Posts Tagged ‘agricultural workers’


United Farm Workers at the Delano Field Office (Forty Acres).

Delano, California.

Circa 1967.

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“Guilty Plea Made On Hit-Run Charge,” Montreal Star. July 21, 1938. Page 03.

St. Martin Farm Worker Will Be Sentenced On July 29

Leo Bertrand, 25, of St. Martin, a farm employe, today pleaded guilty to a charge of having failed to stop after striking and injuring Mrs. Antonio Boucher, 30, of 50 Rue Champoux, L’Abbord a Plouffe, an expectant mother, with his automobile, on his appearance before Judge Langlois in the Arraignment Court.

The judge reserved sentence in the case until July 29 pending reports on the condition of the woman. The accused also pleaded guilty to another charge, that of driving without a driver’s license. He was fined $10 and costs, the usual fine in such cases.

Homicide squade officers, Sergeant Detectives Fitzpatrick and Laroche, who made the case against Bertrand, said that the accident occurred at 10.45 pm July 19, at Lachapelle and St. Leon streets.

He Drove Too Close
Accused was making a turn at that intersection, they said, and he drove too close to the curve, striking Mrs. Boucher. She was, they said, caught under the mudguard. Bertrand was alleged to have backed off her and to have driven away without stopping and investigating.

A witness, the son of a policeman in the Montreal force, whose name was not given, was said to have taken down the last three numbers of the licence plat of Bertrand’s car. The officers checked on this and found that these numbers were of the series issued to automobile owners of the L’Abord a Plouffe district.

Yesterday afternoon they went to a farm in L’Abbord a Plouffe where Bertrand was employed, they said, and arrested him.

Mrs. Boucher, whose condition was said not to be serious, spent a day at the Hotel Dieu, it was said, and she is now at home under doctor’s care.

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“Complaints By An Immigrant,” Kingston Daily Standard. June 28, 1913. Page 02.

Relates to Wages and Refreshments.

Man Was Told He Would Receive $30 a Month, But Was Given Only $12.

A recent arrival from the old country, J. A. Rhodes, told The Standard of the disillusions which awaited him in Canada. One of these related to wages. He was told by an immigration agent in London that he would get $30 a month working with a farmer, while his wife would get $12 a month. On arriving here, he hired with a farmer, nothing had been said about wages at the time, the simple-minded immigrant taking the word of the agent at its face value. After he had been working some time the farmer suggested that they come to some agreement regarding wages, and magnanimously offered the man the princely salary of $125 a year. The employer further showed his generosity by suggesting that if he did not want to stay a year, he would pay him $12 a month to the first of September. Of course, this being the haying and harvesting months, the farmer had some idea that the man would probably earn his salary by working from daylight to dark. The immigrant seeing his $30-a-month salary vanishing, naturally demurred, when his employer conveyed the impression that he ought to be highly elated, as his predecessor was content with twenty cents a day.

Mr. Rhodes asked about employment for his wife, and was told by the farmer that he didn’t want her services. Thus, the employee forced the prospect of maintaining an establishment on $125 a year. He failed to see how he could do this without leaving a worrying band of creditors behind him, when he came to forsake this weary world. Accordingly, he looked about for a more remunerative job, and succeeded in finding one as fireman on a boat. Mr. Rhodes, who is a big, husky man, impresses one as being willing to work. 

Another of Mr. Rhodes’ grievances was as to food. He was given to understand that at each stopping place refreshments would be provided. Three families, inclyding ‘Mr. Rhodes’, arrived here at 3 o’clock in the morning, tired and hungry, but it was not until 9 o’clock that morning that they received anything to eat, and then only a small bag of doughnuts had to do three families. The ladies naturally wanted some tea, but they were denied this. And what was true of Kingston Mr. Rhodes said was true of the other stopping places.

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“Because so many of the labor positions had
been converted to technical ones, there was in this early period a constant
labor shortage. In 1961 H.B. Heeney was approached by the authorities at the
Kingston Peniteniary to see if they could set up an arrangement whereby they
would supply the station with daily prison labor in return for some of the
surplus produce from the experimental tree fruit, small fruit and vegetable
trials. For a 2-year period prisoners were transported daily from Kingston to
Smithfield. This arrangement supplied approximately eight field hands from 9
a.m. to 4 p.m. from 15 May to 15 October. After 2-years, the Department of the
Solicitor General requested and received permission to set up a trailer camp on
the Smithfield property in which they housed 10 prisoners, a cook, and two custodial
officers from the medium security facility at Joyceville, Ont. The camp was
established from a period 15 May to 1 November each year from 1963 to 1968. The
trailer camp was dismantled in 1968, and after that time assistance was
obtained on a daily basis from the Warkworth Institution north of Smithfield.
The program was finally dropped in 1972. The type of labor supplied by this
program was not fully adequate and was often frustrating to the technical and
labor crew at Smithfield. However, because the station had access to the labor,
it was possible to expand some programs at Smithfield and to continue others
for a longer time. The loss of this source of labor in 1972 made it necessary
to drop much of the small fruit program conducted at Smithfield at that time.”


H.B. Heeney and S.R. Miller, Smithfield Experimental Farm, 1944-1985

Historical series / Research Branch, Agriculture Canada no. 26. Ottawa: Agriculture Canada, 1986. pp. 29-30.

Top three photographs show inmates working at Smithfield Experimental Farm, c. 1961. Bottom is scan of custodial officer daily routine diary from Smithfield, 1964.

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“Famine and World-Hunger Are On Our Threshold – We Must Produce More Food,” Toronto Globe. April 28, 1917. Page 14.

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“The United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez are widely known: They first came to prominence as the face of a strike of grape pickers in the 1960s that prompted an international boycott of table grapes. But there’s a part of that movement’s history that’s rarely told — and it traces back to Delano, Calif., a pretty typical hot, dry farm community.

In this town’s unassuming corners, the true story of the Delano Grape Strike unfolded. There’s a white stucco building on the edge of town where Chavez held his first hunger strike, and a high school auditorium where then-Sen. Bobby Kennedy spoke in support of the farmworkers.

Long-time resident Roger Gadiano leads college students and others on tours of these places and to Filipino Hall. It’s a community center, but to Gadiano, “this is a shrine. I guess it’s our Selma. This is it!” he says.

Because it was here that, on the night of Sept. 7, 1965, farmworkers — almost all Filipino — voted to go on strike the next day.

“We’re a part of a big history, which is bold. We took a step that no one would take,” he says. The hall served as the hub of activity for the first years of the Farmworker Movement.

Gadiano drives to the cemetery, and gets out near the simple gravesite of the father of the Delano Grape Strike, Larry Itliong.

“He, gave our people some dignity. He gave his guts,” Gadiano says.

During Philippine Weekend, a cultural celebration and kind of family reunion, a group of young women say they never learned about the farmworker movement in school. Anhelica Perez says her Latina grandmother and other relatives actually participated in the strike and ensuing boycott. “So it was active family history, but it was not taught — or talked about — at all,” she says.

Even though she’s in her late 20s, Melanie Retuda says she learned about the Filipino origins of the strike only last year. “I’d known of Cesar Chavez and Hispanics being involved,” she says. “Being Filipino, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ Filipinos actually made an impact in the process. It makes me proud that they were involved."”

– Lisa Morehouse, “Grapes Of Wrath: The Forgotten Filipinos Who Led A Farmworker Revolution.” Weekend Edition Saturday, September 19, 2015.

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“By late antiquity there is almost no evidence of a substantial stratum that might
be called small and middle peasants, except in isolated regions and ecological
niches where they were less vulnerable to the depredations of large landowners.
In the Byzantine East, summary descriptions of the chief rural classes comprise only
two groups, hoi ton chorion despotai and hoi georgoi, or hoi kyrioi and hoi georgoi, or
some variation on these couplets such as hoi ta choria kektemenoi and hoi georgoi, that is, landowners on one side, peasants on the other. But from the way these
terms are deployed, it is clear that the georgoi were not mainly a landed class. It
was not the ownership of land that defined their identity in the eyes of the
members of the élite who drafted the laws or wrote histories. What defined them
collectively was the fact of rural labour. This is why it was standard to use the
term georgos when referring to coloni in the East, although Justinian himself took the
trouble to explain that the Latin word designated a class of workers who were
‘residents of large estates and farm workers’. On one third-century estate, georgoi
were included among the groups who received monthly wages (in grain), and going even further back, el-Abbadi describes the demosioi
or peasants on former royal (that is, Ptolemaic) land as ‘the great mass of
landless public peasants’, adding that at this time (the first century) the word georgos
‘usually indicate[s] a farmer who owned his own land’. In short,
the first thing agrarian historians have to do is reconstruct the meaning of words
instead of allowing words to dominate their perception of the flow of history. 

In the Sasanian Near East, we know next to nothing about agrarian relations
beyond the fact that much Iranian history revolved around the tensions or
conflict between the ruler and powerful regional aristocracies. There is one
fascinating reference in Ammianus to the Sasanian upper class wielding ‘the power
of life and death over their slaves and plebeii obscuri’. Bandag was the standard
Middle Persian term for ‘slave’ or ‘servant’, but how we should (reverse)
translate the latter expression is anyone’s guess; perhaps it was Ammianus’ Latin
equivalent of

driyōšān. It referred presumably to the
mass of commoners who survived through employment for the rich and
probably also to the kind of social groups from which the revolutionary priest
Mazdak drew his support early in the sixth century. These are described in the
(much later!) Arabic sources by a profusion of terms, of which the most telling
denote utter destitution. Patricia Crone, in a justly famous paper, argued that Mazdak drew his support from the peasantry, especially in the aftermath of fiscal
reforms that introduced a fixed monetary tax. But this, of course, begs the question whether such a group (a peasantry)
existed on any substantial scale by the sixth century. What does seem clear is that
if Mazdak’s supporters were rural, they were landless, but on balance it is more
likely that Mazdak attracted the urban poor, groups who had no access to food
in times of scarcity, and, it seems, no access to women and a family life either.
At any rate, the picture of late Sasanian society is one of a deeply divided
formation where the antagonism between rich and poor was a constant source
of anxiety for the ruling groups, and one of the most valuable survivals of an
authentic Middle Persian text (via Arabic) shows a ruler, probably Khusro I,
strongly advocating the attachment (ilhaq) of the poor to their closest aristocratic
neighbours to reduce class antagonisms and ensure the continued submission of
those stricken by poverty.
The scale of destitution implied in all this fits remarkably well with the kind of
agrarian picture reflected in a major work of agronomy written, almost
certainly, in Syriac, in late antiquity, and translated by Ibn Wahshiyya at the start
of the tenth century. Here, as Gunnar Lehmann points out in a review of a
recent study of the massive redaction attributed to Ibn Wahshiyya, ‘In the rural
masses of the kitab al-filaha an-nabatiya we are dealing with “free” agricultural
workers in Marx’s sense. The population depicted there is employed solely by the
large estates, it has no share in landed property
’. That at the time of the conquest
of southern Iraq the Arabs did not in fact find a substantial smallholding
peasantry but villages ruled by dehqans, a minor gentry, and estates cultivated by
mainly Aramaic-speaking ‘tenants’, is suggested by a tradition reported in Abu
Yusuf’s Kitab al-kharaj, viz. ‘‘Umar b. al-Khattab first wanted to distribute [the
lands of] al-Sawad amongst the Muslims and ordered a census. It was found
that each of them would receive two or three tenants (al-ithnain wa-l-thalatha min
) with their lands’ and he decided eventually not to proceed with the
division. In short, an independent peasantry was not a major feature of the core
regions of the Sasanian empire, and both here and in the Byzantine-controlled
East Mediterranean landlessness and dependence on large and medium-scale
landowners was widespread. Thus, proletarianization took very different forms in the
east and west
, flowing from the gradual dissolution of bondage and the structured creation of reserves of labour (labour tenancies) in one case, the West, and from
the widespread landlessness of the peasantry in the other, the East, where the
threat of eviction was a more powerful means of control.

Staying with the East, the second remarkable feature is the kind of sharecropping
that prevailed there and its sheer ubiquity. Noting the frequency of indefinite
durations in the Egyptian leases of the sixth to seventh centuries, Stefan Waszynski
had concluded, correctly in my view, that the Byzantine sharecropper had
become a pure and simple wage-labourer whom the landowner could evict at
any time. No modern papyrologist has registered any serious disagreement
with this view, because it is so obvious that tenants-at-will are entirely at the
mercy of their landlords. Thus whether the georgoi were ‘bound’ to large estates
as coloni or permanent farm workers or worked as sharecroppers and
tenants-at-will, they were united by their common condition of landlessness
and total dependence on the employer. It is this feature of East Mediterranean
sharecropping that comes to the fore in the Islamic period. Here are two passages
illustrative of this. Discussing a category of land called the ‘ard al-hauz or lands
that have come into the possession (hauz) of the ruler and been appropriated by
him, the ninth-century Iraqi jurist al-Khassaf writes, ‘the hauz is something that
the Sultan takes possession of (hazahu). He brings the sharecroppers (muzari‘un)
to it, so that they may cultivate it. In this way they become farm-hands (akara)
of the Sultan, whom he may oust at any time he pleases’. And Abu Yusuf in his discussion of different types of agricultural contracts
describes two in particular which are relevant to our theme. One of them is
called muzara‘a and defined as an agreement where the tenant receives a third or
fourth share of the crop. The other, not called muzara‘a, is described as follows:
‘A landowner hires a peasant to cultivate some land and bears all the expense,
promising the peasant a sixth or a seventh of the crop as wages’. From


it is clear that sharecropping (muzara‘a) was widespread on large estates,
even though it was rejected by jurists like Abu Hanifa and Shafi‘i on the substantial legal grounds that the ‘rent’ was non-existent and
unknown at the time the contract was made. The jurists who defended its
validity did so on the practical grounds that it was part of the way business
(ta‘amul) was conducted in their countries. These later Hanafi models of
sharecropping draw a clear distinction between labour and capital, basing the
landowner’s claim to a share of the crop on his need to expand his property (i.e.
the seed) and the worker’s claim on the contract alone. The fact that in most parts of the Islamic world muzara‘a typically

involved shares varying from one-fourth to one-seventh is, I suggest, linked to
an underlying conception of these contracts as a hiring of labour. Their sheer
tenacity across the most diverse periods of the history of the Middle East is one
indication of the peculiarly fragile nature of the peasantry in this part of the

The third and final plank of my argument concerns the meaning of the word
‘estate’ in much of the Near East. Like its sharply polarized agrarian structure,
this too is a legacy of late antiquity that survived best in the Muslim world, but
one which drew more on Armenian and Sasanian traditions of landholding than
on any Byzantine or late Roman equivalents. The form of landholding I have in
mind involves the ownership of villages (usually entire villages and often many
more than one) and contrasts sharply with the Byzantine large estate that turns
up in the papyri of the later fifth to seventh centuries. The latter… grouped its workers into estate settlements that were
visibly distinct from villages and never confused with them. Since these
settlements were called epoikia, I have described this kind of estate as ‘epoikion-type’. It corresponds exactly to the ezba estates that proliferated in Egypt
in the nineteenth century, as land was increasingly re-privatized and the ruling
groups invested massively in cotton. The striking feature of the papyrological
evidence is the singular absence of anything vaguely resembling the ownership
of villages in late antique Egypt. In sharp contrast to this, Procopius refers to an
Armenian collaborator persuading the emperor Justinian (in the early 530s) to
‘present him with certain villages (komai) of Armenia’. He became, Procopius
says, the ‘owner’ (kyrios) of these estates (chorion). When this man was assassinated
by the pro-Sasanian faction, Justinian handed the same villages over to his
nephew Amazaspes. Now this, it seems to me, was primarily a Sasanian
tradition, as Michael Morony has argued in a paper that describes this type
of landholding as ‘village estates’. Thus Hormozdan owned a
village which ‘Uthman later granted to Sa‘d b. Abi Waqqa as his iqta‘ (in its
classical meaning, any concession of land). In the mid fifth century, another
equally powerful Sasanian figure Mihr Narseh is described as ‘founding’ four
villages and laying out orchards around them, and even earlier, in the fourth
century, Shapur II is described as ‘building’ the village of Vardana near
Bukhara. Indeed, in Bukhara, where a minor Iranian aristocracy survived down
to the Samanid period, the tradition is abundantly attested in Narshakhi’s History
of Bukhara
, a tenth-century work of which the only exemplar is the Persian
translation made in the early twelfth century. This refers to the buying and
selling of villages, and in one passage to 75 ‘private’ villages (dihe khas) ‘on the river of Bukhara and the Upper Faravaz’. It is this tradition, I suggest, that
survived both in Iran where, even in the late 1940s, the typical ‘large landed
proprietors’ were described by Lambton as owners of villages, the ‘umdeh malikin
whose ‘estates range from single villages to several villages, the number of
which, in certain exceptional cases, is alleged to run into three figures’, and in
those zamindari villages of the Mughal period which, though confusingly also
known as dehat-i-taluqa, were the big zamindars’ private or exclusive possessions,
as opposed to other villages, obviously the majority, over which, technically at
least, their rights were essentially fiscal and the model of ‘ownership’ less
full-blooded and closer to a hierarchy of shared claims. Ownership of villages also seems to have been widespread in Egypt in
the nineteenth century, and as the term ‘uhda suggests, evolved at
least partly from Muhammad Ali’s forced restoration of the iltizam system
(which he had abolished in 1814) and the tendency of the muta‘ahhidun or tax
farmers (more correctly, ‘tax guarantors’) to treat villages
whose liabilities they assumed as their private property. Thus Baer points out that ‘a number of observers at the time of Muhammad ‘Ali simply
stated that the system turned the fellahs into labourers working for the ‘uhda
recipient. Artin asserts that ‘Abbas granted full ownership rights to some
muta‘ahhidun’. Moreover, the ruling family’s çiftliks also consisted of villages
which the peasantry had abandoned. Some of these were enormous; e.g. ‘Sa‘id’s
at al-Khazzan near Alexandria covered 20,000 feddans. What the
Egyptian example suggests is that a model that was predominantly Iranian/Sasanian was taken over and generalized after the expansion of Islam, almost
certainly through the practice of granting villages to members of the ruling élite,
either as pure land concessions (iqta‘at, qata’i‘) or, later, in lieu of cash salaries,
and later still as tax farms.”


– Jairus Banaji, “Aristocracies, Peasantries and the Framing of the Early Middle Ages.”  Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 9 No. 1, January 2009, pp. 80-85. 

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