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No Man's Land

No Man's Land: Jamaican Guestworkers in America and the Global History of Deportable Labor

Cindy Hahamovitch
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    No Man's Land
    Book Description:

    From South Africa in the nineteenth century to Hong Kong today, nations around the world, including the United States, have turned to guestworker programs to manage migration. These temporary labor recruitment systems represented a state-brokered compromise between employers who wanted foreign workers and those who feared rising numbers of immigrants. Unlike immigrants, guestworkers couldn't settle, bring their families, or become citizens, and they had few rights. Indeed, instead of creating a manageable form of migration, guestworker programs created an especially vulnerable class of labor.

    Based on a vast array of sources from U.S., Jamaican, and English archives, as well as interviews,No Man's Landtells the history of the American "H2" program, the world's second oldest guestworker program. Since World War II, the H2 program has brought hundreds of thousands of mostly Jamaican men to the United States to do some of the nation's dirtiest and most dangerous farmwork for some of its biggest and most powerful agricultural corporations, companies that had the power to import and deport workers from abroad. Jamaican guestworkers occupied a no man's land between nations, protected neither by their home government nor by the United States. The workers complained, went on strike, and sued their employers in class action lawsuits, but their protests had little impact because they could be repatriated and replaced in a matter of hours.

    No Man's Landputs Jamaican guestworkers' experiences in the context of the global history of this fast-growing and perilous form of labor migration.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4002-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    The Americans were coming. In the spring of 1943, Jamaican radio stations buzzed with the news. American officials were coming to recruit Jamaican men for war work in the United States. When word reached the tiny mountain hamlet of Mulgrave—3,000 feet above sea level and twenty-five miles inland from Montego Bay—eighteen-year-old Leaford Williams and his family were thrilled and nervous. “Everywhere we went during the days and weeks that followed,” Leaford recalled, “small groups gathered under the eaves of someone’s house or on the front porch of the local shops sharing news about the recruiting program ‘for going...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Guestworkers of the World, Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Passport, Your Visa, Your Immigration Status
    (pp. 12-21)

    Leaford and Enoch Williams and the thousands of other Caribbean and Mexican workers who entered the United States on government contracts during World War II weren’t the first guestworkers in the world. The first phase in the global history of guestworker programs began in the late nineteenth century and lasted until the Great Depression of the 1930s. Before that time, there were no guestworker programs because there were no immigration restrictions. Immigration restrictions led to guestworker programs as states sought to guarantee employers access to the immigrant workers that restrictionists were trying to deny them.

    For much of modern history,...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Everything But a Gun to Their Heads: The Politics of Labor Scarcity and the Birth of World War II Guestworker Programs
    (pp. 22-49)

    The second phase in the history of guestworker programs began as the mobilization for world war led once again to rising wages and thus to the rekindling of interest in temporary foreign workers. Outlasting the war by more than thirty years, this phase involved far more nations and migrants, and far greater state involvement in labor supply schemes. During the Great Depression—or “the Great Slump” as the British called it—nationstates expelled foreign workers in the name of taking care of their own; during World War II, they invited them back, beginning a new and much larger trend toward...

  8. CHAPTER THREE “Stir It Up”: Jamaican Guestworkers in the Promised Land
    (pp. 50-66)

    In early 1943 , Oliver Stanley, the British Colonial Secretary, agreed to allow Jamaicans to join Bahamians in the United States, with one important caveat: Jamaicans would not be assigned south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Bahamians, Stanley reasoned, were accustomed to the sort of racial segregation they would experience in the Jim Crow South. They had labored in Florida for many years and the Bahamas imposed similar sorts of restrictions on black Bahamians’ use of hotels, restaurants, and cinemas. But although Jamaica’s cavernous class divide effectively separated the black majority from the white ruling class, black Jamaicans were unaccustomed to...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR John Bull Meets Jim Crow: Jamaican Guestworkers in the Wartime South
    (pp. 67-85)

    After spending five months in communities all over the U.S. north, where they were treated more like allied soldiers than black farmworkers, Jamaican guestworkers began arriving in Florida in the fall of 1943. Entering the hot, squalid barracks built to house them in Clewiston, the home of U.S. Sugar, Stanley Wilson and fifty-eight other Jamaican men discovered that they were expected to sleep on bare mattresses, without sheets, pillows, or blankets. When they complained, the camp superintendent’s response was: “Pillows! . . . you aren’t serious! This is the first time in my life that I ever heard niggers slept...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Race to the Bottom: Making Wartime Temporary Worker Programs Permanent and Private
    (pp. 86-109)

    When news of Japan’s surrender reached Jamaican farmworkers at “old John Kirby’s Farm” in Harrisonville, New Jersey, Leaford Williams put on one of his best “double-breasted ‘zoot-suits’,” hitched a ride with John Kirby’s daughter, and headed for Philadelphia to join in the celebrations. The revelry failed to meet his expectations. Not only did women neglect to “grab and kiss” him as they did American soldiers, but the U.S. government failed to recognize his and other Jamaican workers’ contributions to the allied war effort by offering permanent U.S. residency to those guestworkers who wanted it. Returning dejectedly to Kirby’s farm in...

  11. CHAPTER SIX A Riotous Success: Guestworkers, “Illegal Immigrants,” and the Promise of Managed Migration
    (pp. 110-134)

    In 1949, prospective Braceros gathered in Juárez, just south of the El Paso Immigration Station. There they waited for an opportunity to pick cotton in Texas, as U.S. and Mexican officials haggled over the terms of a new bilateral agreement. Under the old 1947 agreement, U.S. employers had been required to pay the “prevailing wage,” which the U.S. Department of Labor determined by asking committees of growers what they planned to pay in the upcoming season. Under this system of government-sponsored price-fixing, the prevailing wage had been set at a paltry $1.50 per hundred pounds of cotton, or approximately 25...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Worst Job in the World: The Cuban Revolution, the War on Poverty, and the Secret Rebellion in Florida’s Cane Fields
    (pp. 135-171)

    On New Year’s Day, 1968, two crews of Caribbean guestworkers refused to cut cane for the row prices offered by the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, a 70,000-acre, 7-year-old, 51-member enterprise. “They give us a row of cane to cut,” recalled Jamaican Adrian Russell; it was “extra long and bad” and “could not do for that price.” The men’s demand for more money went up the chain of command until it reached Jim Walls, one of the Co-op’s “white bosses,” as the all-black cane cutters called them. “Him say ‘no’,” Jamaican Felix Osbourne later recalled. “If we don’t want, we can...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Takin’ It to the Courts: Legal Services, the UFW, and the Battle for the Worst Jobs in the World
    (pp. 172-201)

    Manuel Chavez was bored. The cousin of UFW leader and civil rights icon, Cesar Chavez, he had been sent to Florida in the summer of 1971 to coordinate Florida’s part in the national boycott of non-union grapes. Formed in 1966 after the dissolution of the Bracero Program, the UFW had blossomed by the early 1970s into a powerful social movement. By then the UFW’s boycott was beginning to produce collective bargaining agreements with major California grape growers, and contracts in other crops followed.¹ At meetings in farmworker towns across the Sunshine State, Manuel and other UFW organizers serviced their one...

  14. CHAPTER NINE “For All Those Bending Years”: IRCA, the Dog War, and the Campaign for Legal Status
    (pp. 202-226)

    A palpable sense of crisis about immigration permeated American society in the 1980s. In his 1979 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan made immigration a campaign issue, calling for special measures that would give him the power to shut down roads, airports, harbors, and even cities to head off approaching illegal immigrants. The threat of “aliens” seemed an enduring feature of his campaign, which conjured up images of shadowy subversives skulking in, over, and under the border. Pushing Reagan to make immigration a key part of his campaign was a cleverly named anti-immigration organization called FAIR, or Federation for American Immigration Reform,...

  15. CHAPTER TEN All the World’s a Workplace: Guestworkers at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 227-235)

    Three thousand feet above the ocean in the high, cool town of Christiana, Jamaica, I followed a winding, narrow road until it disappeared into a rutted path far too uneven for my rental car. Heading up the steep hill on foot, I was just starting to wonder whether the hotel manager’s directions were any good when I was startled by an old man coming over the rise with a machete in his hand (a sight that takes getting used to). Greeting me with a “helloooo, white lady!” (a sound I probably won’t ever get used to), he confirmed that I...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 236-244)

    In 2003, after Hurricane Isabel tore through Virginia, I escaped to North Carolina where there was power and a free room at a friend’s house. The next day, I tagged along with him on a class trip to meet migrant farmworkers in central North Carolina. Departing from Duke University, we headed deep into the countryside, driving an hour and a half on two-lane roads. The landscape we passed through might have been the eastern shore of Maryland, Southside Virginia, or South Florida. The fields looked flat, hot, and hard-packed. The workers also seemed familiar. Almost everyone we met that day...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 245-294)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 295-322)
  19. Index
    (pp. 323-334)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-336)