304 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 illus., 2 maps, notes, bibl., index
Atlantic Coast Farmworkers and the Making of Migrant Poverty, 1870-1945
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.
“An important contribution to our understanding of agricultural labor relations and, more generally, is important in its observations about the weighted actions of allegedly neutral government programs.”
--Labor Studies Journal
“Brings together excellent historiography of the understudied East Coast migrant stream. . . . This excellent historical analysis is particularly timely.”
--Industrial and Labor Relations Review
“Finely crafted . . . Details how changing agricultural markets and production practices combined with labour distribution efforts of private, government, and union agencies to create a permanent migratory labour force deprived of power and mired in poverty.”
“[Hahamovitch] accomplishes a rare synthesis that skillfully weaves together the strands of agricultural history, immigration history, labor history, southern history, and history of the state. . . . Historians of all these specialties will be pushed into the interrelated corners of their fields and should be inspired to ask some creative new questions.”
“[This book] fills an important gap. . . . [Hahamovitch] has thoroughly mined manuscript and oral history collections, contemporary newspapers, and government archives to develop a readable, chronological narrative. . . . [This book] breaks important ground in understanding rural class relations and the role of the federal government in shaping the face of modern agriculture.”
--Journal of Southern History
“[Hahamovitch] tells a powerful story of how the actions of the state affect people’s day-to-day lives. In doing so, she puts the state back into history and produces a book that is a crucial work for anyone interested in American political history and the development of the twentieth-century nation-state.”
--Florida Historical Quarterly
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