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Family farmers and farmworkers: side by* side By Ron Butler Waco “Equal and exact justice for all men” is a Thomas Jefferson precept that the National Farmers Union embraces, even to the , point of including it in our statement of official policy. You’ll find it prominently placed in that document, coming before any mention of our strict farm concerns such as international trade, tax reform or peanut programs. It is there purposefully, a sincere belief of the members of the associationsome quarter of a million farm families, stewards of their land and proud workers, all. Producing food is something that small family farmers happen to be good at, better at than anyone else. They’re concerned about parity, which means getting a fair price for their cropsconsidering the investments and labor farmers put into producing them. But farming is also a way of life, and other values and satisfactions play an integral part in the way things are done. Individual worth, the quality of rural life, and economic fairness are some of those values. The family farm, however, is a threatened institution. High costs, low . prices, closed markets, and an indifferent government have combined to put family farmers in an intolerable position. Farmers have been striking against it, and many consumers and working people are supporting the strike. In turn, farmers find themselves in tune with any individual seeking fairness, and that includes farmworkers. The system of bigness and indifference that works against the family farmer is the same system that stands against the mistreated farm laborer. Leaving aside its other inefficiencies, giant-scale farming necessarily separates farmers from hired workers. That’s not the way things work on a small farmas Jay Naman, president of the Texas Farmers Union and himself a family farmer in McLennan County, puts it, “The average family farmer does most of his work himself, hires at most one or two workers, works side by side with them every day, and must look them in the eye when setting wages and conditions of work. Fair pay and benefits are thus more likely to be the rule on a family farm than in an agribusiness system, with large numbers of workers subject to the dictates of an aloof management.” It is common for a family farmer to have a long-term relationship with his or her employee or foreman, who is generally a full-time, well-compensated worker. Such an employee is oftentimes crucial to the farm operation, familiar with the ins and outs of managing the workload through the year. Mutual respect and desire to do right by each other generally result. “It’s not just a question of fair wages,” says Naman. “For example, one of our members is currently pushing for expansion of our group health insurance policy to cover these farm employees and their families.” Now on the few occasions when family farmers need to hire temporary labor, they admittedly try to get by as cheaply as possible. But even then, the pay is at least the minimum wage. In these cases, most of the hired workers come from nearby, so everyone knows one another. And any random survey of family far Farmworker bargaining would have little practical effect on small family farmers in Texas, since they hardly employ any: 93 percent of Texas farmers either employ no workers at all, or only one hired hand. It’s the other 7 percent of farmsthe big agribusiness operations-that hire nearly all workers and profit by keeping wages low. 14 FEBRUARY 3, 1978