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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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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 p