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Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California Paperback – February 21, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0520224131 ISBN-10: 0520224132 Edition: New Ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 363 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (February 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520224132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520224131
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #647,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The exploitation of the migratory agricultural worker, masterfully fictionalized in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, is equally masterfully told, chronologically and factually, by Carey McWilliams in this book." -- New York Times

"[McWilliams] nailed the essence of California in a way that has never been duplicated." -- Los Angeles Times

From the Inside Flap

"A masterpiece. . . . Two months after the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, Little, Brown issued the second controversial California documentary of 1939, Factories in the Field. . . . If John Steinbeck was a novelist seeking documentation, Carey McWilliams was a documentary journalist seeking the moral and imaginative intensity of art."—Kevin Starr, author of Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California

"Factories in the Field is a true classic of the 'other California' that one rarely hears about. McWilliams chronicles the modern saga of industrial capitalism's transformation of would-be yeoman farmers into a low-paid, multi-racial army of farmworkers toiling on huge factory farms. From the start, McWilliams called for the abolition of the artificial distinction between factory and farm as the necessary first step in guaranteeing farmworkers the right to collective bargaining. His work is still relevant to the ongoing migrations of peoples around the world in search of a better life."—Neil Foley, author of The White Scourge

"Indispensable to the study of California history."—Jules Tygiel, author of The Great Los Angeles Swindle

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Giordano Bruno on March 17, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A quick look at the index of Carey McWilliams's "Factories in the Field" finds not a single reference to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Should that be surprising? Given that the book was first published in 1939, I believe it should. But in this "Story of Magratory Farm Labor in California," neither the New Deal or the Great Depression followed the same script as in the rest of the country. 1939 was also the year of publication of John Steinbeck's great novel "Grapes of Wrath." The two books have been linked ever since, one as documentation for the other, even though McWilliams published first.

The "dustbowl refugees" of Steinbeck's fiction were white Americans, fleeing from the Depression and the folly of pioneer agriculture in an area unsuitable to family farming. They do turn up in Factories in the Fields, as victims of exploitation and violence, but Steinbeck knowingly overlooked the majority of migrant workers in California in the 1930s (and earlier and later), who were not white transplants from the poor South but rather Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and eventually prodominently Mexican. McWilliams describes in convincing terms how the nascent "industrial farmers" of California used racism, inter-ethnic competition, anti-union sentiments, and the pro-business partiality of American labor law not only to exploit the poorest of the poor unconscionably but also to consolidate huge holdings in some of America's richest farm land. The landest land-holding, that of the King family, is still around, and if I remember correctly it's larger than any of a half-dozen small states. The chapters in which McWilliams describes the violence, cloaked in legality, with which all efforts to organize migratory workers to defend their right to the Pursuit of Happiness are graphic and heart-rending.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By G. Reed on November 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
An excellent book for anyone interested in California History, US History, the Great Depression or the history of corporate agriculture. Originally released the same year as Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, McWilliams' book relates the history of not only migrant farm labor in California, but the corporate farm as well. Having included extensive background on California's 19th Century land grab, McWilliams presents a comprehensive look at corporate agriculture, including its effect on various labor groups and the economy of the State of California. Written with a definite bias toward the underdog (the migrant worker), Factories in the Field nevertheless provides the reader with an understanding of the beginnings of corporate economy in California and its true beginnings in agriculture, including an explanation of the power of the ag growers--a political hot potato that continues in the state today.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Randall L. Wilson on December 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
"Factories in the field" opened my eyes in a few ways. First, it shows that the history of California agribusiness isn't a post WWII creation as I thought. California agribusiness came out of the Spanish land grants that Americans of the U.S. variety exploited after the gold rush. Nineteenth century agribusiness was a time of giant farms and massive harvest of crops such as wheat. Second, that the history of the exploitation of farm workers also goes back to the nineteenth centure and while the ethnicity might change, the approach to these workers does not. Workers should be powerless and paid as little as possible. They should be provided the very minimum in living conditions and disappear after the harvest, not calling attention to themselves if they end up in the cities placing demands on municipalities causing the growers political trouble.

Finally, I learned that when a particular group of farm workers got uppity, the government would pass laws stripping them of their land and/or making it possible to acquire new property. If these groups striked, then the vigilantees inflicted violence on the workers and disrupted their strikes and had them imprisoned.

Carey McWilliams does a great job both of providing a social history of agribusiness in California and of showing why workers must never give up the struggle for social justice because the moneyed forces are always working to keep their wages down and their voices silenced.
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