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93 0….. .6yne ,,,,, .. Hard traveling: farmworkers’ march arrives in Austin, Labor Day, 1966. A LONG TIME COMING: The Struggle to Unionize America’s Farm Workers by Richard Meister and Anne Loftis Macmillan, 1977. $14.95 By John McCarthy The pain, hunger and injustice that have marked the lives of farmworkers in the South and Southwest for more than 100 years are documented in a small volume by Dick Meister and Anne Loftis. A Long Time Coming tells the story of the struggle to unionize farmvvorkersa dreary tale of unending sadness, exploitation and national neglect. It begins with California growers hiring thousands of Chinese laborers thrown out of work by completion of the trans-continental railway in 1869, and continues to the present day. The availability of large numbers of unskilled workers and the large size of land holdings combine to form the special character of agriculture in these sections of the country. Although poverty and exclusion from full participation in American economic life are still the lot of farmworkers, there is more reason for a degree of hope today than in the past. The growers oppose unionization of their workers as adamantly as they ever have, but the government’s stance has shifted during the last SO years. In the 1920s, the Industrial Workers of measurable strides in organizing farm and ranch lands in California. Their modest success was met with violencenot only by the growers, but by the government. Sheriffs’ posses fired on strikers, the California governor sent in companies of state guardsmen against them, and even the judicial power of the federal government was invoked against them. Violence continued into the ’30s. The unionization effort in Pixly, Calif., led to an incident in which two men were shot down and seven men and one woman were wounded. Eight of the riflemen were tried for murder, and 11 others were identified as witnesses. All eight were acquitted by a jury that was told that the defendants were defending the courthouse from attack by “communist agitators.” But during this decade, if government influence was not aligned against the farmworkers, neither was it used to aid them. Despite the good will of many governmental leaders, grower power was strong enough to insure that farmworkers were excluded from every major piece of social legislation from 1934 until the mid-’60s. Then President Johnson’s War on Poverty and Cesar Chavez’s appearance on the national scene coincided to make Americans more sensitive than ever before to the special needs of farmworkers. A Long Time Coming does an adequate, if limited, job of sketching the history of the farmworkers’ efforts to unionize, but it neglects much of the detail and substance. This may be a natural limitation of a book that takes only 241 pages to cover a century of activity. But in the rush to narrate facts and events, Meister and Loftis have failed to develop, or even raise, a number of issues. For example, the “Bishop’s Committee” appears again and again in their storyas mediator or as advocate for the farmworkers. Not a word of explanation about that committee is offered. Where did it come from, what was its purpose, who set it up, who served on it, how effective was it? Another example: The conflict between the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee and the Teamsters Union is discussed, but there is no adequate explanation of why the Teamsters moved in on the farmworkers in 1971. But the book’s more important shortcoming is that it does not go beneath the surface of agricultural conflict; it does not deal with the basic factors that created this terrible American economic and social problem. These factors are still present and threaten to maintain this sea of poverty in our midst indefinitely. In the South and Southwest, a number of convergent factors are responsible. In the post-Civil-War South, white agricultural interests replaced slavery with a system that institutionalized poverty. needed to bring in the harvest at competitive prices and a system was developed to manufacture poor people. Black people were cut off from educational opportunities. While the situation in the Southwest was not identical, it was comparable in some ways. In both areas, a deep-seated racism was working against non-whites: the vast majority of farmworkers have always been black, Hispanic, Filipino or Oriental. The traditional Anglo-Saxon accent on the value of property over persons added to the complexity; until very recently any con flict between property rights and human rights tended to be resolved in favor of property. Other things continue to inhibit change. The American people have been both unaware and unappreciative of the fact that they are accustomed to spending a smaller percentage of their income on food than the people of any other developed nation. But now that grocery bills are beginning to eat up American incomes in proportions comparable to those of the Western European nations and Japan, the extra dollars are still not getting to the farmers and the farmworkers. Finally, throughout this period, a monumental reservoir of poverty and a lack of development in Northern Mexico have made the picture even bleaker. Their impossible situation has sent, and will continue to send, tens of thousands of Mexicans north in pursuit of a better life. Despite the shortcomings, however, Long Time Coming is worth reading for brief review of what is at last being recognized as one of America’s major social issues. Father McCarthy is executive directOr’ of the Texas Catholic Conference. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21 ?;;;:”