Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Lettuce Wars

Lettuce Wars

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 350
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Lettuce Wars
    Book Description:

    In 1971, Bruce Neuburger - young, out of work, and radicalized by the 60s counterculture in Berkeley - took a job as a farmworker on a whim. He could have hardly anticipated that he would spend the next decade laboring up and down the agricultural valleys of California, alongside the anonymous and largely immigrant workforce that feeds the nation. This account of his journey begins at a remarkable moment, after the birth of the United Farm Workers union and the ensuing uptick in worker militancy. As a participant in organizing efforts, strikes, and boycotts, Neuburger saw first-hand the struggles of farmworkers for better wages and working conditions, and the lengths the growers would go to suppress worker unity. Part memoir, part informed commentary on farm labor, the U.S. labor movement, and the political economy of agriculture,Lettuce Warsis a lively account written from the perspective of the fields. Neuburger portrays the people he encountered - immigrant workers, fellow radicals, company bosses, cops and goons - vividly and indelibly, lending a human aspect to the conflict between capital and labor as it played out in the fields of California.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-334-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
    (pp. 7-8)
    (pp. 9-12)

    IT WAS EARLY EVENING, a few hours before my shift’s end. In the cab line at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco it was the regular crapshoot. Sit in line and take your chances or cruise the streets for fares in hope of being bounced around the city like a pinball. You got in line because, like the people who work slot machines, there’s always the chance of a jackpot. Here you invest your minutes, not your money, but the anticipation is similar. It was airport action that represented the most likely bonanza. Better odds here than cruising or...

    (pp. 13-46)

    DESPITE THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE ISSUE at hand, I had to keep from laughing. “You want me to burn this place down?” Ben didn’t look at me but at the wall next to the refrigerator room, stacked with bags of beans and rice and cans of chile for making chile rellenos. There was weariness in his eyes and a sense of desperation in his voice. “Rosa,” he said, “she almost killed herself two nights ago. The bullet was just this close to her heart.” He held his fingers apart an inch, about level with his face. “You know, we’re having...

    (pp. 47-86)

    THE LAST LETTUCE CROP in the long Salinas growing season peaks in late August, and diminishes rapidly in the shorter and cooler days of October and early November. As the days grow short, a deciduous valley “sheds” its seasonal workers. Few jobs were to be had over the winter and without unemployment insurance, unavailable to farmworkers until years later, and with almost all the labor camps closing down until spring, most vegetable workers had to hit the road. They had to live out the winter in Mexico, or more likely, joinla corrida,the crop circuit, and, like the swallows...

    (pp. 87-132)

    FOR THE FERTILE VEGETABLE FIELDS of the Salinas Valley, winter’s rest is a short nap. No sooner are the last of the year’s broccoli and cauliflower chaff disced into the soil than the first of next season’s crops are being prepared. By mid December flat brown fields begin to take on new contours. Tractors, like tiny boats plying a vast brown sea, traverse the fields dragging harrows that carve long rows and furrows—hilos y surcos—symmetrical wrinkles in a dark, yielding flesh. Then the planters lay down their seeds on the flattened rows. Within weeks faint green lines appear,...

    (pp. 133-188)

    IT WAS EARLY EVENING. The union hall on Wood Street was getting crowded. Chairs placed in rows only a few feet from the pinewood dispatch windows at the front end of the hall extended back to where the white and black banner announced, “Viva la Causa!” An aisle left room for people to make their way to the benches along the walls or find a spot to squat in the front. Still more tried to squeeze in, and a crowd packed around the door and out onto the sidewalk, craning and straining. Had the meeting begun?

    I stood at the...

    (pp. 189-218)

    WHEN THE DUST CLEARED after the 1973 harvest season, the union held few contracts. Among them were the Coachella table grape growers Steinberg and KK Larsen, who signed just after the Coachella strike erupted; the wineries Almaden, Paul Masson, Vie Del, Novitiate, and Napa Valley vineyards; Interharvest and the strawberry grower Pik’d Rite in the Salinas and Watsonville area; a lemon grower, S&F in Ventura; and citrus workers at Coca-Cola ranches in Florida. The farmworker movement was facing a full court press. The year 1973 saw it stripped of nearly all table grape contracts, Franzia and Gallo wine company contracts,...

  10. 6. NEW LAW, 1975
    (pp. 219-258)

    A DECADE HAD ELAPSED since the movement in California’s fields began, a decade that encompassed upheaval on a global scale: growing economic instability, financial arrangements in place since the end of the Second World War discarded; the Middle East oil embargo; and perhaps most crucial of all, the U.S. defeat in Vietnam. The image of panicked officials packing helicopters on the rooftop of the U.S. embassy in Saigon marked the humiliating end to the greatest military defeat in U.S. history.

    The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was about to enter a new, more dangerous stage,...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 259-264)
  12. 7. 1976
    (pp. 265-290)

    THE UFW CONTINUED to win more elections. And though the UFW showed strength in the vegetable fields from Salinas/Watsonville to the Imperial Valley but little support in the major Central Valley grape-growing areas, momentum was on the UFW side in the contest with the Teamsters.

    A new UFW slogan began to make the rounds: “Una Sola Union,” one big union, and projections of an organization of tens of thousands across the country. For the Teamsters-growers alliance the handwriting was on the wall. By March of 1977 the Teamsters formally bowed out of the fields, keeping only the contract it had...

    (pp. 291-314)

    IN THE SUMMER OF 1977 I was working at Interharvest on the number 7 crew, the low-seniority ground crew. Interharvest had a rotation system, meant to give each crew roughly the same amount of work; it was feast or famine for us all.

    Toro camp, on Hitchcock Road a few miles from downtown Salinas, was the Interharvest ground crew camp. Many of the ground crew lechugueros lived there or, like me, came there in the early mornings to catch a bus for the fields.

    From a distance Toro camp looked like a lone white ship floating on a vast brown...

    (pp. 315-336)

    INTERNAL DISSENT was not only based on disappointment and frustration with the union’s tendency toward autocracy, its turn away from and against its progressive side, or the overall decline in rebellious spirit. It also had a basic material element. Despite the union wage gains, high inflation had undermined wages, so that by 1978 farmworkers’ real wages, non-union and union, were below those of 1970. The union realigned its message, putting greater weight on economic gain alone, yet it was proving deficient on this score as well. In fact, in comparison to other workers in agriculture, farmworker wages were becoming proportionately...

    (pp. 337-358)

    BY MID-FEBRUARY 1979 Sun Harvest, the largest of the struck companies, had given up any effort to cut the remainder of its lettuce crop in the Imperial Valley, writing off 3,000 acres, half of its normal lettuce acreage. It was not alone in walking away from a crop it would have had great difficulty harvesting. Still, the Imperial Valley strike proved indecisive. Sun Harvest did not give in quickly, as some in the union leadership suspected or hoped they might.¹

    There were objective difficulties in applying more pressure. Sun Harvest and Bruce Church had fields in the Yuma area on...

    (pp. 359-388)

    THERE ARE MORE THAN TWO MILLION year-round and seasonal farmworkers in the United States, including 100,000 children. One in ten farmworkers in the United States is a U.S. citizen.

    About 684,000 farmworkers work for California growers. California has 44 percent of the country’s fruit, vegetable and horticultural workers. 95 percent of those workers are immigrants, the vast majority, 93 percent, are Latinos from Mexico. An estimated 85 percent are workers who have been deprived of legal documents.

    In the year 2000 Monterey County farmers employed 86,941 farmworkers, including 46,687 migrant workers. Another 20,000 farmworkers were employed in nearby Santa Cruz...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 389-406)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 407-415)