times, Vol. 1, No. 24, Dec. 21, 1937.)




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

181

it impossible for him to defend the rights o f the workers in time o f labor dis­
putes or grievances.8
8

The Resident Labor Commissioner proved to be a very effective agent
for the welding diverse elements of the Filipino community together and
organizing wage earners and labor contractors for the purpose of col­
lective bargaining. Early in March 1938 he called a conference of repre­
sentatives from all Filipino organizations on the Pacific Coast40 to es­
tablish an independent union of Filipinos. The delegates favored a bi­
lateral association that would include both occupational groups in the un­
organized Salinas and Sacramento Valley districts.
A s a result the Filipino Agricultural W orkers Association of San
Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys was established; it included 6,000
Filipino laborers and contractors engaged chiefly in asparagus work. The
executive council was made up of prominent civic leaders o f the Filipino
communities of Stockton and Sacramento who were considered to have
the status required for bargaining effectively with employers. It was
designed to include the best features of the Philippine Islands Labor
Union Incorporated of Guadalupe and the Filipino Labor Supply Asso­
ciation of Stockton.41
The new organization first turned its attention to improving the
Filipino workers’ position in the asparagus industry, where labor re­
lations were most chaotic and unsatisfactory. A ccording to a reporter
in the Philippines Mail of A pril 7, 1939—
The F.A .W .A . was formed under the pressure o f deplorable conditions existing
in the asparagus area, where wages for cutting asparagus were lowered from the
1938 scale; where contracts entered into between asparagus employers and the
Filipino labor contractors were found to be one-sided in favor o f employers, and in
almost all cases in violation o f the labor laws that apply; and where camp housing,
in almost 99 cases out o f 100, are in violation o f the labor code.

The F .A .W .A .’s two principal demands w ere: (1 ) Restoration of the
1938 wage scale retroactively as of March 1, 1939, or from the commence­
ment of the 1939 harvest season, and ( 2 ) a revised, uniform, and model
contract mutually drawn and agreed upon by employers and employees,
bargaining collectively through their own representatives. A strike was to
be declared against those employer-growers who refused to accede to
the union’s demands.42
The F .A .W .A .’s initial difficulty lay in the fact that the 250-odd
asparagus growers themselves were not sufficiently well organized to
carry on collective bargaining. The contractor system of recruiting and
paying labor had led to competitive individual bargaining agreements
among contractors and growers. This had caused a conspicuous lack of
uniformity in wage rates and labor conditions throughout the growing area.
N o two contracts were alike and, according to labor spokesmen, almost
®9A brief submitted to a conference of Filipino organizations stressed further points of weak­
ness in the labor contractor’ s position:
“ The common practice is employment of farm-hand contractors who act as conciliators be­
tween laborers and employers. This practice has been most effective, especially in the Salinas
Valley where labor enjoys a paternalistic relationship with farm-hand contractors. These con­
tractors on the other hand represent the best interests of their laborers to their employers.
“ The only objectionable feature of the system is that the labor-contractor system is not recog­
nized by law and consequently has no legal standing before the courts in case of disputes. The
term ‘labor contractor’ is a trade name which applies to labor agents recruiting laborers for
employers and operating under the ‘Employment Agency L a w / The labor contractors do not
enjoy the full protection of the law, while the laborers they recruit for the employers do.”
(Philippines Mail, Vol. 8, No. 14, Apr. 4, 1938.)
40Philippines Mail, Vol. 8, No. 12, March 14, 1938.
41Idem, Vol. 9, No. 1, August 30, 1939.
42Idem, Vol. 8, No. 35, April 7, 1939.




182

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

all of them violated the law. Variations in crop conditions likewise
militated against standardization of wage rates and conditions and
favored individual work contracts.43
The unorganized and competitive position of asparagus growers left
them ill-equipped to resist the labor organization. The union, now re­
named the Filipino Agricultural Labor Association, or F .A .L .A ., won
a resounding victory in its first strike in April 1939. A s this was the first
time in the history of this crop area that Filipino laborers had been or­
ganized on an inclusive scale, the strike caught the grower-employers by
surprise.
The walk-out extended throughout the Delta region of San Joaquin,
Sacramento, Contra Costa, and Y olo Counties. It affected about half the
total asparagus crop, separate union contracts having been signed pre­
viously with the six largest growers in the region.44 It was called just
when the asparagus crop was reaching peak production. In the words
of the Stockton Record of April 7, 1939, the strike—
* * * virtually paralyzed more than one-half o f one o f the richest agricultural
industries o f California, leaving at least 40,000 acres o f rapidly growing '“ grass”
uncut and rotting in the fields. * * *
* * * Grower representatives, openly at a loss because of the surprising show
o f strength and unity by their workers, were considering immediate capitulation
as the only alternative to suffering losses running into hundreds o f thousands o f
dollars and possible ruin for the remainder of the crop-year.

The strike ended within T day with an almost complete victory for the
F .A .L .A . O f the 258 growers employing a total of 4,000 to 5,000 work­
ers, all but 2, hiring some 200 cutters, had acceded to union demands,45
and these capitulated shortly afterward.
The complete absence of picketing or violence was unusual for a
strike involving such large numbers. The Filipinos had a monopoly of
the labor supply in asparagus because they were the only group sufficient­
ly skilled and adapted to perform the gruelling and specialized work re­
quired. W hen almost all the asparagus workers were organized into the
F .A .L .A ., they had merely to refrain from going to work to make the
strike completely effective. Efforts to import whites, Negroes, and M exi­
cans to replace the Filipinos failed 45
Unusual also was the sympathetic, or at least neutral and unbiased,
attitude of the newspapers of the Stockton and San Francisco Bay areas.
Said Dr. Macario Bautista, president of the F .A .L .A .:
I am very happy to report that the attitude o f the American public was one o f
friendliness to and sympathy with our cause. The press, too, was friendly to u s ; in
fact, the attitude o f the Stockton Record on this particular occasion was unprece­
dented in American journalism in so far as the Filipinos are concerned. (Philip­
pines Mail, Vol. 8, No. 36, April 22, 1939.)

A Filipino Labor Association was organized in Sacramento County,
patterned after the F .A .L .A . in Stockton, following the initial strike suc­
cess.46 Filipino labor agents and contractors agreed to delegate to the
43As one union official pointed out, the disparity of conditions tended to create confusion in
union demands. An increase of 5 cents per hour over the 1938 wage scales could not be made
a blanket increase to cover every age and condition of the “ grass” because of the peculiarity of
the crop. Many factors, such as soil conditions, productivity of beds, etc., had to be consid­
ered. Thus a price of $1 per 100 pounds for 5-year old “ grass” in one bed might be too low
for the same age of grass in a bed in which there were too many “ spots,” or ground in which
there was no “ grass,” or a bed in which the soil was too hard. For these reasons asparagus
wages almost necessarily had to be determined individually for each camp.
44 San Francisco Examiner, April 8, 1939.
45Stockton Independent, April 8, 1939.
46Philippines Mail, Vol. 9, No. 1, August 30, 1939.




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

183

association authority to represent them and the laborers under their
jurisdiction, in negotiations with grower-employers.47 The Sacramento
union late in September won a favorable collective-bargaining contract
with the Japanese Tom ato Growers Association, providing for a raise in
minimum wages to a scale of 35 cents per hour from the previous level of
25 to 27j 2 cents paid to some 1,500 Filipino field laborers.48
/
The F .A .L .A . of Stockton meanwhile was extending its organization
to other crop areas in which Filipinos were employed. Late in September
approximately 250 members of the association in the Concord area of
Contra Costa County struck for an increase of 5 cents per hour, to a 35cent minimum to be paid by Japanese pea and tomato farmers.49 Filipinos
in Santa Clara County were reported to be organized into a union for
the first time, in a local of the F .A .L .A .50 The association temporarily
planned to organize the grape industry of central California, concentrated
in the vicinities of Fresno, Porterville, Delano, and Bakersfield. There
some 7,000 Filipinos were employed, earning a pay roll o f about $90,000
weekly.51
The F .A .L .A . attained only partial success in its next strike. This
began late in October 1939, with a spontaneous walk-out of 363 Filipino
and 20 Mexican brussels-sprouts pickers in the vicinity of Pescadero (San
Mateo County). They demanded a wage'increase of 5 cents per hour to
the 35-cent level won in other crop areas. The F .A .L .A . enrolled the
strikers in a local which already had a number of members employed in
the area. The rank and file elected their own local union officers.51
A deadlock developed in negotiations between union representatives
and growers. The F .A .L .A . office in Stockton notified Commissioner
Varona, who requested the U .S. Department of Labor to send a conciliator.
The latter, meeting with F .A .L .A . president Bautista and a committee of
growers' and workers' representatives, suggested temporary arbitration
and investigation of the feasibility of a 35-cent scale. This the growers
refused on the ground that they could not afford to pay such a wage.
They offered, as a counterproposal, to sign a contract recognizing the
F .A .L .A . and agreeing to pay the 35-cent wage if and when the price of
brussels sprouts reached 5 cents per pound. This in turn was refused by
the strikers.
A week after the dispute began, the workers returned to their jobs on
27 brussels-sprouts ranches at the original wage scale. The strike was
reported to have been broken through the importation of about 150 M ex­
icans and a few whites and Negroes from Stockton's “ skid-row."51
The strike broke out anew and on a larger scale in mid-December,
when 500 workers organized in the F .A .L .A . and supported by Local
No. 20 of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in Stockton struck for the same wage
demands as before. Some violence occurred, including the shooting of
two Filipino pickets and the stoning of several Mexican strike-breakers.52
A compromise wage increase of 3 cents per hour plus free housing
for the workers ended the wralk-out after 1 week. The growers agreed
further to reemploy all strikers without discrimination for union affili­
ations.53 Details of the settlement were worked out at a joint conference
called by W alter Mathewson, Federal Conciliator.54
^Philippines Mail, Vol. 9, No. 3, September 30, 1939.
48Commonwealth Times, September 30, 1939.
49Stockton Record, September 22, 1939.
sophilippines Mail, Vol. I, No. 4, October 16, 1939.
51 Philippines Journal, Stockton, Vol. 1, No. 8, November 11, 1939 (p. 1).
52Idem; also San Francisco Examiner, December 17, 1939.
53San Francisco Examiner, December 21, 1939.
54Idem; also Philippines Mail, Vol. 9, No. 9, December 22, 1939.
654107®—46—13




184

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The F .A .L .A . won a more important victory in the celery-growing
areas around Pescadero (San Mateo County), Terminous, H olt, O rw ood,
and other Delta centers. Here also the F .A .L .A . cooperated with
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . Local No. 20 of Stockton in seeking to establish union
recognition and a general wage increase to the minimum scale of 35 cents
per hour. Large numbers of Filipinos employed during the winter months
in this crop area were also members of U .C .A .P .A .W .A . fish-cannery
unions of Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Nonunion Filipinos
signed pledges authorizing the F .A .L .A . to represent them in collective­
bargaining relations with grower-employers.55
Filipino celery workers in the area were almost all organized by late
fall. The two organizations, F .A .L .A . and U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., jointly re­
quested that grower-shippers meet with union representatives to nego­
tiate a schedule of union demands. W hen this was ignored, Dr. Bautista,
Stockton president of the F .A .L .A ., called a strike. The resulting walk­
out of 2,700 workers stopped operations completely in dozens of celery
fields and packing sheds in the Delta area.
The strike involved remarkably little violence considering the num­
bers involved and the well-organized resistance of the grower-shippers.
The Daily W orker claimed that “ the antilabor Associated Farmers
through so-called ‘ emergency committees’ is trying sporadically to run
small numbers of Japanese into the area for strikebreaking.” 56 The Oak­
land Tribune reported that large numbers of strikers were being evicted
from their cabins and that the growers were inviting white migrants and
local Japanese to take their places.57
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . Local No. 221 of Stockton was forced to sever its
official connection with the F .A .L .A . during the strike, when a spokesman
ot the A .F . of L. threatened the grower-shippers with a “ hot cargo” boy­
cott of agricultural products if they signed an agreement with a C.I.O .
union. The A .F . of L. earlier had moved to support the celery workers in
order to “ forestall the C.I.O . courtship of the independent Filipino A gri­
cultural Laborers Association.” 58
The strike ended in less than a week with an almost complete victory
for the union. It won an agreement incorporating most of its original
demands:
(1 ) Recognition o f the F.A.L.A. as bargaining agent;
(2 ) 5-cent hourly wage increase over the prevailing scale o f 25 cents to 30 cents
per hour for field and packing-shed workers;
(3 ) 10-hour day and time and a half for overtime;
(4 ) Reinstatement o f all strikers without discrimination;
(5 ) Seniority rights for workers, providing job preference next year for those
now employed;
(6 ) Improved housing conditions, with no charge for rent, fuel and light.5
9

Less than a week after the settlement of this strike, another walk-out
included about 500 Filipinos employed at garlic planting in the vicinity
of Hollister. Organized in a separate Filipino Agricultural W orkers
Union, they sought to enforce the standard union demand of a 5-cent
hourly increase to the 35-cent scale. They were unsuccessful, however, as
the walk-out was defeated by wholesale importation of Mexican strike­
breakers.60
^Philippines Mail, Vo!. 9, No. 5, November 11, 1939.
56I>aily Worker, November 30, 1939.
57Oakland Tribune, December 1, 1939.
58Idem, December 1, 1939; Philippines Mail, Vol. 9, No. 9, December 22, 1939.
59San Francisco News, December 4, 1939; Philippines Journal, Vol. 1, No. 8, November 11,
1939.
" S a n Francisco News, December 29, 1939.




CS. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

185

The F .A .L .A . was unable during 1940 to maintain in full the gains that
it had won through strike action in the celery and asparagus crops of the
Sacramento Delta region. Like other Filipino organizations the union to
some degree was disrupted by intertribal jealousies.61 It met more serious
reverses from grower-shippers, who were better organized and prepared
now that the union had lost the initial advantage of surprise. The
Philippines Journal, official organ of the F .A .L .A ., charged that growers
were attempting to destroy the association by refusing to hire its mem­
bers in asparagus and celery cutting. Union spokesmen inveighed against
“ Japanese activities in meddling with Pinoy labor.” 62 Grocerymen and
merchants, many of whom were Japanese, were reported as obtaining
concessions in asparagus camps, placing their own nonunion men in jobs,
and requiring the men to buy their provisions exclusively from them.
Japanese interests were also charged with turning growers against the
F .A .L .A ., and urging them to hire their Filipino workers from the anti­
union Filipino Federation of America, whose members were pledged
not to strike.62
Similar unsatisfactory labor conditions in the Delta celery-growing
area around Terminous finally resulted in a general or crop wide walk-out
called by the F .A .L .A . in 1940. This was the only agricultural field
workers’ strike of importance in the United States during that year.
The growers under the leadership of the Associated Farmers of
California were much better organized to combat Filipino farm-labor
unions than they had been the previous year. Harvesting and packing
were continued by Japanese and Filipino strikebreakers recruited through
two main sources, the Filipino Federation of America and an employ­
ment agency operated by Mrs. R. S. Morimoto, local Japanese golf
star.63
T w o weeks after calling the strike, the F .A .L .A ., claiming to repre­
sent some 7,000 field workers in the Stockton area and almost 30,000
throughout the State, voted to affiliate with the A .F . of L. The union
hoped in this way to enlist sympathetic strike support from strategically
placed A .F . of L. organizations, particularly those in the transportation
and canning industries. A n A .F . of L. charter as a federal labor union
was granted the F .A .L .A ., permitting it to enroll all agricultural work­
ers regardless of race or nationality. The union meanwhile filed charges
with the National Labor Relations Board against the organized growershippers.64
Negotiations reached a stalemate when the F .A .L .A . rejected a con­
tract proposed by the grower-shippers. The union, however, compro­
mised in its demands for an outright closed sh op; it was willing to accept
61Filipinos in the United States are represented by three main tribal groups—the Visayans,
the Tagalogs, and the Ilicanos. While the latter groups constitute the numerical majority, the
more prominent leaders in the community usually belong to the minority represented by the first
group, and this situation sometimes leads to friction. It was reported, for instance, that an
aspirant for the office of president of the F.A.L.A. stated at a meeting that “ the majority of
Filipinos here are Ilicanos, and we Ilicanos should have a fearless Ilicano in the F.A.L.A. office
to look after Ilicano interests.” The Philippines Journal in a critical editorial replied in a more
nationalistic vein: “ You can no longer appeal to the Pinoys [Filipinos] from the sectional stand­
point. The F.A.L.A. is not an organization for Visayans, Ilicanos, or Tagalogs. It is an organ­
ization for Filipinos only!” (Philippines Journal Vol. 2, No. 3, Feb. 15, 1940.)
62Philippines Journal, Vol. 2, No, 3, February 15, 1940, p. 2.
63Stockton Record, November 11, 1940.
64San Francisco Examiner, November 12, 1940.




186

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

a preferential hiring agreement providing that all Filipinos employed
during the 1939 season be reinstated.
The strike became more critical when A .F . of L. representatives
took over negotiations for the strikers. The Teamsters Union moved
to declare the struck celery “ hot.” A meeting was held between repre­
sentatives of organized growers and A .F . of L. unions, including the
special A .F . of L. organizer of cannery and agricultural wprkers in
California, the president of the San Joaquin County General Labor
Council, and an official of the Teamsters Union. Final application of
the “ hot cargo” policy was postponed pending negotiations between I.
B. Padway, attorney for the A .F . of L., and the legal counsel for organ­
ized grower-shippers. W hen these negotiations failed, the A .F . of L.
reinforced the picket lines around celery fields and packing sheds in the
Terminous area and definitely declared San Joaquin County celery to be
“ hot.” 65 After several weeks the strike was finally settled on a compromise
basis.

Recent Developments in Agriculture and Allied Industries
Activities of U.C.A.P.A.W.A.
The revived militancy and broadened range of the farm-labor
movement during 1939 did not last long. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . (C .I .O .),
a union devoted to the organizing of field agriculture’s “ forgotten mil­
lions,” had carried out a costly and extensive organizing campaign in
scattered rural areas during 1937-39, and had taken over the leadership
of numerous ill-planned spontaneous strikes. A drastically reduced
budget forced the national organization to restrict its activities throughout
the country to those processing industries that were accessible to union
headquarters in metropolitan centers.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . had faced the initial disadvantage in Califor­
nia of loss of control over those industries, particularly fruit and vege­
table canning, to the A .F. of L. and its affiliated National Council of
Agricultural and Cannery W orkers. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . lost further
ground during 1940 as the A .F . of L. extended its activities to rural
areas and the organizing of field workers. Besides a few small spon­
taneous walk-outs that passed unnoticed in newspapers, two important
field workers’ strikes occurred in the State during 1940 and 1941'; these
were both led by affiliates of the A .F . of L.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . early in 1940 had publicly announced an
ambitious organizing campaign for California’s agricultural workers,
following its partial successes in the San Joaquin Valley cotton pickers’
strike. A writer in the San Francisco News reported that the union
was “ growing faster than at any time in the history of agricultural
organization in this State.” Its growth was attributed in part to the
large number of active organizers, including Spanish-speaking and M exi­
can officers in southern California. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . claimed in
a news letter to have “ 11 locals in the San Joaquin Valley with more
than 1,500 members * * * each local * * * reporting a steady increase
of about 4 members a w eek /’ For the first time in its history, the union
65$tockton Record, issues of December 3, 4, and 6, 1940.




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

187

stated, it was able to maintain an active membership during the off­
season months from November to March.66
Union locals in the past had usually dissolved at the end of each
harvest season when workers had to move to other areas to find work.
Under the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s new organizing policy, the State was
divided into eight agricultural districts, each having a large town as a
center in which was located a key local with a permanent experienced
leadership. The union’s activities could then be carried on continuously
in spite of the seasonal shifts of migratory workers.
The strongest key local was organized in Madera, center of the 1939
cotton pickers’ strike. Another intensive organizing campaign was
launched throughout the citrus belt of Tulare, Ventura, Orange, and
Riverside Counties. The largest union membership in 1940 was reported
in Orange County. The organization was active also in the celery and
asparagus fields of the upper San Joaquin and lower Sacramento V al­
leys, where independently organized Filipino workers were entrenched.
Here the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . optimistically claimed to have control of the
Filipino Agricultural Laborers Association.67
Renewed efforts resulted in an almost continuous series of defeats.
A major setback occurred when the powerful independent Filipino
Agricultural Laborers Association of Stockton— the largest field workers’
union in California— joined the A .F . of L .’s National Council of A gri­
cultural and Cannery W orkers. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . previously had
cooperated closely with the F .A .L .A . in several strikes and had counted
ultimately upon winning its affiliation. Strategic control of vital truck
transportation as well as fruit and vegetable canning, however, made the
A .F . of L. a more useful partner for the organized Filipinos.
A U .C .A .P .A .W .A . affiliate won a temporary victory, followed by
eventual defeat, in packing sheds of the Imperial Valley early in 1940.
The C .I.O .’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union No. 18 had
supplanted the A .F . of L .’s Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union No.
18211 in Salinas. W hen it extended its activities to the Imperial Valley
early in 1939 it aroused the fears of local grower-shippers. The A sso­
ciated Farmers of Imperial Valley began to prepare for a widespread
lettuce strike, which was expected to develop as an outgrowth of the re­
cent cotton strike in the San Joaquin Valley. Hugh Osborne, manager
of the Associated Farmers of Imperial County, claimed that strike
leaders at Madera had threatened to move the strike organization to the
Imperial Valley.67
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union,
without calling a strike, won jurisdiction over the employees of four
Imperial Valley packing companies in elections ordered by the regional
National Labor Relations Board.68
Later in the year the union began to lose ground to the A .F . of L.
in this industry. Representatives of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable
W orkers’ Union in January 1941 demanded a closed-shop contract with
grower-shippers of the Imperial Valley, in order to safeguard the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s position. The union called a strike on January 25,
1941, after the employers refused its demands. Pickets were placed
around numerous packing sheds.
66San Francisco News, July 22, 1940.
67Bakersfield Californian, October 25, 1939.
68Los Angeles Examiner, February 14, 1940. The four packing companies were the Farley
Fruit Co. of Calexico; Frank Morito Co. of Holtville; Bruce Church Co. of El Centro; and Smith
Thornburg Co. of Holtville.




188

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . apparently failed to organize a sufficiently
large proportion of the packing-shed workers to make the strike effec­
tive. It faced strong opposition from the powerful A .F . of L. Teamsters
Union as well as from organized grower-shipper interests. The strike
was reported to have been repudiated by employees who voted by
secret ballot at numerous packing sheds. Unorganized employees as
well as members of the A .F . of L. Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union
in some plants won temporary restraining orders against U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
picket lines. Pickets on at least two occasions were arrested for violating
these court injunctions.69
By mid-February 1941, it was evident that the strike had failed.
Picketing had ceased almost entirely. Virtually all packing sheds in the
valley were reported functioning normally, while the N L R B investi­
gated the conflicting jurisdictional claims of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
(C .I.O .) and the A .F . of L. Charles Copperman, head of the local Team­
sters Union, claimed that 1,000 shed workers had signed with the A .F .
of L. union.70
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . finally abandoned the field early in 1941. It
transferred as a “ gift” to the A .F . of L. its one active organization of
farm workers, a union of citrus-fruit pickers and packers in Ventura
and adjoining counties.

.

Activities of A.F of L.
The A .F . of L., through its Teamster-controlled National Council of
Agricultural and Cannery W orkers in California, as already noted, was
improving its position in agriculture and allied industries at the expense
of the C .I.O .-U .C .A .P .A .W .A . Said the weekly news letter of the A .F .
of L. in January 14, 1939:
The progress we have made in this particular field is little short o f remarkable.
W e have established 64 local unions o f agricultural, cannery, and citrus workers.
They number more than 21,305 workers.71

The California State Federation of Labor experienced local insur­
gent movements but they came to little. The first of these occurred in
San Jose during April 1939. O f the normal force of 650 to 670 yearround workers in the Dried Fruit and Nut Packers Union, 465 voted
69The Los Angeles Times of February 2, 1941, reported that packers from several plants
affected by U .C.A.P.A.W .A. picketing gathered in a mass meeting sponsored by pastors of
local churches and cast a secret ballot. Out of 812 balloting, 667 voted against the strike, 108
voted for it, and 37 votes were cast out for irregularities. Shed workers at three plants in
Brawley and one in El Centro were also reported to have voted overwhelmingly against the
strike in a secret ballot. After a vote of 37 to 4, the shed workers of the Western Fruit Grow­
ers Inc. raised funds to obtain a temporary restraining order against pickets. At the A. Arena
& Co. shed in Brawley, also, the A.F. of L. Vegetable Workers Union filed a restraining injuncton against the U.C.A.P.A.W .A. and demanded $1,587.60 damages for wages lost to mem­
bers as a result of the picket lines. (Los Angeles Times, Feb. 1, 1941.) Two pickets were
arrested for violating these temporary restraining orders, and as a result U.C.A.P.A.W .A. dis­
trict president, T. R. Rasmussen, requested a writ of prohibition from the State supreme court
to cancel injunctions issued by Judge V. N. Thompson of Imperial County. (Los Angeles Ex­
aminer, Feb. 7, 1941.)
70San Diego Sun, February 12, 1941. One incidental result of the strike, according to the
San Diego Union, was a hastening of the adoption of new labor-saving handling and shipping
methods, including dry packing and use of precooled cars. (San Diego Union, Feb. 7, 1941.)
71The disparity in membership figures between this statement and the previously estimated
50,000 to 60,000 in the northern California cannery unions alone, is to be explained by the high
seasonality of employment in the industry. The 21,305 claimed in the news letter for 64 unions
over the entire United States represent the stable year-round employees at work during the
slack winter months. During the peak harvest and canning season of summer and fall the
number employed, many of them under A.F. of L. jurisdiction, is multiplied several times.




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

189

three to one to disband as an A .F . of L. organization and to affiliate
with the Warehousemen’s Local Nos. 1-6 of the C.I.O. The union
closed its A .F . of L. office and opened a new C.I.O. local union head­
quarters. In response to these moves, State federation secretary Vandeleur suspended the union officers and announced that the A .F . of L.
local union headquarters was reopened under a new temporary set of
officers.72
A ll the important local cannery unions in northern California by
early April 1939 had ratified the master agreement drawn up and signed
by the State federation and the California Processors and Growers
Association. The recalcitrance of Local No. 20325 of Santa Clara
County ended when 500 members in a mass meeting ratified the master
agreement.73 Later in the year a contract granting a compromise wage
increase was negotiated between the Stockton Cannery W orkers Union
Local N o. 20676 and the Pacific Grape Products, which had experienced
a strike the previous year.74
The majority of A .F . of L. cannery unions in central and north­
ern California in May 1940 voted to accept proposals submitted by the
California Processors and Growers Association, representing 20 major
plants employing about 50,000 workers. The agreement granted most
of the unions’ new demands, including vacations with pay and the estab­
lishment of occupational and pay classifications above the minimumwage base.75 It did not, however, meet the union demands for a 5-cent
hourly wage increase and elimination of a 5-cent hourly differential in
wage scales between urban and rural canneries.76 A n industry-wide strike
was called over this issue during the 1941 season.
Meyer Lewis, west coast representative of the A .F . of L., announced
in 1940 that the Federation would launch a unionizing campaign in
canneries, dried fruit and nut packing industries, green fruits, cotton­
seed, vegetable oils, citrus, and citrus byproducts plants in southern
California.77
The A .F . of L. met considerable resistance in its attempts to apply
the wage standards of northern California to the processing industries
in southern counties. The union was unable to win its demands for a
closed-shop contract and higher wages in citrus-fruit canneries in the
Hemet Valley (Riverside County). Cannery operators refused to accept
the union standards on the ground that the greater cost involved in
packing smaller and lower-quality fruit, together with the higher trans­
portation costs in serving more-isolated rural communities, rendered
the companies unable to afford the wage scales paid by canneries in
northern California.78
The A .F . of L. expanded rapidly in membership among field workers
in California during 1940 and 1941. Its m ajor success lay in winning
the affiliation of the Filipino Agricultural Laborers Association. Early
in 1941 the A .F . of L. took part in the largest, most prolonged, and
72San Jose Mercury Herald, April 23, 1939.
73Idem, April 7, 1939. Critics of the A.F. of L. pointed out, however, that this vote rep­
resented only a fraction of the total membership, since it did not include the thousands sea­
sonally employed during the summer months, who also came under the union’s jurisdiction.
74The union had asked an increase from 40 cents per hour for men and 35 cents for women
to a level of 5254 and 44 cents, respectively. Under the compromise agreement wage scales
were established at 4754 and 3854 cents, respectively, and all strikers and discriminatorily dis­
charged workers were rehired. (Stockton Record, July 3, 1939.)
75San Francisco News, May 1, 1940.
76San Francisco Examiner, April 27, 1940.
77San Francisco News, May 1, 1940.
78Los Angeles Times, September 1. 1939.




190

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

highly publicized field workers’ strike to occur in California for several
years. The walk-out of several thousand citrus-fruit workers in V en ­
tura County ultimately had repercussions throughout the State. The
entrance of the Teamsters Union into the conflict again brought the
“ hot cargo” issue to the fore.
The strike, according to some reports, followed a “ behind-thescenes deal” between the A .F . of L. and the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . (C .I.O .).
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., faced with inadequate funds and a declining
membership, was unable to continue its organizing drive in the citrus
industry, where it had been competing for several years with the A .F .
of L. Consequently it turned over its membership to the A .F . of L.
Agricultural and Citrus W orkers Union. “ Pedro Pete” Peterson, for­
mer official of the International Longshoremen’s Association, was ap­
pointed special organizer of the new union.
The strike apparently was called prematurely. One theory was that
“ Pedro Pete” feared that the C.I.O. intended to recapture the union
after the A .F . of L. had spent much time and money in organizing the
citrus workers. Also, the A .F . of L. organizers had intended to call a
strike on only a few large ranches, the employees of which were well
organized. The union hoped to win its demands for recognition, a 10cent hourly increase in wages, and adjustment of “ stand-by time” dur­
ing inclement weather.
Union members constituted a small fraction of all citrus-fruit work­
ers in the county. The strike in late January, nevertheless, “ spread
like wildfire,” according to the Ventura Star Free Press of January
31, 1941. Many unorganized workers joined in a series of spontaneous
walk-outs. Within a few days the movement involved approximately
1,500 pickers and packing-shed workers employed by cooperative grow ­
ing and packing associations in the vicinities of Camarillo, Moorpark,
Oxnard, Port Hueneme, and Saticoy. By the second week of Febru­
ary about 4,000 workers were affected.79
The strike assumed particular significance when officers of the A gri­
cultural and Citrus W orkers Union demanded active support from
other A .F . of L. affiliates, particularly the Brotherhood of Teamsters.
E. Vandeleur, secretary, and C. J. Haggerty, president of the California
State Federation of Labor, promised fullest support of the lemon pickers’
collective-bargaining demands. A secondary boycott was announced,
and teamsters were instructed not to handle lemons grown in Ventura
County.80 A byproducts plant in Corona whose employees were organ­
ized in the A .F . of L. also refused to handle Ventura County fruit.81
U nion circles scouted the possibilities of applying the secondary boycott
throughout the State and even to eastern markets.
Grower-employers and their supporters mobilized their forces to com­
bat the threatened union progress. The Los Angeles Times of March 7,
1941, reported that “ an alarm and rallying call was broadcast through­
out California * * * for the support of agriculture against the A .F . of
L. campaign to unionize farms and ranches.” Representatives of the
Associated Farmers and the Farm Bureau notified city government
officials throughout the State that farmers collectively would refuse to
buy from cities which did not keep farm-to-con sumer routes open and
free from “ union molestation.” 81 Almon E. Roth, president of the San
79Los Angeles Times, February 7, 1941.
80Ventura Star Free Press, February 20, 1941.
81 Los Angeles Times, February 23, 1941.




CH. XI.---INTER-UNION CONFLICT

191

Francisco Employers Council, sent a wire to the organized citrus
growers protesting the union's secondary boycott and promising to “ do
everything we possibly can to aid you [growers] in the distribution of
your lemons in this area.” 82 Alfred J. Lundberg, president o f the Cali­
fornia State Chamber of Commerce, stated officially that—
* * * the Board o f Directors went on record in favor o f legislation to outlaw
the secondary boycott and hot cargo. W e are now in the process o f throwing the
full strength of our State-wide organization and our regional councils behind this
proposed legislation. (Ventura Star Free Press, March 7, 1941.)

The strike itself meanwhile continued to grow. It became general
in the Corona area early in March as pickers, packers, and truckers
walked out of orchards and packing sheds of the Orange Heights and
Corona Citrus Associations. Late in February a mass meeting of 1,000
growers in 28 citrus associations of Ventura County affiliated to the
California Fruit Growers Exchange pledged a “ fight to the finish” and
made plans to recruit labor from all possible sources to replace strikers.83
The State Relief Administration and the Federal Farm Security
Administration opened offices in the county, the latter furnishing relief
to strikers who were ineligible for State relief because of legal residence
requirements.84 Organized growers and their sympathizers strongly
opposed this policy. They threatened that a legislative relief committee
would conduct a “ thorough investigation” of charges that several hundred
strikers had been certified for relief since the strike began.85
A grower in Saticoy was the first to accede to union demands by
signing a temporary contract to pay pickers 15 cents per box, a sub­
stantial increase in rates over the prevailing scale.86 The growers’
ranks were far from broken, however. Union finances were strained
through maintaining soup kitchens and living quarters for several hun­
dred evicted strikers. Numerous pickets were arrested on charges of
disturbing the peace by “ heckling” nonunion pickers employed in har­
vesting lemons.
The strike dragged on for several months, not ending until May.
Rumors of a “ sell-out” were current. “ Pedro Pete” Peterson was
accused of settling with the growers for a compromise agreement which
covered only the small fraction of workers who had been organized
beforehand by the A .F . of L., leaving the unorganized majority stranded.
Some union leaders and Mexican workers claimed that the strike was
broken by an influx of “ Okies and Arkies” who had read of the strike
in eastern papers.
82Los Angeles Examiner, March 8, 1941.
83Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1941.
The State Labor Commissioner later conducted hearings on union charges that officials of the
Seabord Lemon Association violated the labor code by misrepresenting conditions in Ventura
County to laborers of other areas. He also reviewed testimony to the effect that Ventura Col­
lege had violated the code by asking students to apply for lemon-picking jobs. (Ventura Star
Free Press, Feb. 21, 1941.)
84Los Angeles Examiner, March 8, 1941.
.
88The Relief Supervisor pointed out that there were some 1,200 applications for relief, of
which S33 cases were pending, while rejections were running about 60 percent. (Los Angeles
Examiner, Mar. 15, 1941.) In subsequent testimony at the hearings it was brought out that
strikers were granted relief after the local State Employment Service office had certified that
there was no work available because of strike conditions in the Ventura County lemon groves.
(Los Angeles Times, Mar. 18, 1941.)
86Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1941.
87Idem, March 10, 1941.




192

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The temper of industrial urban and agrarian interests in California
was unmistakably hostile to the new A .F . of L. organizing drive. It
was one of the few disputes in which “ Communist agitation” was not
the main issue. Anti-unionism had broadened; employers in agriculture
like their prototypes in other industries, tended to identify their par­
ticular interests with those of the Nation. The Los Angeles Times of
February 17, 1941, expressed this view strongly in a long editorial:
California is at this moment face to face with a harvest labor situation that is
truly alarming. Both C.I.O. and A.F. of L. trouble makers are bearing down with
strikes, secondary boycotts, picketing, and “ hot cargo” pressure on growers trying
to provide food and vital raw materials needed as never before. The condition exists
in almost every major producing area in the State and in practically every instance
is resulting in bottlenecks in harvesting, packing, processing, and transportation.
Most o f the trouble arises from union squabblings over so-called “ collective­
bargaining rights” which actually means merely the inside track on membership and
dues collections; few o f the controversies involve disputes over wages and working
conditions.
People are primarily concerned these days about the efficacy o f defense activities
and the Associated Farmers can count on ample support if they decide, as they have
intimated they may, to seek new legislation for the protection of agriculture’s
endeavors to that end.




Ch apter

XII.— Unionism in Arizona

Seasonal Labor and Large-Scale Farms
Arizona probably has diverged from the family-farm ideal more
sharply than any other important agricultural State. The land available
for cultivation is limited primarily to areas accessible to the water sup­
plies necessary for irrigation. Ownership and control of such lands is
even more concentrated in Arizona than in California. Units of 500
acres and over composed 2.4 percent of all irrigated farms ahd 20 per­
cent of the acreage of such farms, while farms of 100 to 499 acres
accounted for 25 percent of all irrigated farms and 49 percent of their
acreage in 1935.1 Statistics on the employment of farm labor illustrate
this concentration. Large agricultural enterprises hiring laborers as
groups, rather than as individual farm hands, are relatively most preva­
lent in A rizona; no other State in the country has reported so high a
proportion of such farms. The proportion of farms which hired 10 or
more laborers each in 1935 was 0.2 percent for the United States as
a whole; 1.3 percent for California, and 2.4 percent for Arizona.1 In
2
the country at large, approximately a sixth of all hired farm laborers
were employed on farms having 8 or more workers; in California, 42
percent of all farm laborers were employed on such farms, and in A ri­
zona, 68 percent.3
Large farms hiring laborers in groups have tended to displace family
farms. Irrigated land was used increasingly for the production of a few
intensively grown commercial crops for sale in distant markets. Cotton
has long been most important among these products. From 1929 to
1931, for instance, it contributed approximately 40 percent of the total
crop income for Arizona, and in the late thirties it assumed increasing
importance.4 Citrus fruits, lettuce, and melons have come next in amount
of irrigated land and the number of laborers employed.
Arizona farming became more dependent upon hired laborers, as
contrasted with family workers, as the acreage in cotton, citrus fruit,
lettuce, and truck crops continued to expand during the twenties and
thirties.5 B y 1935 hired labor comprised 63 percent of all labor on farms
in the counties containing Arizona’s principal irrigated areas.6
The heavy capital investments required for adequate use of irriga­
tion facilities and farm machinery in producing special cash crops fa­
vored the large farm unit as against the small. In the opinion of Dr.
E. D. Tetreau, Professor of Rural Sociology at the University of A ri­
zona—
1E. D. Tetreau: Social Organization in Arizona’s Irrigated Farms, in Rural Sociology, Vol.
V, No. 2, 1940 (p. 200).
2Idem <p. 203).
3W itt Bowden: Three Decades of Farm Labor. U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Serial No.
R-796 (pp. 8-9), 1937.
4Present-Day Agriculture in Arizona, Bulletin No. 141, Agricultural Experiment Station,
College of Agriculture, University of Arizona, Tucson, 1932 (p. 10).
5E. D. Tetreau: Hired Labor Requirements on Arizona Irrigated Farms. Bulletin No. 160,
Synopsis, Agricultural Experiment Station, College of Agriculture, University of Arizona, Tuc­
son, May 1938.
6Idem (p. 200).




193

194

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Markets and machines definitely threaten the family-size farm in Arizona’s irri­
gated areas. Commercialized and mechanized farming experts and operators exploit
land and water resources, using cheap money and cheap labor to the exhaustion of
soil fertility and often to the detriment o f local institutions.8

Seasonality of employment for hired farm laborers became relatively
more extreme in Arizona than in any other State. As irrigated areas
specialized increasingly in a few crops requiring large numbers of
laborers, the period of harvesting became shorter. A smaller proportion
of regular farm labor was used. The demand for seasonal labor grew
in terms of numbers but was concentrated in shorter periods throughout
the year. Man-days of labor required during the peak of the season in
November, as compared with the nadir in March, was roughly 6 to 1
by the late thirties. F or all irrigated areas in Arizona, more than twothirds of the labor-hours, throughout the year were performed by seasonal
day labor, the remaining third being done by farm hands paid by the
month or the year.8 The irrigated areas varied widely in their require­
ments of seasonal labor. The Salt River Valley, largest and most diversi­
fied in crops, was most regular in its labor demands; the Casa Grande
Valley, specializing in cotton, was most seasonal. O f each l',000 mandays of hired labor, 356 were those of regular labor and 644 were those
of seasonal labor in the Salt River V alley; in the Casa Grande Valley
the corresponding numbers were 147 and 853. The Upper Gila, Yum aGila and Santa Cruz Valleys came between these extremes.8
Arizona's large farms have been in a strategic geographical position.
The State lies between California and the Dust Bowl regions o f the
Southwest, and the more important highways traverse the irrigated
farming regions. Hence, large farms specializing in intensively grown
cash crops have been able to utilize the continuous stream of displaced
farm families migrating to California. A substantial minority of its
seasonal workers migrate regularly to Arizona from Texas, New
Mexico, and particularly California, following the harvests.
Because of the continuous migration and communication between
Arizona and California, agricultural workers in the former State have
been influenced by labor movements in the latter. Many have worked
for large-scale employers with branch plants and landholdings in both
States. Therefore, collective bargaining, to be effective, has had to be
interstate in scope. The more important instances of collective action
among Arizona farm laborers were a sort of “ backwash” from Califor­
nia. During the late thirties the more prominent agricultural labor
unions in Arizona were usually under the jurisdiction of parent organi­
zations in California.
The structure of Arizona's agriculture, dominated as it was by largescale farms whose demand for labor was highly seasonal, tended to
generate labor-employer conflict. A continual labor surplus and severe
job competition from transient laborers from M exico and the South­
west at the same time weakened farm laborers' bargaining power. For
the majority, the duration of employment and length of residence in
Arizona was short. Hence they were considerably more difficult to
unionize than migratory workers in California.
8E. D. Tetreau: Hired Labor Requirements on Arizona Irrigated Farms. Bulletin No. 160,
Synopsis, Agricultural Experiment Station, College of Agriculture, University of Arizona, Tuc­
son. May 1938.




CH. XII.---UNIONISM IN ARIZONA

195

Beginnings of Farm-Labor Unionism
Sporadic collective action among Arizona’s agricultural workers
began during the First W orld W ar years. A t that time white American
farm laborers, who were usually the more skilled or supervisory ranch
hands, had a tradition of individual action and loyalty to the owner
or “ old man.” Mexican laborers in both mining and agriculture, how­
ever, were influenced by the activities of the Industrial W orkers of the
W orld and other unions.9 Several strikes occurred during the war
years among Mexican miners in Arizona who had belonged to unions
affiliated to the Western Federation of Miners, the I.W .W ., and the
American Federation of Labor. Many agricultural laborers had also
worked in mines at various times and thus had had some experience
with labor unionism.

Federal Labor Unions of Cotton Pickers
The Arizona State Federation of Labor became interested in agri­
cultural workers in the early 1920’s. During the postwar slump which
closed down many mines in northern M exico and Arizona, large num­
bers of unemployed miners were recruited to pick cotton. Lester Doane,
State representative of the A .F . of L., together with C. N. Idar, A .F.
of L. ace Mexican organizer, conducted a temporarily successful union­
izing campaign among these workers. During 1921 these two organized
14 federal labor unions of cotton pickers, averaging 300 to 400 mem­
bers each, in the largest towns of Maricopa County.101
The success of the campaign was due partly to the fact that Doane
had been a foreman in a copper mine in Callandria, M exico, just across
the border from Bisbee, Ariz. W hen the mine was closed during the
postwar, depression, many unemployed Mexicans were recruited for
cotton picking. During his organizing campaign, according to his state­
ments, he met men in almost every camp who had worked under him
in Callandria. On several occasions these men protected the organizers
from threatened violence and arrest at the hands of growers and local
authorities.1
1
Doane called a wage conference at the beginning of the cotton-picking
season, after a network of locals had been established. Representatives
of organized growers and pickers, together with the county sheriff and
an official of the Mexican Government, met to discuss wage rates and
working conditions. The Mexican official supported the organized
pickers by threatening to have them repatriated and to close the border
to further immigration to Arizona, unless conditions were improved.
A ccording to Doane, he even threatened to have the growers’ labor­
recruiting agents arrested in Mexico. Through such organized pressure
the pickers were able to win a substantial increase in rates— from the
prevailing 2 % cents per pound up to 4 cents.1
1
The federal labor unions lasted only one season, however. Large
numbers of cotton pickers returned to M exico, and most of the others
in time migrated to other areas or were absorbed into other industries.
9Arizona, A State Guide, (W P A American Guide Series, New York, 1940) p. 97.
10Coldwater, Buckeye, Glendale, Cashion, Avondale, Tolleson, Alhambra, Peoria, Scottsdale,
Tempe. Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, and Higley.
11 Field notes.




196

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE
Strike of Puerto Ricans

The first highly publicized strike among cotton pickers in Arizona
occurred during the late twenties as a result of labor-recruiting activities
by organized growers. A s greater limitations on the immigration of
Mexicans were being imposed by the U. S. Department of Labor, the
growers searched for alternative labor supplies. In 1926 several hun­
dred Puerto Ricans, who were not subject to the immigration restric­
tions applied to Mexicans, were brought into Arizona. Labor troubles
soon developed. A spontaneous strike broke out, and the Arizona State
Federation of Labor, among other sympathizers, supported the m ove­
ment. Many Puerto Rican strikers were brought to Phoenix, where
they were fed and lodged, first in the Labor Temple and later in exhibi­
tion buildings at the State Fair Grounds. In time they returned to work
on the cotton ranches and were later absorbed into other employments.12
A n attempt was made at the same time by the A .F . of L. to organize
the migratory fruit and vegetable packing-shed workers but, as in Cali­
fornia during this period, a few short-lived local unions were the only
result. The “ fruit tramps” relied rather upon informal “ job action”
tactics to enforce their immediate collective demands.13

Trade Union Unity League in the Thirties
The effects of the campaign of the Cannery and Agricultural W o rk ­
ers Industrial Union in California agriculture were felt in Arizona dur­
ing the depression years of the early 1930’s. The Trade Union Unity
League became active in 1933, organizing unemployed in the cities and
seasonal workers in the rural areas during the harvest season. In A ri­
zona these two classes of workers were largely interchangeable. The
agitation by Communist organizers culminated in two large strikes,
involving several thousand cotton pickers.
The tactics were similar to those employed in California, though
the opposition from growers and law-enforcement officers was not so
violent. A few organizers of the C .& A .W .I.U . maintained State head­
quarters in Phoenix. They regularly visited the camps o f migratory
workers in several counties, to address mass meetings and establish
local unions. Strike and negotiating committees were elected in each
community, to organize and bargain collectively with local employers.
These groups in turn met regularly with the State executive of the
C .& A .W .I.U . in Phoenix, to coordinate union activities over a wide
area. Outside support was furnished through the W orkers Interna­
tional Relief and the International Labor Defense.
The first strike involved approximately 2,500 cotton pickers in Yuma
County for several days during September 1933 and succeeded in win­
ning a general wage increase.14 The union claimed that agreements
covering wages and working conditions were signed with individual
growers. The extreme transiency of the pickers, however, made unions
12M. C. Brown and O. Cassmore: Migratory Cotton Pickers in Arizona. Washington, Works
Progress Administration, 1939 (p. 67).
13Idem (p. 100).
14Josiah Folsom: Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927-38 (unpublished).




CH. XII.---UNIONISM IN ARIZONA

197

impossible to maintain, and the C .& A .W .I.U . locals did not last beyond
the 1933 harvest season.
T.U .U .L . organizers established a local union of cotton pickers in
Coolidge (Pinal County) during the winter picking season of 1933.
Its chief purpose was to combat the current policy of discharging relief
clients in order to have them available for farm work at low wages. In
the spring of 1934, when it was apparent that the C .& A .W .I.U . was
rapidly losing ground on the Pacific Coast, the local asked for and
received a charter from the A .F . of L. as Federal Labor Union No.
19542.
Coolidge was the only agricultural-labor center organized at the
time. It furnished the focal point for directing a second strike of cotton
pickers, which spread throughout the Salt River Valley of Maricopa
County during September 1934. The most active organizers behind this
movement were the T.U .U .L . members within the local union. They
employed tactics roughly similar to those of the previous strike. Camp
meetings were held in unorganized centers such as Chandler, Mesa, and
Buckeye, strike and negotiation committees were elected, and “ guerilla
pickets” were used to spread the strike to fields in which picking opera­
tions continued. Little violence was reported, compared with the cotton
strike in California during 1933, though Clay Naff, former Communist
organizer in Arizona, stated later that on one occasion he narrowly
escaped being lynched by irate growers.15 Ultimately, the strike included
several thousand pickers in Maricopa County.
This strike resulted in State intervention and arbitration, for the
first time in Arizona agriculture. Under orders from Governor Moeur,
one representative from the growers and one from the pickers (chosen
from the federal labor union in Coolidge) met with a member from the
Labor Department of the State Industrial Commission to decide the
terms of settlement.16 The final decision of the arbitration board
awarded an increase of 15 cents per hundredweight to the pickers,
raising the scale from 60 to 75 cents.
Several local unions were established during the following year in
such centers as Casa Grande, Chandler, and Phoenix. Following the
collapse of the C.& A.W .I.U . on the Pacific Coast in 1934 and the dis­
solution of the Trade Union Unity League in 1935, left-wing organizers
transferred their affiliations to the A .F . of L. Meanwhile Lester Doane,
State organizer and president of the Arizona State Federation of Labor,
again became active in unionizing miners, construction workers, and
agricultural laborers.
During the period 1934-36, 18 federal labor
unions of agricultural and industrial workers were chartered in various
communities, but none of them attempted direct collective bargaining in
agriculture.

Unionism Among Shed Workers
Trade-unionism among the fruit and vegetable packing-shed work­
ers of Arizona began in 1933. The rapid growth of the Vegetable
Packers Association of Salinas, Calif, (later chartered as the Fruit and
15Los Angeles Examiner, April 22 and 23, 1936. Articles by Clay Naff, former organizer of the
Trade Union Unity League.
16Phoenix Gazette, September 14, 1934 (p. 4).




198

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Vegetable W orkers Union Local No. 18211) was reflected in southern
California and Arizona. Many of the same “ fruit tramps” (as the
packing-shed workers were called) worked in both regions during
certain months each year in the course of their seasonal migrations.
Considerable unrest resulted from the low. wage levels in the industry;
the prevailing minimum rate had fallen from 70 cents per hour in 1929
to 25 cents per hour in 1933.
A n organizing campaign backed by the Phoenix Central Labor
Council and the Arizona State Federation o fs Labor began during the
fall and winter of 1933. For the first time in many Arizona plants,
packing-shed workers carried on collective bargaining with growershippers. A number of scattered strikes broke out in Phoenix and Yuma
during the season, before the workers had been sufficiently well-organized
to plan beforehand an adequate program of collective action. Even so,
in most of these the strikers won their demands. In one instance a
delegation persuaded Governor Moeur to bring pressure upon a ship­
ping company, to reinstate several discharged strikers. Under the
threat of revocation of its license to operate, the company complied with
the demand.
In December 1933, the A .F . of L. chartered the Fruit and Vegetable
W orkers Union Local 19115 of Phoenix. For the first 2 years it had
difficulty functioning effectively, because its purely local jurisdiction
was unsuitable for workers who migrated to several States each year.
It attempted to overcome this drawback by establishing a sublocal in
Yuma, the other main center for packing and shipping fruits and vege­
tables in Arizona.
A jurisdictional dispute developed between the California and A ri­
zona unions when the president of Salinas Local No. 18211 claimed
control over dues paid by those of its members who worked seasonally
in Yuma. This was settled when the west coast representative of the
A .F . of L. met with officials of the Arizona and California State Fed­
erations and with representatives of the two shed workers’ unions. It
was ruled that each was to have State-wide jurisdiction in the fruit and
vegetable packing industry.
Union officials estimated that some 3,000 fruit and vegetable packing­
house workers possessed membership cards in Local No. 19115 by
April 1936.17 The sub-local in Yuma, however, subsequently became
better organized and more closely knit than the parent body in Phoenix.
During 1935 and 1936 the former obtained signed agreements with
shipping companies (which the Phoenix local never was able to d o ),
establishing standard union wages and working conditions, closed shop,
and union label on all products packed and shipped.18 In Phoenix the
shed workers, although in closer contact with established urban A .F .
of L. unions, were more widely scattered in their living quarters and
places of employment. In the opinion of union organizers, they were
too accessible to influences opposed to unionism. The Phoenix local
maintained union standards by verbal agreement, backed by the rank and
file’s readiness to apply “ job action/’ In April 1936, for instance, a
sit-down strike in the Hawes shed in Chandler forced the management
to rehire a discharged union employee and pay him the established
union wage.19 In January 1937, a half-day sit-down strike in the P. J.
17Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 10, May 1936 (p. 1).
18Idem, Vol. I, No. 13, August 1936 (p. 1).
19Idem, Vol. I, No. 10, May 1936 (p. 1).




CH. XII.---UNIONISM IN ARIZONA

199

Linde shed near Phoenix forced the company to rehire a discharged
union packer and to fire six former nonunion strikebreakers.20
Early in 1937 the Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union began nego­
tiations with the Farmers Union of Arizona, which had been organized
late in 1936. This latter organization directed its main appeals to
small farmers who felt that they suffered disadvantages in bargaining
with the larger grower-shipper interests. A program of united action
was planned for the common interests of workers and small farmers.
The possibility of using both a labor union and farmers' union label
on produce grown and packed by members of these organizations was
discussed by the Central Labor Council of Phoenix, but little or nothing
came of it.

State-Wide Unionism and the U.C.A.P.A.W.A.
There was little direct cooperation between organized packing-shed
workers and field laborers during the first few years of unionism. Their
organizations developed independently of each other. The shed workers
resisted any attempts, whether in unions or elsewhere, to classify them
as agricultural workers. These skilled and semiskilled laborers feared
that they would be subjected to the discrimination, low social status, and
lack of legal protection suffered by field workers. Furthermore, the two
groups were divided by racial as well as occupational differences. White
shed workers, while sympathetic to the unionizing of field laborers,
generally refused to work beside members of a nonwhite race or even
to allow them to work inside a packing shed. This attitude had devel­
oped, as shed workers were quick to explain, from the tendency of
nonwhite workers (as members of a minority) to stick together and
help one another obtain jobs. T o allow one or a few to work in a shed,
the whites felt, would be a “ thin edge of the wedge." The nonwhites in
time would become available to the employer in such numbers that the
whites would be displaced, wage rates would be depressed, and any
organization of whites for their own protection would be rendered
ineffective.
Several incidents in California had exposed the bargaining weak­
nesses of unionism and strike action carried on exclusively by white
shed workers against highly integrated grower-shipper enterprises. The
Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union, consequently, began to cooperate
with other affiliates of the State Federation of Labor in promoting the
organization of field workers in federal labor unions. Organized shed
workers in Yuma held open meetings for field laborers in the lettuce
and cantaloup crops, to “ educate" them as a preliminary step to union­
izing them later. A n Arizona Agricultural W orkers Organizing Com­
mittee was established in March 1937, by the F .V .W .U . of Yuma and
Phoenix.21
The National Committee to A id Agricultural W orkers sought with
some success to bring about a closer cooperation between fruit and vege­
table shed workers' unions. By late 1936 these groups were beginning
to favor the organization of a separate international union for all work­
ers in agriculture and related industries. The fruit and vegetable pack­
ers’ unions of Arizona and California accordingly sent delegates to the
2°Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 5, May 1937 (p. 4).
21Idem, Vol. II, No. 4, April 1937 (p. 1).
654107°—46—14




200

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

national c o n v e n t i o n i n Denver during July 1937, when the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was formed. The Yuma packing-shed local voted to
affiliate with the new C .I.O . International, and the Phoenix local soon
followed.
A n international representative of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was ap­
pointed late in 1937 to expand and coordinate the activities of local
organizations among field and shed workers of Arizona. During the
winter of 1937 a new union of field workers was organized in Yuma
and chartered as U .C .A .P .A .W .A . Local No. 130. In March 1938.
in protest against a 15-percent wage cut at the H . P. Garin Co., it
conducted a strike of cutters, loaders, and teamsters, as well as field
laborers. The union demanded recognition, reinstatement with back
pay for discharged members, wages of 35 cents per hour for field packers.
40 cents for cutters, and 50 cents for loaders, as well as double pay for
holiday work.22 In the course of the walk-out, according to union
spokesmen, Indian and Filipino workers brought in as “ scabs” joined
the picket lines.23 On the fifth day of the strike, a union newspaper
reported, “ hired thugs and vigilantes under the leadership of a former
judge launched a mass assault on the picket line.” 23 The strike was
finally broken and wage rates remained the same as before.
Another local was chartered by the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in Nogales, on
the Mexican border. Previously the independent Santa Cruz Industrial
Union had been formed and later chartered as a federal labor union of
the A .F . of L. This organization was composed mainly of nonagricultural labor in general construction work, but an attempt was made to
enlist small cattle ranchers of the vicinity. It was too far removed from
the center of union activity in the Phoenix area, however, to be a
permanent or effective local.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s most successful venture in Arizona was its
leadership of the much-publicized Commodity March in the spring of
1938. During the cotton-picking season of late 1937-38 the Farm Labor
Service (recruiting agency for the cotton growers) had overextended
its activities. It had enticed cotton pickers to the State in such large
numbers that the resulting decrease in employment and earnings left
destitute several thousand families in the Salt River Valley at the end
of the season. They were without the means either to move on to other
jobs or to return to their home States.24
The international representative of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . organized
parades and demonstrations of cotton pickers and established workers’
committees to confer with the Governor.25 Newspapers gave wide pub­
licity to the county health officer’s reports of sickness and starvation.26
Pressure was brought to bear on the State and Federal Governments
to provide adequate emergency relief.
The agitation finally brought improvement in conditions for cotton
pickers, as well as greater prestige for the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . The Farm
Security Administration immediately made available, for relief, $50,000
from its regional office and the State Department of Health dispatched
22CIO News, March 12, 1938.
23People’s World (San Francisco), December 30, 1938.
24M. C. Brown and O. Cassmore: Migratory Cotton Pickers in Arizona. Washington, W PA
Social Research Division, 1913.
25Phoenix Gazette, March 21, 1938 (p. 1); CIO News, March 19, 1938 (p. 2).
26Phoenix Gazette, March 23, 1938: Disease and Poverty Rampant in Cotton Camps.




CH. XII.---UNIONISM IN ARIZONA

201

nurses and case workers to various cotton camps in the Valley. H ous­
ing for the laborers was improved through the establishment of F S A
migratory housing units.27 Restrictions were imposed on activities of
the growers’ Farm Labor Service, and a more adequate and rational
plan for labor recruiting was developed through cooperation of State
and Federal relief and employment agencies.
The chief gain to the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was its recognition by vari­
ous State and Federal Government officials as the spokesman for em­
ployed and unemployed cotton pickers.28 After this success the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . made rapid increases in membership among hitherto
unorganized field laborers, and among N egro workers in cotton com­
presses and cotton-oil mills near Phoenix.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . was active also in a strike of approximately
250 strawberry pickers, chiefly Mexicans and native whites, near Phoenix
during April 1938,29 a number of whom had been involved in the Com­
modity March the previous month. The April walk-out, spontaneous
and loosely organized, was in protest against a decrease in wage rates
by 5 cents a crate from the previous season’s scale of 25 cents.29 Before
the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . organizers assumed control, internal dissension,
reported to be racial in origin, had begun to split the ranks of the
strikers. The strike soon ended when it met with violence and intimi­
dation from civil authorities, supported by the Associated. Farmers of
Arizona.30
The effects of these spontaneous movements during early 1938,
supplemented by money and organizing personnel provided by the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . national executive, brought a rapid increase in union
membership in Arizona. The international representative organized
Local N o. 191 as one large comprehensive union, centered in Phoenix.
It was composed of four main classes of workers: Field laborers, shed
workers, cotton-oil mill, and cotton-compress employees. Packing-shed
workers, previously organized in A .F . of L. Local No. 19115, were
transferrred to the new organization, to which they now paid their dues.
The organization proved to be too unwieldy to function effectively.
Its executive board was composed of working delegates from sub­
locals in various sections of the Salt River Valley, and it was difficult
for them to convene for board meetings. A second difficulty arose from
the fact that delegates from sublocals in varied occupations each had
distinct policies to propose; this made it hard for them to meet on com­
mon ground.
There was strong sentiment among the packers, for
instance, to remain organized in a separate union which would be
affiliated to, but not absorbed in, a central executive body.
Following much friction and frequent changes in international rep­
resentatives for the State, the Phoenix union was finally reorganized.
Packing-shed workers were chartered separately as Local N o. 78, with
headquarters in Phoenix; organized cotton-oil mill and cotton-compress
workers were chartered as Local No. 306 of Phoenix; and five separate
field workers’ locals, varying in size from 50 to 300 members, were
established in Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa, Glendale, and Buckeye. Cen­
tral union headquarters were later transferred to Los Angeles, under
the direct jurisdiction of the District No. 2 U.C.A.P.A.W.A. execu­
tive.
27Phoenix Gazette, September 17, 1938 (p. 1).
«8CIO News, Vol. I, No. 17, March 24. 1938 (p. 2).
29Phoenix Gazette, April 9, 1938 (p. 1).
30Field notes.




202

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The processing workers made some notable gains during 1938 and
1939. N egro members of the Cotton Oil Mill and Compress W orkers
Union won a suit filed with the National Labor Relations Board against
the Anderson Clayton Co. The company was forced to reinstate with
back pay 16 members discharged for union activity. In the fall of 1938
and again in the spring of 1939 the local obtained signed collective agree­
ments with the company, bringing substantial increases in basic wage
scales, union recognition, and overtime rates. However, a strike of a
months’ duration in October 1939, resulted in only compromise gains, and
though a new agreement was signed, the position of the union became
precarious.
Shed workers in late 1938 succeeded, with a vote of 760 to 252
in a N L R B election, in establishing the jurisdiction of Local No. 78
over 26 sheds in the Salt River Valley area near Phpenix. The ship­
pers joined with the Western Growers Protective Association in an
unsuccessful appeal against the Labor Board’s decision, on the grounds
that shed workers should be classed as agricultural and therefore beyond
the jurisdiction of the N L R B .31 The union won signed collective agree­
ments granting union wages and working conditions in the m ajor pack­
ing sheds of Yuma.
Field workers’ locals chartered near Phoenix meanwhile tried early
in 1939 to win improvements for their members in the lettuce harvest.
Representatives of the locals met regularly in a Field W orkers Coun­
cil in Phoenix. This body was designed to coordinate the activities and
standardize the demands of the unions. Farm employers and county
officials as well as union members and sympathizers were invited to
open hearings held by the union organizers to air the grievances of
workers. W orkers’ committees were formed to negotiate with repre­
sentatives of the growers and shippers.
The unions demanded recognition, free transportation to and from
the fields, a minimum wage of 45 cents per hour and guaranty of 4
hours’ work when called to the fields, time and a half for overtime
after 8 hours and for Sundays and holidays, employment without dis­
crimination against unionists, and wages in cash or by check.32
The unions were not sufficiently well organized to enforce their
demands. The Associated Farmers of Arizona mobilized its forces to
support local authorities against the menace of a field workers’ strike, and
open threats of violence forestalled any attempts by the workers. Sheriff
Lon Jordon of Maricopa County was reported to have said that he was
“ watching the situation closely, and * * * prepared at a moment’s
notice to dispatch a large force of men to any sector of the Valley to
quell any uprising and throw the ringleaders in jail.” 33
This was the last activity of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in Arizona. The
State organization was abandoned and the local unions disappeared when
the international was forced, because of financial stringency, to restrict
its organizing activities and reduce its personnel. Only the local N egro
Cotton Oil Mill and Compress W orkers Union remained.
31CIO News, January 2, 1939 (p. 1).
32See Appendix I (p. 432).
33Phoenix Gazette, March 30, 1939 (p. 6).
N. H. Powers, who headed a negotiation committee, said that a prominent contractor told him:
“ W e just want you to call a strike—we are ready—you all will be shot down like dogs.” (Peo­
ple's World, San Francisco, Apr. 3, 1939, p. 2.)




Chapter

XIII.— Unionism in the Pacific Northwest

Migratory Labor and Seasonal Agriculture
The structure of farm operations in the Northwest has not been
favorable to the organization of rural labor. N o stable or effective
union movement developed among farm workers in this region during
the thirties, despite support from powerful urban labor organizations.
Farming in most of the Pacific Northwest has remained small, and the
majority of farm operators belong in the category of “ working” or “ fam­
ily” farmers. Farm laborers have been mainly “ hired men,” scattered
in location and employed individually. Collective bargaining and strikes
have rarely occurred among this group.
Certain limited areas stand out in contrast to this usual pattern, and
it was in these that sporadic labor trouble broke out from time to time.
Large and small farms growing intensive cash crops and employing
large gangs of seasonal workers developed in scattered “ pockets” —
sections of valley country along the H ood and Willamette Rivers in
Oregon, the W hite River in western Washington, the Yakima and
Wenatchee Rivers in central Washington, and the Snake River in Idaho.
Before the First W orld W ar, moreover, large-scale wheat farms in east­
ern Washington and Oregon hired crews of seasonal harvest hands
who migrated regularly from the Middle W est.
Industrialized farming in these areas gave rise to unrest and a pro­
pensity to collective action among seasonal workers. Their bargaining
position was consistently weak, however, and this precluded their
organizing effective unions. Each valley area specialized in one or a
few crops requiring large numbers of workers— berries and truck vege­
tables in the W hite River Valley, hops in Willamette, apples in W enat­
chee, hops and apples in H ood and Yakima, and peas in the Snake River
Valley. Seasonality of work was extreme in such areas, and the labor
recruited temporarily for harvesting was exceedingly heterogeneous.
During the depression years of the 1930’s, competition for jobs became
even more severe than in California, and the labor market was corres­
pondingly disorganized. California’s migratory workers, some of whom
had regularly followed the crop harvests northward into Oregon, W ash­
ington, and Idaho, came in increasing numbers during the thirties. T o
these were added a growing number of urban unemployed from such
cities as Seattle and Portland, and an increasing stream of displaced
farm families migrating from the Middle W est and Southwest in search
of employment. W ages and working conditions on farms employing
labor declined to substandard levels. Friction along racial and sectional
lines developed among seasonal workers early in the thirties. Toward
the middle of the decade the militant unionism of California’s agricul­
tural workers spread in milder form to scattered areas of the North­
west, giving rise to many sporadic protest strikes.
Organized efforts of farmer-employers to combat labor trouble were
like the attempts in California, though usually more spontaneous and
local. In the late thirties branches of the Associated Farmers were
established in Oregon and Washington, which later were affiliated into
a west coast anti-union organization in agriculture.




203

204

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE
Farm-Labor Strikes in Oregon

The industrial and commercial structure of Oregon's economy has
never fostered a labor movement of comparable importance to that in
California and Washington, nor has its agricultural system; farms were
usually smaller, less specialized and seasonal in crops, and less dependent
upon nonresident labor.
The long-established hop industry in the H ood and Willamette River
Valleys and the recently developed pea-growing areas in the eastern
section of the State were notable exceptions, resembling the pattern in
California. Highly specialized farming enterprises were operated on a
large scale, often by absentee owners, many of whom were outside
corporations; and large numbers of local seasonal workers were em­
ployed, as.well as migrants from California.
Oregon, because of its proximity to California and Washington,
felt the influence of their labor unrest. A t least two farm-labor strikes
in the years before the First W orld W ar, both in the vicinity of North
Yamhill, were reported to have been led by the Industrial W orkers of
the W orld. A walk-out in 1910 protested the discriminatory discharge
of union members. Another in 1912 was led by “ wobblies” who
demanded wages of 30 cents per hour and “ decent quarters.” 1 Small
sporadic outbreaks occurred infrequently in fruit and vegetable packing
sheds.1 The anti-Filipino riots which developed along the Pacific Coast
2
during 1929 and 1930 occurred in milder form in local communities in
Oregon. They were generated in large part by unemployment and
greater competition for jobs during the first years of depression. In
the W hite River Valley of Columbia County, Oreg., several hundred
native white workers went on strike in order to force vegetable farmers
to cease employing Filipinos.3 In the Scapoose Delta lands of Colum­
bia County, near the town of Yankton, labor organizations backed by
the local Grange strongly opposed the importation of Filipinos. The
California Conserving Co., with the support of local business interests,
had planned to hire Filipino laborers to harvest cucumber crops grown
for a local pickle factory.4
The only large strikes in Oregon's agriculture occurred during 1933
and 1934 in the hop industry of Polk, Benton, and Marion Counties.
Seasonal laborers employed in this crop undoubtedly were influenced
by the current wave of farm strikes led by the Cannery and Agricultural
W orkers Industrial Union in California. It is not unlikely that many
of them had taken part in strikes in California earlier in the season.
The union may even have sent organizers from California to follow
itinerant agricultural laborers in their seasonal migration north to the
Oregon hop fields. A t any rate a small number could rapidly promote a
strike to protest the depressed labor conditions then prevalent in the
hop-growing area. N o union of hop pickers developed among the
1Paul Brissenden: The I.W .W .—A Study of American Syndicalism, Vol. 83, Columbia Uni­
versity Studies in History and Economics, New York, 1919 (p. 306).
2The Medford Mail Tribune, of September 10, 1936, for instance, reported a “ slight misunder­
standing” in a local packing plant when the management allegedly fired, for union activity, six
members of the Salinas Fruit and Vegetable Workers Union Local 18211. ^ The difficulty was
soon resolved in a conference between the operator, his attorney, a conciliator of the U. S.
Department of Labor, and a member of the Northwest Regional Labor Board.
3Sidney Sufrin: Labor Organization in Agricultural America in American Journal of So­
ciology, January 1938).
4St. Helen’s Mist, June 6, 13, and 20, 1930.




CH. XIII.---UNIONISM IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

205

strikers, however, as their period of employment in the crop was too
brief. The strikes were characteristically sudden and brief.
One of the chief causes of labor unrest in the hop yards during 1933
was the low wage rate of $1 per hundredweight. It had been adopted
as a standard agreement among growers at a preharvest meeting held
at Salem. Subsequently they failed to adhere to the standard rate, and
some growers offered a bonus as high as 20 cents per hundredweight
in order to have their hops picked more rapidly. This aggravated the
dissatisfaction with the standard rate.3 Labor unrest finally flared into
overt action, according to the Sheriff of Polk County, when the growers
demanded exceedingly “ clean” picking.3 They were able to impose
such requirements in 1933 because widespread unemployment and a
surplus labor supply had increased their bargaining power.
A series of small disturbances broke out first in Marion County
during early September 1933. Four alleged agitators were arrested
and released on bail. On September 13, 1,000 to 1,200 pickers made a
spontaneous walk-out at the McLaughlin yard near Independence (Polk
County). This was one of the largest hop farms in the area, comprising
several hundred acres. The m ajor demand of the strikers was a 100percent increase in wage rates, to 2 cents per pound in place of the pre­
vailing 1 cent.6 Additional demands were formulated later at a mass
meeting, including improved sanitary conditions, reemployment of
strikers without discrimination, and recognition of a newly elected strike
committee.7 The strike was reported as carried out in an “ orderly
fashion.” During the first day there was no picketing, and no arrests
were made.8
,
Hop-yard operators blamed the strike on “ Communist agitators”
who had been active in Marion County the week b efore; they announced
that they “ would not yield in any degree to the demands of the strikers.” 8
This attitude changed abruptly, however, and the strikers’ position was
strengthened, when rains kept pickers from the yards and allowed addi­
tional time for organization. Within 2 days the owner of the M cLaugh­
lin yard announced a compromise wage increase to $1.50 per hundred­
weight, which was accepted unanimously by the pickers.9
Strikes in other large hop yards of Marion and Polk Counties fol­
lowed this victory. Growers at first agreed among themselves to oust
all strikers who refused to pick at the $1 per hundredweight scale.
W hen this plan failed, they held another meeting to try to reach a
standard agreement on $1.20 per hundredweight.9 This effort likewise
failed. Several large growers were faced with walk-outs of hundreds
of their pickers, while operations had to be suspended because of recur­
rent rains. They soon followed the McLaughlin yard’s lead in reaching
a settlement at the $1.50 rate. B y September 17 the strikes, many of
them lasting only a few hours, had been settled. A general raise in
wages approaching the $1.50 scale was granted throughout the hop­
growing area in order to forestall further labor trouble.10
Efforts to suppress the strikes by legal action failed in most cases.
The Oregon Statesman in its issue of September 16, 1933, reported
the following instance:
5Oregon Statesman (Salem), September 15, 1933.
«St. Helen’s Mist, September 14, 1933.
^Oregon Statesman (Salem), September 15, 1933.
8Idem, September 14, 1933.
9Idem, September 15, 1933.
10Idem, September 16 and 17, 1933.




206

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

In the Tankella yard near Independence, controlled by T. A. Livesay & Co., more
than 300 pickers walked out on September 15 in demanding $1.50 for the remainder
of the season. Allen Tankella, manager o f the yard and a deputy sheriff in Polk
County, immediately took A. G. Sewell, who had suggested the $1.50 price, into
custody in Independence on the grounds that he had “ talked too much.” Officials at
Independence, however, refused to hold him, claiming there was no charge against him.
Tankella drove back to the yard and after a conference, told the strikers they
could go back to work at $1.50 per hundredweight. Strikers refused until Sewell
was reinstated. Tankella gave in and permitted Sewell to work.

Labor conflict again developed in hop-growing sections of Polk
and Marion Counties during the 1934 season. Growers by mutual agree­
ment had established a standard wage rate of $1.20 per hundredweight
before harvesting began, but many were reported to have granted
bonuses in order to avert strikes.1 In anticipation of conflict the county
1
sheriff obtained a supply of tear gas and “ John Doe warrants.” 1 A
12
strike began on a small ranch near Independence on September 5, when
15 out of a crew of 50 pickers ceased work in order to enforce a demand
for the previous year’s rate of $1.50.12 The following day more than
2,000 workers walked out of the largest ranch in Polk County, belong­
ing to the Horst interests of California. Several hundred more pickers
struck in other large yards of the area.13
Growers again placed responsibility for the strikes on “ an influx
of outside agitators following the Pacific coast fruit and agricultural
harvests.” N o violence occurred, and no arrests were made. The general
strike lasted for only a day, ending when the larger growers agreed
to meet the strikers’ demands for $1.50 per hundredweight.1
3
The final strike of the season took place 4 days later and involved
500 out of 750 pickers on one large ranch. The employer had continued
to pay the $1.20 scale after neighboring yards had raised their rates
to $1.50. The strikers returned to work next day without winning
their demands.14
N o further strikes were reported in Oregon hop fields until 1936,
when another series of small ones occurred. Prices paid for picking
by this time had risen generally to a scale of $1.50 per hundredweight.
A few yards paid $1.75 and some even $2. However, a relative scarcity
of hops in the fields, together with growers’ demands for unusually
“ clean” picking, tended to lower the seasonal earnings of workers and
provoked widespread unrest.15
The first small strike occurred on August 31. It ended quickly
when the sheriff’s deputies removed “ agitators” from among the pickers.
Ten days later a group of 100 out of 1,000 pickers employed on a large
hop yard owned by a London company walked out in a demand for
$2 per hundredweight. Eight hundred more pickers in the yard soon
followed.16 The strike was settled within 24 hours when the manage­
ment raised the rates to $1.75. Fifty strikers who refused the com ­
promise scale were ordered off the ranch.16 A similar strike of a few
hundred pickers broke out at the McLaughlin ranch, the scene of one
of the 1933 incidents. It ended within a few hours when the pickers
returned to work without winning their demands for a wage increase.17
11Oregon Statesman (Salem), September 6 and 7, 1934.
12Idem, September 6, 1934 (p. 1).
13Idem, September 7, 1934 (p. 1).
14Idem, September 11, 1934 (p. 5).
15Idem, September 9, 1936.
16Idem, September 10, 1936 (p. 1).
17Idem, September 11, 1936 (p. 1).




CH. XIII.--- UNIONISM IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

207

Strikes in the hop-growing areas of the Willamette Valley were illus­
trative of labor relations in a crop in which neither workers nor employers
were strongly organized. Unlike growers in the San Joaquin Valley of
California, for instance, each operator was relatively free to determine
the wages he paid. W age levels varied widely among ranches, depending
upon the estimated bargaining power which their crews could exert. The
issue in each strike was decided in a very short time, as the crop was
highly perishable. The pickers obviously could not be organized for longsustained collective bargaining, as they were for the most part highly
transient and poorly paid workers employed in each area for a few weeks
at the most.
The only concerted attempt to establish a stable labor organization in
Oregon agriculture occurred in the spring and summer of 1937. The
business agent of the Cannery W orkers and Farm Laborers Union of
Seattle,18 with the help of the local Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s
Union, established a sublocal in Portland. A t its first meeting some 150
orchard and fruit-packing employees drew up a schedule of wage demands
ranging from 37
cents per hour for common labor to 60 cents per hour
for skilled work in agriculture and allied industries.19 Subsequent attempts
to control the hiring of labor for harvests in nearby areas brought strong
resistance from grower-employers. M ore than 400 organized farmers of
H ood River County voted unanimously to “ refuse to consider any union
demand for closed-shop conditions.” 20
A t a convention in Salem early in 1938 the Associated Farmers of
• Oregon was formed to establish a “ Pacific coast hook-up” with its counter­
parts in Washington and California. In Oregon the main concern of this
body was not with fighting the brief and weak organizations among
agricultural laborers, but rather with combating the control exerted by
urban unions over the transporting and marketing of farm products. The
organized teamsters and longshoremen were the growers’ special aversion.
A spokesman of the Associated Farmers of Oregon at a meeting in April
1938 declared: “ The time has come when farmers must organize to pre­
vent violence and racketeering at the expense of the farmer, the laborers,
and the public, and to put a stop to illegal interference with harvesting
and marketing of farm products.” 21 Several restrictions proposed at the
meeting were later incorporated as law in an initiative measure introduced
during a general election— prohibition of picketing, boycotting, or inter­
ference by labor organizations with employers who were not actually en­
gaged in labor disputes.22

Pea Pickers’ Strike in Idaho
Farm-labor conflict in Idaho was concentrated in the pea-growing
areas of the Snake River Valley. Labor relations in this crop were par­
ticularly unstable, for a number of reasons. Peas were grown by large
18See p. 218.
19Oregonian (Portland), April 6, 1937.
20Spokesmen of the farm organizations declared that farmers would not “ tolerate labor in­
terference with businessmen, truck operators, or themselves in handling the crops.” (Christian
Science Monitor, Aug. 31, 1937.)
21Oregonian (Portland), April 7, 1938.
22Earlier the State Grange had taken the initiative in creating a new farm-labor relations
committee consisting of three members appointed by the Grange and three by the Oregon State
Federation of Labor. It was announced that “ the primary purpose of the committee is to pre­
vent misunderstanding between farmers and industrial workers by keeping both groups in­
formed. In case of disagreement, the committee will attempt to find grounds for settlement
which will be acceptable to both groups.” (Oregonian, Portland, July 15, 1937.)




208

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

speculative companies, many of which leased the land from private owners.
The crop was extremely perishable; thus the growers ran the double risk
of its ruin because of adverse weather conditions or its loss in case of
strikes called at the height of the season. Another reason lay in the highly
seasonal demand for labor. Since the harvesting period was brief, lasting
only a few weeks each season, and the resident population in the growing
areas was sparse, many pickers had to be recruited from other, often
distant, regions. Large numbers migrated each year from California, A ri­
zona, Oregon, and Washington, as well as from States to the east.
Pea pickers employed in somewhat isolated growing areas became
more “ professionalized” than most seasonal farm laborers. Many of them
worked exclusively in this crop, following successive harvests from State
to State as well as working in some areas which had several harvests
each year. This continuous seasonal work in the same crop created in
the migrants a feeling of group solidarity; and this, together with the
knowledge that the growers were unusually dependent on them, gave the
pickers strong incentives to organize and act collectively for wage in­
creases in such areas as the Snake River Valley.
Labor exploitation in many cases furnished additional stimulus to
strike. The growers’ dependence upon labor from other areas forced them
to deal with professional labor-recruiting agents or contractors. These
agents customarily agreed to harvest a crop for a fixed sum, from which
they paid the wages of the pickers. They usually tried to reduce their
wage costs to the minimum in order to increase their net profit, and this
frequently led to labor unrest and strikes.
The first serious outbreak among pea pickers in Idaho arose during
the summer of 1935. In June an acute labor shortage had been reported
in the Parma area, with many acres of peas going to waste for want of
pickers. The Idaho Emergency Relief Administration attempted to ease
the situation by temporarily closing local work-relief projects, but this
failed to provide sufficient labor. Instead, it created unrest among the
relief workers because, as the Adminstrator pointed out, many who had
been on relief for the past year or more had exhausted their resources
and did not have the money to follow the pea harvest.23
Trouble developed on several ranches which refused to hire relief
workers, in violation of previous agreements with the IE R A . There was
further conflict when a number of white migrant and resident workers
invaded several camps to “ persuade” imported Filipino workers to leave
the area.24 Other scattered outbreaks culminated in a strike of pea pickers
working in the summer crop of 1935. Early in August a group organized
and demanded an increase in rates from the current 70 cents per hundred­
weight to $1 per hundredweight. W hen the growers refused these de­
mands, approximately 1,500 pickers struck.
S.
H . Atchley, attorney for Teton County, sent a hurried letter to
Governor C. B. Ross of Idaho, stating that growers faced certain ruin if
the crops were not harvested, and that “ local authorities were powerless
to make the workers work.” Atchley asserted also that 90 percent of the
pickers were willing to work, but were being stopped by 10 percent who
were “ agitators.”
In response to this message, Governor Ross declared a state of mar­
tial law and sent a detachment of the National Guard to the strike area.
23Boise Statesman, June 23, 1935.
24Idem, June 18, 1935.




CH. XIII.---UNIONISM IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

209

Picking was resumed upon arrival of the Guardsmen. Governor Ross
stated in a press interview: “ Deportation of about one hundred strike
agitators has resulted in a return of the workers to their jobs, and law
and order prevail again.” 25
A second series of disputes followed during the summer of 1937. A
small strike had occurred near Huston and Caldwell during May. The
State W orkers Alliance called a walk-out of onion weeders in protest
against a wage cut from 25 to 20 cents per hour, and demanded that dis­
crimination against employment of Alliance members cease. The strike
ended in a compromise agreement.26
A dispute began in the Cascade area during July among approximately
3,000 pea pickers, many of whom were from California and other States.
Protest meetings and scattered strikes were blamed by local authorities
on a “ group of agitators” demanding wage increases above the prevailing
27 cents per hamper. Newspapers reported that the sheriff requested
State aid to help control the situation.27 N o general strike developed,
however.
Agricultural-labor troubles in Idaho during 1938 began in the beet
fields of Bingham County with a threatened strike which did not materi­
alize. A strike vote for a price of $26 per acre for cultivating and harvest­
ing beets had been taken in the unionized areas of Colorado and Nebraska,
after the Department of Agriculture had set a minimum rate of $22.80.
W orkers in the Snake River Valley, though not highly organized, all par­
ticipated in the vote.28 Later the Denver district headquarters of the
United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied W orkers of America
officially called off the threatened strike.
Strife in the pea fields broke out again during June 1938, when some
350 pickers struck in the San Diego Co. fields near Melba (Canyon
County). This group had taken part before in a successful strike under
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . leadership in Sacramento County, Calif. The walk-out
in Idaho developed when the pickers charged the labor contractors with
paying them less than they had been promised. The attempt failed within
a week, after the county sheriff arrested strike leaders and members of
the negotiating committee. Several hundred strikebreakers were success­
fully recruited to replace the strikers.29 The sheriff said:
The growers o f this county have put forth lots o f effort in growing these peas,
and they are going to have the full protection o f the law in getting them harvested
and marketed. (Boise Statesman, June 13, 1938.)

Strike leaders claimed that a field boss for the San Diego Co. ap­
pealed over the radio for 500 school children to pick peas.
Spontaneous collective action of another type took place near Driggs,
Idaho, in September. Approximately 300 Mexican pea pickers quit their
jobs and demanded to be paid off, in protest against what they claimed
were top wages of $1 per day for “ third pickings.” In doing so, they
forfeited a bonus of 25 cents per hundredweight which, if they remained
throughout the season, was paid in addition to the prevailing rate of 75
cents.30
25Salt Lake Tribune, August 18, 1935 (p. 1).
. 26Idem, May 10, 1937. Growers offered a straight 20 cents per hour and, if they were able
to sell the onions for 75 cents per hundredweight bulk, 25 cents per hour. If the prices went up
to $1 per hundredweight, they were willing to pay 30 to 35 cents per hour, and offered to sign
a contract to that effect.
27Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1937.
28Idem, April 14, 1938.
"Com m onwealth News, Seattle, June 11, 1938.
" P o s t Register (Idaho Falls), September 12, 1938.




LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

210

The largest strike in the pea crop during 1939 took place in W ashing­
ton. Approximately 1,000 pea pickers in the vicinity of Sequim struck
spontaneously for a rate of 30 cents per hamper in place of the prevailing
20 cents. They returned to work within a few hours at a compromise
rate of 25 cents.31

Farm-Labor Conflict in the Yakima Valley of Washington
Washington’s most critical agricultural-labor problems were concen­
trated in the Yakima Valley in the central section of the State. Here one
of the most intensive farming counties in the United States was devoted
primarily to the cultivation of hop and apple crops, both with large labor
requirements. This specialization led to extreme seasonality in labor
demands. In winter months only 500 to 1,000 agricultural workers were
needed in the Yakima Valley, yet 25,000 to 35,000 were required during
the hop harvest in September and 5,000 to 6,000 during the apple harvest
in October.32 W age rates fell and conditions of employment became worse
during the thirties. Housing and other facilities were notably inadequate
and unsanitary. Various surveys estimated that annual incomes of sear
sonal farm-labor families averaged from $254 to $466. The majority rer
quired relief subsidies to raise their wages to a minimum subsistence
level.33
Few large strikes occurred, and stable labor organizations did not
take root in the Yakima Valley. Unstable conditions of employment mili­
tated against the organization of farm workers for collective bargaining.
Increasing numbers of urban unemployed and displaced farm families
created a chronic labor surplus in agriculture. T o many of these, perhaps
to the majority, hop and apple picking offered a few weeks of employment
with free shelter and some earnings when no other work was available.
Migratory and casual laborers in these crops were an exceedingly hetero­
geneous group made up of Negroes, Filipinos, Indians, and whites. The
whites, by far the numerical majority, included such diverse elements as
“ professional” migratory families, single migrants, or “ bindle tramps,”
college and high-school students on holidays, urban unemployed, and
‘Dust B ow l” refugees from the Middle W est.34
Some new elements contributed a greater militancy in the Yakima
/a lley during the 1930’s. A survey in 1937 revealed that almost threefourths of all heads of hop-picking families ordinarily had found most of
their employment in nonagricultural industries. Nearly a sixth of the hop
pickers had been union members in their former occupations, having be­
longed to unions of longshoremen, waiters, miners, and forestry and wood
workers, as well as other groups affiliated to the A .F . of L. and the
C .I .O .3
5
31 Seattle Star, August 5, 1939.
32Paul H, Landis: Seasonal Agricultural Labor in the Yakima Valley (in Monthly Labor
Review, August 1937).
33Carl F. Reuss: Professional Migratory Farm Labor Households, Bulletin of the Farm
Security Administration (Portland, Oreg.), June 1940 (p. 2); Carl F. Reuss, Paul H. Landis, and
Richard Wakefield: Migratory Farm Labor and the Hop Industry of the Pacific Coast. Bulletin
No. 363, Agricultural Experiment Station, State College of Washington (Pullman, W ash.), August
1938 (p. 49); Landis, op. cit. (p. 2).
34Reuss, Landis, and Wakefield, op. cit. (pp. 38-45, 62).
35Idem (pp. 43, 48).




CH. XIII.---UNIONISM IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

211

Race Conflict
Labor trouble often took the form of race conflict in the Yakima and
Wenatchee Valleys because of unemployment among workers of different
racial backgrounds. Indeed, the first serious anti-Filipino outbreak on
the Pacific Coast occurred in the Wenatchee Valley of Washington in
1928. The usual explanation for the incident stressed the Filipinos’ re­
lations with white women. The underlying cause, however, was the
increased competition for jobs when Filipinos were brought in by truck
from Seattle to work in the apple harvest.36 For substantially the same
reasons, a mob of whites in at least one instance in the early 1930’s
forcibly drove Filipinos out of the Yakima Valley town of Toppenish.
In later years Filipino strikers were run out of the county on several
occasions. The most recent cases of widespread anti-Filipino activities
were reported in 1937 by Filipino farm tenants in central Washington,
who claimed that they were being evicted in large numbers and threatened
with mob action.37 The Cosmopolitan W eekly of Seattle on May 22, 1937,
quoted from a Yakima newspaper as follow s:
Hard-fisted, weather-beaten white ranchers from the lower Yakima Valley swore
solemnly before Senator Lewis B. Schwellenbach that there soon will be bloody race
riots that forever will be a blot on this State if the Federal Government does not
move against Filipinos and Japanese, who unlawfully are crowding out the whites.

Race conflict later involved other groups, particularly Negroes and
Mexicans, as Filipinos in the Yakima Valley decreased in number.38
Since racial minorities usually were imported by large growers and
processors in search of cheap labor, resentment motivated by class con­
sciousness might be expected from disadvantaged residents white workers.
However, in a rural community where the temper of the population was
predominantly conservative and the rights of the property holder were
held sacred, resentment was directed against the alien as such. In some
respects it was merely a special manifestation of the local residents’ fear
and suspicion of the outsider. Race conflict in the Yakima Valley sprang
from much the same motivation as did the periodic raids carried out
against hobos and transients.
The structure of farm operations militated strongly against the de­
velopment of labor unionism among agricultural workers in the valley.
Its agriculture, unlike that of other intensive growing areas, was not
characterized by large-scale farming. Laborers, less concentrated than
they would have been if employed on industrialized farms, were much
harder to reach and organize. Employers in the valley were predominant­
ly working farmers whose position was becoming increasingly precarious
as the profitability of cash-crop farming in this area declined. Opposition
to labor unionism was unanimous and. strong, particularly as there were
no extreme inequalities in wealth or size of operations to divide the ranks
of farm employers. One observer described this rural community thus:
The whole culture o f the valley is traditionally
the area. A large number o f the farmers have
cleared the sagebrush o f the land they now farm.
who have done this. Because o f this background

based on the agricultural life o f
dug the irrigation ditches and
Others are the sons o f farmers
some o f the pioneer spirit still

36Interview with Trinidad Rojo. President of Cannery Workers and Farm Labors Union,
Seattle, 1940. (See Appendix J. p. 435).
37Philippine-American Tribune (Seattle), Vol. VI, No. 2, January 27, 1937 (p. 1).
38See Appendix J (p. 435).




212

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

prevails among the farmers. They believe in private initiative and the principle o f
individual contract. The local townsmen are also on the whole opposed to labor
organizations. The police and the city and county officials are definitely on the side
of the businessmen, and even the conservative A.F. of L. has not been able to gain
a strong hold on local industry. The unions have practically no political power, and
their social status is not high in the community. (R. R. Wakefield: A Study o f
Seasonal Farm Labor in Yakima County, Washington, M .A. Thesis, 1937, State
College (Pullman, W ash.), (p. 32.)

Unrest for the most part was passive, taking the form of a high rate
of labor turn-over (less than 45 percent of the pickers interviewed in a
survey of the 1937 harvest had worked in the valley before). Collective
action was expressed at the most in small spontaneous strikes and race
riots and, in a few cases, in the formation of short-lived local labor unions.

The I.W.W. in Yakima
The Industrial W orkers of the W orld extended its activities to the
Yakima Valley and other sections of Washington during W orld W orld I,
but at least one strike of farm laborers in that State even in prewar years
was reported as led by “ wobblies.” 40 Large numbers of casual mi­
gratory workers who were employed at different seasons of the year in
lumbering, mining, and agriculture throughout the Middle W est and
Northwest regularly wintered in Seattle. That city became a center for
labor agitation which culminated in the general strike of 1919. The
State of Washington became noted for the virulence of its labor troubles
(blamed largely on the “ wobblies” ) and the extreme violence with which
they were resisted in many centers.
The I.W .W . Agricultural W orkers Industrial Union No. 110, former­
ly known as “ The 400,” became particularly active in the Yakima Valley
and other intensive growing areas of the State in 1917. Rumors and re­
ports of strikes and sabotage in agriculture became frequent. Newspapers
throughout the country reported, for instance, that fruit trees in several
orchard districts were killed by the simple expedient of driving copper
nails into them.41 Such alleged activities gave rise to stern legal measures,
and a special council of defense was formed. On July 12 Federal troops
arrested some 16 I.W .W . organizers in Ellensburg, Wash., on the charge
of “ interfering with crop harvesting and logging in violation of Federal
statutes.” 42 A general strike was reported to have been called by Local
No. 110 for all agricultural, construction, and lumber workers in W ash­
ington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, as a protest against what were con­
sidered illegal arrests, but this evidently failed to materialize.43
In the Yakima Valley a vigilante organization, or “ pick-handle bri­
gade,” composed of farmers and businessmen was reported to have
rounded up 40 to 50 alleged I.W .W . members and to have jailed them on
charges of “ agitation.” It was said that the prisoners received nothing to
eat while they were in jail, and that this led to a small riot which was
quieted only when the fire department was called, to use fire hose. The
prisoners were next herded into a boxcar to be taken out of the county,
but the train crew refused to carry them. They were then returned to jail,
40Brissenden, op. cit. (p. 366).
41Morning Republican (Mitchell, S. Dak.), July 13, 1917.
42Idem, July 12, 1917.
43Idem, August 18, 1917; August 21, 1917.




CH. XIII.---UNIONISM IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

213

but were later released and warned to leave the area. Several charges of
beatings were voiced against the vigilantes.44
The I.W .W . in the Northwest was disrupted by the mass arrests of
its leaders and violent suppression of rank and file activities. Volunteer
walking delegates, nevertheless, remained active in numerous spontaneous
or “ job action” strikes among field and packing-shed workers in the Pa­
cific Coast States throughout the twenties and early thirties.
I.W .W . agitation was partly responsible for the spectacular “ Yakima
incident” of 1933. Large numbers of unemployed transient laborers from
other areas had congregated in Yakima for some time before apple and
hop harvesting was to begin in the fall. A cut in local relief rolls aroused
their resentment, and this was fanned by radical organizers. Public meet­
ings were held in Yakima City Park, there were scattered disturbances
and outbreaks of violence, and “ strike talk” was in the air. The growers,
alarmed at the situation, organized themselves into vigilante bands armed
with pick handles.
The situation came to a head on August 24, when some 250 armed
farmers clashed with a group of about 100 strikers picketing a large or­
chard near Yakima. The pickets were rounded up and jailed for several
months in an improvised “ bull pen” in the city. Most of them were in
time released, 12 finally being convicted of vagrancy in December. Mean­
while all public meetings of workers were banned, transient camps and
hobo jungles were broken up, and all surplus transient workers were
kept out of the valley.45
The severity with which labor agitation was thus suppressed impeded
unionism in the valley for some time thereafter. Remnants of the I.W .W .
continued to make gestures toward unionizing agricultural labor but they
failed to develop any effective organization. A s late as the fall of 1935
a meeting of farmers, threshers, and combine men was reported held in
W averley, Wash., under the auspices of Agricultural W orkers Industrial
Union N o. 110. The group attempted to enforce a scale of wages ranging
from $1.50 per day for “ hay hands, straw bucks, and roustabouts” to $4.50
per day for steam engineers, separator tenders, and “ herd punchers.” 46

Federal Labor Unions of the A.F. of L.
Several federal labor unions were chartered by the American
Federation of Labor in the Yakima Valley and other scattered agricultural
areas of central Washington during 1934 and early 1935. Locals were
established in such towns as Toppenish, Sunnyside, Grandview, Prosser,
Dayton, and Kennewick. A district council of federal labor unions was
created to coordinate the policies of these locals throughout the fruit belt,
but the movement was not sustained. It never got beyond the stage of an
educational campaign, and no direct action was taken. M ost of the local
unions lasted only a short time. The only ones which survived more
than one season were Local No. 19399 of farm laborers in Grandview,
and Local No. 19066, the United Evergreen Pickers of Centralia, com­
posed of migratory workers who cut evergreens for decorations during
the Christmas season.
44Field notes from interviews.
45For fuller discussion of this incident see Appendix K : The Yakima Incident of 1933 (p. 437).
See also issues of the Yakima Morning Herald for July 17, August 29 and 30, September 1
and 7, 1933.
46Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 3, October 1935 (p. 4).




214

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Several unsuccessful attempts were made to unionize packing-shed
workers of “ produce row ” in the city of Yakima. Finally in the summer
of 193S a federal labor union, the Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union
Local No. 20315, was organized and chartered, with headquarters in the
Yakima Labor Temple. It was the best-organized and most-stable local
union of this period. O f the 150 members in good standing (a large pro­
portion of whom were wom en), many continued to pay dues during the
off-season winter months in order to build a fund to finance an organizing
drive during the forthcoming packing season of 1936. Unlike its un­
successful predecessors, Local No. 20315 planned to include other workers
besides skilled packers, such as pickers and employees of packing sheds,
storage houses, processing plants, and canneries.
The organization was disrupted in the summer of 1936 by a jurisdic­
tional dispute with the Brotherhood of Teamsters, which claimed control
over truckers in packing sheds and warehouses. Local No. 20315 argued
that it could organize effectively only as a vertical industrial union which
would include all workers within each plant— truckers who operated
primarily within the packing houses, as well as packers, loaders, graders,
peelers, and other groups.
The two groups reached a settlement only after much strife and corre­
spondence with the central executive council of the A .F . of L. in W ash­
ington, D.C. A t a joint meeting jn the Yakima Labor Temple the
F .V .W .U . was persuaded to surrender its charter to the Brotherhood of
Teamsters. In return, the latter promised to use its ample resources and
strategic position to “ organize everything on wheels,” i.e., all labor in
storage plants and warehouses, packing sheds and canneries.
The campaign was abandoned after a 3-month organization drive. The
packing-shed workers’ union lost a good part of its membership. Sup­
porters of the Teamsters Union explained its failure by the strong and
persistent opposition of growers and company executives. The workers,
furthermore, had displayed increasing apathy and lack of interest. Com­
petition from “ Dust Bowl” refugees from the Middle W est, who were be­
ginning to arrive in large numbers, further disorganized the local union
bodies.
Critics of the Brotherhood on the other hand explained its failure in
the Yakima Valley by excessive timidity. One writer claimed that the
Teamsters Union and the Yakima Central Labor Union on several occa­
sions went out of their way to oust radical organizers, who were the most
persistent in efforts at unionizing. The Brotherhood hesitated to include
agricultural workers in its organization because of their alleged com ­
munistic tendencies. In a community in which even the conservative urban
unions faced, at best, an unsympathetic public opinion, inclusion of
radical elements, it was feared, would make the organized labor move­
ment even less acceptable.47

,

Activities of United Cannery Agricultural and Packing Workers
of America
The original organizers of the Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union,
some of whom were radicals expelled by the Teamsters Union, then
47Reuss, Landis, and Wakefield: Migratory Farm Labor and the Hop Industry of the Pacific
Coast (pp. 35, 36).




CH. XIII.---UNIONISM IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

215

established a new independent local. Under the name of the American
Industrial Union it obtained a charter from the State of Washington dur­
ing the summer of 1936. This organization was composed of about 600
workers, evenly divided between urban and rural employments, and in­
cluding unemployed as well. It purposely broadened its appeals so as to
attract a wide class of casual laborers in the community.48 Left-wing or­
ganizers aimed to have a union in existence which could be chartered by
the C.I.O. when the fruit season opened. The American Industrial Union
consequently was fought bitterly by the Teamsters and the Central Labor
Union, as well as by local employer groups.
The American Industrial Union was dissolved early in 1937, and its
membership was absorbed into newly organized locals of the International
Mine, Mill, and Smelter W orkers Union and the W orkers Alliance of
America. The business agent of the Aqueduct and Tunnel W orkers Union
of the I.M .M . & S.W .U . was put in charge of all local C .I.O . organiza­
tions in the district, with power to grant charters. H e planned to build
up an industrial union to include farm laborers, warehouse and cannery
workers.49
District 1 of the newly organized United Cannery, Agricultural, Pack­
ing and Allied W orkers of America (C .I.O .) assumed jurisdiction over
agricultural and allied labor in the Northwest after July 1937. Later in
the year it made an arrangement with the W orkers Alliance, whereby the
latter was to maintain local unions of unemployed which could absorb
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . members during off-season months and release them
when they were reemployed during the harvest season.50
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . expended a good deal of money and effort in a
campaign to organize field and packing-shed workers in the Yakima
Valley, but the results were not commensurate with the costs. A com­
mittee of 13 organizers campaigned throughout the area, addressing meet­
ings of the W orkers Alliance in valley towns and soliciting workers in
homes and tourist camps.51 Nevertheless, by late September 1937, the presi­
dent of District 1 reported that the Yakima Valley was represented only
by Local N o. 1 at Yakima, and sublocals Nos. 1-1 and 1-2 of Naches and
Selah, respectively, having a total membership of 160. The charter of
Local No. 70 of W alla W alla was canceled.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A .’s efforts were neutralized in part by opposition
from the A .F . of L. The Brotherhood of Teamsters adopted a policy of
conciliation toward farm groups in order to win their favor. T o forestall
the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in Yakima it organized and chartered in August
1937 a new local, the Cannery and Warehouse Employees Union Local
N o. 83.52
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . faced even stronger opposition from a newly
formed anti-union organization of farmer-employers. F or the purpose of
48At a mass meeting held under the auspices of the American Industrial Union on July 14,
1936, for instance, a resolution was adopted demanding a minimum wage of 50 cents per hour
for all labor in the Yakima Valley, and a uniform minimum wage of $65 per month for W PA
labor throughout the State of Washington. (Yakima Valley Farmer, July 16, 1936, p. 1.)
49Jtteuss, Landis, and Wakefield: Migratory Farm Labor and the Hop Industry of the Pacific
Coast (p. 36).
50Wake field, op. cit.; also Yakima Morning Herald, September 10, 1937 (p. 10).
81 Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 8, August 1937 (p. 3); Yakima Morning Herald, August 24, 1937.
82Yakima Morning Herald, August 19, 1937 (p. 1).
About the same time, at the Walla Walla convention of the State Grange (which was esti­
mated to have 3,000 members in the Yakima Valley), the executive committee was instructed
to bargain with “ legitimate” labor organizations, with a view to protecting the interests of
farmers. Dave Beck, district president of the Brotherhood of Teamsters, explained tc the
executive committee that it had become necessary for his union to organize the warehouse and
cannery workers in self-defense, or see them organized by a competing union. He promised
that farmers’ crops would “ not be tied up five minutes” by his organization. (Yakima Valley
Farmer, August 19, 1937, p. 4.)
654107°—46—5




216

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

resisting local unionization of field and processing workers, the Farmers
Protective Association was formed in August 1936, at a meeting held ir.
the Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Yakima. In November 1937.
it was reorganized as the Associated Farmers of Washington and affili­
ated in the “ coast-wise hook-up” already mentioned.53 Its effective anti­
union tactics disrupted the organizing campaign of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
The association was aided by the huge influx of out-of-State migrants,
which was increasingly demoralizing to organized labor. The U .C .A .P .­
A .W .A . won minor victories against the Ross Packing Co. and W ash­
ington Dehydrated Food Co. when the National Labor Relations Board
forced' these to cea.se and desist from their anti-union practices and to
rehire discharged union members. Its locals, nevertheless; failed to sur­
vive. The only important field workers’ strike in which the union be­
came involved in this district was the spontaneous walk-out, mentioned
before, of 350 migrant pea pickers in the vicinity of Nampa, Idaho.

Recession and Decline
Late in the summer of 1938 a new and short-lived organization de­
veloped, with the name Washington Agricultural W orkers Association.
By August 20 its organizer, Frederick Brown, claimed that 500 members
had been enrolled in the Yakima Valley. This body adopted a conciliatory
attitude to farmer-employers. Its main appeal was based upon sectional
hostility to the rapidly increasing numbers of drought refugees from the
Middle W est and Southwest, in search of work. Brown described his
union as follow s:
Our organization is not fighting for wages, because we realize that under present
conditions the farmers cannot pay high wages. Our object is mainly to get the
farmers to employ Washington workers and not transient workers from out o f State.
The farmers can get Washington workers if they call at the employment bureau in
Yakima. (Spokesman Review (Spokane), August 20, 1938, p. 2.)

Growing unemployment combined with an unprecedented influx of
out-of-State transients disrupted almost all labor organizations except
those of unemployed during the recession year of 1938. Local newspapers
reported that, for the first time in several years, hop growers in the
Yakima Valley had a surplus of pickers on hand before the harvest be­
gan.54 B y the first week in September the State Employment Office in
Yakima estimated that 33,000 hop pickers were in valley yards.55 The
chronic labor surplus forced the union organizers to direct their efforts
primarily toward obtaining adequate relief for underemployed seasonal
workers.
The only organization that gained in membership among field and
processing workers in the Yakima Valley during 1938 was the W orkers
Alliance. By the end of the year this union of relief clients and unem­
ployed claimed some 700 members in Yakima, 250 in Selah, 170 in Naches,
and about 60 each in the towns of Toppenish, Wapato, and Harrah.
Group interest conflicted over relief policy in the Yakima Valley.
During the middle thirties the County Commissioners of Yakima, who
53Official Report of Proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, Case No. X IX C-298. Washington, February 28, 1938 (p. 343); see also Appendix L (p. 439).
54Spokesman Review (Spokane), August 31, 1938 (p. 10).
55Idem, September 4, 1938 (p. 12).




CH. XIII.---UNIONISM IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

217

had administrative control over local work-relief projects, were for the
most part substantial growers and employers. They made a practice of
closing relief projects before the harvest season each year in order to re­
lease workers for farm jobs.56 L. O. Bird, president of the Associated
Farmers of Washington, publicly claimed the complete support of the
county commissioners, who pledged that relief workers would be sepa­
rated from W P A to work on farms “ when conditions necessitated it.,,S7
Critics charged the commissioners with following a policy of self-interest
or class interest, to the detriment of farm workers’ and relief clients’ in­
terests. Clyde Galloway, C.I.O. organizer, protested against this policy
on the ground that it led to “ flooding the vallley with cheap labor.” 58
Opposition to current relief policy became stronger in 1938, when the
labor surplus was critical. A committee of the W orkers Alliance pro­
tested to Frank Boisselle, county commissioner and large-scale hop
grower, against the seasonal closing of W P A projects.59 After numerous
conferences with W P A officials in Yakima, an agreement was reached
that workers would be reemployed on the projects whenever investigations
in local hop yards revealed average wages of less than $1 per day.60

The Hay Balers Union
The only labor union in agriculture and allied industries in the Yaki­
ma Valley which survived after 1938 was the Hay Balers Union. This
organization had been chartered in August 1934 as Federal Labor Union
Local No. 19799, but became an independent body, severing its affiliation
with the A .F . of L., late in 1937. Though its headquarters was in the
Yakima Valley town of Toppenish, its jurisdiction extended to several
eastern Washington counties to which its members migrated seasonally
to work. The union included some 350 workers, with closed-shop agree­
ments covering 65 to 75 percent of the acreage of commercially baled hay
in eastern Washington.
The stability of the union rested on high pay and continuous employ­
ment for its members. The hay balers were a skilled migratory labor
group working in crews with machinery. Contractors owned baling
equipment, made contracts with farm owners, and hired the workers in
crews which traveled from farm to farm baling crops at a set price per
ton. The men were employed continuously for almost half the year, as
several hay and alfalfa crops were grown in rotation. Hay baling could
be staggered. Often the farm owner harvested his hay and alfalfa and
kept it in stack, and not until he made a sale at a price suitable to himself
would he have the crop baled and made ready for shipment.
The Hay Balers Union carried out two strikes, each of about a week’s
duration, during 1938 and 1939. They were provoked by competition
from nonunion crews employed by hay and grain dealers from Seattle.
Farmers who had their hay baled by union crews had to raise their price
to the dealers in order to cover the increased labor costs. Several buyers
hired their own crews who were nonunion and worked for less than the
union scale. The local office of the State Labor Commissioner helped to
settle both strikes through compromise agreement,
56Spokesman Review (Spokane), September 17, 1937 (p. 1).
57Report, NLRB Case XIX-C-298, Washington, February 28, 1938 (p. 468).
58Spokesman Review (Spokane), September 16, 1937 (p. 1).
59Idem, September 21, 1938 (p. 2).
60Idem, September 11, 1938 (p. 17).




218

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE
Cannery and Agricultural Unions on the Coast

The strongest unions of agricultural and allied workers in the North­
west were organized in the fruit, vegetable, and fish canneries on the
Coast. A good measure of their strength lay in the support they received
from urban trade-unions, particularly the Seattle locals of the A .F . of L.
Brotherhood of Teamsters and the C.I.O. Maritime Federation of the
Pacific.

Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union
The oldest and most powerful of these organizations was the Cannery
W orkers and Farm Laborers Union, or C .W .F.L.U ., of Seattle. It was
organized by Filipinos in 1932. In June 1933, it received its charter from
the A .F . of L. as Federal Labor Union No. 18257. This was the first
charter of its kind ever issued by the A .F . of L., granting jurisdiction
over both cannery and field workers.61
The C .W .F.L.U . in the beginning was an exclusively Filipino union
of Alaska salmon-cannery workers, but in time it broadened its member­
ship to include workers of many races. By 1940 it was estimated to in­
clude some 2,000 Filipinos, 600 Japanese, 100 Chinese, and 250 whites,
Negroes, Hawaiians, and Indians.62
The C .W .F .L .U . was organized primarily to improve conditions in
Alaska fish canning, and its major gains were won in that industry. Its
most notable achievements were the elimination of the contractor system
and the gaining of a closed-shop agreement providing also for a union
hiring hall. Most of the strikes in which members of the C .W .F .L .U . took
part, however, were in agriculture. A s the canning season in Alaska
lasted only for 8 to 10 weeks, the Filipino union members had to depend
on other industries for their chief employment and livelihood. M ore than
three-fourths of them were employed seasonally in agriculture; about half
of these lived in California during the winter months, and many belonged
to U .C .A .P .A .W .A . and independent Filipino agricultural-labor unions
in that State.
“ Job action” strikes in protest against long hours and low pay in­
volved about TOO Filipino workers in truck-farming areas near Seattle,
in the vicinities of Kent, Auburn, and Puyallup, during the spring of 1934.
In spite of alleged vigilante action by local law-enforcement officers, the
strikers were successful in raising wage rates from 15 to 25 cents per
hour in the area. They were helped materially by Charles Doyle, secre­
tary of the Seattle Trades and Labor Council, who negotiated with
grower-employers on their behalf.63
Communist labor organizations were temporarily active among agri­
cultural and allied workers on the Coast. The Daily W orker on July 10,
1934, reported that the Agricultural and Cannery W orkers Union led a
strike of more than 500 workers on a large lettuce farm near Everett.
61Yearbook of the Cannery Workers and Farm Labor Union, 1937-38 (Seattle, W ash.), Vol.
II, No. 2 (p. 22).
62Interview, Trinidad Rojo, president of C.W .F.L.U., Seattle, Wash., August 21, 1940.
63Yearbook of C.W.F.L.U. (p. 21).




CH. XIII.- • UNIONISM IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST
—

219

Union spokesmen complained of wages of 10 cents per hour and 16hour workdays, and charged that terrorism was used to quell the strike.64
Local units of other organizations affiliated with the Communist Party
remained active. Unemployed councils and branches of the United Farm­
ers League were reported as carrying on agitation in the Puyallup area
during 1934 and 1935.65 The Trade Union Unity League organized a
Fishermen and Cannery W orkers Industrial Union to rival the C .W .F.
L.U . It was dissolved less than a year later and the members were ab­
sorbed into the A .F . of L , local.66
The C .W .F.L.U . expanded its jurisdiction over a wide area during the
mid-thirties and became known as the “ Little International.,, By late 1936
it claimed some 6,500 members in sublocals in the vicinities of Portland,
Oreg., Anacortes, Everett, and Seattle, Wash., and Ketchikan, Alaska.
These represented three main industrial groups— agriculture, fish canning,
and fruit and vegetable canning.67
Early in 1937 the locals began to prepare for a nation-wide convention
:o form a separate international union for workers in agriculture and
allied industries. A s a first step the Northwest Council of Cannery, Pack­
inghouse and Agricultural W orkers was formed, to coordinate the policies
of nine local organizations claiming a total membership of 12,000. Most
of these belonged to the C .W .F .L .U . and its branches. The council was
dissolved when the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . (C .I.O ) was formed in July 1937,
and the C .W .F .L .U . gave up direct jurisdiction over its branch locals. A t
present it is composed of U .C .A .P .A .W .A . Local 7 of Alaska fish-cannery
workers and Sub-Local 7-2 of vegetable-canning workers in Seattle.68
The C .W .F .L .U was not very successful in applying collective bar­
gaining in intensive agricultural areas of Washington. Truck farms in the
rural areas near Seattle wrere generally small, hiring men in groups of
six or less, so that both growers and employees were too scattered to be
organized effectively. The Yakima Valley was too far from Seattle for
the union to give adequate support to its Filipino members there, who
con stitu ted an in sign ifican t fr a c tio n of the total la b or supply recru ited fo r
the hop and apple harvests.
A strike by 50 C .W .F .L .U . members picking hops in the Yakima
Valley during September 1937 brought swift reprisals from local authori­
ties. The Filipinos started a sit-down strike in one hop yard in an effort
to raise picking rates to $2 per hundredweight in place of the prevailing
$1.75. Deputy sheriffs and State highway patrol officers promptly escorted
them to the Kittitas County line and told them to “ keep moving.,,e9 Union
spokesmen claimed that “ the Associated Farmers, with the aid of the
State patrol, carted away a handful of the hop pickers to the county line,
with the threat of a ‘necktie party’ if they attempted to return.” 70
Vigilante tactics were also employed against Filipino members of the
C .W .F .L .U . in the Puyallup Valley, a few miles south of Seattle, in the
64Daily Worker, July 10, 1934.
«5RU
ral Worker, Vol. I, No. 3, October, 1935 (p. 5).
66Yearbook of C.W .F.L.U. (p. 21).
67Tdem (p. 22).
68The U.C.A.P.A.W .A. won temporary gains in the fish-canning industry during 1938. In the
spring two contracts were signed with 10 companies in the clam-digging and packing industry
to cover 1,200 workers; clauses included wage increases to a base rate o f 55 cents per hour, sole
collective-bargaining rights, and preferential shop. Unions included were U.C.A.P.A.W .A. Locals
Nos. 62 and 239 of Aberdeen. (CIO News, Vol. I, No. 15, March 19, 1937, p. 1.)
Again, in November 1938, more than 2,500 fish-cannery workers in the Grays Harbor area
won a closed-shop contract with wage increases of 2J^ to 15 cents per hour, through Locals NV.
238 and 239. (Idem, Nov. 28, 1938, p. 5.)
69Spokesman Review, September 10, 1937; Yakima Morning Herald, September 10 and 12, 1937.
70Yearbook of C.W.F.L.U. (p. 22).




220

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

spring of 1937. The union business agent attempted to open negotiations
to set a standard wage scale of 35 cents per hour, an 8-hour day,
and 40 cents per hour for overtime, instead of prevailing wages of 25
cents per hour or less. A strike was called by union members when
negotiations failed, and picketing began early in April.71 A week later
a vigilante band composed of local growers and businessmen, reported to
have been led by Mayor W oodin of Kent, drove the pickets from the
valley. Strong pressure from urban trade-unions and sympathizers sub­
sequently forced the growers to resume negotiations and come to a com ­
promise agreement with the union.71
The C .W .F .L .U . acted primarily as an employment agency for its
members working in agriculture. Union representatives made contacts
with individual growers and came to verbal agreements regarding wages,
housing, working conditions, numbers of hands required, etc. Only one
written contract was ever signed between the C .W .F .L .U . and or­
ganized growers. This covered strawberry pickers on Bainbridge Island,
Wash., where the growers were predominantly Japanese.72

A.F. of L. Cannery Unions
One other strike of importance occurred in industries allied to agri­
culture. This involved fruit and vegetable cannery workers organized by
the A .F . of L. During 1937 and 1938, that organization had formed five
federal labor unions of local cannery workers in the vicinities of Friday
Harbor, Mount Vernon, Bellingham, Puyallup, and Olympia, having a
total membership of about 5,000. Prior to the opening of the canning
season in May 1938, a wage dispute developed between 22 canneries in
western Washington and the five A .F . of L. unions, when operators cut
wages 5 cents per hour below the minimum wage scale of 52J4 cents for
men and 4254 cents for women, established in the previous year’s agree­
ment. The union called a “ hold o ff” strike when negotiations ended in
a stalemate, and refused to begin work until the wage cut was restored.
The canners contended that much of the previous year’s crop was still un­
sold in the warehouses and that any wage increases would have to be
borne by the farmers, since the public would not buy so much of the
product at a higher price.73 The Associated Farmers exerted pressure
on the Associated Producers and Packers Incorporated to consider the
interests of growers in wage negotiations, but the cannery workers’ unions
refused the latter’s offers of mediation.74
The dispute finally was settled by compromise agreement when the
international representative of the A .F . of L. negotiated for the cannery
workers. Collective bargaining between cannery unions and employers
in later years was carried out on a more localized basis, because of differ­
ences between areas in products and market conditions. The unions in
general were able to win better wage and hour provisions than those
applying in competing nonunionized areas of eastern Washington and
Oregon.75
71 Philippine-American Tribune (Seattle), Vol. VI, No. 8, May 4, 1937 (p. 1).
72Idem, April 24, 1937.
73Seattle Post Intelligencer, May 3 and 5, 1938.
74Idem, May 5, 1938.
75 Puyallup Tribune, May 10, 1940.




Ch a p t e r

XIV.— The Sheep Shearers Union of
North America

Sheep Shearing in the Rocky Mountain Region
The first stable trade-union among agricultural and allied workers
developed in the sparsely settled livestock-raising areas of the Rocky
Mountain region. Sheep raising in the W estern States, although a type
of extensive pastoral farming, was nevertheless an intensive industry
using a great deal of labor. Many sheep ranches became large, specialized
enterprises raising a commercial product for sale in ‘ distant markets.
They hired gangs of migratory laborers for a few weeks during the shear­
ing season each year. The contacts between employers and employees
became increasingly casual, distant, and impersonal as the scale of opera­
tions grew.
The sheep shearers developed as a distinct occupational grou p‘ when
specialized sheep ranching became concentrated in the Mountain and
Pacific Coast States. Improvements in railroad and steamship trans­
portation, particularly after completion of the Panama Canal, opened
up eastern wool markets and encouraged the raising of sheep instead of
cattle— a source of considerable conflict and violence between stock
raisers. A s sheep raising became a commercialized industry instead of a
mere adjunct to the farm, proprietors came to depend upon an itinerant
group of skilled sheep shearers. The more migratory workers in follow­
ing the shearing season sometimes traveled from the Mexican to the
Canadian border in a period of a few months. Established routes of
interstate migration lay through a region encompassing New M exico,
Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, W yom ing, Montana, Idaho,
and Washington. Numerous more localized migrations developed within
each State.
Sheep shearers, because of the nature of their occupation, had stronger
bargaining power than other migratory agricultural workers. Shearing
is a skilled occupation requiring care and accuracy if the wool is not to
be ruined. Unshorn wool is a highly perishable product; a delay in shear­
ing during warm summer weather lessens its value considerably, because
of the accumulation of dust, grease, and vermin on the sheep.
The supply of sheep shearers available for ranchers is limited by many
factors. Besides requiring considerable training, the work is highly
seasonal and lasts only some three months even with continuous travel
over an area covering several States. During the major part of the
year almost all shearers depend primarily on other employments for their
livelihood. Large numbers are themselves sheep raisers, particularly in
the southern Mountain States of New M exico, Colorado, and Arizona.
After they have sheared their own sheep and helped their neighbors,
they follow the shearing to northern States, where the season comes later
in the summer. Localities in which shearing operations take place, and
where potential shearers usually have to learn the trade, are relatively
inaccessible to any large body of workers. This is particularly true of
the sparsely settled ranching areas of W yoming, Montana, and Idaho,
where the union became established most strongly.




221

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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE
Origin, Structure, and Tactics of the Sheep Shearers Union

Very little is known about the origins of the Sheep Shearers Union
of North America (A .F . of L .), because it developed in a highly seasonal
and migratory labor group in an area where transportation and com ­
munication facilities were poor. It was preceded by several short-lived
local unions, the earliest of which was organized in 1895 under the name
of United Sheep Shearers. The present organization was chartered as a
local union in Rawlins, W yo., in 1912. After it had grown considerably
in membership, it moved its headquarters to Butte, Mont.
Their technical skill and limited numbers enabled sheep shearers in
the Mountain States to develop a small but prosperous and well-organized
union which has managed to maintain a high level of wages. The extreme
mobility of the membership over a wide and sparsely populated region
required a decentralized union structure. The Sheep Shearers Union,
having a local charter in Butte, claims jurisdiction “ over North A m erica.” Union members, while at work during the shearing season, elect
delegates by secret ballot to the union convention which takes place
every 4 years. There the delegates in turn nominate and elect officers to
the executive board. This body, among its other functions, on or before
February 1 of each year sets the union scale for shearing sheep. Any
member shearing at less than this scale is liable to suspension.1
The application of union standards to the job is left to the more or
less spontaneous local action of itinerant shearing crews. Union shearers
are instructed to hold a meeting and elect a chairman before going to
work on any job. The chairman then appoints a business committee of
three members, whose duty is to negotiate an agreement with the sheep
raiser (subject to the approval of a majority of the crew ), stipulating the
union price for shearing and an adjustment of grievances at the corrals.
Crews have the right to strike without prior authorization from the
executive board.2
Collective bargaining by the Sheep Shearers Union has led to few
large and spectacular strikes of the kind common to other migratorylabor organizations. The union’s effectiveness has rested on manipulating
the labor supply in each local area during the shearing season. W here
the members constitute a significant proportion of the total labor supply,
closed-shop contracts and written agreements have rarely been necessary
in order to maintain union standards. The mere threat of a “ stay-away
strike” or labor boycott, by subjecting sheep raisers to the danger of
losing their wool crop, in many cases has been sufficient to bring them
to terms. W age rates have been standardized at the union level for mem­
ber and nonmember shearers alike over wide areas.
The Sheep Shearers Union has not been a typical agricultural
labor organization. Through most of its career it has been, rather, a wellfinanced and cohesive craft union of highly skilled workers, characteris­
tic of A .F . of L. affiliates in certain urban trades. The S.S.U. early
Constitution and Bylaws, as amended at Second Quadrennial Convention, Butte, Mont., Julv
1939. (pp. 4, 7, 21).
2Idem (p. 4).
The strike must be supported by vote from three-quarters of all union members in the
locality affected. Bylaws state that union members must elect a strike committee of seven.
From these the chairman appoints three members Jto a finance committee to handle strike
funds. A complete record of all expenditures pertaining to a strike must be forwarded to the
executive board before members are eligible for disbursements from the union’s strike emergency
fund. (Idem, pp. 21-22.)




CH. XIV.---SHEEP SHEARERS UNION OF NORTH AMERICA

223

established an 8-hour day in many localities and has maintained piece
rates ranging from 1 2 to 15 cents per head of sheep.3 (T h e output
per man ranges from 100 to 200 or more sheep sheared per day.) The
dues are high for a union in the general field of agriculture; initiation
and reinstatement fees are set at $33 per member, and annual dues at
$27. W ith this money the union maintains important services for its
members.4
Machine techniques have replaced hand shearing. Unlike many craft
labor organizations, however, the Sheep Shearers Union does not seem
to have been weakened by these developments. Displacement has not been
great, for power shearing has not proved to be very much faster than
hand shearing.5 The sheep industry, in response to a steadily rising
demand for wool, has expanded more rapidly than has the productivity
of labor from the use of new techniques, so that the total employment
of shearers has grown considerably since the union was first organized.
The union was unique among labor oganizations in the way in which
it controlled technological change, for the union itself went into the manu­
facture and sale of new labor-saving machinery. E. Bartlett, a former
president of the union, developed and patented one of the best and most
widely accepted power shears. The S.S.U. acquired the patent, and as a
corporation it sold shares to its members in order to raise sufficient
capital to manufacture the equipment. The patent expired several years
ago, and companies such as Stewart W arner and the Chicago Flexible
Appliance Co. now market power shears and other equipment in competi­
tion with the union.
The S.S.U. meanwhile has broadened its marketing activities. The
union-owned Sheep Shearers Merchandise & Commerce Co. does a
wholesale and retail business in shearers’ equipment and accessories of
al kinds, including power shears. This company sells its goods to both
union and nonunion shearing crews, who customarily must furnish their
own equipment. Members are allowed a 20-percent discount from the
regular prices, as a means of encouraging affiliation to the union.
The introduction of power shearing has changed labor relations
within the occupation. Individual migratory hand shearers have for the
most part disappeared. Shearing by power-driven machines requires
the cooperative efforts of numbers of men working together in gangs.
These move from one area to another throughout the sheep-raising region,
taking with them their camping outfit, power plant, and movable cor­
rals.6
The method of recruiting shearers is similar to that among other
migratory agricultural workers. The direct employer of the shearers is
a contractor, plant man, or captain similar to the Mexican contractor
for cotton pickers in Texas. H e solicits the work, furnishes the shearing
machinery and accessory equipment, hires and pays the shearers, and
3This rate does not include board provided by the employer in kind or cash at the rate of
$1.50 per day or 2 cents per sheep sheared.
4$5 from each of these charges per member is contributed to the total-disability, old-agepension, and burial fund. This provides a pension of $25 per month to members of 10 years’
consecutive standing who are totally disabled through old age or accident, and disburses burial
expenses to the families of members. The cash disbursement varies according to the members’
years of affiliation to the union. Members who have been in good standing for only 1 year
receive up to $40; members of 2 years’ consecutive standing receive $75; for 3 consecutive
years, $100; for 4 consecutive years, $125; for 5 consecutive years, $150; and for 6 consecutive
years, $175. This is the maximum paid. (Constitution and Bylaws, p. 17.)
3The most common estimate seems to be that a man who formerly could shear 130 sheep per
day by hand shears can now do about 175 by power shears.
6The typical unit is a motor carried on a truck which supplies^ power through flexible
attaching-rods to some 12 or 16 power shears or clippers handled by individual shearers.




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

frequently provides their board, lodging, and transportation. In highwage States like California or Montana the contractor has usually
received 3^4 cents per sheep and the shearers 12J4 cents, in addition to
board and lodging. The union is strongest among itinerant crews, who
are usually, the most skilled in the trade. Contractors are included in
the union and are subject to numerous regulations governing the hiring
of union crews, use of equipment, and wage rates paid for various jobs.7
The bargaining power of the union has tended to be weakened by
improvements in transportation and communication, rather than by tech­
nological change within the sheep-shearing trade. In the old days em­
ployers had to rely upon itinerant shearers who traveled by horseback
or by train; they frequently had to meet their shearers at the nearest
station and transport them to the ranches in buckboards. Often individual
shearers worked for the same rancher year after year.
Automobile transportation has made the occupation more casual.
Shearers now travel in their own cars or in trucks provided by contrac­
tors for their crews. Many pick up jobs where they can find them, just
as do cotton pickers and other migratory agricultural workers. Shear­
ing crews consequently have lost much of their group cohesiveness. The
Sheep Shearers Union as a type of cooperative agency also has had to
relinquish a great deal of its control over the allocation of workers and
their jobs. W ool growers are no longer so dependent as formerly upon
the union to recruit adequate crews. Correspondingly, the S.S.U. has
had increasing difficulty in attempting to force growers to adhere to the
terms of verbal agreements.8
The main competition facing union members has come from the South­
western region, including Texas, Colorado, New M exico, Arizona, and
southern California, where large labor supplies are available in rural
areas. The union’s strength centers in the sheep-raising areas of central
and northern California, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and M on­
tana, where labor is relatively scarce and shearing rates are high.

Labor Trouble in the Thirties
Competition of labor from the Southwest became particularly severe
for the Sheep Shearers Union during the 1930’s. W age rates were
7Article I of the constitution provides, among other things, the following regulations:
Section 20.—Any member booking a nonunion shearer in preference to a union shearer shall
be subject to suspension from this union.
Section 21.—No member shall be refused work if he so desires, so long as there are no idle
pens equipped for shearing at that plant. Members violating this rule shall be subject to
suspension.
Section 22.—Members making up crews are requested to include one member of 60 years or
over, where available. All members are urged to see that members are not discriminated
against on account of their age.
Section 23.—Any member running a machine plant or doing grinding for himself or crew
without adequate compensation for such work shall be subject to suspension.
Section 24.—Any member running a machine plant or doing grinding for an unfair crew shall
be subject to suspension.
Section 25.—Where members of this union have established a fair margin for grinding, con­
tracting, or furnishing machines in any district, no member shall enter the same field at a
lower rate for similar work. This would be a serious offense and violators are liable to ex­
pulsion.
8The union receives many complaints against ranchers who request that shearers be sent
out to a job. When they arrive at ranches they may find that their places have already been
taken, and that they have paid the expenses of transportation for nothing. In such strongly
unionized States as California or Montana the S.S.U. can apoeal to the State Labor com­
missioner, who may force ranchers to hire the men or at least pay them for transportation and
time lost.




CH. XIV.---SHEEP SHEARERS UNION OF NORTH AMERICA

225

affected by both a decline in wool prices and an increasing labor supply
arising from unemployment in other industries and trades. From 1930
to 1933 the union declined to its lowest membership in decades.
The union revived strongly after the National Industrial Recovery
A ct was passed in 1933. During 1934 and 1935 it began a unionizing
drive in the hitherto unorganized States of Texas and Arizona, which
had been a m ajor source for nonunion migratory shearers. Later it
attempted such restrictive measures as the union label and the closed shop
in order to protect the position of its members.
The union campaign led to several large strikes. About 1,000
shearers in Missoula County, Mont., struck for 6 days during May 1933
against a reduction in wages. A month later some 500 shearers in
Matrona and Loraine Counties, W yo., were involved for 2 weeks in a
strike over the same issue.9

Sheep Shearers9 Strike in Western Texas, 1934
The S.S.U. suffered a serious defeat when it attempted to unionize
the shearers in western Texas in 1934. Employment conditions in that
area were radically different from those in the northern Mountain States,
and the union found it virtually impossible to establish stable collective­
bargaining relations. It encountered bitter and violent opposition from
organized sheep and goat raisers and finally had to abandon its cam­
paign.
The sheep shearers of Texas, unlike those of the Mountain States,
have never constituted a well-unionized labor aristocracy. They had
been one of the first occupational groups to migrate in large numbers
from M exico to Texas. During the middle and late nineteenth century,
when the livestock industry was expanding rapidly, most of the yearround laborers tending cattle and sheep on South Texas ranches were
Mexican “ vaqueros” and “ pastores.” Gangs of sheep shearers later
began coming across the border twice a year, for periods of about 2 months
each, to supply the seasonal demands of the ranches.10
A s the cattle and sheep industry moved farther north and west in
Texas, the Mexican shearers tended to become permanent residents
employed most of the year at unskilled ranch jobs. A number of them
also migrated seasonally to other sections of Texas to find intermittent
employment in cotton and other crops. For the most part, however, the
shearers in Texas, unlike those in the Mountain and Pacific Coast States,
remained casual ranch hands who rarely migrated far from their resi­
dences. Their bargaining power was weak. The supply of Mexican
labor remained large, while strong traditional racial and class divisions
kept them in a status beneath white men. W age rates for sheep shear­
ing in Texas were considerably lower and working conditions were
poorer than in other States. Shearers in Texas during the early and
middle thirties were generally paid 5 to 6 cents per sheep, as compared
with 12 to 15 cents in W yom ing, Montana, or California. They averaged
$2.50 to $3.25 per day during the season, making an average yearly
income of $400 to $700. General ranch laborers (including most of the
9Josiah C. Folsom; Labor Disputes in Agriculture, 1927-38.
10Origins and Problems of Texas Migratory Farm Labor, prepared by the Farm Placement
Service Division of the Texas State Employment Service (Austin), 1940 (p. 10).




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

shearers in the off-season months) customarily received $1.00 to $1.50
per day or $20 to $25 per month for steady employment.1
1
Sheep ranching, like cattle ranching, became large-scale, highly cen­
tralized, and owned or controlled by absentees. The land in western
sheep and goat raising counties is characteristically sparsely settled and
owned in large tracts of several thousand acres each.1 The ranches
2
are often in the hands of hired white managers who supervise the M exi­
can ranch laborers while the owners, living in adjacent small towns or
cities, are concerned chiefly with commercial and financial arrangements
with banks, Joan companies, wool buyers or brokers, wool and mohair
warehouse companies, and the like. These enterprises, acting through
such organizations as the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association and
the Texas W ool and Mohair Warehouse Association, exert 'considerable
influence on the ranchers' business affairs and labor relations.
The first attempts at organization and collective bargaining were
carried out not by hired shearers but by “ capitans.'' Their prime motive
was to regulate competition for labor as well as to establish standard
shearing rates with sheep ranchers. A union of capitans was formed in
the winter of 1925; the representatives met with officials of the Sheep
and Goat Raisers Association, and a shearing price of 10 cents for sheep
and 6 cents for goats was agreed upon. The union soon disbanded,
however, because individual capitans failed to live up to their agree­
ments to restrict the cash advances to their shearers.13
Capitans, sheep shearers, and general ranch* labor jointly participated
in the next attempt to organize a union. This occurred in 1933, under
the double stimulus of rising prices for wool and other commodities and
Federal Government's encouragement to unionism.
The official Sheep and Goat Raisers Magazine announced for 1933
the “ sharpest recovery ever staged in the history of the wool industry.
* * * Prices of both raw and finished products soared spectacularly
during the year.” The N R A was gaining in effectiveness, and its labor
provisions were highly publicized. Mexican ranch laborers in the vicinity
of San Angelo, T ex., met and formulated demands for $2.80 per 8-hour
day or $40 to $50 per month for steady employment, in place of the pre­
vailing $1.00 to $1.50 per day or $20 to $25 per month with no restric­
tions on hours.14 Ranchmen had difficulty in convincing the workers
that they were not covered by the N R A . According to the September
1933 issue of the magazine—
A committee o f Mexican ranch workers called on J. C. Deal, San Angelo Board
o f City Development manager, and was not convinced until Deal communicated with
Washington, D. C., and received confirmation o f earlier instructions.

Open conflict and strikes did not develop until shearers in several
sheep-raising counties were organized by the Sheep Shearers Union of
11Sheep and Goat Raisers Magazine (San Angelo, Tex.), Vol. 14, No. 2, September 1933
(p. 23); Vol. 14, No. 6, January 1934 (p. 101).
12Sutton County, for instance, has a total population of about 3,000. Seven or eight families
are estimated to own 75 to 90 percent of the land in ranches, some of which are more
than 25,000 acres in size. The large landowners are descended from old southern families who
settled in the area following the Civil War. They spend most of their time in the town of
Sonora and visit their ranches only once or twice a week. The ranches are managed by# hired
white superintendents, who supervise the Mexican ranch labor. The only other whites in the
county are a few in white-collar jobs and proprietary and skilled trades in Sonora, the county
seat, and a few scattered towns. (Field notes.)
13Sheep and Goat Raisers Magazine (San Angelo, Tex.), Vol. 14, No. 6, January 1934 (p. 101).
The capitan, like the labor contractor in some crop areas, often advanced credit to his sea­
sonal laborers during off-season months in order to maintain them and to be sure of an ade­
quate labor supply. During a period of relative prosperity and alternative job opportunities,
however, he had no guaranty that he could hold his workers, and thus risked losing his credit
outlays.
14Idem. Vol. 14. No. 2. September 1933 (p. 23). and No. 7, February 1934 (p. 126).




CH. XIV.---SHEEP SHEARERS UNION OF NORTH AMERICA

227

North America. By the beginning of 1934 the S.S.U. claimed to have
750 members in the area. Representatives and members formulated
demands in accordance with union standards: Union recognition and
shearing rates of 12 cents per head for sheep and 8 cents for goats, as
compared to the prevailing rates of 8 cents and 5 cents, respectively.1
5
Organized landowners and warehousemen tried immediately to coun­
teract the S.S.U. Representatives of wool and mohair warehouse com­
panies and ranchmen of 25 western counties held a conference on Janu­
ary 4th at the First National Bank of Sonora (Sutton County) under the
chairmanship of T. A . Kincaid, president of the Sheep and Goat Raisers
Association, and J. M . O'Daniel, president of the Texas W ool and Mohair
Warehousemen's Association. They voted to refuse recognition to the
Sheep Shearers Union and to maintain maximum shearing rates at 8
cents for sheep and 5 cents for goats.1
5
The discussion at the conference indicated strong anti-union sentiment
and distrust of labor. H . W . Ruck declared bluntly that the union was
a “ racket.” Chairman T. A . Kincaid opposed higher wage rates on the
ground that “ 90 percent of the shearers gamble away their earnings
each night around the camp.” 15 H e expressed the opinion that “ Mexicans
are being urged along like a bunch of sheep led by a lead goat into a car.”
Their actions showed, he claimed, that they were ungrateful for the facts
that—
* * * Mexican children are being educated, that the Mexicans pay little if any
taxes, that they have equality o f opportunity on public works, that they are getting
more from C W A than anybody else in the ranch country.1
6

The close relationship between sheep raising and urban business and
financial interests was indicated in motions and amendments of several
rancher delegates to allow banks, loan companies, and warehouses to
determine the shearing rates.15
Several hundred sheep shearers in the spring and fall shearing
seasons of 1934 struck in scattered local “ stay-aways,” or labor boy­
cotts, on ranches which refused to pay union rates. The movement
continued for several months and brought sporadic incidents of violence
from both sides. It was ineffective where general unemployment made
large supplies of labor available, and where Mexican shearers, lacking
political influence, had little legal protection.
Many part-time ranch hands were dependent upon public relief, and
this rendered the Sheep Shearers Union vulnerable to strikebreaking.
Late in February 50 west Texas ranchmen went to Austin to persuade
Government officials to discontinue relief to shearers who refused em­
ployment at prevailing wages. C. B. Braun, Assistant Administrator
of State Relief in Austin, subsequently announced that Mexicans who
refused shearing or other ranch jobs would be made ineligible for relief.
R. E. Taylor, Relief Administrator for Sutton County, announced further
that all shearers were to be dropped from relief rolls, even if they had
not done any shearing for years. Ranchmen were encouraged to give
the names of clients refusing jobs to their county relief boards so that
they could then be declared ineligible. T. A . Kincaid said:
W e are a pretty poor bunch of white men if we are going to sit here and let a
bunch of Mexicans tell us what to do. They have organized a bunch o f foreigners
that this country has taken care o f.16
15Sheep and Goat Raisers Magazine (San Angelo. Tex.), Vol. 14, No. 6, January 1934 (p. 101).
16Idem, Vol. 14, No. 7. February 1934 (o. 126).




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The Sheep and Goat Raisers Association in February discussed
obtaining the services of Texas rangers to patrol the sheep and goat
belt, in anticipation of trouble during the coming peak of the shearing
season. The only untoward incidents up to that time had been an alleged
incendiary firing of two shearing machines belonging to Del R io capitans who had made contracts with nonunion shearers, and the arrest of
two unionists in Del R io for “ intimidation” of nonunion men.16
A s a further means of breaking the strike such companies as the Del
R io W ool & Mohair Co. and the Producers W o o l & Mohair Co. bought
shearing machines and hired crews directly. Thus they were directly
competing with established capitans, some of whom had joined the
strike or had been unable to recruit full crews. Several white crews
were put into the field to replace organized Mexicans on strike. Spokes­
men of the ranchers claimed that the whites did better work.16
The official organizer of the Sheep Shearers U nion for Texas com­
plained of “ forceful opposition” from the Sheep and Goat Raisers A sso­
ciation, supported by the local press and law-enforcement agencies. Some
42 union members altogether were reported arrested and jailed, and a
union organizer charged that extralegal vigilante methods were employed
by ranchers against strikers on several occasions.1
7
By March 1934 the Sheep and Goat Raisers Association claimed
to have broken the strike. Its magazine announced that shearing had
been completed for more than three-fourths of the goats, and that the
same number of sheep were already being shorn, while many thousand
additional sheep were covered by contracts for shearing at rates fixed
by the association.18
Spokesmen of the organized ranchers, nevertheless, seemed to be
undecided about the merits of collective bargaining. In an editorial
entitled “ The Shearing Situation,” the official magazine complimented
the association on the “ wonderful job ” it had performed in bringing
together the representatives of ranchers from 25 counties to fix maximum
rates for shearing. Then followed the observation that—
* * * the shearing situation in Texas today is in better shape than it has ever been
before. * * * Competition is the life of all trades. The white crews in competition
with the Mexican crews put a different phase on the shearing situation.1
8

Later in the year Joseph S. Meyers, Conciliator from the U. S. Depart­
ment of Labor, sought to bring the Sheep and Goat Raisers Association
into agreement with the Sheep Shearers Union. The association refused
the conciliator’s request to call a meeting for discussion of shearing rates
on the ground that it had no authority to make contracts with shearers
16Sheep and Goat Raisers Magazine (San Angelo, Tex.), Vol. 14, No. 7, February 1934 (p. 126).
17Letter to Harry Acreman, executive secretary of the Texas State Federation of Labor,
Austin, ’March 10, 1938, from the Sheep Shearers Union organizer in San Angelo, Tex.
One example was a local incident in Sutton County during the fall shearing season, described
by a rancher participant thus:%
“ In October 1934, Ramon Bill, a Mexican capitan of a shearing crew, tried to organize all
Mexican crews in Sutton County into one shearing union. The purpose of this was to get
higher pay for the work. At the time, ranchers were paying
to 9 cents for sheep. Bill
wanted all crews to strike for 10 cents.
“ On October 23, 1934, Bill sent word to a crew working on the Arthur Simmons ranch that
unless they struck, he and his crew would come out to the ranch and stop them from working.
“ Several ranchers got word o> the threat and Bill and his men were stopped as they left
f
Sonora and arrested for disturbing the peace. Confidentially they were told that they would
be shot if they ever mentioned union a^ain.
“ As far as we know this is the only time there was ever any union activity of any type in
Sutton County.” (Field notes.)
18The capitans were reported as having been “ a little backward” about making contracts,
but were now “ falling into line.” Dozens of nonunion crews were listed as having made con­
tracts. (Sheep and Goat Raisers Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 8, Mar. 1934, p. 141.)




CH. XIV.---SHEEP SHEARERS UNION OF NORTH AMERICA

229

nor to buy or sell anything for its members. Ranchers informed Meyers
that the shearing question was “ individual, between ranchmen and shear­
ers.” 10

Strikes and Labor Trouble in California and Neighboring States
The Sheep Shearers Union suffered worse defeats in organizing
campaigns in California and adjoining States during the middle and late
thirties. It had won a few union agreements with State wool growers’
associations, but these had not been renewed. After 1933, the S.S.U.
continuously attempted to reach an agreement with the National W ool
Growers’ Association or its various State subdivisions. These bodies,
being primarily marketing agencies, consistently refused the union de­
mand, asserting that they had no power to bind their members to any
fixed standard of wages, working conditions, or terms of hiring and
firing.
A unionizing campaign in California during 1934 resulted in property
damage and arrest. Four union members were tried and sentenced to
several years’ imprisonment on charges of arson. Local law officers
pictured the incident as a “ widespread plot to terrorize sheepmen of
Solano and Y olo Counties into paying wages demanded by the Sheep
Shearers Union.” 20 Officers of the union disclaimed official responsibility
for the acts, and commended the local law authorities and the court for
“ fair and impartial instructions to the jury.” 21
The S.S.U .’s worst defeat came during the spring season of 1938,
when it attempted to enforce signed collective-bargaining agreements
upon wool growers throughout the western sheep-raising region. Early
in the year the union announced that it would apply the closed shop,
uniform union wage scales, and the union label to the wool industry. It
enlisted the aid of key unions in transportation, the A .F . of L. Brother­
hood of Teamsters and the C.I.O. International Longshoremen and W are­
housemen’s Union, both of which were in a strategic position to support
the shearers* demands.22 H arry Bridges, president of the Martime Union,
informed representatives of the western wool growers’ associations by
letter that his organization would support the S .S .U .:
The Sheep Shearers Union o f North America has notified us that as o f January
1, 1938, they are placing a union label on all products handled by their members.
This label has been sanctioned by all labor unions affiliated to the Committee for
Industrial Organization and the American Federation o f Labor.
W e, therefore, feel it is advisable to notify you that the Committee for Industrial
Organization recognizes the Sheep Shearers Union label, and that we are cooperating
with them in their organizing program. (Quoted from Arizona Republic, February
21,1938.)

Organized wool growers in seven Western States moved to nullify
the threatened union action. Shipment of wool by water from Pacific
Coast ports was vulnerable to sympathetic strikes and “ hot-cargo” boy­
cotts on trucking lines and water fronts. The wool growers planned to
19Sheep and Goat Raisers Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 10, May 1934 (p. 184).
20California W ool Grower, March 5, 1935 (p. 4); Vallejo Times-Herald, December 28, 1934.
21 Corning Observer, February 19, 1935.
22The western wool industry has what it calls a “ break line” running from Montana to
Arizona. West of this line—in the States of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah,
Nevada, and Arizona—the growers find it economical to truck wool to the Pacific Coast ports
for shipment by ocean transport to Boston or Philadelphia.




230

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

utilize railroads as an alternative means for sending wool to eastern
markets. W . P. W ing, secretary of the California W ool Growers'
Association, suggested the slogan: “ Ship your wool by rail and avoid
bottlenecks and Bridges.” 23
The transport unions, however, failed to give the promised support
to the Sheep Shearers Union. According to spokesmen of the W ater­
front Employers’ Association, Harry Bridges in February assured a
committee of San Francisco employers that all wool delivered to Pacific
Coast ports would be handled by longshoremen irrespective of whether
it bore a union label.24 Organized teamsters in Sacramento, according
to spokesmen of the S.S.U., refused to recognize picket lines established
by striking shearers around the docks. In Washington and Oregon the
Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher W orkmen of North America
(A .F . of L .) gave limited sympathetic strike support to the union.
Lacking unified support from other labor organizations, the union’s
organizing campaign in 1938 came to little. Conflict occurred in Arizona
during February, when union agents attempted to organize several non­
union shearing plants and later called a strike to raise wage rates to the
union standard. In one minor clash 47 members, including the union
president, A . A . Evans, were arrested on charges of “ rioting” and “ raid­
ing” a plant in which a strike was called. The union countered with
complaints laid before the National Labor Relations Board, stating that
nonunion shearing-plant operators had violated the W agner A ct by
intimidating union members and refusing to bargain collectively.25
A strike of several hundred union shearers occurred in California
during late March and April over the closed-shop and union-label issues.
The California W ool Growers Association, claiming to represent 60
percent of the State’s sheep raisers, had refused to negotiate with the
Sheep Shearers Union.26 S. P. Arbois, director of the association, claimed
that it had no power to negotiate labor agreements with unions. H e
described it as “ merely a service organization. All labor agreements
have to be carried out by members acting individually.” 27
The strike began in Kern County and spread north through other
central and eastern California counties. John Crawford, president of
the newly established California branch of the S.S.U., claimed by April
1 that only 40 nonunion shearers were at work in the vicinities of W o o d ­
land, Davis, and Bakersfield, where normally some 700 workers were
employed.28 The strike was officially extended on April 10 to cover the
entire Pacific Coast and Mountain sheep-raising region, including the
States of California, Nevada, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and W ash­
ington. Most shearing operations had not yet begun, however, in States
other than California because their seasons came later.
The union encountered opposition from growers in California, who
in the end were able to break the strike. They were strongly organized
23Corning Observer, February 8, 1938 (p. 7).
24In one instance, union butchers employed in a meat-packing plant in Tacoma, Wash., re­
fused to kill “ hot sheep’ * bought from a ranch which was involved at the time in difficulties
with the Sheep Shearers Union. This action was overruled by Patrick Gorman, national presi­
dent of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, on the grounds
that it unnecessarily penalized the packing company involved, putting it in a position of disad­
vantage with its competitors. Furthermore, it was felt that without the support of key labor
groups like the teamsters and freight handlers, sympathetic strike action to help the Sheep
Shearers Union placed unreasonable burdens and responsibility upon the Amalgamated. (Cali­
fornia W ool Grower, Feb. 22, 1938.)
25Arizona Republic, March 1, 1938 (p. 3).
26San Francisco Examiner, April 2, 1938 (p. 3).
27Idem, April 3, 1938 (p. 10).
28Idem, April 2, 1938 (p. 8).




CH. XIV.---SHEEP SHEARERS UNION OF NORTH AMERICA

231

in county associations, which in turn backed the State W ool Growers
Association. Levies were raised from individual members, and the power­
ful Associated Farmers supported a drive to recruit nonunion shearers.
This organization opposed the union demands for a closed shop and
union label on wool, fearing that the principle would be extended to
other crops. (T h e C.I.O. union, U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., was at that time
dominant among field workers and was preparing to undertake a State­
wide organizing drive.)
The San Joaquin County W ool Growers Association announced for­
mation of the Associated Sheep Shearers of California, a type of company
union. Spokesmen announced that shearers would be selected from the
new organization regardless of union affiliation and would be paid the
union scale of 12y2 cents per head. Crawford, president of the Califor­
nia Sheep Shearers Union, repudiated the new organization as “ undoubt­
edly sponsored by the Associated Farmers of California as well as the
W ool Growers Association, who favor an open shop in the wool indus­
try.” 29
T w o hundred wool growers from San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Contra
Costa Counties at a mass meeting voted to assess themselves 1 cent per
sheep for a “ war chest” with which to fight the closed-shop strike.30
They also announced publicly that they would employ and assure full
protection to any sheep shearers, regardless of union affiliation, who
would work under strike conditions. They were followed several days
later by 300 wool growers of Napa, Marin, and Sonoma Counties, who
in a meeting in Santa Rosa on April 12 likewise resolved to operate a
joint hiring hall and raise an anti-union fund.31
The Associated Farmers sent agents to other States to recruit shearers
who would take the places of the strikers. By mid-April nonunion
shearers from Texas and other States were reported to be flocking into
the sheep-raising areas of California.32
Law-enforcement officers in several counties cooperated closely with
organized wool growers and the Associated Farmers. Sheriff Ben Heard
of Glenn County described his method as follow s:
I called the sheep men together * * * I put the cards before them * * * and con­
tacted different members throughout the State.
W e organized throughout our county a group o f farms. W e had to carry out
the work o f patrolling and moving these several [sheep-shearing] plants, o f which
we had 12 at one time, then 10, sometimes 8, 4, and 2. On these we put as high
as 8 guards, 6 at night and 2 in the daytime. * * *
The Associated Farmers coordinated them * * * we moved most o f the sheep
shearers into a larger plant and they tried to prorate the sheep. They [Associated
Farmers] fed the men and sheared the sheep and paid the guards. (Hearings o f
La Follette Committee, Part 75, pp. 27631-27632.)

Under such combined pressure the strike collapsed after a month.
The defeat cost the Sheep Shearers Union several thousands of dollars and
weakened it for some time to come. Its membership, which early in 1936
was estimated by one official as including some 1,100 out of approximately
3,000 professional shearers in the United States, had declined by July
1938 to about 700, or less than 25 percent of the number employed in the
industry.
" S a n Francisco Examiner, April 2, 1938 (p. 7).
"Id e m , April 8, 1938 (p. 8).
31Idem, April 13, 1938 (p. 9).
32Idem, April 22, 1938 (p. 10).
654107°—46-16




232

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE
Present Status

Both public and private groups have begun to compete with the union
for control o f the sheep-shearing trade. A union official termed such
competition “ a conscious effort by particular groups who want to make
a ‘good thing’ out of a high-paid trade.” One private employment
agency, the Inter-Mountain Circuit, has some 200 nonunion shearers on
its rolls. The agent locates jobs by making contacts with plant and
ranch operators and recruiting sheep shearers by telegram. The Circuit,
in return, collects yearly fees or dues from the shearers.33
The S.S.U. has been concerned about the practices of such institu­
tions as the Utah State College of Agriculture at Logan, which has intro­
duced a course in sheep shearing for its students. Union officials con­
sider the course a threat to their organization, since it is a potential
means for developing a larger local labor supply in the State. Growers
in the future will be likely to hire fewer migratory shearers, among
whom the union is most strongly organized. On the other hand, a m ajor
part of the shearing in Utah, at least of smaller flocks, has always been
performed by local workers. Many of the migratory workers who shear
flocks in several States of the Inter-Mountain area come from small
communities in Sanpete County, Utah. In recent years a few Mexicans
have been employed seasonally at shearing in eastern Utah, and some
shearers from California and Arizona have been entering Utah to work
after the season is finished in their States.
Increasing competition from many sources has weakened the bargain­
ing position of the Sheep Shearers Union and impelled it to seek the
support of other organizations. After its defeats in 1938, the S.S.U.
affiliated with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher W orkm en
of America, so as to insure sympathetic action from this more powerful
organization. W ool growers fear that this alliance will lead to a more
ambitious attempt than in 1938 to extend union control, in the form of
the closed shop and union label, throughout the sheep industry. They
envisage “ hot cargo” boycotts applied by union butchers in packing
houses which buy sheep from wool growers.
The bargaining power of the Sheep Shearers Union of North America
is likely to be greatly strengthened by present conditions. Increased de­
mand and higher prices for wool have stimulated expansion in the sheep
industry. A t the same time, the number of nonunion sheep shearers has
been decreasing, because of the Arm y draft and the huge expansion of
employment in war industries. The union members’ position is made more
secure by the fact that most of them are middle-aged men.
83Shearers affiliated both to the Circuit and to the union periodically complain of “ chiseling”
agencies and “ schools” which operate in Texas and New Mexico. One such, advertising by
radio, offered to teach sheep shearing for a price and to guarantee jobs for its “ graduates.”
Such agencies place their men, it is charged, by cutting the wages and getting a substantial
“ rake-off.” They have been rumored to accept shearing rates^ of 10 cents per head (where the
union and the Circuit have a standard 12 cents), and from this they collect a fee of 4 cents to
5 cents a head from the men they place. (Field notes and interviews.)




Ch a pter

XV .— Beet Workers in the Mountain States
Labor in the Sugar-Beet Industry

A special agricultural labor problem developed in the Rocky Moun­
tain States during the twentieth century as sugar-beet production became
concentrated in that region. It was a distinctly submarginal or sweat­
shop industry that depended upon public protection and financial sub­
sidy in various forms. A s an intensively cultivated crop grown in sparsely
settled areas it relied also upon cheap seasonal labor imported from other
areas.
Commercially grown beets were first introduced into Colorado about
40 years ago, and during the two decades following W orld W ar I the
State averaged almost one-third of the total acreage and output for the
United States.1 W eld, Morgan, Larimer, Logan, Adams, and Boulder
Counties, lying immediately north of Denver, became in the order named
the heaviest beet-producing areas in the country. The Great Western
Sugar Co., operating mainly in this district, was estimated to be pro­
ducing by 1930 more than 80 percent of all beet sugar in Colorado and
almost 45 percent of all produced in the United States.2
Sugar-refining companies, as monopolistic buyers, gained an increas­
ing domination over beet growers. Sugar beets, unlike other types of
agricultural produce, were not sold competitively in central markets.
Their bulkiness and perishability required that they be grown in the
immediate vicinity of the refining plant, which was the sole market for
each grower’s crop. The processors’ control often extended even beyond
this market relationship. Frequently a refining company financed the
growers’ production outlays, maintained a staff of agricultural superin­
tendents and field men to supervise farm operations, and recruited the
labor hired by growers to cultivate and harvest their crop.3 The terms
of purchase, sale, and supervision over production were stipulated in
detail in contracts made between processors and producers prior to the
planting season. Refining companies found such contracts necessary to
insure an adequate supply of beets, and growers considered them desira­
ble as assurance of a certain market at predetermined prices.
The low earnings, high seasonality and disagreeable nature of the
work made beet-field labor unattractive to resident workers of the R ocky
Mountain States. Labor supplies from other regions consequently had to
be tapped. The Great W estern Sugar Co. and other refiners recruited
thousands of Mexican families from southern Texas and M exico for
the beet fields of Colorado and neighboring States. Company agents
sent out circulars and newspaper advertisements, held public meetings,
and provided transportation for the workers.
A peculiar pattern of labor relations developed. Refining companies
endeavored to standardize labor costs as well as prices of sugar beets
by means of seasonal labor contracts between growers and workers in
1Sugar Beets: Changes in Technology and Labor Requirements in Crop Production. WPA
National Research Project, Washington, 1937 (pp. 6-13).
2Paul S. Taylor: Mexican Labor in the Valley of the South Platte, Colorado, University of
California. Publications in Economics, 1928: Thomas F. Mahoney: Industrial Relations in
the Beet Fields of Colorado, address at the Third Catholic Conference on Industrial Problems,
Denver, April 21, 1931 (p. 1).
3 Paul S . T aylor, M exican Labor in the V alley of the South P latte, Colorado (p. 114).




233

234

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

each factory district. These contracts specified the acreage allotted to
each laborer, the manner in which the work was to be performed, wage
rates and time or manner of payment, terms of hiring and firing, and
settlement of disputes. Company field men were usually stipulated as
arbitrators in case of disagreement between growers and laborers.
The interests of the grower-employers and the processing companies
tended to diverge over the labor question. In the last analysis the refiners
determined wages and working conditions by the contract price they
paid for beets. At the same time they could shift the burden of responsi­
bility for the workers’ welfare upon the immediate employers, the grow ­
ers. While beet acreage was expanding, the companies were eager to
attract and maintain a large resident labor supply in order to cut down
the costs of recruiting and transporting workers from distant areas.
Hence they favored higher wages than the growers were willing to pay.
In earlier years the companies also had provided free housing and other
facilities for the workers and had attempted to smooth the process of
social and occupational adjustment for the Mexican and Spanish-Ameri­
can laborers.
The refining companies, in brief, were concerned with keeping labor
satisfied with its position, even though at a low standard of living. Every
effort was made to prevent any feeling of injustice or exploitation among
beet workers. Growers were urged to be diplomatic in their treatment
of Mexican laborers and to be as liberal as possible in meeting their
needs. Companies endeavored to educate farmers in every aspect of
personnel work or labor relations.4
Mexican beet workers were recognized, nevertheless, as constituting
a chronic labor problem in Colorado even in the most prosperous years
of the twenties. The Colorado State Council of the Knights of Columbus,
for instance, had formed a special Mexican welfare committee as early
as 1923, to carry on social work and charity among beet laborers. In
its fifth annual report for 1928 it stated: “ W e * * * believe that by
indifference to social justice, Colorado is— unwittingly— but nevertheless
actively, cooperating with the forces of radicalism and disorder.” 5
The most obvious problems facing the beet laborer were poverty
and squalor imposed by low wr
ages, seasonal employment, and absence
of alternative opportunities for earning a livelihood in the sparsely set­
tled Rocky Mountain region. Family earnings even in the best of times
averaged only $600 to $650 per year.6 By the mid-thirties annual family
earnings had declined to averages estimated as low as $220 for beet work
and $72 for other employment. The proportion of beet laborers on relief
ranged from 37 to 97 percent in different areas. Poverty was accom­
panied by distinctly substandard housing, child labor, pauperism, and
deficiencies in education and health.7
A more serious problem in the long run was the Mexican beet labor­
ers’ distinct status as a lower caste, which they held because of their
poverty, color, and cultural attributes. Their position in Colorado in
4Taylor, op. cit. (pp. 142, 157-160).
5Fifth Annual Report, Mexican welfare committee of Colorado State Council, Knights of
Columbus (Pueblo, Colo.), May 28, 1928 (p. 1).
6Paul S. Taylor: Mexican Labor in the Valley of the South Platte, Colorado; also, Thomas
F. Mahoney: Problems of the Mexican Wage Earner, address at the Catholic Conference o*
Industrial Problems, Denver, May 12, 1930 (p. 2).
7Wages, Employment Conditions, and Welfare of Sugar Beet Laborers, U. S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics, Serial No. R. 703, Washington, 1938 (pp. 4-5, 14-16); R. W . Rosskelly: Beet
•
Labor Problems in Colorado, paper presented at the thirteenth annual meeting of the Western
Farm Economics Association (Pullman, Wash.), July 10-12, 1940 (pp. 4, 5).




CH. XV.---BEET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES

235

many ways came to parallel that of Negroes in the Southern States.
“ W hite trade only” signs appeared in business establishments in some
towns, segregation in seating arrangements was imposed in movingpicture houses, residential restrictions were applied to real estate, and a
sentiment for segregation in schools became widespread.8 Mexicans and
Spanish-Americans also faced discrimination before the law. The M exi­
can welfare committee of the Knights of Columbus in its annual report
for 1928 stated:
Protest is becoming more general against the abuse, injustice, and grossly unfair
treatment o f the Spanish-speaking people by certain Colorado constables, lawenforcement officers, and justices o f the peace * * * . As things now stand, for a
Mexican to be arrested and accused, is to be convicted. And to be arrested and
accused in many instances it is only necessary to have money to pay the fines and
costs which the judge may assess.

Racial divisions were reflected in labor relations in the beet fields.
Beet growers were for the most part family farmers who hired yearround farm hands of the old-fashioned kind, who ate at the same table
as their employers. These personal relationships did not extend to the
Mexican beet laborer. The regular field work— plowing, planting, irri­
gating, and cultivating in spring and summer, and beet lifting and haul­
ing by machinery in the fall— was commonly performed by white A m er­
ican farmers and hired men. The tasks of weeding, hoeing, thinning,
and topping, which were not considered “ white men’s work,” were left
to seasonally employed Mexicans.9
Beet work was characterized by a high rate of turn-over. In one
survey it was found that beet laborers on the average had worked 2.35
years for their present employers, and 51.7 percent of those interviewed
were working for their present employers for the first time.101 In many
places the Mexicans lived in company-owned houses rather than on the
farms on which they were employed. Sometimes, it was said, a farmer
used farm dwellings as a bargaining device to make the beet workers
adhere to his personal whims.10 A situation of near-peonage developed
where beet workers depended upon their employers for credit (deducted
from future earnings) for subsistence during off seasons.1
1
Widespread dissatisfaction became evident among Mexican beet work­
ers in Colorado by the late twenties. Second-generation immigrants in
particular tended to resent the incompatibility of their disadvantaged
status with the democratic American principles which they learned in
public school. T o quote Dr. R . W . Rosskelly of Colorado State A gri­
cultural College:
Logic suggests the impossibility o f scoffing at the Mexican culture patterns, of
indoctrinating them with those o f the Nordics and still expecting them to perform
a type o f labor and live under conditions which Nordic standards taboo. Neither
can it be expected that they will willingly relegate themselves to the status o f secondclass citizens in a country where equal opportunity, regardless o f race, is the symbol
of freedom. (Beet Labor Problems in Colorado, p. 10.)
8Paul S. Taylor: Mexican Labor in the Valley of the South Platte, Colorado (pp. 216-223);
R. W. Rosskelly, op. cit. (pp. 8, 9).
9Paul S. Taylor: Mexican Labor in the Valley of the South Platte, Colorado (p. 102)*
10R. W . Rosskelly: Beet Labor Problems in Colorado (pp. 5 and 6).
11Thomas F. Mahoney: Problems of the Mexican Wage Earner (p. 6).
“ The system of giving credit for food and supplies during the winter to be paid out of the
next season’ s work is also to be condemned as being a menace to the economic liberty of the
Mexican and Spanish workers in the sugar-beet industry. Under this plan he will start to
work in the spring handicapped by a debt to the sugar company which will reduce the amount
coming to him in the fall. Every winter this burden of debt may be increased until in a
comparatively short time many of these Mexican workers will find their freedom of contract
so limited that they will be compelled to labor under whatever terms or conditions may be
imposed upon them.”




236

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE
Beginnings of Unionism

The disadvantaged social and economic position of Mexican laborers
stimulated unionism in the sugar-beet fields. Poverty and low social
status became unacceptable when imposed by collective bargaining be­
tween sugar companies and beet growers' associations. The laborers
were impelled to organize in self-defense, seeking to improve wage rates
and working conditions by bargaining collectively with producers and
processors in an evenly balanced triangular relationship.
The beet workers' unions were concentrated in northeastern Colorado,
in counties adjacent to Denver. Only a few brief local organizations
ever developed in the beet-growing districts of southern Colorado, Kan­
sas, Nebraska, W yom ing, or Montana. Field workers near the metro­
politan area could enlist the support of strongly established urban tradeunions. Denver has long served as a focal point for transportation and
communication in the Mountain States. It has been the headquarters
for major industrial, financial, and governmental agencies serving the
region, and the nerve center for Colorado's militant labor movement.
Certain distinctive features of labor relations in the sugar-beet indus­
try, on the other hand, impeded effective labor unionism and collective
bargaining. Beet workers lived and worked individually or in small
scattered groups on small farms, in contrast with the gangs or crews
employed on large agricultural enterprises. W orking conditions varied
widely among individual farms. Hence it was difficult to bring laborers
together in agreement over issues which would find general acceptance.
The system of individual contracting between growers and workers was
an additional deterrent, despite the fact that it served to standardize
wage rates and terms of employment. A s the price for beets was deter­
mined by contract before cultivation began, organized workers had little
or no opportunity to change the wage scale by threatening to strike at
the strategic harvest period.

The I.W.W. and Mexican Radicals
The first attempt to organize beet workers in the Mountain States
was made during the twenties by the Industrial W orkers of the W orld.
The Agricultural W orkers Industrial Union No. 110 as early as 1920
reported having official organizers in Colorado and Nebraska to cam­
paign among workers in the sugar-beet crop,12 but there is no evidence
to show that this organization gained any influence in these areas.
Early in 1927 the I.W .W . was active in a strike among coal miners
in southern Colorado, a large proportion of whom were Mexicans and
Spanish-Americans. There was much occupational mobility between
mining and farming in some localities. The I.W .W ., however, was
unable to organize unions among farm laborers as it had done among
miners.13 Nevertheless, spontaneous organization and agitation among
Mexicans in northern Colorado beet districts created a widespread though
groundless fear that beet workers were being organized by the I.W .W .
to strike for higher wages. Attempts were made for a while to prevent
12The Industrial Worker (Everett, Wash., official
stated:
“ Members of the A.W .I.U . No. 110 have started a
of Colorado and Nebraska. A traveling delegate is
There are bumper crops around Sterling, Brush, and
13Paul S. Taylor: Mexican Labor in the Valley of




organ of the I.W .W .), October 30, 1920,
drive this year throughout the beet fields
at present going through these States.
Greeley/’
the South Platte, Colorado (p. 159).

CH. XV.—BEET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES
‘-

237

field laborers from holding meetings of any kind, and there were even
some demands that soldiers be sent into the beet fields to “ intimidate”
the Mexicans.14
Directors of the Beet Growers’ Association subsequently met with
Mexican beet workers’ committees in amicable conferences. Spokesmen
for the laborers presented petitions for improved housing, clean drinking
water, sanitary facilities, and guaranties that they would be paid for
their work. The president of the Beet Growers’ Association stated that
the workers’ demands were reasonable and promised to grant them as
soon as possible.15
A greater source of worry in certain quarters was what the Mexican
welfare committee of the Knights of Columbus termed the “ Red Socialist
menace.” A ccording to that body, propaganda and “ educational” work
were being carried on among Mexican beet workers by representatives
of certain radical organizations of M exico. The agitation had begun
in Colorado in 1926 as a nationalistic movement in support of the Calles
regime in M exico,15 but later became associated with the Mexican
C.R .O .M . labor movement. Apparently no strike action was under­
taken by its leadership.16

.

The A.F of L. and the Beet Workers9 Association
Collective bargaining along union lines was first attempted during
the late twenties. Officials of the Colorado State Federation of Labor
from time to time met with local committees of beet workers who had
grievances they wished to present to their employers, and endeavored to
help such groups organize and formulate their demands. The federation
late in 1927 became more active in forming local groups or committees
of Mexican beet workers in communities where they were concentrated
in off-season months— Denver, Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins,
Greeley, Fort Lupton, Rocky Ford, and Pueblo, among others. Loosely
organized associations were formed in which the local community leader
— the accepted spokesman for the laborers in each locality— was chosen
to act as secretary, to call meetings, and to give each group some con­
tinuity. There was no regular system of union d ues; informal collections
at meetings and money raised at social activities provided the main
sources of revenue.
The State federation in 1928 persuaded the executive council of the
American Federation of Labor at Washington, D. C., to provide an
experienced organizer for the Mexican beet workers. The State body
planned to enlist them in federal labor unions which in time would be
federated into an international union for the industry. A well-educated
14Fifth Annual Report, Mexican Welfare Committee of the Colorado State Council, Knights of
Columbus, 1928 (p. 6).
15Fourth Annual Report, Mexican Welfare Committee of the Colorado State Council, Knights
of Columbus, Denver, 1927 (p. 2).
16Fifth Annual Report, Mexican Welfare Committee, 1928 (p. 6).
“ These radicals at present seem to be mostly doing educational work among the Spanish­
speaking people * * *
“ They have frequent closed meetings in Denver and in and near the smaller towns in the
sugar-beet districts. These meetings are really schools for the teaching of Communist and
other radical doctrines. Their propaganda is directed along anti-Catholic, anti-religious, anti­
organized government, and on Mexican-political lines. It is to some extent in this country a
sort of# ‘Help Calles, movement.
“ This work has been carried on quietly but persistently for several years in Colorado #and
other parts of the Southwest. Their leaders, while using the existing bad conditions effectively
to attract and make converts, do not seem to want labor troubles. They seem for the present
to have some other purpose in view * * V *




238

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

and able Spanish-American printer and member of the Typographical
Union, C. N. Idar, came to Colorado for this purpose. A s he had been
a successful organizer for the A .F . of L. among the Mexican cotton
pickers in Arizona during 1920-21,17 and later among the Mexican
laborers in various industries along the lower R io Grande Valley in
Texas, he was considered well fitted to unionize beet workers of the
same race in the Mountain States.
Idar was active in this region throughout 1928 and 1929, attempting
to organize federal labor unions in every colony of beet workers in Colo­
rado, Nebraska, and W yoming. Charters were issued to local unions,
and these were encouraged to keep a nucleus of 10 or 12 members pay­
ing regular monthly dues the year round in order to maintain the organi­
zation in good standing. A special concession also was granted to these
unions, in that their members, a large proportion of whom were unem­
ployed or nonresident during part of each year, were required to pay
dues only during the months they were employed. Usually just enough
was collected from each local to pay the minimum per capita dues
required by the constitution of the A .F . of L. In exchange for this con­
cession, restrictions were imposed on the locals’ right to the strike bene­
fits from the A .F . of L.
These local unions of beet workers at one time had a total member­
ship in the Mountain States of more than 10,000 members, most o f them
in Colorado, according to a former official of the Colorado State Federa­
tion of Labor. In 1929 they were brought together into a loosely formed
organization known as the Beet W orkers’ Association. The member­
ship included several elements whose philosophies differed rather widely.
Representatives of the I.W .W ., who during early 1927 had led strikes
of Mexican and other foreign-born coal miners in Colorado, had some
influence among the beet workers. Communists, who hoped to recruit
beet workers to the newly organized Trade U nion Unity League, were
numerically insignificant at that time. Many local representatives in the
association were strongly nationalist in sentiment, for the status and
prestige of a community leader among Mexicans rested upon his uphold­
ing, at least vocally, their rights.as a national minority.18 Some repre­
sentatives favored the formation of a separate union, exclusively M exi­
can and unaffiliated with other organizations. Others sought to obtain a
charter from the State federation for an all-Mexican or Spanish-speak­
ing organization whose members would be allowed to work in other
unionized industries. The federation refused this request on the ground
that it would segregate workers by race or religion rather than by trade
or industry.
Prevailing sentiment apparently favored affiliation with the A .F . of
L. This was expressed in a convention of some 200 delegates of the
Beet W orkers’ Association at Fort Lupton in August 1929, which was
attended by the president and secretary-treasurer of the Colorado State
Federation of Labor.19 The A .F . of L. executive refused to grant an
international charter to the association until it proved able to maintain
itself as a permanent, self-sufficient organization. A t the thirty-fifth
annual convention of the Colorado State Federation of Labor at Fort
Lupton in June 1930, Frank Corpio, president of the Beet W orkers’
17See Chapter X II (p. 195).
^Representatives of the Mexican Government at that time were charged by radical and
conservative groups alike with propagandizing Mexican-born workers in this country.




CH. XV.---BEET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES

239

Association, stated that his organization would be able to affiliate for­
mally with the A .F . of L. within a year.19
The association disintegrated soon after this convention. C. N . Idar
was forced because of illness to discontinue his activities as an A .F . of
L. organizer. H e was not replaced, as the A .F . of L. at the time was
faced with declining revenue and the need to retrench. Surplus labor
displaced from other industries flooded the beet fields in the ensuing period
of depression and unemployment. Native white Americans, who had tra­
ditionally shunned this occupation, now competed writh Mexicans. Most
of the union locals passed out of existence; the few remaining existed
in name only.

The United Front Committee of Agricultural Workers Unions
Discontent among beet workers became widespread during the early
depression years, because of increasingly severe unemployment and a
rapid decline in wage rates. W ages were cut 25 percent in the northern
Colorado district from 1930 to 1931, from $23 per acre and a bonus
o f 50 cents per ton for harvesting on yields over 12 tons, to $18 per
acre and a bonus for yields over 14 tons.20 By 1932 wages had been
reduced to a record low of $12 to $14 per acre. The customary standard­
ization of contract rates and working conditions was disrupted by cut­
throat competition among growers selling beets and among surplus
laborers seeking jobs. The Mountain States Beet Growers’ Association
claimed to have had no voice whatever in determining either the beetproduction contracts or the labor contracts with sugar-refining com ­
panies.21 A report by the Colorado State Industrial Commission described
conditions in the beet fields as “ industrial slavery.” W age rates were at
such low levels that beet workers, in order to exist, required charity
even while at work.22
Growers at the same time were having financial troubles. The Great
Western Sugar Co. and other sugar-refining firms were losing money
for the first time in many years,23 and consequently set lower prices for
beets they bought from farmers. Prices for other crops fell even more,
so that growers had no choice but to accept. A n official of the Mountain
States Beet Growers’ Association stated publicly:
Returns to farmers under their individual contracts with the Great Western Sugar
Co. are so uncertain and indefinite that the growers have been virtually forced to get
their labor at starvation wages. (R ocky Mountain News, May 20, 1932, p. 10.)

Left-wing elements gained influence among beet workers at the ex­
pense of the more orthodox or “ reformist” adherents of the A .F . of L.
and the former Beet W orkers’ Association. The Agricultural W orkers
Industrial League was formed as the Colorado counterpart of California’s
Cannery and Agricultural W orkers Industrial Union, both subsidiaries
of the Communist-controlled Trade Union Unity League. The League 1
1Proceedings, Thirty-fifth Annual Convention, Colorado State Federation of Labor, Denver,
June 1930 (pp. 3 and 30).
20Thomas F. Manoney: Industrial Relations in the Beet Fields of Colorado, address at the
third Catholic conference on industrial problems, Denver. April 21, 1931 (p. 3).
21Rocky Mountain News (Denver), May 20, 1932 (p. 10).
-2Idem, May 16, 1932 (p. 1).
„ ^
- 3The Financial History of the Great Western Sugar Company, an outline compiled by J. F.
Rasmussen, consulting engineer for the Colorado Farmers Union, Denver, 1939.




240

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

took the initiative in organizing new local unions of beet workers, and in
some communities it revived inactive locals of the Beet W orkers’ A sso­
ciation. T h e A .W .I.L . had new branches in Greeley, Fort Lupton, Fort
Collins, and Denver, while in other centers it enlisted the support of
various non-Communist organizations. The leading organizers were
reported to be Anglo-Americans who had been active in various Com­
munist groups in Denver.24 A number of Spanish-speaking organizers
campaigned locally among Mexicans and Spanish-Americans.
A conference of representatives from both the orthodox and left-wing
factions among the beet workers was held in Denver in February 1932,
and the United Front Committee of Agricultural W orkers Unions was
formed. Delegates formulated demands for a basic contract price of $23 per
acre and recognition of the United Front Committee, and decided to
form local committees in each factory district and beet workers’ colony
in Colorado, Nebraska, and W yom ing. A central committee was elected
to represent organized workers from these scattered growing areas.
Delegates of the United Front attempted several times to negotiate
with representatives of beet growers and sugar companies but were un­
successful. A strike finally was called on May 16, 1932, after a series
of mass meetings had been held in Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Brighton,
Fort Collins, and other beet centers of Colorado. It began about one
week before the thinning season reached a peak. One leading organizer
announced that he expected 20,000 workers to respond,25 but any accu­
rate estimate of the number who actually participated is impossible.
The labor situation was unfavorable for collective action, and the
movement collapsed within a few weeks. It could not be coordinated
effectively over so wide an area, ranging from the Arkansas Valley in
southern Colorado to Greeley and Fort Morgan in the northeastern
counties. The United Front Committee was a loosely organized mass
movement containing divergent groups which did not work well together.
Left-wing elements accused some of the more conservative or “ reformist”
local organizations, such as the Spanish-American Citizens’ Association
of Fort Collins, of helping to break the strike through refusing to co­
operate with other labor groups. Some were charged with replacing
strikers in the beet fields, spreading unfavorable rumors, and meeting
openly with officials of the Great Western Sugar Co. and other employers.
The strike was not timed strategically. Sugar beets were not perish­
able at the weeding and thinning stage, and these operations could be
delayed for some time to the increasing discomfort of the strikers. The
latters’ position was made extremely, precarious by the chronic surplus
of labor in a year of severe depression and unemployment. Officials of
of the Great Western Sugar Co. stated to the Associated Press
that there were two or three men available for every job vacated.25
Falling prices and substantial monetary losses stiffened the resistance of
growers and company officials to union demands.
Public agencies and law authorities were generally hostile to the
strikers. County commissioners in W eld and other beet-growing counties
stated publicly that relief would be denied to workers who refused jobs
in the beet fields.26 Newspapers announced that R ed Cross flour dona­
tions to the needy would not be available for those who declined to
24Rocky Mountain News, May 16, 1932 (p. 1).
25Idem, May 16. 1932 (p. 1).
26Idem, May 17, 1932 (p. 5).




CH. XV.---BEET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES

241

work.28 Material aid provided by the W orkers International Relief of
New Y ork City was an inadequate substitute, as was legal aid supplied by
the International Labor Defense for strikers arrested en masse. Police
and sheriffs in several counties in north and south Colorado within 2
weeks arrested dozens of pickets on charges of “ vagrancy,” “ intimida­
t i o n , o r simply “ attempting to persuade workers to leave their jobs in
the beet fields.,, 29 Deportation of a number of the more militant M exi­
can members of the United Front contributed to the final collapse of
the movement.80
The strike was relatively free from extralegal violence and vigilantism. Nevertheless, there were sufficient individual cases to represent
“ terrorism” and “ intimidation” to the union representatives.30 Opposi­
tion threatened to become violent after a company-employed “ ditch-rider”
was injured by an explosion, which newspapers attributed to a bomb set
by “ beet labor agitators.” 31 In one locality violent armed conflict on a
large scale was narrowly averted. The R ocky Mountain News in its May
27, 1932, issue reported that—
Squads o f heavily armed deputy sheriffs and volunteers surrounded and arrested
33 alleged strike agitators in the sugar-beet fields near Avondale yesterday. Farmers
o f the district, armed and organized, were prepared to use their guns against the
asserted agitators when the officers reached the scene, averting violence. None o f
the demonstrators were armed * * * .

The United Front Committee disappeared after the failure of this
strike. Groups of the more militant organizers continued their unionizing
campaign on a local basis. Some worked through organizations which
survived the strike, and others organized new groups where previous
unions had disappeared. The Spanish-Speaking W orkers’ League, for
instance, was organized among the more radical beet workers living in
Denver during off-season months. It was a means for holding them
together after the 1932 strike collapsed. F or the next few years the
beet workers’ organizations strove primarily to obtain adequate relief
rather than to raise wage rates in the beet fields.

Unemployed Organizations in Colorado
Under-employment, poverty, and dependency had created a serious
labor problem in beet-growing areas of Colorado and other Mountain
States for many years. H igh seasonality and low wage rates in sugarbeet work, together with lack of alternative job opportunities for M exi­
can field laborers, had been causes for grave concern even in the most
prosperous years of the late twenties.
Labor organizers in many agricultural areas during the thirties were
anxious to unionize farm workers in order to protect their position as
relief clients rather than as wage earners. Relief was a club which
could be used to support or destroy the bargaining power and security
of laborers on their jobs. Competition for jobs in the fields decreased
and wage rates were kept from going lower when part of the labor sup­
ply could be maintained on relief.
28Longmont Times Call, June 17, 1932 (p. 1).
29Rocky Mountain News, May 18, 1932 (p. 3); May
M ay 21, 1932 (p. 12); May 27, 1932 (p. 3).
3°Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 3, October 1935 (p. 2).
~
'
___________ , . ... y ~

81Rocky Mountain News, May 23, 1932 (p. 32).




19, 1932 (p. 2); May 20, 1932 (p.

242

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

The incentives which impelled beet workers to organize and press
for adequate relief prqvisions were doubly strong in Colorado. Public
assistance was of crucial importance as a supplementary source of live­
lihood 32 and appeared to be administered in an unusually discriminatory
manner by public authorities.
Testimony from both labor representatives and government officials *
indicated that earnings from cash and work relief were almost as high as,
if not higher than, wages from beet-field work. Beet laborers con­
sequently sought to stay on relief where possible.33 Local and State
relief administrators at the same time were often under the domination
of the most influential groups in the community and acted in the inter­
ests of growers and sugar-company officials. The influence of employers
was particularly strong in these areas, because the labor belonged to a
depressed racial minority. Beet workers throughout the early and middle
thirties complained that they were being cut off relief rolls arbitrarily.
Sometimes they were discharged w’ell before the growing season began;
this created a surplus of labor which depressed wages.34 Little or no
attempt was made in the earlier years to guarantee that workers could
find jobs when cut off relief. They had to compete with out-of-State
migrants, many of whom were recruited by the sugar-beet companies.35
Spokesmen for Roman Catholic welfare organizations, among others,
complained that the burden of charity was being shifted increasingly to
private or semipublic agencies in Denver and other cities.36
Discrimination was made still more apparent after 1933, when beet
growers began receiving crop benefit payments from the Agricultural
Adjustment Administration. W hile wages and prices in other industries
were rising during 1933 and 1934, beet workers’ wages remained but
slightly above the record low of 1932. According to a survey by the
Agricultural Experiment Station of the Colorado State College of A gri­
culture, average contract-labor rates in the northern beet-growing sec­
tion were $13.42 per acre in 1933 and $13.19 in 1934, as compared with
$12.09 in 1932, $18.09 in 1931, and $24.68 in 1930.37 Meanwhile the
incomes of the five major sugar companies during the 4 years 1933 to
1936, inclusive, as the survey pointed out, were ‘Very favorable.” 38
Particularly irritating to Mexican and Spanish-American workers was
the discrimination against them as a racial or cultural minority. State
W P A Administrator Paul Schriver later admitted with regard to relief
policy—
W e are not particularly proud o f the way in which it was handled. Men were
laid off on the assumption that they were beet laborers because o f their names—
32In various surveys the proportion of beet workers* families on relief varied in time and
place from 37 to 97 percent—the latter in the Arkansas Valley of southern Colorado during 1935.
A study of 192 beet workers* families on relief in Weld County during 1936 revealed an average
income from relief nearly as large as that from beet work—$172 and $222, respectively, for the
year. The average amount of public assistance received was 39 percent of the total average
annual income from all sources. (U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Serial No. R. 703, pp. 16-17;
Olaf Larsen: Beet Workers on Relief, Research Bulletin No. 4, Colorado State Agricultural
Experiment Station, Fort Collins, May 1937.)
33Regional Sugar Beet Labor Conference, Denver, March 19-20, 1937. Works Progress A d­
ministration (pp. 1, 38, 50).
34Longmont Times Call, June 27, 1934, September 18, 1934, June 21, 1935, March 5, 1937;
Colorado Labor Advocate (Denver), April 5, 1935; Denver Post, June 22, 1934, April 27, 1936;
Rocky Mountain News, May 5, 1937.
35Regional Sugar Beet Labor Conference, Denver, March 19-20, 1937. Works Progress A d­
ministration (pp. 15, 25, 33, 34).
36Catholic Register, March 30, 1936, January 21, 1940.
37R. T. Burdick: Economics of Sugar Beet Production. Experiment Station, Colorado State
College, Fort Collins, Bulletin 453, June 1939 (p. 36).
38Idem (p. 41); see also J. F. Rasmussen, op. cit.




CH. XV.---BEET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES
Spanish
bungled
was in
1937, p.

243

or Mexican. W e were faced with the necessity for making reductions,
the thing through and got rid o f the men whose traditional employment
the beet fields. (Regional Sugar Beet Labor Conference, March 19-20,
1.)

Another administrator said:
The W P A , in my estimation, is consequently being represented by the Spanish­
speaking people as showing class prejudice in referring to the beet work only
Spanish-speaking people. (Regional Sugar Beet Labor Conference, March 19-20,
1937, p. 39.)

The Trade U nion Unity League, following the collapse of its beetlabor strike for wage increases, sought to organize “ unemployed
councils” of beet workers to agitate for more adequate relief. This pro­
gram merged with that of the Colorado State Federation of Labor, which
took a more active interest in the unemployed than did its counterparts
in other States.
The executive board of the State federation from 1933 through 1935
carried on a campaign to organize local unemployed councils in various
communities and to unite these in the State-wide Colorado Federation
of W orkers. Free charters were issued to local councils and their rep­
resentatives were allowed to have a voice in the annual convention o f the
State federation. They had no vote since they paid no regular dues.
Membership cards issued to those who joined the councils were forfeited
when members obtained stable jobs which took them out of the category
of unemployed. According to a former secretary-treasurer of the State
federation, 25,000 membership cards were issued altogether.39
State federation officials made some attempt to handle grievances
presented by these organized groups, and to help them formulate and
negotiate demands. A few o f these councils, as in Greeley and Fort
Collins, engaged in strikes for improved conditions on F E R A workrelief projects but were unable to win substantial concessions. Some,
like the Crowley County Federation of W orkers, became local agricul­
tural-labor organizations which later acquired charters from the A .F . o f
L. as federal labor unions.40 Members of some councils in the Arkansas
Valley were reported to have participated in a series of small sporadic
strikes in the cauliflower, pea, and potato crops during 1934 and 1935.
A race riot nearly occurred in one instance in 1935 when a growershipper imported a gang of Filipinos to work in field crops.41

Beet-Labor Unionism and the Jones-Costigan Act of 1934
Federal Government legislation applying to the sugar-beet industry
provided a renewed stimulus to the unionization of beet workers. The
Jones-Costigan A ct of 1934 granted special monetary benefits to beet
growers and, uniquely for American agriculture, some measure of protec­
tion for field labor. It provided for the establishment of sugar quotas
and marketing allotments, for a processing tax on sugar, and for benefit
payments to growers making production-adjustment contracts with the
39See Proceedings, Annual Convention of the Colorado State Federation of Labor, June 1934,
Official Report (p. 20).
40Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 9, April 1936 (p. 2).
41 Field notes taken in interviews.




244

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Government. These benefits were made contingent upon clauses pro­
hibiting employment of child labor and fixing minimum wages. F or the
year 1934, before the labor provisions were applied, growers received bene­
fit payments estimated to average $17.15 per acre; a survey by the Chil­
dren’s Bureau of the U. S. Department of Labor showed average family
wage earnings of $16.40 per acre.42 Another survey by the Agricultural
State Experiment Station in Colorado indicated wage rates averaging
$13.19 per acre-43
T o w;in substantial concessions for beet workers under the terms of
this legislation, labor sympathizers felt that it was necessary to exert
organized pressure and to be represented by spokesmen at hearings and
investigations sponsored by the Department of Agriculture. Labor
unionists, particularly in the left-wing group, accordingly campaigned
actively during 1934 and 1935 to organize beet workers in sugar-factory
districts throughout the Mountain States. Loosely organized committees
of beet workers were hastily created in a number of centers such as
Denver, Noviot, Longmont, Fort Collins, and Fort Lupton, Colo., Bill­
ings, Mont., and Lovell, W yo. Federations were formed in Boulder and
Larimer Counties, Colo., to coordinate the local committees. Locals of
the old Beet W orkers’ Association were revived in such communities
as Fort Lupton, Platteville, Rollmer, and Longmont, though by this
time the radical or progressive elements had gained dominance.
Other organizations supplemented the beet workers’ unions. The
Independent League, organized in Fort Collins and Loveland, was a
heterogeneous body of unskilled workers in diverse industries. The
Joint Labor Committee of Larimer County, centered in Fort Collins, was
composed mainly of middle-class sympathizers— merchants, ministers, and
other professional men interested in the labor problems of the sugarbeet industry. Members of this group later helped to raise money to
charter a local organization of beet workers as a federal labor union of
the A .F . of L .44 The Spanish-American Protective League of Las Animas
was primarily a type of mutual-aid society common to racial or cultural
minorities. Groups such as the Arkansas Valley Cooperative Labor A s­
sociation and the Rocky Mountain Beet Laborers’ Association in Brush,
Colo., were alleged by left-wing organizers to be company unions. They
were organized, it was charged, to be the “ labor mouth-pieces” o f beet
growers and sugar companies at Government hearings.
A new class-conscious or at least job-conscious labor unionism among
sugar-beet workers grew from these scattered local groups. It became
State-wide and regional, claiming a membership of several thousands,
under radical leadership within the A .F . o f L ., and later the C .I.O .

State-wide Unionism and the A.F. o f L.
The old Beet W orkers’ Association was revived in February 1935,
when a small militant group in the vicinity of Fort Lupton, Colo., called
a convention of local beet-labor representatives in the R ocky Mountain
region. Meeting in Denver, delegates claiming to represent some 35,000
42U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Serial No. R. 703 (p. 2).

43R. T. Burdick: Economics of Sugar Beet Production (p. 36).

44Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 11, June 1936 (p. 2).




CH. XV.---B£ET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES

245

beet workers in Colorado, W yoming, Nebraska, and Montana sought
various gains under the terms of the Jones-Costigan A ct. A minimum
wage of $23 an acre based on a yield of 12 tons and a bonus of 50 cents
for every ton above this was demanded, together with enforcement of
child-labor provisions and settlement of unpaid wage claims for the 1934
season. T o exert pressure for those demands, an executive committee
of seven members was elected, district committees were established in all
factory districts, and organizers were dispatched to unionize field
workers.45
W orkers presented their demands and grievances at hearings held
by the U. S. Department of Agriculture during March in Pueblo and
Denver, Colo., Scottsbluff, Nebr., and Billings, Mont. The result to the
organized laborers was disappointing. A mimimum contract wage of
$19.50 per acre was set for northern Colorado, and $17.50 for southern
Colorado. This represented, nevertheless, a substantial gain over the
previous year’s rates of $13 to $14. Beet laborers won additional pro­
tection when the A A A opened an office in Denver to adjudicate wage
disputes for 1934 between workers and growers. Under the Jones-Costigan A ct the Secretary of Agriculture could require that all bona-fide
wage claims be paid before final benefit payments were made.46
The Colorado State Federation of Labor in 1935 again took an active
part in organizing the beet workers. It contributed toward the expenses
o f Mexican and Spanish-American organizers in the new Beet W orkers’
Association. A ccording to some officials of the State federation, two
vice presidents on its pay roll during 1935 and 1936 devoted most of their
working hours to the task of organizing beet workers, helping them
formulate their demands, and negotiating on their behalf with repre­
sentatives of sugar companies and growers.
The executive committee of the Beet W orkers’ Association held
another convention in Denver in January 1936, for the purpose of uniting
the local unions into one national organization. It was attended by 50
delegates representing 39 local organizations in 5 States (Colorado,
Nebraska, W yoming, Montana, and South Dakota). They resolved
unanimously to organize federal labor unions in every sugar-beet fac­
tory district in the Mountain States. These were to be federated in an
international beet workers’ union affiliated to the A .F . of L .47 The Na­
tional Committee to A id Agricultural W orkers, represented by John
Donovan in this region, also worked in the general campaign.
Discrimination against beet workers on relief also received attention
at the convention. A resolution addressed to Harry Hopkins, Federal
Administrator of the W orks Progress Administration, stated that—
* * * it is common knowledge that relief officials are tied with the beet growers
and their associations, and that last summer it was common practice to shut down
relief agencies at the request o f local farmers, to force workers into the fields at
even less than relief rates. (Rural Worker, Vol. 1, No. 7, February 1936, p. 1.)

The organized beet workers’ demands were further clarified in a con­
ference called by the Colorado State Federation of Labor in Greeley dur­
ing 1936. Seventy-five delegates attended, representing unaffiliated bodies
and federal labor unions recently chartered by the A .F . of L. in such
45Rocky Mountain News, January 27, 1935; Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 3, November 1935
(p. 3).
46Denver Post, March 27, 1935.
47Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 6, January 193$ (p. 1); Vol. I, No. 7, February 1936 (p. 1).




246

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

centers as Longmont, Johnston, Crowley, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan,
Fort Collins, Greeley, Eaton, Rocky Ford, and Gilcrest. A model con­
tract for the 1936 season called for a flat minimum rate of $23 an acre
and a bonus of 75 cents for each ton above 12 per acre. A ll disputes
between growers and laborers were to be settled by collective bargain­
ing and no workers were to suffer discrimination because of union mem­
bership.48
The conference voted to request W illiam Green, president of the A .F .
of L., to authorize a permanent organization to be known as the Colorado
Conference of Beet Field and Agricultural W orkers’ Unions. Pending
this authorization, a negotiating committee, which included the vice presi­
dent of the State Federation of Labor, was created to meet with the M oun­
tain States Beet Growers’ Association. John Gross, secretary of the State
federation, acted as chairman of the conference as a temporary body, and
James Graham, vice president of the State federation, served as secretary.
The central executive of the A .F . of L. authorized the formation of a
State organization, and the Colorado Federation of Agricultural W orkers
Unions was established at a conference of organized beet workers in
Greeley during August. The constitution of the new organization provided
for the establishment of an executive board and committees for each local
to negotiate and administer union policy on a State-wide basis.
Local unions m the new federation represented diverse origins and
varying degrees of bargaining power. Some were temporarily very effec­
tive. In Fort Lupton, for instance, numerous conflicting local bodies
were brought together into the Agricultural W orkers Union Local N o.
20172. This organization won for bean pickers a closed-field agreement
and a 35-percent wage increase from the Kuner and Fort Collins Canning
Cos. Union closed-field agreements were also claimed for a time in 95
percent of the sugar-beet fields in the Fort Lupton district.49
Local No. 20179 of Crowley began as a group of unemployed who
organized to protest discriminatory relief policies. It received a charter
from the State federation in 1934 as a local of the Crowley County Fed­
eration of W orkers and became a full-fledged federal labor union in 1936.50
Organizers of Local N o. 20169 in Fort Collins raised money for its
federal labor union charter by making collections among local merchants
and professional men, a number of whom had belonged to the Joint Labor
Committee of Larimer County.50 This union was active in mobilizing
mass protest meetings of beet workers and W P A workers. Its officers
claimed to have forced the county welfare committee and the State board
of public welfare to abolish soup kitchens and adopt direct relief in this
area.51
Newly organized locals such as No. 20215 in Torrington, W yo., situ­
ated in outlying areas where beet workers had had little previous experi­
ence in unions, were weak and short-lived.52
Other organizations composing the State Federation of Agricultural
W orkers were not trade-unions in the strict sense of the term. The
Comision Honorarias Mexicanos was a protective association sponsored
by the Mexican consulate. The W orkers Alliance organized relief clients
48Rural Worker, Vol. 1, No. 9, April 1936 (p. 2); Rocky Mountain News, March 11, 1936 (p. 8).
49See V. Vigil, in Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 13, August 1936 (p. 6).
50Rural Worker, Vol. 1, No. 9, April 1936 (p. 2).
51Idejn, Vol. II, No. 2, February 1937 (p. 2).
52Idem, Vol. I, No. 11, June 1936 (p. 2).




CH. AV.—BEET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES

247

and unemployed only, but cooperated with the State federation in union­
izing beet workers, and acted as spokesman for local communities which
had no chartered locals,64
A conference was called in February 1937, to prepare demands for
the forthcoming season. It was attended by 50 delegates representing 20
agricultural and beet workers’ organizations in Colorado, W yom ing, and
Nebraska. O f these, 14 were federal labor unions, 3 were locals of the
Mexican H onorary Commission, and 3 were unaffiliated local organiza­
tions.55 The conference drew up a model union contract demanding a
basic wage scale of $25 an acre, with a $1 bonus for each ton over 12 per
acre. It provided further that extra labor be hired and paid for by the
grower, and that the sugar companies be responsible for full payment of
wages to the workers.56 A negotiating committee was elected to meet
with the sugar companies and the growers’ association. It consisted of
the executive board of the Colorado Conference of Beet Field and A gri­
cultural W orkers Unions and representatives from each of the factory
districts.57
The problem of discrimination against Spanish-speaking beet workers
on relief was stressed again at the conference and some progress toward
eliminating the practice was reported. A resolution condemning discrimi­
natory relief policy was introduced by beet workers’ union delegates who
had attended the annual convention of the American Federation of Labor
in Tampa, Fla., in the fall of 1936. The resolution recommended to Harry
Hopkins that “ the system of administering work relief be revised to pro­
vide for representation of labor unions locally organized on all boards for
determining eligibility for public relief.” 58
The bargaining position of beet workers’ unions in Colorado was
weakened in 1936 when the Supreme Court invalidated the Jones-Costigan
A ct. Child workers in large numbers again competed with adults when
the labor provisions of the act were no longer enforced.59
The labor supply was augmented further by the large number of
workers discharged from W P A rolls during 1936. According to the
R ocky Mountain News of March 10, 1936, these totaled 5,200 for the
State, including 1,400 in Denver, 1,200 in Greeley, 1,000 in Colorado
Springs, 1,000 in Pueblo, 250 in Grand Junction, and several hundred in
other centers. The district W P A director was reported to have furnished
lists of relief clients to the sugar companies as a source for recruiting
workers. Company officials threatened to import laborers in large numbers
from New M exico and Arizona on the ground that there was an in­
adequate supply in northern Colorado 60
The problem o f incoming transients in Colorado, aggravated by the
sugar companies’ recruiting activities, reached its climax in the spring of
1936. Governor E. C. Johnson on April 18 proclaimed martial law along
54Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 4, April 1937 (p. 4).
55Idem, Vol. n , No. 3, March 1937 (p. 2); Proceedings of Conference of Beet Field and Agri­
cultural Workers Unions of Colorado and Neighboring States, Denver, February 6, 1937 (pp. 4-6).
56Proceedings of Conference, February 6, 1937 (p. 3); Rural Worker, VoL n , N a 3, March
1937 (p. 2).
87Rural Worker, Vol. IL No. 3, March 1937 (p. 2).
58Idem, Vol. 11, No. 1, January 1937 (p. 5); Proceedings, op. cit.
The agricultural delegates next traveled to Washington and interviewed Assistant Ad­
ministrator Aubrey Williams, to demand action to stop intimidation of beet workers. Calling the
State administrator in Colorado by long-distance telephone, Mr. Williams reportedly insisted
that there be no discrimination against beet workers, and threatened to take authority out of
the hands of local county boards if it continued. (Rural Worker, op. cit.)
59U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Serial No. R. 703 (p. 8).
60Rocky Mountain News, March 13, 1936.
654107°—46—17




LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

248

the Colorado-New M exico border in order to block the entry of transients
in search of employment. H e charged that—
* * * certain classes o f individuals within the State o f Colorado are acting in con­
junction with large numbers o f persons outside o f said State who are aliens and
indigent persons to effect an invasion o f said State. (Denver Post, Apr. 19, 1936, p. 1.)

The officer in command of the National Guard even sent airplanes over
the Oklahoma panhandle and northern New M exico to detect any m ove­
ment of migrants toward Colorado. The Denver Post reported that—
W ord came to General Kimball that labor agents, who are alleged to have con­
tracted to supply cheap alien and other labor for the Northern Colorado beet fields,
had gathered a great force o f aliens to the south of Baca County. (A pril 21, 1936,
P. 1 .)

Simultaneous emigrations of Colorado beet workers to fields in other
States raised further complications. Growers claimed that the Governor’s
blockade was creating a definite labor shortage in the Arkansas Valley
and other sugar-beet areas of Colorado. O. E. Griffiths, secretary of the
Southern Colorado Beet Growers’ Association, was of the opinion that
“ what we need is the National Guard along the northeastern Colorado
border to prevent our beet labor from going to Nebraska.” (R ock y M oun­
tain News, April 26, 1936, p. 2.)
A surplus of beet-field workers developed nevertheless. In this period
of general prosperity, expanding employment, and rising prices, wage
rates in northern Colorado remained at the 1935 level of $19.50 per acre,
while in the Arkansas Valley they fell from $17.50 per acre to $16.25.61
The negotiating committee of the Colorado Federation of Agricultural
W orkers Unions met several times with representatives of the Mountain
States Beet Growers’ Association (representing growers in Colorado,
W yoming, Montana, and Nebraska) to discuss contract demands for
sugar-beet labor. N o collective agreements were reached. The growers
proposed a minimum scale of $19.50 an acre with a bonus of 65 cents a
ton above the basic 12 tons per acre. Additional payments were to be
made in event of increases in the price of sugar under the proposed
Federal legislation for acreage reduction and benefit payments. The
federation persisted in its proposal for a $25 flat rate.
The union pressed its demands meanwhile at joint conferences at­
tended by government officials and representatives of beet workers, grow ­
ers, and refining companies. Organized labor spokesmen won an agree­
ment from the W P A stipulating that beet workers in the future would
not be laid off relief work until definite contracts had been drawn up be­
tween growers’ and workers’ representatives beforehand.62 Cooperation
from the Mexican consulate and important Catholic laymen and clergy
in Colorado was enlisted to help restrict the seasonal inflow of Mexican
and Spanish-American workers from other States.63

United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers
o f America
Beet workers’ unions during late 1936 and early 1937 became in­
creasingly interested in affiliation to the C.I.O. Their representatives at
61U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Serial No. R. 703 (p. 13).
62Rura! Worker, Vol. II, No. 5, M a y 1937 (p. 5); Proceedings, Regional Sugar B eet L abor
Conference, Works Progress Administration, Denver, March 19 and 20, 1937.
63Rural Worker, Vol. U, No. 3, March 1937.




CH. XV.---- BJ5.ET

WORKERS

IN

TH E MOUNTAIN STATES

249

the annual convention of the A .F . of L. at Tampa, Fla., in the fall of
1936 had united with other agricultural labor spokesmen in a bloc which
demanded an international charter for farm and allied workers. This they
failed to achieve. Farm-labor unionists later charged the A .F . of L.
executive with refusing to provide sufficient financial aid and personnel
for an adequate organization campaign. The more active farm-labor
unionists leaned toward the C.I.O., which promised greater support.
Fourteen active federal labor unions of beet workers, including 13
in Colorado and 1 in W yoming, surrendered their A .F . of L. charters and
joined the new C.I.O. international, the U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., when that
organization was established at the convention in Denver during July
1937. These locals formed the initial framework of U .C .A .P .A .W .A .,
District III, having jurisdiction over the States of Colorado, W yoming,
Kansas, Nebraska, and Montana. By the end of the f l o w i n g year the
district organization claimed 37 chartered locals, including 1 of mushroom
workers in Denver and 1 of sheep shearers in Montrose, southwestern
Colorado, having a total membership of 10,000 workers.64
Unionism among beet workers was stimulated in late 1937 by re­
newed Federal legislation granting benefits to growers and protection
to labor in the sugar-beet industry. The Sugar A ct of that year provided
for a quota, a processing tax on sugar, and benefits averaging $19.42 per
acre plus crop insurance for growers. These provisions were made con­
ditional upon growers’ acceptance of certain standards for child labor
and minimum wages. W age rates were to be set in each beet-growing
area at a level “ determined by the Secretary [of Agriculture] to be fair
and reasonable after investigation and due notice and opportunity for
public hearing.” 65
Expanding unionism among beet workers, first under the A .F . of L.
and later under the U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., had had some effect on wages.
After remaining at $19.50 per acre during 1935 and 1936, contract-labor
rates in northern Colorado were raised to $20.50 in 1937. The Depart­
ment of Agriculture set a $22.80 minimum for 1938 after holding public
hearings in various beet centers.66

Labor Troubles of 1938
J.
A . Beasley, president of the newly organized District No. I l l ,
U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., in the beginning favored a conciliatory policy for his
union. In a long press interview he expressed satisfaction with the labor
provisions of the new Sugar A ct and favored farmer-labor cooperation:
What we hope to do is to convince the growers that their interests and those o f
labor are naturally allied. W e stand ready to take any measures in behalf o f the
growers which will aid them to free the industry from the domination o f the proces­
sors and their bankers * * * .
Our only quarrel wT some o f the present growers’ organizations has been that
ith
some men who have guided them have been more interested in the welfare o f the
processing companies than of the growers, and in some cases have been sugarcompany stockholders * * * .
64President’s Report, Proceedings, Second Annual Convention, Denver, January 21, 22, 1939
(p. 2).
6SV. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Serial No. R. 703 (pp. 2, 3).
66Idem (p. 13); Denver Post, August 14, 1937 (p. 10), April 13, 1938 (p. 3).




250

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

I think the present rates for beet-field labor are about as high as possible under
present conditions * * * W e regard the 1938 Department o f Agriculture wage allo­
cations as fair, and all that could reasonably have been expected. (R ocky Mountain
News, November 27, 1937, pp. 1-2.)

Dissatisfaction nevertheless became widespread among the rank and
file union membership of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in the Mountain States
during 1938. A decreased beet acreage created a temporary labor surplus,
which was increased by continued importation of transient workers from
other States. Growers discriminated against resident union members.
Labor conditions in the beet fields failed to improve despite minimum
standards set by the Federal Government.
Seventy-five delegates to the District No. I l l conference o f U .C .A .
P .A .W .A . early in 1938 delivered an ultimatum to the Beet Growers’
Association. They demanded union control of hiring, substantial pay in­
creases to $26 per acre in place of the prevailing minimum of $22.80, and
guaranties of better housing for beet workers during the com ing w ork
season.67 District N o. I l l by this time claimed 47 locals having 9,000
paid-up members and an equal number of “ pledges” in Colorado, W y o ­
ming, Montana, Utah, Nebraska, and Idaho.67 In early spring, while the
growers’ association was negotiating contracts with the sugar companies,
the union sent ballots to some 20,000 beet workers in six Mountain
States to vote on the question of empowering the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . office
to call a strike for union demands.68
The strike was deferred, because the time was far from strategic.
Organized growers themselves were disputing with the sugar companies
while negotiating contracts. Members of several growers’ associations
voted to refuse to plant beets until the companies granted certain price
concessions. In at least one growing area the contract advanced by the
company was accepted only under protest. The local beet growers’ asso­
ciation released its members from any obligation to live up to the contract,
and informed them that they were free to follow their individual interests
as they saw fit.69
Beet acreage in Colorado in 1938 was the smallest in decades— 120,000
acres, as compared to an average over 10 years of 162,000. Various
reasons were advanced, such as inadequate prices from the companies,
higher wages set under the Sugar Control Act, and uncertain weather
conditions.70 The State employment service reported that many farmers
had decreased their plantings to the point where they and their families
could perform the necessary work without hired labor. U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
District President Beasley abandoned the union’s demands on the ground
that wage rates were “ satisfactory.”
W e regard the 1938 wage allocations as fair and all that could reasonably be
expected. Growers, in prices for the 1938 crop, did not get relatively as much.
Processors will get the best end of it. (C IO News, Vol. 1, No. 36, August 1938, p. 1.)

The union took direct action during this period only in pea fields in
the vicinity of Greeley (W eld County). Early in August, U .C .A .P .
A .W .A . Local N o. 158 organized the pickers, most o f whom were local
Mexican beet workers. It formulated demands for. union recognition
and a wage rate of $1.25 per hundredweight, in place o f the prevailing
20 cents per 30-pound hamper and 5 cents bonus at the end of the
67CIO News, Vol. I, No. 8, January 1938 (p. 3); Rocky Mountain News, February 11, 1938
(p. 8).
68Denver Post, April 13, 1938 (p. 1).
69Delta Daily Independent, April IS, 1938 (p. 1).
70Rocky Mountain News, May 21, 1938.




CH. XV.---BEET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES

251

harvest.71 A large employer refused to negotiate with a committee of
union members and fired two of them for organizing activity. About 400
pickers promptly struck on July 8, demanding reinstatement and back
pay, union recognition, and wage increases.72 Packet lines were established
around two large farms, to prevent labor contractors from recruiting newr
crews. Shortly afterward, Sheriff Gus Anderson arrested 17 strikers on
charges of “ unlawful assembly, violating State antipicketing law, and
obstructing the highways."73
The strike was settled within a few days through the intervention of
the regional National Labor Relations Board. That agency assisted semi­
officially on the ground that a labor contractor from Idaho had brought in
pea pickers from other States. The union won a written agreement grant­
ing recognition, back pay, and the union scale for picking.
There were threats of strikes again during the beet harvest in October.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . by this time had dropped its demands for wage
increases, and sought greater recognition and control over the hiring of
beet workers. Specifically the union demanded agreements granting closed
fields and a check-off system of collecting dues, job preference for local
and State resident workers, and union responsibility for providing grow ­
ers‘with the labor they required.74
A State-wide general strike of beet workers threatened when the
Mountain States Beet Growers' Association suddenly canceled a con­
ference which had been scheduled with U .C .A .P .A .W .A . Officials of the
association claimed that they had no authority to enter into labor agree­
ments for its members.75 Governor Ammons of Colorado and repre­
sentatives of the U . S. Department of Labor met with indignant response
from the growers when they attempted to mediate the dispute. H . L.
Brooks, leading member of the W indsor local of the association, sent a
telegram to the Governor stating:
The farmers o f the Windsor sugar factory district vigorously protest your inter­
ference in injecting your office into the beet-labor controversy in northern Colorado.
I grow 50 acres o f beets and if I am to be dominated by outside influences in
my farming operations I will quit the crop. Interference in labor problems o f us
farmers will not be tolerated. (Greeley Tribune, October 7, 1938, p. 1.)

Ralph Clar, former director of the association protested union de­
mands for the reason that other types of farming would also be domi­
nated ; beet workers would not be allowed to do any other type of work,
such as potato picking and hay harvesting, except with the permission
of the C.I.O. and on terms dictated by it. “ It would be turning northern
Colorado agriculture over to the C .I.O .," he said.76
J. A . Beasley announced that the association's refusal to negotiate
had left the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . with “ no other recourse but to order a
strike."77 The W orkers Alliance of Colorado pledged full support by
seeking relief for strikers and preventing unemployed workers from taking
jobs on struck beet fields. The State W P A administrator took a neutral
position, announcing that clients would not be laid o ff in order to take
the places vacated by strikers.77 County officials, more closely associated
71 Rocky Mountain News, July 13, 1938.
72CI0 News, Vol. I, No. 32, July 16, 1938 (p. 1).
73Rocky Mountain News, July 11 and 13, 1938.
Greeley Tribune, October 4, 1938 (p. 1).
75Idem, October 6, 1938 (p. 1).
76Idem, October 11, 1938 (p. 2).
77Idem, October 7, 1938.
.........................
“ The W P A is not permitted to interfere with established union relationships and as a matter
of policy will not lay off or cause to be laid off workers now employed by the W P A in order
that such workers may take the jobs previously held by men on strike.”




252

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

with growers, were less impartial. Charles O. Plumb, W eld County
Commissioner, expressed the opinion that the union “ would be taking
unfair advantage of the growers, and should not be given relief while
on strike.” 78
The position of the union was hopelessly weak. Publicity attending
the threatened strike, and the fact that topping was the most highly paid
operation in beet work, attracted large numbers of laborers from other
areas. Migration of white “ Dust B ow l” refugees from the Middle W est
and Southwest was reaching its peak. The Greeley Tribune reported
“ hundreds of farmers and farm workers flocking into northern Colorado
from Kansas, Missouri, and W yom ing, applying for any jobs left open
if the C.I.O. calls a strike.” 79 Hundreds of local beet laborers were al­
ready available because of the reduced beet acreage. One prominent
grower warned union organizers that—
They don’t control enough o f the beet labor to make a ripple in the harvesting
of the crop, and those going on strike and breaking their contract will have a mighty
hard time getting a contract to break hereafter. (Greeley Tribune, October 7, 1938.)

The union position became desperate and a complete debacle was
only narrowly averted. U .C .A .P .A .W .A . President Donald Henderson
and V ice President Leif Dahl rushed out to Colorado to improve the
union organization in District III in case a strike became unavoidable.
High C.I.O. officials meanwhile put pressure on the U. S. Department
of Agriculture and other agencies in Washington, D. C., to seek a com ­
promise from the growers.80 Beet workers were requested to defer strike
action for several days. Governor Ammons, at the request of the Con­
ciliator from the U. S. Department of Labor, appointed a mediation com ­
mittee of five members, to seek adjustment of the issues.81
A settlement of sorts was finally reached which included a “ statement
of policy” rather than a bona-fide union-employer agreement for the beet
industry. The District U .C .A .P .A .W .A . called off the strike at the re­
quest of James Patton, member of the Governor's committee and presi­
dent of the Colorado Farmers Union. The Farmers Union in return
agreed to organize beet growers into a group separate from the M oun­
tain States Beet Growers' Association. This new dual organization was
to cooperate with the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in securing adequate beet prices
for growers and in collective bargaining over wages and working con­
ditions.82
Organized beet growers and local newspapers denounced this move
as an act in “ collusion” with the C.I.O., to furnish a way out for the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . and “ save its face.” 83 Patton, on the other hand, claimed
that the beet growers were being betrayed by their own marketing asso­
ciations in dealing with both the sugar companies and beet workers'
unions. H e said:
The fundamental difficulty in the beet-growing areas is not the controversy
between the beet growers and the beet-field workers. The real problem is that beet
growers have themselves been betrayed and their interests neglected by their organ­
ization. (Greeley Tribune, October 14, 1938, p. 1.)
78Greeley, Tribune, October 14, 1938 (p. 1).
'79Idem, October 14, 1938.
80CIO News, Vol. I, No. 5, October 15, 1938 (p. 1).
81 Greeley Tribune, October 11, 1938.
82CIO News, Vol. T, No. 46, October 22, 1938 (p. 7).
83Greeley Tribune, October 14, 1938 (p. 6).




CH. XV.—BEET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES
Decline of U.C.A.P.A.W.A

253

*

Beet farmers and field workers gained little from the agreement with
the Farmers Union, as the latter did not represent a significant propor­
tion of the grower-employers in Colorado. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . declined
rapidly in membership in the Mountain States as the feeling spread that
the settlement had been a “ sell-out.” This suspicion became stronger when
the incumbent district president, J. A . Beasley, was removed from office
on charges of betrayal and bribery, leaving the union heavily in debt.
Retrenchment by the national U .C .A .P .A .W .A . organization also
weakened District No. III. The more isolated or outlying locals were
allowed to lapse because of the high cost of maintaining them, and the
organization was restricted to locals within easy access to district head­
quarters. The only ones remaining by 1940 were two in Fort Morgan
and one each in Denver, Fort Lupton, La Salle, and Longmont. These
were in the most intensive beet-raising area in the country, a region suf­
ficiently compact to maintain for a time the contacts and services from
headquarters. Early in 1941 District No. I l l was abandoned entirely by
the national U .C .A .P .A .W .A . executive, and the international’s repre­
sentative, Clyde Johnson, was transferred to San Antonio, T ex.
The union modified its policy after 1938. It regulated strikes more
strictly by requiring their authorization from the district office before­
hand. U .C .A .P .A .W .A . Local No. 6 of Fort Lupton, without resorting
to strikes, won an agreement with bean-picking contractors granting union
recognition, job preference, and a' substantial increase in wage rates.84
The agricultural strikes that did occur after 1938 were spontaneous or
unauthorized. T w o hundred migrant pea pickers in the vicinity of La
Jara and Bountiful, south-central Colorado, participated in an unsuccess­
ful spontaneous walk-out for 2 days during late August 1939. The current
picking rate in the area was 20 cents per 30-pound hamper. A labor con­
tractor imported the 200 pickers and their families from Idaho to harvest
1,100 acres of peas at 15 cents per hamper. W hen the migrants struck
for the 20-cent rate, their places were taken by local workers whom they
had previously displaced.
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . District No. I l l in the Mountain States had to
assume increasingly the character of a semipolitical pressure group, as.
the only effective protection for beet labor rested with government
agencies. The union acted as spokesman for beet workers at wage hear­
ings held by the Department of Agriculture, as well as at conferences
called by State and Federal relief agencies and employment services.
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . locals took on the functions of the W orkers Alliance
in many localities in seeking to protect the rights of beet workers on
relief. Beet-labor unions acted in concert with their allies to seek the elec­
tion of county commissioners, sheriffs, and other law-enforcement officials
who would be sympathetic to organized workers.
In the last analysis the chief reason for the ineffectiveness of unions
in collective bargaining was the large and growing influx of transient
labor from other States. This reached its greatest proportions during the
threatened strike of 1938, and caused alarm in government as well as
labor circles. Faced with growing competition from unorganized workers
of other States, the unions were helpless to improve their position through
84U.C.A.P.A.W .A. News, Vol. I, No. 9, July-August 1940 (p. 14).




254

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

direct action. They had to rely on legislative action to gain any measure
of security for their members.
The problem of seasonal migration into Colorado had become even
more critical after Governor Johnson’s attempted blockade in 1936. Hear­
ings of the Colorado Industrial Commission during 1937 had unearthed
much evidence regarding employment of child labor, depressed living
conditions, and continued recruitment of workers from other States. The
Rocky Mountain News for May 8, 1937, stated:
Although the beet growers and the laborers both agreed that there was ample
labor available, it was admitted by representatives o f the Great Western Sugar Co.
that labor was being recruited from out of the State and that transportation was
being furnished.

Governor Ammons called a special conference of sugar-company of­
ficials, relief administrators, and State employment officers to deal with
the problem. The attorney general meanwhile investigated labor-recruit­
ing handbills carrying the name of the Great W estern Sugar Co., alleged
to be distributed along the W est Coast and throughout New M exico.8®
After a conference of representatives of State relief and employment
service agencies, labor unions, and employers, State officials announced a
drive to restrict employment of out-of-State labor in the Colorado beet
fields during 1938.86 It was reported, nevertheless, that 2,000 beet laborers
entered Colorado during a single 2-week period and that their trans­
portation had been paid by the sugar-refining companies. Employment
on emergency relief projects at the same time was reported to be at the
highest spring level in 3 years.87 The beet companies continued to justify
their policy on the ground that there was a labor shortage in Colorado
because resident relief clients would not or could not do beet work.88
The Governor finally called a conference early in April 1939 for repre­
sentatives of labor, growers, sugar companies, and government officials.
Growers and sugar-company officials promised to hire local workers re­
leased from W P A , when these were found willing and able, and agreed
not to advertise or recruit labor from other States. The president of the
Southern Colorado Beet Growers Association, however, warned the
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . that—
I f it should happen that labor cannot see fit to accept the wages fixed [by the
Department o f Agriculture] we shall have to go outside o f Colorado and get labor.
(Denver Post, April 5, 1939, p. 4.)

U .C .A .P .A .W .A . spokesmen for the beet workers agreed to abide by
the prevailing wage and accept employment at that figure. Labor condi­
tions in the beet fields did not grow materially better during 1939 despite
these promises for improvement. The union’s declining influence was re­
flected in an average decrease of 4 percent in beet wages below the 1938
level. Contract-labor rates for 1939 approximately equaled those of 1937.89
In its Statement to the Sugar Beet W age Hearings in Denver, January
19,1940 (pp. 1 ,4 -5 ), U .C .A .P .A .W .A . District N o. I l l announced that—
85Rocky Mountain News, April 30, 1937; May 14, 1938.
86Idem, May 14, 1938.
87Idem, May 21, 1938.
88The Colorado (Denver), April 8, 1939.
89Denver Post, March 31, 1939 (p. 26).




CH. XV.---BEET WORKERS IN THE MOUNTAIN STATES

255

The 1939 season was a very unpleasant one for sugar-beet workers. Grower-labor
contracts were violated at will * * * violations o f the law and discrimination against
workers indicate very serious labor conditions that point to laxity in administering
the law and the need for closer examination o f conditions by the Department o f
Agriculture.

The union charged that many members, because of their C .I.O . affili­
ations, were refused contracts in the factory districts in which they re­
sided. They were forced consequently to migrate to other States for beet
work. Sugar companies, in spite of their pledges to Governor Carr the
previous year, were reported as having continued to import more than
1,000 workers to replace resident beet labor* Many beet workers had
had hoeing and topping jobs taken away from them in spite of written or
verbal contracts and thus in violation of the law. Extra labor was hired
for topping in order to shorten the harvest period, and the income of
workers under contract was correspondingly reduced. Many beet laborers
were forced to work on share contracts which, unlike those applying to
tenants, did not allow the worker to share in benefit payments to the
grower. Finally, it was charged, labor continued to receive inadequate
protection from county committees, the only enforcement agencies to
which they could appeal, because these were composed almost entirely of
grower-employers.90
90Statement to the Sugar Beet Wage Hearings, Denver, January 10, 1940 (pp. 1-5).




Ch a pter

XVI.— Unionism in the Southwest: Texas and
Oklahoma
Displacement and Agrarian Agitation

It is perhaps inaccurate to call rural unionism a farm labor movement
in an area as large and diversified as Texas and Oklahoma. The organized
agitation that developed periodically among tenants and laborers in these
two States during the past 6 decades or more was usually local, infrequent,
and scattered. It tended to express the aspirations of farm operators rather
than of wage laborers, since in most areas of the Southwest the former
constituted the majority of the rural population. The interests of farm
workers were not thought to be different from those of the operators, since
it was the accepted belief that the workers' future lay in rising to the
position of proprietor. Cotton and other cash crop areas of the region
usually were characterized by having more white farm operators, a smaller
proportion of sharecroppers and day laborers, larger family acreage allot­
ments, and higher standards of living than were true of plantation areas
of the older South.
The conditions which gave rise to agrarian movements in the South­
west, however, were not fundamentally different from those which stimu­
lated unionism and unrest among casual workers in California or among
plantation sharecroppers and day laborers in eastern Arkansas and Ala­
bama. The California pattern of large specialized farms which hire large
groups of seasonal laborers for intermittent employment has been spread­
ing to many family farming areas of Texas and Oklahoma, as well as to
the plantation lands of the Old South. A growing burden of indebtedness
and a rising rate of tenancy have been characteristic among farm operators
in the Southwest. These trends were climaxed in many sections by mass
displacement through mechanization and catastrophic climatic factors
such as drought. In many areas the total number of farm operators de­
clined. Individual holdings were consolidated into larger tracts cultivated
by power-farming methods, and hiring a greater proportion of seasonal
workers than before. The capital investment required for successful
farming increased. Displaced small operators either remained, to exist
upon casual employment supplemented by public relief, or migrated to
other areas in search of other jobs or other farms to rent.
Agrarian agitation in the Southwest was a byproduct largely of the
farm operators' decline. A s indebtedness, tenancy, and displacement in­
creased among them, their economic and social position came to parallel
that of casual laborers and sharecroppers in other regions. The line be­
tween owner, tenant, and laborer in many cases became extremely fluid
at a depressed income level. On a few occasions all three groups partici­
pated jointly in movements to protect common interests and to promote
common objectives. Several such organizations expressed a radical
philosophy and adopted tactics and policies ordinarily associated with
labor unions. For these reasons, some associations of tenants and laborers
in Texas and Oklahoma, as well as in States of the Old South, may be
considered as much a part of farm-labor unionism as were the organiza­
tions composed exclusively of wage workers.
256




CH. XVI —UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

257

The most important radical agrarian movements in the Southern
States began among the relatively independent cotton farmers of the
Southwest, who were free from the frustrations of strong racial
divisions and caste relationships which the plantation system imposed. In
other Southern States agrarian organizations drew their largest following
among small hill farmers of the Piedmont sections, who were motivated
by latent opposition to large planters and their allied business interests.
The earlier movements were primarily associations of farm proprietors
rather than laborers. Outstanding among these were the Farmers Alliance,
the Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union, and the Farm Labor
Union, all of which originated in Texas.1 The Farm Labor Union was the
most radical and, more than the others, represented the attitudes of the
poorer tenants and laborers. The preamble to its constitution stressed the
unity of interest between farmers and workers who “ have been slaves for
years of the manufacturers, the gamblers, and the speculators of every
type."2
Agrarian organizations among the poorer class of tenants, sharecrop­
pers and laborers in eastern Oklahoma during the early twentieth century,
as will be described later, more nearly approached the status of true farmlabor unions.
Class-conscious unionism among agricultural wage workers as a sepa- •
rate occupational group did not develop in the South west until the thirties.
It was confined largely to Texas, where casual and migratory seasonal
labor had become a vital and distinct element in the agricultural economy.
In Oklahoma and other Southern States agricultural wage workers con­
tinued to be organized with poorer tenants and sharecroopers, because
these groups were not sufficiently different in status and economic
interest to make separate unions feasible.

Beginnings o f Labor Organization in Texas
The Cowboy Strike of 1883s
One of the first agricultural industries of the United States to be
dominated by large-scale operators was cattle ranching in the Southwest.
The cattle baron developed at the expense of the small ranch proprietor
and depended largely upon hired labor to perform the essential ranch
work. The increasing concentration in ownership and control was ac­
companied by*much friction. The first large strike of hired laborers in
the general field of agriculture occurred among some 325 cowboys in
western Texas during the early eighties, when fencing the range was
rapidly driving small cattlemen out of business. The labor condition
which provoked this outbreak was a precursor of similar situations in other
1R. L. Hunt: A History of Farmer Movements in the Southwest. Texas A & M College
(College Station, Tex.), 1925.
2Quoted from R. E. Anderson: History of the Farm Labor Union of Texas, M. A. Thesis,
University of Texas (Austin), 1938.
3The discussion of this incident is based upon Dr. Ruth Allen’ s Chapters in the History of
Organized Labor in Texas, Bureau of Research in the Social Sciences, University of Texas
(Austin. University of Texas Publications, No. 4141, Nov. 15, 1941, pp. 33-41).




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

fields of agriculture in the Southwest which were to create unrest in later
years.
The cowboy in American folklore has long been a romantic, almost
legendary, figure who typified the individualism and opportunity of the
frontier. H e was considered a special variant of the year-round hired
man. H e felt a personal loyalty to “ the Old Man” and had before him
constantly the goal of becoming an independent cattle raiser. Reality, of
course, differed sharply from this idealized picture. O f all forms of agri­
culture during the latter part of the nineteenth century, cattle ranching
probably exhibited least the attributes of the “ agricultural ladder,” much
less of family farming. Labor relations on the cattle ranch resembled those
of an industrial enterprise rather than a farm lan d the group attitudes
which developed were likewise similar. Most cattle ranches employed
cowboys in gangs or crews under the supervision of ranch foremen or
riding bosses. They were laborers hired to do special seasonal jobs
during the round-up and odd ranch jobs during other months of the year.
Dr. Ruth Allen of the University of Texas points out that—
Whatever else the cowboy may or may not have been, he was a hired hand, a
laborer who worked for wages. He was a casual laborer with all that term implies—
no settled habitation, no family, no security o f status or income. It has not been
. fully appreciated that the most dramatic, the most direct action in the American
labor movement took place in the mines and on the railroads of the W est among
workers who had ridden the range and followed the cattle trails.

The rapid increase in population and growth of cities in the United
States during the latter part of the nineteenth century furnished a steadily
increasing demand for meat. A t the same time, expanding railroad facili­
ties, and new, improved methods for packing, preserving, and shipping
placed distant markets within reach of stock raisers. The price of range
cattle rose considerably during the seventies and eighties. H igh profits
attracted large investments and stimulated a rapid expansion of cattle
ranching in the relatively unpopulated western sections of the Southwest
and Middle W est, and the prevalence of absentee ownership increased.
The heavy capital requirements and complex financial dealings involved
in raising livestock for distant markets, as in growing and shipping fruits
and vegetables in later years, tended to eliminate the small owner. M ost
of the expansion was undertaken by large financial interests— railroad
companies which had acquired the land as a State subsidy, and foreign or
domestic corporations having shares listed in eastern financial markets.
The New Y ork & Texas Land Co. Limited and the Franklin Land &
Cattle Co., for instance, each owned millions of acres of grazing land. A
growing volume of bonds and debentures of cattle companies was sold in
England and Scotland as well as in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.
By the early eighties the Texas Panhandle was almost entirely owned or
controlled by large Scotch and English cattle corporations. The strike of
1883 occurred mainly on ranches owned by enterprises of this type.
Concentration of ownership and control of cattle ranching in the hands
of large absentee corporations created friction. The long struggle of smallherd owners against the encroachments of cattle barons and large land
companies is a saga of the Old W est. The land companies’ policy of
fencing off large ranges as private property destroyed the independence of
many cattle ranchers, created class divisions, and fostered an antagonism




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

259

which often flared into open conflict. Many small-herd owners could sur­
vive only if they were hired seasonally as cowboys on the larger ranches,
could graze their cattle there, and join in the annual spring round-up.
The interests of cowboys as hired wage laborers were, then, not dis­
tinctly differentiated from those of small-herd owners, and both partici­
pated in the strike of 1883. Tom Harris, the recognized strike leader, was
reported at the time to have “ enough cattle of his own that he doesn’t
have to work for wages.” The interests of the small owners were ex­
pressed in a demand during the strike that they “ be allowed to own and
run our range cattle on the premises.” (Allen, p. 38.)
The specific demands of the cowboys who were hired as straight wage
laborers covered wage rates and living conditions. Poor food in particular
was a cause for complaint. The strike began in the spring of 1883 when
cowboys in the Canadian River country near the town of Tascosa met
and prepared an ultimatum to present to their employers, stating that they
had agreed among themselves not to work for less than $50 per month
for “ hands” and $75 per month for those running an outfit, and requiring
in addition that cooks be paid the same wage as cowboys. The movement
spread rapidly and soon involved some 325 cowboys employed on 7
ranches, including the L S, the L X , the Altaz, the T-A nchor, the X IT ,
and the Lit outfits.
The effectiveness of the strike was due partly to the fact that the cow­
boys had been saving their money for some time and could live on the
“ stake.” Moreover, they quit work just before the spring round-up, when
the vulnerability of the employers gave the laborers a great bargaining
advantage. Apparently not all of the demands were met, however, as
some trouble continued between the contending groups. The strike ended,
finally when the strikers had spent their money and were forced to return
to work. The end was hastened by the death of Tom Harris, the leader,
and by the decisive action of the employers in calling upon the Texas
Rangers to protect their interests.
W ages were raised from $1.18 to $1.68 per day, the strikers were paid
for lost time, and the number of workers was not changed by the strike.
Hours of work, which were not included in the demands, remained un­
changed at 105 per week. The employers’ loss was estimated at $3,835.
This cowboy strike was in essence a group protest against conditions
of a kind which later gave rise to labor troubles in other fields of agricul­
ture. It was not low wages or intolerable working conditions per se which
provoked unrest. Rather it was the growing division of interest and the
impersonal relationships which developed between employers and em­
ployees as the scale of operations in cattle ranching became larger.4 Dr.
Ruth Allen concludes:
They [cowboys] rather than the miners whose struggles have filled pages o f
labor history, were the legitimate precursors o f the western labor movement. The
cowboy, due to the nature o f his work, became more completely cognizant o f the
4The statement of Sheriff East of Oldham County as to the cause of the strike was illuminat­
ing;
“ You see, the cow business is not what it used to be. You take such as John Chisum or
Charley Goodnight, they were real people. They got right out with the boys on the trail, did
just as much work as the boys, ate the same kind of food. Their cowboys would have died
m the saddle rather than have complained. See what we have now; a bunch of organized
companies. Some of them are foreign and have costly managers and bookkeepers who live
on and drink the best stuff money can buy and call their help cow servants. And they expect
them to work for $30 per month and expect them to work as much as from 12 to 18 hours a day
on common rations.” (Allen, pp. 37-38.)




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

growing disparity in attitudes and wealth between his employer and himself. If
the cowboy’s day had not already ended, because his industry was passing away
beneath him, it would probably have been the hired cattle hands rather than the
miners and the lumberjacks whose resentment echoed menacingly through the history
o f the West. (Allen, p. 41.)

The Mexican Protective Association
A s farms throughout large sections of Texas during the twentieth
century specialized increasingly in cash crops, landowners came to depend
upon a growing supply of cheap seasonal labor. Cotton especially re­
quired large numbers of workers during the brief periods of chopping and
picking. These were recruited chiefly from Texas-born Mexicans, supple­
mented by a huge volume of immigrants coming from M exico into Texas
on a scale far surpassing that in Arizona and California. Landowners in
some sections of northeastern and south-central Texas followed the plan­
tation system of maintaining a year-round supply of seasonal labor by
means of sharecropping and share-renting agreements with Mexicans,
Negroes, and whites. A n increasing number, however, hired migratory
and casual day laborers. Native and foreign-born Mexican migrants as
early as the nineties were following the cotton harvest on foot into eastern
Texas for 5 months of the year. They journeyed sometimes as far as the
Sabine River before returning to their homes in M exico or south Texas.5
By 1910 they were traveling as family groups by train and horse-drawn
vehicle and were covering a much larger cotton-growing area in their
seasonal migrations.
The circumstances under which most Mexicans immigrated to Texas
made them particularly subject to exploitation by labor contractors and
recruiting agents. According to the farm placement division of the Texas
State Employment Service, there were more illegal than legal entries up
to the 1920’s. These proved a “ lever of advantage” to the agents, who
“ could and often did keep the fact of illegality * * * dangling over the
heads of the frightened peon workers, paying them meager wages and
treating them almost as slaves.” 6
Mexicans on the land had a social and economic status similar to that
of Negroes in other sections of the South. They were a large, lowly paid
racial minority, and most of them were disfranchised by the State poll
tax. A s laborers or tenants their bargaining position was much weaker
than that of the landlords or employers. Numerous complaints were
voiced at hearings held by the U . S. Commission on Industrial Relations in
1915. Contracts between landlords and tenants or sharecroppers were
said to be unenforceable in practice or before the law. M exican as well
as white and Negro tenants were burdened with heavy indebtedness, high
rates of interest on credit, and high prices for the necessaries they pur­
chased. Not infrequently, it was charged, situations of peonage developed
5Paul S. Taylor: An American-Mexican Frontier. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel
Hill, 1934 (p. 102).
6J. H. Bond: Employment Problems of Migratory Farm Workers, in Hearings before the
Select Committee to Investigate the Interstate Migration of Destitute Citizens, House of Repre­
sentatives, 76th Cong., 3d Sess. (hereafter called the Tolan Committee), Part 5, Oklahoma City
Hearings, pp. 1799-1832; also, Origins and Problems of Texas Migratory Farm Labor, Brief
prepared by the Farm Placement Service Division of the Texas State Employment Service,
Austin, 1940 (p. 17).
A special type oi labor agent developed—a “ curbstone operator” or “ man-catcher” whose
practice was to gather groups of workers—Mexican, white, and Negro—for “ selling” and “ re­
selling” to farmers. (Brief, p. 18.)




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

261

in which debtors were forced under armed guard to work out their obli­
gations.7
Under conditions like these, any collective action by laborers or ten­
ants was checked almost as completely as on plantations in the Old South.
Protest against unsatisfactory working conditions was individual and
passive; the rate of labor turn-over was high. Strikes were few, sporadic,
and local. The superintendent of a farm enterprise owned by a corporation
described one small walk-out of Mexican farm workers thus:
Last fall a bunch o f Mexicans, 15 or 20 receiving 60 cents a hundred for picking
cotton, asked for 75 cents; said if we didn’t pay them they would go where they
could get it, and my man told them to go, ancj they went. (Final Report and Testi­
mony, Commission on Industrial Relations, p. 9258.)

The first union to be organized among low-income Mexicans in agri­
culture was the Mexican Protective Association, established in southern
Texas during 1911. It was an amorphous organization made up of smallfarm owners, tenants, and day laborers. Like the precursors of Mexican
labor unions in California and Colorado, it was primarily an immigrant
brotherhood or mutual-aid society designed, in the words of its secretary,
to “ come out for the members in case of abuse— murders, lynchings, loss
of crops, or violations of law.” 8 It also provided sick and death benefits
and assisted in providing relief to distressed Mexicans, both members
and nonmembers.8
The association’s membership fluctuated widely between 1911 and
1914 because of large influxes of Mexicans from across the border. It
was weakened in 1914 by depressed conditions in the cotton market and
consequently low earnings of tenants and laborers. It was disrupted also
by internecine strife between the moderate or conservative group in con­
trol and a left-wing faction which was influenced, directly or indirectly,
by the Industrial W orkers of the W orld.9

E a rly Farm -Tenant and L a b or U nions in O klahom a
Though the largest radical agrarian movements among small-farm
operators began in Texas, they reached their fullest development in Okla­
homa. A s the last frontier where free land was available, this State
attracted large numbers of disaffected rural and industrial laborers who
leaned towards radical political philosophies and collective action for
economic objectives. The extreme mobility of Oklahoma’s population also
contributed to the growth of the movement. The proportion of its resi­
dents who had come from other States was the largest in the Nation, and
the turn-over of its tenants and laborers was particularly high.10
The rural as well as the urban population was less bound by concepts of
tradition and status which hindered the growth of organized opposition
7Final Report and Testimony. Commission on Industrial Relations, established by the act of
August 23, 1912, Washington, D. C., 1915, Vol. X (pp. 9201-9204).
«Idem (p. 9200).
9Idem (p. 9201).
10The U. S. Census of Agriculture figures for 1935 indicated a relatively high rate of mobility
of farm tenants in Oklahoma: 42.9 percent of Oklahoma’s tenants had lived for less than 1 year
on the farms they were occupying, as compared with a national average of 34.2 percent and
an average for the southern Cotton Belt of 40.2 percent. In Oklahoma 21.9 per cent of the
tenants had lived 5 years or longer on their present farms, compared with 28.6 percent for the
country at large and 24.2 percent for the Cotton Belt. (0 . D. Duncan: Theory and Conse­
quences of Mobility of Farm Population, Oklahoma A & M College, Stillwater, Circular No. 88,
May 1940, pp. 12-13.)




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

movements among poorer farm groups in other sections of the South.
Moreover, Oklahoma, of all States in the South, was least torn by racial
divisions.1 Farmer and labor movements in Oklahoma were unimpeded
1
by the N egro problem of States farther east, and were not disrupted by
racial divisions between whites and Mexicans as in Texas.
Agrarian movements in Oklahoma resembled labor unions rather than
associations of independent farmers. Prevalent tenancy and displace­
ment put a large part of the rural population in an extremely precarious
marginal position between farm operator and propertyless casual laborer.
Organizations such as the Farmers Alliance, the Farmers Union, and the
Farm Labor Union appealed to the more substantial small farmers, i.e.,
those who owned or could borrow the money required to finance coopera­
tive ventures. They could do little for small owners of submarginal land,
sharecroppers, property less tenants, and laborers, whose need for
organized bargaining strength was perhaps greatest.

Miscellaneous Organizations, 1909-14
Several local and short-lived but nevertheless militant organizations
developed among the poorer farm tenants and laborers in Oklahoma
during the immediate prewar decade. Some professed the class-conscious
philosophy of a full-fledged industrial labor movement. The Renters
Union of Oklahoma, organized in McLain County during September
1909, expressed a strong Socialist sentiment in the preamble to its con­
stitution :
The financial emancipation of the working class can only be accomplished when
the means o f life have passed into the hands o f the workers. This great good can
be accomplished only through a united class-conscious organization o f workers.13

The union in actual policy was concerned primarily with the interests
of tenant proprietors. It sought particularly to win improved landlordtenant contracts and to establish “ agricultural arbitration courts’’ which
could protect tenants having weak bargaining power.13 A similar organiza­
tion was started in W aco, Tex., in 1911; in November 1913, the two
merged and assumed the name of the Land League.14
A somewhat similar organization, the Farmers Protective Association,
was organized in Oklahoma during the immediate prewar years. By 1914
it claimed some 9,000 members, 95 percent of whom were reported to be
tenants. It stated that its purpose was to resist usurious charges by banks
in particular, and to improve farm conditions in general.15 Various Social­
ist organizations were also active among tenants, small farmers, and
laborers during 1911 and 1912.16 The Socialist Party had gained an appre­
ciable following in the eastern section of Oklahoma where cotton was the
chief crop and the problem of an impoverished tenantry most serious. In
HO. D. Duncan: Population Trends in Oklahoma, Oklahoma A & M College, Stillwater,
Bulletin No. 224, March 1935 (p. 10).
The population in the 1939 census was 98.6 percent American and 87.5 percent native white.
12Labor History of Oklahoma, W P A Federal Writers Project, Oklahoma City, 1939 (p. 39).
13Final Report and Testimony, Commission on Industrial Relations, Vol. IX (p. 9064).
14Idem (p. 9130).
15Idem (p. 9095).
16I d e m (p p . 9102-9119).




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

263

1911 it was reported to have won one-third of the votes in Seminole,
Pontotoc, Pottawatomie, Hughes, and Pittsburg Counties.1
7
M ost unions of farm tenants and laborers of Oklahoma had disappeared
entirely or become inactive by 1915. Some minor acts of violence were
reported to have been committed by members on the property of landlords
and employers, but there is little or no evidence to show that such acts
were the result of deliberate or official union policies.1
7

The Working Class Union and the “ Green Corn Rebellion” 1
*
The most sensational of all early farm tenant and labor demonstrations
in the Southwest was the brief armed revolt of some 2,000 tenants, small
farmers and laborers in eastern Oklahoma in the incident known as the
“ Green Corn Rebellion.,, The influence of radical labor unionism and the
philosophy of direct action, as exemplified in the I.W .W ., was apparent
in this outbreak.
The idealistic doctrines of the Socialist Party and the ineffective pro­
gram of the Renters Union and its prototypes had failed to improve con­
ditions appreciably among the impoverished tenants and laborers of
eastern Oklahoma. A few I.W .W . organizers meanwhile had been active
around the lumber camps and mines of western Arkansas and south­
eastern Oklahoma. During the early years of W orld W ar I their doc­
trine of direct action had taken hold among some of the poorer workers
in the rural population. This doctrine found expression by late 1914 in a
militant secret organization known as the W orking Class Union. Though
first organized among industrial workers in the vicinities of Fort Smith
and Van Buren, Ark., its main following was recruited from farm laborers
and tenants in eastern Oklahoma. The W .C .U ., according to its or­
ganizers, at one time had close to 25,000 adherents in this region.
The union advocated a program of revolutionary action to attain such
ends as abolition of rent, interest, and profit taking; Government owner­
ship of public utilities; and free schools and textbooks. It was reported
that the W .C .U . led what was probably the first union-organized strike of
agricultural laborers in the Southwest. It was reported in one sou rce:
(Fort Smith, May 2, 1916.) Farm hands employed at Moffatt, Okla., and vicinity,
opposite Fort Smith, Ark., went on strike Monday because their employers refused
to increase their wages from $1 to $1.25 a day. The number o f strikers cannot be
learned, but it is understood that the movement has affected many. Several farmers
and planters from the Moffatt region who were in Fort Smith Monday declared that
their employees were not in sympathy with the strike, but refused to work for fear
o f being dealt with violently.
Some planters assert that the W orking Class Union, which has a large following
among the farm laborers in many parts o f Oklahoma, particularly in Sequoia County,
is behind the strike. (Quoted from E. L. Nourse: Agricultural Economics, University
o f Chicago Press, Chicago, 1916, p. 860.)

The W orking Class Union lost many members in eastern Oklahoma
as the war progressed and prosperity brought improvement in conditions
for farm tenants and laborers. The promulgation of the National Draft
A ct in 1917, however, caused renewed unrest and indirectly revived the
union. The draft was unpopular among poorer farm groups in the section.
17Labor History of Oklahoma (p. 40).
*®Most of the material in this section is based upon the Labor History of Oklahoma by the
Federal Writers Project, cited in previous pages. For fuller discussion see Appendix M (p. 442).
654107°—46—18




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

who were just emerging from years of poverty. It provided the W .C .U .
with an opportunity for successful agitation under the militant leadership
of an I.W .W . organizer from Chicago.
Violence followed the arrest of several men for resisting the draft
during June 1917. Arms and dynamite were obtained by the union, and
waterworks and bridges were blown up. Further arrests of union members
brought organized armed resistance from an “ army” of some 2,000 farm­
ers, including Negroes and Seminole Indians.
The “ rebellion” was suppressed by August, after county sheriffs had
formed large posses of citizens to crush the demonstrations. M ore than
450 participants were arrested, of whom 193 were charged with draft
resistance and 8 leaders with seditious conspiracy; the rest were freed or
paroled. Eighty-six were finally convicted by the Federal Courts.

Oklahoma in the Thirties: Displacement, Migration, and Unionism
Unionism among farm operators as well as industrial laborers ex­
panded rapidly in Oklahoma during the comparatively prosperous decade
of the twenties. The Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union was
revived and reorganized, multiplying several times in membership and
establishing many cooperative projects throughout the State. Tenancy
among farm operators meanwhile continued to increase.
The problem of displacement and migration in Oklahoma was more
widely publicized than that of any other State in the union during
the 1930’s. Hitherto the most persistent rural question in the Southwest
had been the growing indebtedness and tenancy among farm operators,
and this trend had furnished the chief “ protest motive” for numerous
agrarian movements. The chief problem in the thirties became that of
propertyless rural migrants whose numbers were swelled by displacement
arising mainly from adverse climatic factors and accelerated technological
change.
Mass displacement in the Southwest did not give rise to militant labor
and tenant unionism or widespread strikes as it had in other regions. Farm
tenants and sharecroppers in the western Cotton Belt, in contrast to plan­
tation areas in States to the east, were independent individuals with social
standing nearly equal to neighboring owners or landlords, rather than
closely supervised dependent gangs who were sharply differentiated in
race and status from their landlord-managers. Their reactions when they
were displaced were correspondingly individualistic; separate families
migrated to cities or other farm areas, individuals competed for jobs or
for farms to rent, and their personal relations with landlords grew strained.
Strikes and organized roadside demonstrations of the kind staged by the
Southern Tenant Farmers Union and the United Cannery, Agricultural,
Packing and Allied W orkers of America among sharecroppers in Arkansas
and southeastern Missouri19 would be difficult to conceive in Texas and
Oklahoma.
Agrarian organization in the two States differed sharply in character
during the thirties. In Texas, as will be described later in this chapter,
there were scattered local unions of habitual migratory workers, most of
whom were Mexican. In Oklahoma low-income farm laborers and
19S ee C h a p ter X V J L




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

265

tenants became well organized throughout the State in associations which
were political pressure groups as well as economic bargaining units. They
were able to press for legislative measures which would improve the
position of low-income farm groups, or would at least prevent it from be­
coming more serious.

The Veterans of Industry of America
The unprecedented rate of displacement of farm families gave rise to
organizations whose purpose was to protect the dispossessed. In the early
years of depression, agrarian workers, including farm owners and tenants,
swelled the ranks of urban unemployed who had drifted into Oklahoma
in search of jobs in the oil industry, which was experiencing a temporary
boom. By 1933 the number of unemployed had risen to 301,310 or 42 per­
cent of all workers in the State.20
Organizations of unemployed whose primary objective was to secure
adequate relief from State and Federal Government agencies were the
only labor unions that gained in membership for several years. Unem­
ployed councils organized by the Communist Party among both urban
and rural workers by 1933 numbered about 80 locals and 30,000 members
in the State, with 23 locals and 7,000 members in Oklahoma City alone.20
These were soon disrupted by the arrest and conviction of their most active
leaders, after violent demonstrations and clashes with police. The rank
and file aligned itself with other groups.
The most important organization was the Veterans of Industry of
America or V .I.A ., established in 1932 by Ira Finley, a former president of
the Oklahoma State Federation of Labor. Its aims for adequate relief were
much the same as those of the unemployed councils, but it rapidly branched
out to other fields. Local committees of the V .I.A . multiplied while the
N R A was in effect, as they were an excellent means for helping to en­
force the labor and industry codes. In 1935 the V .I.A . initiated an old-age
pension plan which, its sponsors claimed, was defeated in the State Su­
preme Court, largely through the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce.
As an organization whose membership was chiefly rural, it cooperated
with the Farmers Union of Oklahoma in seeking enactment of such
measures as the Graduated Land Tax and the Homestead Exemption Law.
The V .I.A . remained an effective pressure group for the propertyless.
B y the end of the thirties it claimed 317 locals (about half of which were
active) having approximately 40,000 paid-up members and 200,000 signed
membership pledges. Several thousand Negroes were organized in
separate locals.21 About half of all the members were unemployed, and the
rest were tenants and nonunion casual workers in agriculture and industry.
In the western cotton and wheat counties they were mostly urban or
small-town laborers, while in the eastern section the majority were casual
laborers and small part-time farm owners or tenants, many of whom de­
pended upon W P A jobs and intermittent farm work.
The V .I.A . cooperated closely with other farm organizations and labor
unions. It organized boycotts and provided pickets to prevent the unem­
ployed and unorganized from breaking strikes of A .F . of L. and C.I.O.
unions of oil workers, packing-house and cannery employees, and the like.
20Labor History of Oklahoma, W PA Federal Writers Project (p. 66).
21On January 22, 1938, the Black Dispatch, Negro newspaper published in Oklahoma City,
estimated that some 20,000 Negroes belonged to the V.I.A.




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

V .I.A . unions of farm wage workers were limited for the most part to
small areas of eastern Oklahoma where many seasonal laborers were em­
ployed. The biggest membership was in such counties as Le Flore, Se­
quoia, and Seminole, where large numbers were hired for seasonal jobs
such as cotton chopping and picking during fall and winter, turkey picking
in early December, and spinach cutting in spring and fall. A few large
plantations growing cotton, spinach, beans, and other commercial vege­
tables are concentrated along the Arkansas border. Negroes constituted
90 to 95 percent of the laborers recruited from Muskogee and other large
cities and towns for seasonal bean picking, spinach cutting and thinning.
O f the local casual laborers recruited from relief clients, unemployed, and
part-time farm owners or tenants, about half were white and half colored.
A number of plantations relied for their regular labor supply upon N egro
sharecroppers and casual day laborers who lived on the plantation the
year round. These were supplemented during the peak harvest season by
white and colored casual workers from adjacent areas.22 The V .I.A . at­
tempted to improve the labor situation in eastern Oklahoma by means of
organized labor boycotts, i.e., by persuading workers to avoid agricultural
jobs at substandard wages or working conditions. It also exerted pressure
upon State relief and W P A authorities to refrain from closing down
projects to force clients into agricultural work at low wages.
The V .I.A . for a time faced competition from the W orkers Alliance.
The major objectives of both organizations were almost identical; both
wanted larger expenditures for wT
ork relief and union mediation of griev­
ances between workers and work-relief authorities. The W orkers Alliance
failed to become effective in Oklahoma. By 1939 its officers claimed only
25 locals with an aggregate membership of approximately 2,000. The
organization soon disappeared from the State.23

Workingmen9 Union of the World
s
A short-lived organization named the Workingmen’s Union of the
W orld, having much the same function as the V .I.A ., sprang up among
farm tenants, workers, and unemployed of western Arkansas and eastern
Oklahoma during the middle thirties. The leading organizers were former
members of miners’ and small farmers’ unions in the Fort Smith industrial
area and the adjacent rural region. The name of the organization was
reminiscent of the old W orking Class Union, which had developed in the
same locale, and its philosophy represented an admixture of hill-country
religion and the doctrines of the I.W .W . Its constitution stated:
22Data obtained from the district office of the Oklahoma State Employment Service, Musko­
gee, Okla.
23Labor History of Oklahoma (p. 68).
Ira Finley, president of the V.I.A., charged the Workers Alliance in Oklahoma with being
a Communist-front organization formed for the purpose of disrupting and destroying his union.
(Labor’ s Voice, Official Organ of the V.I.A., Oklahoma City, Vol. VI, No. 6, June 18, 1940.)
Twenty paid organizers were sent into Oklahoma by the national executive of the Workers
Alliance, he claimed, and these centered their activities in the counties where the V.I.A . had its
chief membership. The Alliance in Oklahoma was destroyed subsequently. Several alleged
Communist leaders were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms on charges of violating
the State Criminal Syndicalism Act.




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

267

Labor, being the foundation o f world progress, knows no State, National or
International lines. W e have no religion, creed or dogma, save that o f the Carpenter
o f Nazareth, as expressed in the New Commandment, “ That ye love one another.”
W e make no distinction as to race, color or nationality. W e welcome within our
organization all unorganized workers, skilled or unskilled, both wage earners and
farmers. (The Toiler, Official Organ o f Workingmen’s Union of the W orld, Fort
Smith, Ark., Vol. I, No. 1, February 2, 1934, p. 4.)

The union originated during the N R A period of 1933 and 1934
among unemployed workers on C W A projects in the vicinity of Fort
Smith. It spread to other industries whose workers were unorganized by
the A .F . of L., or whose unions had become inactive. It claimed at its
peak about 116 locals and 30,000 paid-up members in counties adjacent
to Fort Smith in both Oklahoma and Arkansas. More than half were
agricultural workers and tenants employed in the cotton and spinach
plantations of eastern Oklahoma.24 Negro and white plantation workers
were reported 100 percent unionized in the northern section of Le Flore
County, mostly in the potato-growing area around Spiro, W ebber Falls,
and Fort Gibson, and well organized in the cotton-growing sections be­
tween Fort Smith and Spiro, in the corn and cotton fields from Spiro
west to Muskogee, and in the spinach-raising area of Sequoia County on
the north side of the Arkansas River. Some of the locals were exclusively
Negro, some exclusively white, and some had both whites and Negroes,
depending upon the wishes of the membership.
N o strikes were undertaken by the W .U .W . directly. The complete­
ness of unionization among workers in the areas indicated was sufficient
to raise their wages appreciably. Organized laborers in several localities
were reported to have won $1.25 per day and perquisites in place of a
previous flat rate of 60 to 75 cents per day in potato digging and spinach
cutting, and $1 to $1.25 per hundredweight instead of the prevailing 75
cents for cotton picking.25
The only agricultural strike in which the W .U .W . was involved even
indirectly was a small dispute on a few plantations in Logan County,
Ark. A n independently organized local union of tenants and share­
croppers clashed with planters over the sharing of A A A benefit pay­
ments. Though the local union did not affiliate with the W .U .W ., the
latter supported the strikers with material aid and helped them reach
a compromise settlement.26
The W .U .W . soon declined in eastern Oklahoma, and its membership
and local organizations were absorbed by the Veterans of Industry of
America. The W .U .W . in Arkansas was made up largely of miners and
other industrial workers. It later affiliated with the United Mine Workers,
and furnished the base for establishing the State C.I.O. Industrial Union
Council. In the absence of the W orkers Alliance or V .I.A . in western
24By October 1934, the union listed one or more locals in the following communities: In
Arkansas—Fort Smith, Van Buren, Jenny Lind, Greenwood, Bonanza, Clarksville, Witcherville,
Midland, Hartford, Pine Grove, Mansfield, Tyro, Huntington, Shilow Pine Log. In Oklahoma—
Spiro, Race Track, Fort Coffee, Lone Star, Murrys Spur, Stoney Point, Poteau, Heavener,
Howe, Pocola, Victor, Hodgens, Independence, Cherry Grove, Kennedy, Wister, Royal Oak,
Richards, New Bokoshe, Old Bokoshe, Rock Island, Red Oak, Salona, Pine Valley, Lone Pine,
Calhoun, Bengal, Norris, Lodi, Cedars, Boggy, Latham, Jaw Creek, Shady Point, Cartersville,
Arkola. (The Toiler, October 1934.)
25Interview, J. W . Eakin, former president of W .U .W ., Fort Smith, Ark., December 7, 1940.
26Idem. Several W .U .W . organizers claimed that when they were organizing the union, they
found literally dozens of small independent local unions of tenants and casual workers in scattered
communities throughout western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. Most of these merged with
the W .U .W ., but a few, like the one of white plantation tenants in Logan County, Ark;, re­
mained independent.




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Arkansas, the C l.O .. continued the policy of organizing W P A and other
relief workers. Intermittently it organized plantation workers along the
Arkansas River, who, in contrast to those in eastern Oklahoma, were
predominantly white.
One strike of white casual workers took place in river-bottom planta­
tions about 10 miles north of Paris, Ark., a local center of U .M .W .
strength. A n amorphous local union named the Industrial W orkers of
America had developed as an offshoot of the W .U .W . and had later
affiliated to the C.I.O. Jim Kindrick of Fort Smith, State I.W .A . or­
ganizer and later president of the State Industrial Union Council (C .I.O .)
organized about 240 casual laborers into I.W .A . Local No. 16 of Paris.
Organizers made overtures to river-bottom cotton planters to negotiate
for wage increases to $1.50 per day for cotton chopping in place of the
prevailing $1. A strike was called on May 9 when the farmers refused
to meet with union representatives.27
The strike continued for 10 days, during which time local newspapers
reported that it was being “ conducted in a quiet, orderly manner.” N o
picket lines were formed. The only incident of violence or near violence
was the arrest of Orlando H ixson, prominent local planter, on a charge
of “ assault with intent to kill.” Cyrus Grady and Dewey Mosley, mem­
bers of the union strike committee, claimed that H ixson had shot at them
with a pistol and Winchester, and one shot was alleged to have passed
through Grady's cap bill.27 The charges apparently were later dropped.

The Southern Tenant Farmers Union
The Southern Tenant Farmers Union, which began among share­
croppers in the Arkansas Delta, made littlfc headway in western Arkansas,
Oklahoma, dr Texas because the disadvantages of the plantation system
were not a major issue in the Southwest. The structure of farm opera­
tions in this region, as pointed out in previous pages, did not generally
emphasize sharp class lines or provoke organized group conflict. Share­
croppers, tenants, and farm laborers of Oklahoma were already well or­
ganized in the Farmers Union and V .I.A ., which enjoyed a good measure
of public recognition and brought substantial benefits to lower-income
farm groups. They could win some measure of security through effective
use of their voting rights because they were not disfranchised by a State
poll tax, as in Arkansas and other Southern States. Tenants and share­
croppers functioning through the Farmers Union and the V .I.A . could
influence or even control local elections and thus insure adequate protec­
tion for themselves from law-enforcement officers and Government agri­
cultural agencies. There were few if any inequalities between landlords
and tenants or sharecroppers in the distribution of A A A benefit pay­
ments. Tenants could always appeal to local committees of their organiza­
tion, which could take their case to the county agent without fear of
violent opposition from organized planters or hostile sheriffs and deputies.
The Southern Tenant Farmers Union consequently was led to focus its
m ajor attention upon wage laborers rather than tenants or sharecroppers.
The first local in Oklahoma was organized at Muskogee in September
1935, with about a dozen charter members. The State organization
claimed 50 locals having 1,000 members by January 1936, when it held
27Paris Express, May 11, 1939 (p. 1).




CH. XVI.—UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

269

its first convention.28 It formulated demands patterned closely after those
expressed by the parent organization in Arkansas, regarding Government
rental and parity payments, written contracts with landlords, protection
against eviction, and rehabilitation.29
The S .T .F .U .'s limited size in Oklahoma made it ineffective for col­
lective bargaining. A strike of cotton choppers in eastern Arkansas during
the spring of 1935 was not extended to Oklahoma. The union campaigned
to popularize the demand for a $1 minimum wage per 10-hour day in the
cotton-growing section of the eastern counties and was reported to have
won these demands in a few areas without resorting to strikes.30
The State branch of the S.T.F.U . made greater efforts to organize
spinach workers in several eastern counties. A n agricultural laborers'
local union was chartered in Muskogee in January 1936, for the spring
season. It aimed primarily to raise wage rates above the prevailing level,
which the State organizer charged was an average of $1.25 for 12 hours'
work for a family of five.31
The S.T .F .U . temporarily organized only a few hundred out of several
thousand workers in the spinach crop. The sole concrete union gain was
a closed-field agreement signed with a small grower having 35 acres who
paid piece rates of 10 cents per 25-pound basket and provided free trans­
portation to and from work. N o progress was reported in negotiations
with larger growers controlling most of the remaining 2,200 acres.32
The union made renewed efforts in the spring of 1937 to organize the
5,000 field, shed, and cannery workers in the spinach and onion strip
extending from Muskogee to the Arkansas border. A special field work­
ers' organizing committee of seven members was appointed to conduct
the drive, and several open mass meetings were held. This attempt also
did not last long, and only a few hundred new members were gained
temporarily.33
The only strike in which the S.T.F.U . participated even indirectly in
Oklahoma was conducted by another union. About 135 spinach-cannery
workers in Muskogee were organized and chartered as Federal Labor
Union No. 20046 in July 1935. They called a strike in August against
the Griffen Manufacturing Co. cannery to demand reestablishment of
N R A wage scales and rehiring of several discharged union members.34
The Central Labor Council of Muskogee endorsed the strike and promised
full support, while the S.T .F.U . supplied pickets and instructed its mem­
bers in the county not to harvest produce or bring it to the cannery.85 The
strike lasted more than a month, during which time numerous scuffles
occurred between strikers and strikebreakers recruited from Muskogee
County farmers on O E R A relief rolls.36 Delay in settlement was caused
by the employer's insistence upon retaining a company-union clause in
the agreement.37
Perhaps the most important accomplishment of the V .I.A ., the
W .U .W ., the S.T .F.U ., and other organizations of tenants, wage workers,
28At a State-wide rally held later at Tallahassee, Okla., in August 1936, the State organizer
claimed an attendance of 2,000, though it is doubtful whether all of these were members. (Rural
Worker, Vol. I, No. 13, September 1936, p. 4.)
29Labor History of Oklahoma, W P A Federal Workers Project (p. 78).
30Idem (p. 79).
SiRural Worker, Vol. I, No. 7, February 1936 (p. 2).
32Idem, Vol. I, No. 11, June 1936 (p. 3).
33Idem, Vol. II, No. 3, March 1937 (p. 2), and No. 4, April 1937 (p. 2).
34Daily Phoenix, Muskogee, August 7, 1935 (p. 1).
SSRural Worker, Vol. I, No. 2, September, 1935 (p. 1).
36Daily .Phoenix, August 14, 1935 (p. 1); August 19 (p. 1); August 22 (p. 1).
37“ It is agreed and understood that the employees* organization to be formed for the purpose
of making this agreement shall be open to membership of any and all employees residing in
Muskogee and without payment of dues of any kind or character. The company agrees to
furnish a suitable hall or other satisfactory meeting place and to pay a reasonable sum for
secretarial fees.” (Daily Phoenix, September 6, 1935, p. 2.)




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

and unemployed in Oklahoma lay in bringing organized public pressure
to bear upon government authorities to deal with the related problems
of tenancy, displacement, and labor surpluses in agriculture. The Gov­
ernor in 1936 appointed a commission to study the question and to make
recommendations to the State legislature. In response to the findings,
the Oklahoma Legislature in 1937 passed the first Landlord-Tenant R e­
lations A ct in the Nation. It provided for equitable rental contracts, an
educational campaign among both parties to encourage long-term con­
tracts, regular meetings among landlords and tenants to promote better
understanding, and the adoption of means for arbitrating their differ­
ences.38 The more serious problems of unemployment, displacement, and
labor surplus were mitigated to some degree in the Southwest and other
regions during the late thirties by more adequate Federal relief for rural
areas.

Texas in the Thirties: Labor Unionism in Agriculture and
Allied Industries
Labor relations in Texas agriculture by the 1930’s in many ways bore
a striking resemblance to those in California, and the similarity grew
stronger during this decade. Farms were being mechanized rapidly, small
operators were being displaced in great numbers, and land was being
consolidated into larger holdings. New cash crops intensively grown for
sale in distant markets had been introduced in many areas. A widespread
system of factory farming had developed, and it was fully as dependent as
that of California upon large and mobile supplies o f cheap labor. “ W ith­
out itinerant labor in great quantities/’ wrote Robert M . M cKinley, State
farm placement supervisor of the Texas State Employment Service, “ our
present agricultural system cannot ex ist/’39 In 1937 he estimated that
there were about 600,000 of these itinerant workers in Texas, about half
of whom were migratory (i.e., traveling extensively in order to find con­
tinuous employment) and the remaining half casual (i.e., traveling only
short distances from home to work for varying lengths of tim e). These
latter for the most part either were on relief or were engaged in nonagricultural jobs in private industry, were self-employed, or worked on
Government projects.39
Although it surpassed most other States in the number of its agricul­
tural laborers, Texas remained relatively free of unionism and strikes in
agriculture and allied industries. It was virtually untouched by the wave
of farm-labor outbreaks during 1933. Organized action on the whole
continued to be local and infrequent throughout the decade.
The bargaining power of agricultural laborers remained weak arid
their earnings low for reasons mentioned before. Immigration of M exi­
cans continued in huge volume during the war and postwar years. The
use of private automobiles and trucks increased the mobility of seasonal
laborers and made large numbers of them available to growers. B y the
thirties there was a chronic farm-labor surplus. Mexicans were estimated
to constitute 85 percent of the total labor supply; of the remaining 15
percent, two-thirds were white and one-third Negro.40 Even after the
38Labor History of Oklahoma (p. 79).
"R o b e r t M. McKinley: Migratory Labor, Austin, Tex., October 1940. Report of Farm Place­
ment Division, Texas State Employment Service (pp. 1, 3).
" I d e m (p. 5).




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

271

worst abuses of the contractor system had been eliminated and the volume
of Mexican immigration reduced, the bargaining position of casual farm
workers was too weak to prevent their exploitation. They were political­
ly impotent under the poll-tax law (and “ white men’s primaries” in some
counties), they had little or no labor legislation to protect them, and they
faced constantly increasing competition from thousands of displaced farm
families.
The decentralized structure of the Texas economy was a further
obstacle to unionism. A s the study of other States has clearly shown, the
successful union organization of agricultural workers depends to a large
degree upon urban centers which have been unionized previously, par­
ticularly where these serve as labor markets or distributing points through
which itinerant workers pass in the course of their migrations. Denver
(C olo.) and Phoenix (A r iz .), for instance, are State capitals as well as
trade centers situated close to agricultural areas requiring great numbers
of laborers. Unions with district headquarters in these cities are easily
accessible to small towns in commercial-crop areas. In California, San
Francisco is within easy access to such m ajor “ concentration points” for
agricultural labor as Stockton, Salinas, and Sacramento.
The concentration point for the main body of itinerant agricultural
workers in Texas, however, is the Lower R io Grande Valley. This area,
rather far from the chief urban centers, is composed of small towns or
shipping points which depend upon intensive citrus-fruit and vegetable
growing and packing industries. Migratory labor each year spreads out
from the valley, following the successive cotton harvests north, east, and
west from June to November, and returns south in December. There is
no one metropolitan area which could serve as a main center or hub,
easily accessible to any large proportion of all agricultural workers.
Furthermore, labor unions among nonagricultural trades and industries
in the larger cities of the State are themselves relatively weak and un­
developed.
The labor movement in Texas agriculture has therefore been a series
of sporadic, independent local developments. The one attempt to coordi­
nate a unionizing campaign over a wide area of the State failed, largely
because of the difficulty of maintaining sufficient contact between different
areas and of providing adequate services for the local unions.

Catholic Workers Union of Crystal City
The first union of agricultural workers in Texas during the thirties
was the short-lived but temporarily successful Catholic W orkers Union,
formed in November 1930 in Crystal City, center of an important spinach­
growing area in the State. It was also one of a very few labor unions in
the United States to be organized directly by an official representative
o f the Roman Catholic Church.
On November 7, 1930, some 450 Mexican workers attended a meeting
called by Rev. Charles Taylor, O. M. I., Pastor of the Sacred Heart
Church in Crystal City, to discuss methods for dealing with certain labor
conditions which were causing widespread hardship and unrest. A t the
meeting a schedule of demands was drawn up for submission to local
growers and processors: That no outside laborers be brought in to work,
except under very special circumstances, because of the serious local labor




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

surplus; that no children under 12 years of age be employed; that hourly
or piece rates be established at levels to provide a minimum living wage of
$2 a day, $11 a week, or $45 a m onth; that the wage rates to be paid be
announced publicly at each place of employment, and that the wages be
paid directly by the employer, so as to eliminate deception and exploitation
by contractors; and that any work done be accepted or rejected in the
fields rather than at the railroad station, as the latter practice caused
considerable loss to the workers. Out of the meeting the Catholic W orkers
Union, with the Reverend Taylor as president, was formed to “ help the
laborers in their difficulty according to their rights and obligations, as
taught by the Catholic Church.” (Circular letter by Rev. Charles T a y lo r:
“ T o the Growers and Farmers,” Crystal City, Tex., November 10, 1930.)
Within a week 25 of the more prominent growers and processing
companies in and around Crystal City had signed an agreement incor­
porating the main demands, though not the minimum living wages stipu­
lated, as above. (U nion Bulletin: “ Respueta a Los Trabajadores de
Crystal City, T ex.,” November 14, 1930.) “ A s a general result,” Reverend
Taylor wrote about 2 months later, “ there have been comparatively few
laborers brought in from outside, though many have come in of their
own accord. W ages have been maintained here higher than elsewhere in
the district. The Mexican schools here report, for the first time in history,
an increased instead of diminished attendance since the spinach harvest
commenced. And, in general, there has been more than the usual good
feeling and cooperation among all classes in the community.” (Letter
from Rev. Charles Taylor, Crystal City, Tex., February 3, 1931.)

Unionism in the Lower Rio Grande Valley
The first important campaign to organize casual farm workers in
Texas on a larger than local scale was an unsuccessful attempt among
sheep shearers in several western counties early in 1934, as described
in chapter X IV . Union activity among other groups then shifted to
the south and east. A n official report to the Communist Party by an
officer in June 1934, stated:
Our District Organizer in Texas has informed me that near the Mexican border
we have an Agricultural Workers Union with 450 members. This Union is directly
under the leadership o f our Party. (Communist, June 1934, Vol. X III, No. 6, p. 571.)

A sustained effort was made, from 1934 on, to organize field laborers
and packing-shed workers in the Lower R io Grande Valley. A n y cam­
paign which hoped to unionize farm labor in Texas necessarily centered
in this area since it was the main source for migratory labor. It had been
found useless to organize casual labor in any one crop area without
organizing the migratory workers beforehand, because the seasonal influx




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

273

of this group rendered the bargaining power of the casual workers in­
effective. Migrants were a strategic group in each locality because their
labor was necessary to harvest the crop, and the wage rate had to be set,
at the very least, at a level which would attract sufficient numbers from
other areas. A union theoretically could affect wage rates in any crop
area by restricting the movement or supply of migrants. It was found
almost impossible in practice to keep a union of migratory workers intact
when regularly each year they scattered over wide regions which some­
times encompassed several States.
Effective organization of seasonal farm labor in Texas, then, necessi­
tated maintaining stable unions in the valley the year round, to which the
migrants would return each winter. Such unions required a basic mem­
bership of continuously employed resident field labor, as well as the betterpaid shed workers whose dues could provide an adequate revenue.
Union organizers found labor in this area, whether in fields or packing
sheds, exceedingly difficult to organize or keep organized. Field and shed
workers were divided to some degree not only by race but also by occu­
pational interest. The various fruit and vegetable crops in the valley em­
ployed only a fraction of all available Mexican workers, so that the ma­
jority had to migrate elsewhere for work. Hence few had any direct
economic incentive to organize locally.
The farm proprietors in the Lower R io Grande Valley, furthermore,
were primarily small owners, in contrast to many other areas growing
cash crops intensively for distant markets. Shipping companies owned or
controlled only a small proportion of the irrigated acreage. The farms
were relatively small and diversified, and Mexican laborers employed
more or less continuously maintained a rather personal “ farm hand”
relationship with their employers. They usually lived in cabins provided
by the owner and often had a plot of ground and some livestock for their
families.
Growers in the Lower R io Grande Valley, finally, were in a weak bar­
gaining position as sellers. The prices of their produce were determined
on national markets in competition with large-scale grower-shippers from
other cash-crop areas. Since farm earnings were low, field workers could
scarcely expect to raise their wages by means of collective bargaining.
O N IO N W ORKERS’ U N IO N , LAREDO

A heterogeneous group of Mexican laborers in Laredo (W eb b Coun­
ty ) in 1933 organized an independent labor union named the Asociacion
de Jornaleros. Like many new unions at the time, it began as a spon­
taneous response to the N R A and gave workers the means for enforcing
the labor and industrial codes announced by the Washington administra­
tion. The Asociacion included among its members Mexicans in several
occupations— hat makers, painters, carpenters, general construction work­
ers, miners, and agricultural laborers. The union declined rapidly in
membership during 1934 because, according to the organizers, local em­
ployers hired agents provocateurs to disrupt it.
The Asociacion revived temporarily in the spring of 1935, when it
assumed control over a strike of some 1,200 onion workers. Certain urban
business interests at the time were raising onions as a side line. The crop
was grown intensively in a limited area of irrigated farm land near




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Laredo, and surplus cheap labor from the city was available for seasonal
short jobs. The strike was a spontaneous protest against wages of 60 to
75 cents per 10-hour day, or 6 to 7 j4 cents per hour. Laborers com­
plained that the work was extremely uncertain. They often drove out to
the fields at their own expense only to find that there was but 2 or 3
hours’ work for them.
The strike was lost, according to the organizers, because of inexperi­
ence among the workers and intimidation from authorities. Strike tactics
were similar to those employed in California during the early thirties—
mass demonstrations in the city and mass picketing along highways lead­
ing to the fields.41 Union demands were not formulated clearly and at­
tempted to cover too much at once. The demands, printed in strike cir­
culars, were as follow s:
(1 ) That all work that involved extraction and cleaning o f onions, broccoli, car­
rots, and beets be paid for at the rate of $1.25 for 10 hours’ labor, with overtime at
the rate o f 20 cents per hour.
(2 ) That bunching together be paid at the rate of 2 cents per bunch.
(3 ) That carrots be paid a rate of 12 cents for 48 bunches not containing more
than 10 pieces.
(4 ) That broccoli be paid at a rate o f 8 cents for 12 bunches in fields and 5 cents
in warehouses.
(5 ) That onion harvesting be paid at rate o f 5 cents per bushel for first class
and those spotted or too small at 8 cents, not to contain more than 22 pounds per
bushel.
(6 ) That beets be paid a rate o f 40 bunches for 10 cents when containing not
more than 10 pieces.
(7 ) That a rate o f 6 cents per crate be paid for Bermuda onions, with crates
to be furnished at the place o f work.
(8 ) That onion grading be paid at 5 cents a sack, complete work, and growers to
furnish transportation.

(9) Drinking water to be furnished near place of work.
(10) Farmers pay transportation charges of workers to and from jobs.
(11) Payment of wages by 1 o’clock Saturday, and labor to be immediately
brought home in order to be able to purchase their necessities.
(12) Good treatment o f laborers by farm owners and foremen.
(13) When a group o f men are taken out to work on farms and are not satisfied
with the conditions or terms, they are to be brought back to town.
(14) Accidents suffered by the workers are to be paid for by farmers.
(15) That in all instances where an agreement cannot be reached as to contract
wages that the farmers will pay, the laborer is to receive $1.25 per day.4
2

Control of union officers over the rank and file was not sufficiently
strong to prevent ill-judged actions which subjected the strikers to legal
intimidation and suppression. Although there was little violence, 56 ar­
rests nevertheless were made by Texas Rangers sent in at the request of
the district judge, who charged that the highways were being blocked by
strikers.43
The Laredo strikers refused to sign contracts with individual em­
ployers, and held out instead for a uniform agreement covering the entire
growing area.44 The similarity to some tactics in strikes conducted by
Communist unions in other areas led several people, including the district
attorney and a resident A .F. of L. organizer, to charge publicly that the
movement was controlled by “ a few radicals.” 45
41Laredo Light, April 12 (p. 1) and April 14 (p. 1), 1935; Rural Worker, Vol. 1, No. 1, August
1935 (p. 1).
42Laredo Times, April 12, 1935 (p. 12).
43Idem, April 15, 1935.
44H. G. Samuels, a large onion grower employing 100 to 125 workers, early agreed to the
wage scales and working conditions demanded by the union. While the strike leaders were
willing to accept this offer and sign a contract, the rank and file voted against it for fear of
jeopardizing the solidarity of the strike as a whole. (Laredo Light, April 14 and April 15, 1935.)
45Laredo Light, April 16, 1935.




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

275

John R. Steelman, conciliator from the U. S. Department of Labor,
came to Laredo at the request of the Chamber of Commerce. H e per­
suaded some 500 strikers to return to work for two large growers who
were willing to pay the union scale of $1.25 per day. The strike was dis­
continued after 5 days when an agreement was drawn up at a mass meet­
ing of 600 strikers addressed by Steelman. It amounted to little more than
a “ statement of policy,” since only the two growers mentioned actually
signed it.46 Steelman expressed the view that “ the growers missed a
good opportunity to make another strike this season impossible, had they
come in and mutually signed the agreement. They left it wide open for
another strike.” H e was strongly critical of the employers and found
them “ hopelessly at variance among themselves * * * some who say that
$1.25 a day is a fair wage, and others who say that 60 cents a day is
too much.” 46
A s the agreement was at best only a compromise, the strikers held
another mass meeting for the purpose of taking action against employers
paying less than the $1.25 per day promised. The growers repudiated
the agreement and, according to leaders of the strike, reverted to the
scale of 60 to 75 cents per day as soon as the conciliator left. N o further
trouble developed, however, and the union lost a large part of its mem­
bership because of the unsatisfactory conclusion of the strike.

F E D E R A L L A B O R U N I O N S O F T H E A .F . O F L .

A revival of the Asociacion de Jornaleros was attempted in the spring
o f 1936, with aid and encouragement from the National Committee of
Agricultural W orkers. Mass meetings were held to consider affiliating
with the A .F . of L. as a federal labor union, in the hope of winning
more outside support. According to a report which union officers sub­
mitted to the Civil Liberties Committee, U . S. Senate Committee on Edu­
cation and Labor, organizers faced a great deal of intimidation. The
Asociacion de Jornaleros, Laredo, had carried on “ exchanges of dele­
gates” with the Farm W orkers Union of M exico and had cooperated
with the Communist-controlled unemployed council of San Antonio over
the current “ relief o r work” issue.47 Hence the authorities viewed the
union with suspicion, as being alien and Communist-dominated. A t one
union meeting it was reported that the district attorney, the chief of the
local immigration department, Texas Rangers, and U . S. Arm y officers
were in attendance. A few days later it was reported that a grand jury
had been formed to investigate alleged insults to the American flag at
union meetings.48 Apparently little came of this investigation.
The Asociacion obtained a charter from the A .F . of L. as Agricultural
W orkers (Federal) Labor Union No. 20212 and immediately initiated a
drive to organize similar unions in other agricultural areas of Texas. A
State-wide conference held in Corpus Christi during January 1937, was
endorsed by the Texas State Federation o f Labor and attended by dele­
gates from the Central Trades and Labor Council of Corpus Christi, the
W orkers Alliance of San Antonio, and locals of the Oil W orkers Union,
the Brotherhood of Carpenters, and the International Longshoremen’s
Association. A Texas Agricultural W orkers Organizing Committee was
46Laredo Light, April 17, 1935.
47Rural Worker, Vol. I, No. 1, August 1935 (p. 1); No. 3, October 1935 (p. 1).
48Jdem, Vol. I, No. 11, June 1936 (p. 3).




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

formed to develop new agricultural labor unions in Corpus Christi,
Brownsville, and San Antonio, which were to be affiliated with the A .F .
of L. The committee agreed to cooperate with the W orkers Alliance in
seeking W P A employment at union wages for all unemployed farm
workers.49 The State organizing committee, with some financial support
from local unions of carpenters, plumbers and oil workers, chartered a
new local of Mexican tenant farmers as well as farm laborers in the
Corpus Christi area.49 Organizers were sent to Brownsville, Raymondsville, Robstown, Ingleside, Chapman, Crystal City, and other towns in
the Low er R io Grande area.50
Representatives of local organizations of pickers throughout the
valley called a meeting prior to the opening of the 1937 cotton-picking
season in late June. They agreed to demand a standard rate for picking
of $1 per hundredweight as long as cotton was priced at 12 cents per
pound.51 The Tri-County Vegetable Producers Association met shortly
afterward in order to neutralize the union d rive; it wanted also to prevent
local increases in wage rates which would arise if farmers competed for
workers in case of labor scarcity.52 The organized growers agreed to set
standard rates of 50 cents per hundredweight for first picking, 60 cents
for second, and 75 cents for third picking.53
A series of local strikes ensued during late June and early July
throughout the cotton-growing area of the Low er R io Grande Valley,
extending from M cAllen to Brownsville. The farm workers’ unions used
the strategy of concerted “ stay-aways” or labor boycotts in local areas;
pickers avoided the fields which paid less than the union wage rates.
The strike was successful in winning wage increases to $1 per hundred­
weight in a few areas, according to union organizers. Some 1,500 cotton
pickers and truckers meeting in the town of Mercedes on July 7 agreed
to a compromise rate of 85 cents per hundredweight for picking and 20
cents for trucking. Delegates were appointed to negotiate with officials
of the Tri-County Vegetable Growers Association for these wage in­
creases.54
Local newspapers in most sections, on the other hand, reported that
cotton growers were managing to have their cotton harvested at rates
as low as 60 cents per hundredweight. Strikebreakers apparently were
available in large numbers. In the town of W eslaco, for instance, violence
was narrowly averted between local Mexicans and N egro pickers imported
from distant W aco. A Mexican labor leader was alleged to have told the
Negroes that “ a strike was on and they would be shot if they picked
cotton.” Police dispersed a crowd of strikers.55
49Rural Worker, Vol. II, No. 2, February 1937 (p. 2), and Vol. II, No. 3, March 1937 (p. 2).
50Harlingen Star, May 8, 1937.
51Idem, June 25, 1937.
52On June 17, 1937, for instance, the Harlingen Star reported that farmers in the area were
complaining of labor contractor “ parasites” and were requesting action to stop alleged “ chisel*
ling” by a number of them.
According to growers, many contractors got laborers to agree to allow them to contract
with farmers for cotton, with the customary provision that the contractors were to receive a
percentage of the wages. The contractors often violated the verbal agreements to provide so
many pickers at a certain price when other farmers, with or without knowledge of previous
agreements, offered higher prices.
53Harlingen Star, June 10 and 25, 1937.
54Brownsville Herald, July 6, 1937; Houston Press, July 8, 1937.
55Harlingen Star, July 10, 1937.




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

277

T H E U .C .A .P .A .W .A .

The Texas Agricultural W orkers Organizing Committee and its locals
were absorbed into the C .I.O .’s United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing
and Allied W orkers of America in the summer of 1937. The new union
conducted an extensive organizing drive in the Lower R io Grande Valley
and other special crop areas in Texas. The locals in Laredo and Corpus
Christi were rechartered as branches of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., and new
locals were chartered in several towns in the Lower R io Grande Valley,
such as Weslaco, La Feria, Mercedes, Harlingen, San Benito, and Donna.
In M cAllen and other towns U .C .A .P .A .W .A . locals enlisted the support
of Mexican social clubs and brotherhoods. According to union spokesmen
there were altogether some 5,000 paid-up members who, together with
their working wives and children, made a significant part of the seasonal
labor supply in the valley.
Local unions won a few minor strikes during late summer and fall.
A small group of citrus-fruit pickers belonging to a local in Mercedes won
a wage increase from 2J4 cents to 4 cents per crate when they called a
short sit-down strike early in October.56
The local unions composed mainly of migratory workers became in­
active and disappeared during the last months of 1937. The labor drifted
north and scattered in seasonal migrations following the harvests in cotton
and other crops. The field laborers’ unions were further weakened by the
fact that many of the leading organizers and union members were either
Mexican citizens57 or known Communists. Hence they constantly feared
legal suppression and deportation, though such actions were taken against
few if any U .C .A .P .A .W .A , members. The union nevertheless faced the
deeply imbedded antagonism of Anglo-Saxon groups to alien and radical
activities.
SH ED W ORKERS IN T H E LOW ER RIO GRANDE VALLEY

Sporadic efforts were made to organize the more skilled and better
paid packing-shed workers, both whites and Mexicans, in the Lower Rio
Grande Valley. The Fruit and Vegetable W orkers Union Local No. 20363
was organized and chartered by the A .F . of L. in January 1937, and was
active for over a year throughout the vegetable-producing areas. A t its
peak it claimed from 500 to 600 members in good standing, representing
all types of shed workers— Mexican and white, migratory and transient.
The union did not participate officially in any strike (though scattered
“ wildcat” walk-outs did take place in some sheds) or win signed contracts
with any employers. It did, however, negotiate successfully for a stand­
ardization of wages in several sheds employing a large part of the union
membership.58
The union in February 1938, arranged a 50-car caravan which paraded
the length of the Low er R io Grande Valley in protest against anti-union
activity and the prorating of produce shipped to other areas. The latter
56Brownsville Herald, October 14, 1937.
57Texan-born Mexicans, in the opinion of several unionists, were more difficult to organize
than the Mexican-born. The former were brought up in a situation of greater dependency and
less freedom of expression, because of their political impotence (imposed by the State poll tax)
and their inferior social status.
58Brownsville Herald, November 2, 1937.




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LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

policy, according to union spokesmen, left 8,000 workers unemployed and
threatened to displace 5,000 to 6,000 more.59 Local 20363 faced growing
competition from surplus nonunion labor, and its membership was found
to be too heterogeneous to combine successfully in one union. It became
inactive 14 months after it was organized.
The U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in 1937 also attempted to organize shed work­
ers. About 300 skilled crate makers employed by the Jolly Co. in San
Benito took steps to affiliate with the C.I.O. Late in August 1937, they
went on strike for union recognition, a signed union contract, and certain
wage and hour conditions. The company announced its willingness to
accede to union demands if they were imposed also upon competing com­
panies in nearby W eslaco and adjoining towns. The U .C .A .P .A .W .A .
took appropriate steps to this end. Crate Makers Union Local No. 110,
Low er R io Grande Valley, was chartered in the early fall. Representatives
from such towns as Mission, Elsa, Pharr, W eslaco, Mercedes, and San
Benito held a meeting in the Brownsville City Hall. They formulated
standard crate-making rates for competing firms throughout the valley
and planned to negotiate union contracts with shippers.60 The union
campaign failed, however. The strike in San Benito was lost and Local
N o. 110 rapidly declined.
Local unions of agricultural and allied workers in the Low er R io
Grande Valley and other rural areas of Texas, in sum, were virtually
impossible to maintain. All had disappeared by the close of 1938. P ro­
cessing workers in a large urban center constituted the only occupational
group related to agriculture which remained with the U .C .A .P .A .W .A *
and continued to carry on collective bargaining effectively.

Pecan Shelters9 Unions in San Antonio6
1
The most dramatic labor upheaval in industries allied to agriculture
in Texas occurred among pecan shellers. San Antonio, a city fairly ac­
cessible to the Mexican border and to intensive agricultural areas employ­
ing large numbers of seasonal workers, became during the thirties a
concentration point for sweatshops which relied upon large supplies of
Mexican labor. Pecan shelling became one of the lowest-paid jobs in the
country during this period. The average annual family income was esti­
mated in a survey in 1938 to be $251 for a family of 4.6 persons, and only
2 percent of the families had incomes of $900 or more. The average weekly
income reported by individuals in pecan work was $2.73, which was even
lower than the $3.50 per week average income for agricultural labor. A l­
most a fourth of the pecan shelters’ families supplemented their earnings
in San Antonio with farm work in Texas and other States during part of
each year. M ost of these families picked cotton in Texas, and some
traveled north to the Michigan beet fields. From all jobs reported by
pecan shellers’ families in 1938, the average income per worker was $3.01
for an average week of 51 hours. A large proportion of the shellers de­
pended upon public assistance for part of their livelihood, even when the
plants were operating at full speed.
59 San Angelo Times, February 10, 1938.
60Brownsville Herald, October 14, 1937.
61The material in this section has been drawn mainly from S. C. Mennefee and O. C. Cassmore: The Pecan Shellers of San Antonio. WPA-Division of Social Research, Washington, D. C.
(pp. 16-18). It has been supplemented by newspaper reports and interviews.




CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

279

A militant union was organized among Mexican pecan shellers of
San Antonio during the worst years of depression, unemployment, and
wage cutting. The Pecan Shelling W orkers Union of San Antonio was
formed under the close personal domination of Magdaleno Rodriguez
early in 1933 and grew rapidly when the N R A came into effect later in
the year. Contrary to the usual experience, however, this union of
pecan workers subsequently opposed the Federal labor codes. Julius
Seligman, largest pecan-shelling operator in the city, later stated that
he had provided financial support to Rodriguez in order to promote
unionism in competing plants and thus prevent them from cutting piece
rates. Rodriguez’s union at first campaigned for the N R A wage scale
of 10 to 12 cents per pound for shelling. Later it accepted a compromise
rate of 5 cents and helped the employer oppose the wage provisions of
the N R A . Even this compromise represented a substantial improvement
over the 3- to 4-cent rate of early 1933, and the union grew rapidly in
membership and status. Rodriguez by late 1934 claimed 10,000 to 12,000
members, though probably less than half of these paid regular dues.
The union was soon disrupted by factionalism and sporadic strikes
against repeated wage cuts. Union members opposed to Rodriguez
organized a second union and sought to have the labor provisions of the
N R A applied to the pecan-shelling industry. This group called itself
the Mondolares de Nuez el Nogal (the Tree) and claimed some 2,500
members by late 1934. It was later absorbed into the C.I.O . Pecan
Shellers’ Union. Another short-lived group known as the Cooperative
Nueceros was organized in 1936 and later, with 250 members, received
a charter from the A .F . of L. It failed to survive, partly because the
poorly paid membership could not afford, or at least was unwilling to
pay, the high union dues required.
The original Pecan Shelling W orkers Union meanwhile was becom­
ing more militant. Rodriguez called a strike, in July 1934, in several
plants which attempted to maintain the previous season’s rate of 2 and
3 cents per pound. The 5- and 6-cent scale was generally adopted under
the combined pressure of the union and N R A standards.62 The union
called another strike, in March 1935, in one shellery which had cut wages
from the 5- and 6-cent rates to 4 and 5 cents.63 Strikes spread the follow­
ing month to several plants which had applied similar wage cuts. Riot­
ing occurred on one occasion early in April, as a result of which R odri­
guez and several pickets were arrested and jailed for “ unlawful assem­
blage.” 64 Still another strike developed in June over wage disputes at
the Howell-Hutches factory 65
These walk-outs failed to prevent a substantial decline in wage stand­
ards and union membership during the fall of 1935. Rodriguez’s per­
sonal instability and dictatorial policies in ruling the union led in time
to his imprisonment and finally to confinement in a mental hospital. The
remnants of his union were later revived as the Texas Pecan Shelling
W orkers Union, which increased rapidly in membership during 1937.
Seligman raised the wages of his shellers from 5 to 6 cents per pound
in August. The union in October threatened to call a general strike of
5,000 pecan workers in San Antonio unless wage rates were raised to
7 and 8 cents per pound for shelling and 60 cents per hundredweight
62San Antonio Express, July 18, 1934.
63Sart Antonio News, March 18, 1935.
64San Antonio Light, April 8, 1935.
®5Idem, June 10, 1935.
654107°—46—19




280

LABOR UNIONISM IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

for cracking. W hen those plants hitherto paying the 5- and 6-cent rate
granted a compromise increase to 6 and 7 cents per pound, the threatened
walk-out was averted.66
Donald Henderson, president of the U .C .A .P .A .W .A ., visited San
Antonio in November 1937, to enlist the pecan shelters in his organiza­
tion. A temporary charter as Local 172 was issued to the Texas Pecan
Shelling W orkers Union, with the understanding that it was to absorb
the former A .F . of L. group, El Nogale, and a new left-wing faction
which had risen to prominence through its activities in the W orkers
Alliance.67 This organization rapidly assumed a leading role in the out­
breaks which ensued early the following year.
The Southern Pecan Shelling Co.’s contractors on January 31, 1938,
announced a 15-percent wage decrease from the 6- and 7-cent rates
established in late 1937 to the previous 5 and 6 cents. This provoked
a spontaneous strike which conservative union leaders sought to prevent.
Left-wing organizers, however, rapidly extended it to a number of other
plants, and the chief of police called out squads for riot duty. The
U .C .A .P .A .W .A . executive then sanctioned the walk-out, making it a
recognized strike of an international union.
The scope of the movement and the drastic measures by which lawenforcement officers suppressed it made this strike one of the most
highly publicized in the Nation during 1938. A ccording to Mennefee
and Cassmore—
On February 7 the police routed 300 pickets from the shelling plants. Over 1,000
pickets were arrested during the strike on charges o f “ blocking the sidewalks,”
“ disturbing the peace,” and “ congregating in unlawful assemblies.” Tear gas was
used on six or eight occasions during the first 2 weeks o f the strike, according to
the testimony o f Chief o f Police Owen Kilday at the hearings o f the Texas Indus­
trial Commission on February 14; 52 policemen and 125 firemen were used on “ riot
duty” in the strike. Both Mayor C. K. Quin and Kilday maintained that there was
no strike, since they said that only a minority o f workers had left the plants. (M en­
nefee and Cassmore, Pecan Shelters of San Antonio, p. 5.)

Chief of Police Kilday consistently justified attempts to suppress the
strike on the ground that it was organized and led by Communists. H e
said in later testimony: " I did not interfere with a strike! I interfered
with a revolution.”
Donald Henderson arrived in San Antonio on February 6 to take
charge of the strike, and immediately removed local Communists from
their position of leadership in the union. This did not mollify the oppo­
sition, however, because church and business groups as well as city police
charged Henderson himself with being a Communist. Chief Kilday said:
H e [Henderson] is an intruder down here that hasn’t 600 or 700 followers in
the pecan industry. Y ou call it a strike; I call it a disturbance out of Washington,
D. C. (Mennefee and Cassmore, p. 7.)

In one press interview Kilday expressed the fear that—
66San Antonio Light, October 17, 1937.
67The Workers Alliance represented the most militant labor movement in San Antonio.
Begun in 1934 by Emma Tennayucca, local Communist leader, it soon had a dues-paying mem­
bership of some 3,800. Under the leadership of the Alliance, sit-down strikes were staged at
W P A headquarters and in the City Hall to enforce demands for relief and project work, and
numerous demonstrations and parades were organized throughout the business area of the city.
In July 1937, city police raided the Workers Alliance hall, destroyed records, and jailed several
Alliance leaders.
The influence won by Alliance leaders among Mexican unemployed and relief clients rapidly
placed them in temporary control of the pecan sh elled strike early in 1938. (See San Antonio—
The Cradle of Texas Liberty and Its Coffin, Texas Civil Liberties Union, Austin, 1938, p. 5.)




<CH. XVI.---UNIONISM IN TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA

281

I f he [Henderson] organized these plants with the closed-shop provisions he
insists upon, it would place about 18,000 workers under the domination o f the
Communists * * * .
These workers and their families total in excess o f 25,000 people, and would
be forced into the local Communist Party before being permitted to work. (San
Antonio Light, February 11, 1938.)

Despite the powerful opposition, the number of strikers soon increased
to about 6,000, or more than half of the total employed. M ore than
6,000 applied for membership in the union and about 3,000 of these paid
dues during the strike, according to George Lambert, representative of
the U .C .A .P .A .W .A . in San Antonio during 1938. The methods of
resisting the strikers provoked widespread protest, and Governor Alldred
finally ordered the Industrial Commission of Texas to investigate the
situation. In addition to presenting data on living and working condi­
tions in the industry and on the marketing problems it faced, the final
report of the commissioners expres