The Harvesters Video by Harvey Richards

1960, 18 min., color

Rural Farm Labor Becomes Factory Labor

The rush to mechanize California agriculture to reduce the cost of farm labor in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s came as California’s factory farmers responded to the anticipated end of the bracero labor system which was finally terminated in 1964. Growers and bankers in agribusiness knew that the end of bracero labor would increase labor costs and lower their profits. Unions knew that with bracero labor gone, their chance to succeed in unionizing farm workers would improve.

Union Organizing Among the Harvesters

The Harvesters on Strike
The Harvesters on Strike in California. Photo by Harvey Richards

When Harvey Richards photographed the fields of California’s rich agricultural valleys in the years from 1958 to 1960, in conjunction with union organizers active in the valley, farm workers still faced bracero labor competition which limited their power to win the right to unionize. In the fields, hand labor was loosing ground to mechanized methods of harvesting while packing operations were moving from the packing houses to the fields. The Harvesters tackled these two great obstacles to farm worker unionization, braceros and mechanization, while pointing out the great similarities between to factory labor where the right to form a union was protected by the National Labor Relations Act, from which farm workers were excluded.

The Harvesters documents late 1950s farm labor conditions in California’s fields when 14- to 16-hour days paid workers at eighty-five cents to a dollar per hour. See farm workers photo galleries. Documenting many different crops, it also exposes how the bracero program imported Mexican nationals to work at wages lower than the sub-minimum rates available to American workers. The Harveters was made during the organizing drives of the United Packinghouse Workers Union and AFL-CIO Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) to be used as an organizing film.

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