Factories in the Field

Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California

CAREY McWILLIAMS
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 363
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt14btg1z
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    Factories in the Field
    Book Description:

    This book was the first broad exposé of the social and environmental damage inflicted by the growth of corporate agriculture in California.Factories in the Field-together with the work of Dorothea Lange, Paul Taylor, and John Steinbeck-dramatizes the misery of the dust bowl migrants hoping to find work in California agriculture. McWilliams starts with the scandals of the Spanish land grant purchases, and continues on to examine the experience of the various ethnic groups that have provided labor for California's agricultural industry-Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Filipinos, Armenians-the strikes, and the efforts to organize labor unions

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92518-2
    Subjects: History, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-2)
    Douglas C. Sackman

    In 1939, an expansive bounty of goods flowed forth from Californiaʼs fields. That year, California produced 443,000 bales of cotton, 462,000 tons of prunes, 2 million tons of grapes, 10 million bushels of pears, 16 million crates of lettuce, and 75 million boxes of oranges. It brought in 383 million dollars in return, making California the richest agricultural state in the union. And a young lawyer, writer and activist named Carey McWilliams added 348 leaves of paper to the heap. Bundled together and labeledFactories in the Field, his produce was composed of the human history of sweat and struggle...

  4. CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-10)

    In the saga of the States the chapter that is California has long fascinated the credulous and charmed the romantic. A fabled land, California, rich in the stuff of which legends are made. Proverbially it is a wealthy and indolent province, blessed with a miraculous climate and steeped in beauty. Here gold was discovered and the colorful pageant of ʼ49 was enacted. The legends about this land at the rainbowʼs end thrilled a nation for decades. Even before the discovery of gold, California was the scene of a favorite chapter: the idyllic period of Spanish occupation “before the gringos came.”...

  5. CHAPTER II LAND MONOPOLIZATION
    (pp. 11-27)

    By 1860 the gold rush was at an end. To be sure, mining remained active; claims were discovered; a king’s ransom continued to pour into San Francisco. But after 1860 the business of mining became not any man’s game but the prerogative of those with fortunes large enough to enable them to battle in the arena of the Titans — Sharon, Flood, Tevis, Ralston, Sutro. As a consequence something of a recession set in and thousands of “miners” — mostly Eastern and Middle Western farmers — began to look about for land. The population of the State had increased from...

  6. CHAPTER III EMPIRES AND UTOPIAS
    (pp. 28-47)

    A general description, such as I have given in the preceding chapter, of land monopolization in California, does not of itself convey an accurate impression of the social forces which provided the dynamics of centralization. To see these forces in actual operation, it is necessary to examine two samples of the process. The two case histories which I have selected for this purpose — the growth of the Miller and Lux empire and the utopian society known as the Kaweah Co-operative Colony — reveal the basic social pattern which obtained throughout the period of land monopolization. It should be pointed...

  7. CHAPTER IV THE PATTERN IS CUT
    (pp. 48-65)

    In no other state has farming so quickly lost its traditional character and become an established industry as in California. Today, “farming” in its accepted sense can hardly be said to exist in the State. The land is operated by processes which are essentially industrial in character; the importance of finance, in all of the 180 or more crops produced in California, has steadily increased as more and more emphasis has been placed on financial control; the “farm hand,” celebrated in our American folklore, has been supplanted by an agricultural proletariat indistinguishable from our industrial proletariat; ownership is represented not...

  8. CHAPTER V THE CHINESE
    (pp. 66-80)

    “When the growing of fruits, both deciduous and citrus, began to occupy the attention of California, there were present among us many Chinese.” This innocent statement, made by a speaker before the State Fruit-Growers’ convention in 1902, conceals within its blandness an interesting and significant phase of the social history of California. In order to understand the important role which the Chinese played as farm laborers in California, however, it is necessary to recapitulate some rather turgid history.

    In 1860 there were approximately 45,000 Chinese in California. Of this number it is estimated that about 20,000 were working in the...

  9. CHAPTER VI THE FACTORIES APPEAR
    (pp. 81-102)

    In the years from 1892 to 1900, the fruit industry, which had assumed the ascendancy in California agriculture, suffered a severe setback. Through reckless overexpansion, a bad drought in 1898, and the labor disturbances of 1893, the extension of fruit acreage was definitely checked and the industry was faced with bankruptcy. So decisively had the wild boom in fruit lands collapsed, that orchard trees were cut down and used for firewood and many orchards were abandoned.¹ Once again the growers had to effect a transition in methods of land use in order to maintain profits and to continue intact their...

  10. CHAPTER VII “OUR ORIENTAL AGRICULTURE”
    (pp. 103-133)

    In order to understand the present-day industrialized agriculture of California, with its heavy labor requirements, it is necessary to keep in mind the interacting effect of two factors: land monopolization and the availability of large units of cheap labor. If the large holdings had not been monopolized from the outset, it is quite likely that many small-acreage units would have developed. In a study of land-grabbing in California which appeared many years ago¹ it was pointed out that “this grabbing of large tracts has discouraged immigration to California more than any other single factor.” There were at all times settlers...

  11. CHAPTER VIII SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES
    (pp. 134-151)

    California agriculture has been, as I have pointed out, to a large degree “Oriental agriculture.” Its mammoth farm factories have been built by cheap Oriental and peon labor, imported for a particular purpose and discarded as soon as that purpose has been achieved. For over half a century this sordid business of race exploitation has been going on in the State and it would be difficult to find a meaner record of exploitation in the history of American industry. In the Eastern industrial districts, the theory of the “melting pot” has had at least limited application and to a certain...

  12. CHAPTER IX THE WHEATLAND RIOT
    (pp. 152-167)

    The erratic and violent development of agriculture in California has been paralleled by the sporadic turbulence which has characterized the history of farm labor in the State. The story of migratory labor is one of violence: harsh repression interrupted by occasional outbursts of indignation and protest. Nor is there much probability that the future will be one of peaceful adjustment to new social conditions; no one familiar with the dominant interests in California agriculture can have any illusions on this score. Violence, and more violence, is clearly indicated. It is indicated not only by the established patterns of industrialized agriculture,...

  13. CHAPTER X THE WAR SPEED-UP
    (pp. 168-184)

    With a war in Europe, agricultural production in California was stepped up to keep pace with an expanding market. Prices began to rise and with each rise in prices the area and quantity of production increased. Beginning in 1914, agricultural production rapidly increased throughout the war years, with a sharp acceleration after the United States entered the war. A marked increase was noticed in all lines of agricultural production¹ as a result of wartime demands and inflation. The boom in production was, of course, immediately reflected in a frenzied demand for a larger supply of farm labor. Not only had...

  14. CHAPTER XI THE POSTWAR DECADE (1920–1930)
    (pp. 185-199)

    The postwar decade in California farm labor was primarily a period of rationalization. The growers, to fight the deflation, were forced to adopt new methods of control. Struggling to retain the huge profits to which they had become accustomed during the war years, they began to impose various types of control upon production and prices, and to rationalize methods of operation, notably in regulating the flow of farm labor to the fields. The developments which took place during these years were implicit in the patterns of operation previously established in the industry, but the emphasis throughout the period was upon...

  15. CHAPTER XII THE LAND SETTLEMENTS: DELHI AND DURHAM
    (pp. 200-210)

    The folly of attempting to consider the problem of farm labor apart from the question of landownership has long been recognized in California. The two problems are interdependent. It is impossible to attempt a solution of the farmlabor problem without considering the basic issue of landownership. The close interrelation between the two problems has been indicated time and again in the voluminous writing and discussion which has been devoted to both issues. Even farm industrialists, in those rare moments when they have endeavored to think objectively, have toyed with the idea of establishing some type of land-colonization program as a...

  16. CHAPTER XIII THE GREAT STRIKES
    (pp. 211-229)

    With the depression came a sharp decline in California farm wages. Wage rates steadily declined after 1929, reaching levels which, even in California, were all-time lows. Agricultural production, on the other hand, continued to mount, and the gross value of agricultural products continued to increase. These circumstances, coupled with the fact that housing and living conditions went from bad to worse, after the resignation of Simon J. Lubin as Chairman of the State Immigration and Housing Commission, gave rise to a profound wave of discontent and unrest which swept through the ranks of migratory labor in the State. This unrest,...

  17. CHAPTER XIV THE RISE OF FARM FASCISM
    (pp. 230-263)

    Following the great wave of strikes which swept California in 1933, the farmers of the State began to form new organizations with which to combat the instinctive struggle of the State’s 250,000 agricultural workers to achieve unionization. Farmers have never lacked organization in California; in fact, they have long set the pace for organizational activities among American farmers. They were pioneers in the field of co-operative marketing. Today every crop is organized through a series of co-operative organizations, many of which are institutions of great power and wealth. For a great many years these organized farm groups have held the...

  18. CHAPTER XV THE DRIVE FOR UNIONIZATION
    (pp. 264-282)

    The fact that 250,000 workers, employed in the richest industry in California, have been repeatedly frustrated in their desire to achieve organization is a matter which has long provoked discussion among labor’s well-wishers and theorizers. The case for organization is, indeed, remarkably persuasive. Consider some of the favorable elements: a highly industrialized agriculture, thoroughly organized, making huge profits; perishable crops directly dependent upon transportation (two circumstances that place the industry at the mercy of a strong labor movement); wretched working conditions aggravated by racial discrimination; and, both in the past and in the present, a strong urban labor movement. These...

  19. CHAPTER XVI THE TREND TOWARD STABILIZATION
    (pp. 283-304)

    From an early date, the farm industrialists in California have occasionally voiced the opinion that agricultural labor should be stabilized. Over a period of forty years, one can find, in the farm journals of the State, repeated references both to the desirability and to the necessity of working out some method of operation by which the employment of farm labor might be regularized. Suggestions of this kind have taken various forms. The idea of colonization, for example, has been frequently advanced (it was advocated by theLos Angeles Timesin the late nineties as a possible solution of the farm-labor...

  20. CHAPTER XVII THE END OF A CYCLE
    (pp. 305-326)

    In 1937 it became increasingly apparent that a basic change had taken place in the character of farm labor in California. Although the change had been taking place for some time, it was suddenly realized in 1937 that the bulk of the State’s migratory workers were white Americans and that the foreign racial groups were no longer a dominant factor. The change had, in fact, commenced about 1933, at the bottom of the depression. At the end of 1934, the Commission of Immigration and Housing estimated that roughly fifty per cent of the labor-camp population was native white American, with...

  21. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 327-334)
  22. BIBLIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
    (pp. 335-342)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 343-346)