- Paperback: 363 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; Revised ed. edition (February 21, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520224132
- ISBN-13: 978-0520224131
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California Revised ed. Edition
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"[McWilliams] nailed the essence of California in a way that has never been duplicated. To a remarkable degree ["California: The Great Exception and "Factories in the Field] remain as relevant today as when he wrote them."--"Los Angeles Times
From the Inside Flap
"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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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.
One era's historiography often becomes the source material for historians of later eras, and this is surely the case of Factories in the Fields. Sixty years later it's a vivid window into the mentality of earnest reformers of the New Deal, who had plenty to be passionate about. But Factories in the Fields not only was history; it also made history. Few books on such an obscure subject have had such long-term influence. I can state with certainty that without this book the efforts of Cesar Chavez, one of America's greatest heroes, would not have had half the chance of success; the boycotts that created the United Farm Workers were led by people who knew about migrant labor chiefly through McWilliams. Even today, the cautious distrust many people feel toward the Bush Republican proposals to create a pool of non-immigrant guest workers reflects the memory of the exploitative "bracero" program that was terminated in the 1960s through protests from, once again, people who'd read Factories in the Fields.
I've recently reviewed two other studies of the New Deal era - "The Political Life of Floyd B. Olson" and "The New Deal and the Iroquois". My central point in these reviews has been to remind people, especially conservatives, of the complexity of conditions, and of political responses to conditions, in the Depression decade. FDR was not the whole story. There was no New Deal for migratory workers, though there should have been.
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.
A brief tangent of discovery surrounding current nutrition trends in the fast food industry is the only thing salvaging this 300-something page novel. It earned 1 star from me only because it described the aforementioned Hollywood diet at length, and I have since preached this diet at my church support group where I go to help get over eating paint chips.