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The Fruits of Their Labor

Atlantic Coast Farmworkers and the Making of Migrant Poverty, 1870-1945

Cindy Hahamovitch

Publication Year: 1997

In 1933 Congress granted American laborers the right of collective bargaining, but farmworkers got no New Deal. Cindy Hahamovitch's pathbreaking account of migrant farmworkers along the Atlantic Coast shows how growers enlisted the aid of the state in an unprecedented effort to keep their fields well stocked with labor. This is the story of the farmworkers--Italian immigrants from northeastern tenements, African American laborers from the South, and imported workers from the Caribbean--who came to work in the fields of New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida in the decades after 1870. These farmworkers were not powerless, the author argues, for growers became increasingly open to negotiation as their crops ripened in the fields. But farmers fought back with padrone or labor contracting schemes and 'work-or-fight' forced-labor campaigns. Hahamovitch describes how growers' efforts became more effective as federal officials assumed the role of padroni, supplying farmers with foreign workers on demand. Today's migrants are as desperate as ever, the author concludes, not because poverty is an inevitable feature of modern agricultural work, but because the federal government has intervened on behalf of growers, preventing farmworkers from enjoying the fruits of their labor. This is the story of the farmworkers--Italian immigrants, African American laborers, and imported workers from the Caribbean--who came to work in the fields of New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida in the decades after 1870. In 1933 Congress granted American laborers the right of collective bargaining, but farmworkers got no New Deal. Cindy Hahamovitch's pathbreaking account of migrant farmworkers along the Atlantic Coast shows how growers enlisted the aid of the state in an unprecedented effort to keep their fields well stocked with labor. In 1933 Congress granted American laborers the right of collective bargaining, but farmworkers got no New Deal. Cindy Hahamovitch's pathbreaking account of migrant farmworkers along the Atlantic Coast shows how growers enlisted the aid of the state in an unprecedented effort to keep their fields well stocked with labor. This is the story of the farmworkers--Italian immigrants from northeastern tenements, African American laborers from the South, and imported workers from the Caribbean--who came to work in the fields of New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida in the decades after 1870. These farmworkers were not powerless, the author argues, for growers became increasingly open to negotiation as their crops ripened in the fields. But farmers fought back with padrone or labor contracting schemes and 'work-or-fight' forced-labor campaigns. Hahamovitch describes how growers' efforts became more effective as federal officials assumed the role of padroni, supplying farmers with foreign workers on demand. Today's migrants are as desperate as ever, the author concludes, not because poverty is an inevitable feature of modern agricultural work, but because the federal government has intervened on behalf of growers, preventing farmworkers from enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4

Contents

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pp. v-vi

IIlustrations and Maps

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

In 1988, when I was in graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and I was supposed to be doing something scholarly like writing a dissertation, I was actually spending a good deal of time agitating for better pay for various folks, including myself. ...

Abbreviations and Acronyms

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction

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pp. 3-13

Long before dawn on a winter morning in Belle Glade, Florida, white farmers drive from their homes or hotel rooms to 5th Street, where rows of flatbed trucks wait idling in the dark. There they are met by the bean pickers, some 2,000 black men and women who emerge out of the crowded, shedlike apartment buildings ...

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1. A Perfectly Irresistible Change: The Transformation of East Coast Agriculture

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pp. 14-37

There is nothing particularly new about migrant labor in North America. The continent's earliest human inhabitants were nomadic hunters who crossed a land bridge from Siberia as early as 40,000 years ago in search of caribou and woolly mammoths. ...

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2. The Sacrifice of Golden Boys and Girls: The Padrone System and New Jersey Agriculture

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pp. 38-54

Italian families disembarking from the trains that transported them to New Jersey's berry region brought feather beds, baby carriages, sausages, loaves of bread, and an entourage of reformers, photographers, state immigration authorities, and federal investigators. ...

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3. Progressives as Padroni: Labor Distribution and the Agrarian Ideal

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pp. 55-78

Once progressive reformers discovered the problems of farm labor migrancy in the Northeast, they might have been dismayed by a host of agricultural ills. The might have seized, for example, on the myriad problems that farmers faced in an industrial economy ‒ ...

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4. Work or Fight: The State as Padrone during the First World War

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pp. 79-112

In 1918 Tampa a black woman sitting on her porch found herself in conversation with a white woman who was looking for a domestic. In response to the visitor's queries, the black woman said no, she was not working for anyone, and yes, she could cook. ...

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5. The Sunshine State Meets the Garden State: Farm Labor during the Long Depression

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pp. 113-137

With agricultural prices higher during the First World War than they had ever been before, farmers had hastened to cash in on a flush economy. They had planted every acre that they owned or rented and borrowed to buy more land to put into production. ...

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6. Wards of the State: Farmworker Unionism and the New Deal

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pp. 138-150

Though migrant farmworkers were essential to the agricultural economies of New Jersey and Florida, they were "stateless"; they paid no taxes and did not vote. If they did not leave promptly when they were no longer needed, they became more a hindrance than a help. ...

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7. Uncle Sam as Padrone: The Politics of Labor Supply in Depression and War

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pp. 151-181

The Wagner Act, which was signed into law in July 1935, excluded field workers and domestics – some 65 percent of African American workers – from its provisions.1 Still, field workers were not abandoned by the state. If New Dealers were unwilling to redress farmworkers' powerlessness, ...

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8. The Union as Padrone: The "Underground Railroad" during the Second World War

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pp. 182-199

The ease with which the War Food Administration (WFA) commandeered the welfare apparatus set up for migrant farmworkers suggests the danger of dependence on the state. It also suggests an alternative course of action. If workers cannot depend on the state for aid and assistance, ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 200-204

The decision to import workers during the Second World War shaped the course of farm labor history over the next fifty years. In the aftermath of the war, Puerto Rican farmworkers replaced Italians in New Jersey and New York. In Florida, Bahamians and Jamaicans monopolized all but a few hundred of the 8,000 to 10,000 cane cutting jobs. ...

Notes

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pp. 205-246

Bibliography

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pp. 247-274

Index

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pp. 275-288


E-ISBN-13: 9781469603964
E-ISBN-10: 1469603969
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807823309
Print-ISBN-10: 0807823309

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 15 illus., 2 maps
Publication Year: 1997