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  • Farm Workers in Western Canada: Injustices and Activism eds. by Shirley A. McDonald and Bob Barnetson
  • Derek S. Oden
Farm Workers in Western Canada: Injustices and Activism. Edited by Shirley A. McDonald and Bob Barnetson. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2016. xi + 212 pp. Contributors, index. C$29.95, US$29.95 paper.

Readers interested in examining the topic of agricultural labor on the northern Great Plains will find Farm Workers in Western Canada to be particularly valuable. The prairie province of Alberta is heavily represented in this collection of incisive essays. Readers who desire a multidisciplinary approach to the topic will be especially satisfied. The book's contributors represent a diverse variety of areas of expertise including sociologists, labor relations specialists, and legal professionals. These authors employ a variety of approaches while examining the contested farm labor issue across the diverse landscapes of western Canada. The volume is especially strong in examining the topic's legislative dimensions, such as the recent passage of Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act (2015). Additionally, those interested in understanding the legislative histories and consequences of Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) will also be rewarded.

Those familiar with the topic will find many familiar themes. The region's agricultural laborers, just like their counterparts in the United States, have often been excluded from regulatory protections. Additionally, Canadian farm workers labor in especially hazardous conditions, face difficulty in forming unions, and are heavily represented by foreign workers. The authors also reveal how unrelenting economic pressures have meant that farms continue to grow larger and more specialized. The contributors also often analyze how a romanticized image of farming has impeded efforts to improve conditions. The book's contributors seek to provide a more accurate view of industrialized agriculture and in doing so add to the legacy of writers stretching as far back as Carey McWilliams's Factories in the Field. This collection, as McWilliams's work of 80 years ago, reminds readers of the human price that is exacted for relatively inexpensive food produced for urban populations. Readers curious about the conditions found in Canada's meatpacking industry will be pleased to find two chapters focusing on that topic in the prairie provinces of Alberta and Manitoba.

Although this is a strong contribution to the subject of agricultural work, some additional features might have further deepened the reader's understanding of the topic. For instance, those unfamiliar with western Canada's history and geography might have benefited from some additional historical context in a few areas of the book. Also, readers might be left wondering the ways in which technological change has impacted safety conditions and how alternative approaches to worker safety including education and engineering have played a role in reducing hazards. Nevertheless, those desiring a very present-day look at this issue will be greatly satisfied. Editors Shirley A. McDonald and Bob Barnetson have succeeded greatly in assembling a collection of essays that provide fresh insights in understanding the plight of those who work in hazardous conditions to provide food for an ever-growing global population. [End Page 97]

Derek S. Oden
Department of Social Sciences Del Mar College


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