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[Letter from Davis McEntire to John H. Provinse, April 13, 1942]
C O P Y
222 Mercantile Building
TO: John H. Provinse, Acting Head, Division of Farm Population and Rural Welfare
In response to your telegram of April 9, we have assembled such information as was readily available relative to the need for importing agricultural laborers from Mexico at this time. In addition to our ordinary sources of information we have consulted with officials of the Mexican Consulate at Los Angeles, the U. S. Employment Service—regional, state, and Los Angeles offices—the California State Division of Immigration and Housing, the Work Projects Administration for southern California, the Minority Groups Branch of the War Production Board, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Assistance, the Spreckels Sugar Company, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, several A.F.L. International Unions, and the Federation of Spanish-American Voters.
This subject has been considered recently by the State Farm Labor Subcommittee, the Regional Labor Supply Committee, the U.S.D.A. War Board, the Agricultural Committee of the State Defense Council, the Farm Bureau, and the Grange. We have had access to their data and conclusions.
1. The Farm Labor Situation in California
a) Supply Conditions:
Migration of workers to defense areas in California is still a dominant feature of the labor pattern of this State. During the recent period of expanding war industry, the labor supply in California has been augmented by continuing migration from other states, greater in volume than ever before with the exception of two or three years in the 1920's. The California Taxpayers Association estimates that the state's population increased by 443,000 persons between April 1940 and January 1942. Probably not less than 350,000 of these new people were migrants from other states. It is common knowledge that a large portion of the recent migrants are workers, mostly below middle age.
The border count of persons in parties who are in need of manual employment entering California by motor vehicle continues at a high level. The entry of more than 110,000 such persons was recorded in 1941. This was 5,000 more than entered during 1937, peak year of so-called drought-refugee migration. The count for January and February this year exceeds even last year's movement, with March showing some decline over last year.
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Therefore, while war industries and Selective Service have made large drafts on the labor supply, accretions to the working force through migration have also been large.
It has been maintained that a large part of these migrants are farm workers who have left the farms for higher paying industrial jobs. Undoubtedly it is true that most of these persons are seeking the higher paying jobs in defense industries, but there is some doubt that farmers and farm laborers are entering defense industries in significant numbers. Weekly reports of work applications received by the U.S. Employment Service in Los Angeles indicate a total of 2,381 persons classified in agriculture, fishing, and forestry for the period December 20 to February 6. This is only 3.1 percent of all job applicants.
Another supporting source is the WPA survey of the four defense areas in California (San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego) which shows that only 10 percent of the total number of migrant defense workers had farming experience. This is not to deny a degree of movement of farm workers from farms, but merely to point out that the more likely movement has been from farms to better paying jobs which have been vacated by more skilled and qualified workers who have not been engaged in farm work.
The net effect of the various supply factors virtually defies measurement but there are several indications of a still substantial labor reserve. On February 14, registrations for employment in war industries in California totaled 44,896, or about 3,000 more than the number for January. Of this total, 21,299 were primary registrations of workers fully qualified and available for immediate referral and an additional 1,643 were supplementary registrations of workers similarly qualified. About 12,677 persons were registered as receiving training in these selected occupations. This does not include registration for clerical, stenographic work, and similar occupations.
According to the Pacific Coast Labor Market Summary, the February inventory of active-file registrations indicated that only 45,000 of the 336,000 applicants for work at the U.S. Employment Service offices in California were available for employment in the skills listed as essential to war production and construction. Many persons in such unutilized pools of potential farm labor will look more favorably upon agricultural employment as the season progresses.
According to the California State Department of Social Welfare there are about 68,000 persons receiving county indigent aid. This is exclusive of the aged, the blind, and needy children also receiving aid. There are, in addition, about 64,000 persons now employed on WPA projects in California.
Special mention should be made of the resident Mexicans, of whom there are more than a quarter of a million in southern California alone. A high proportion of these Mexicans ordinarily seek employment in agriculture and they are one of the principal farm labor groups in the State. From all accounts, unemployment among these people is severe at the present time. They have not been drawn into war industries to any great extent. The difficulties in getting consideration for defense employment have been repeatedly brought before the Regional Labor Supply
― 3 ―Committee, of which the writer is a member. The birth certificate requirement and various restrictions on employment of aliens in war industries have been serious obstacles to their getting into the war industries. Mexican leaders are generally convinced that their people are being discriminated against.
/b) Demand Conditions:
(1) Industrial Employment in California
The California Division of Labor Statistics reports that industrial employment is continuing to expand. About 515,000 wage earners were employed in manufacturing establishments during February 1942, or nearly 47 percent more than in February 1941. These data are supported by the Pacific Coast Labor Market Summary of the Social Security Board, which reports 334,600 persons employed in the major aircraft and shipbuilding firms. This represents an increase of 80,000 employees during the past 3 months. It is expected that another 16,300 workers will have been taken by aircraft firms before April 15 and a total of 31,400 within 6 months. The major shipbuilding firms, now employing 133,000 workers, expect to have added 20,000 new workers before mid-April and 44,400 by mid-August.
(2) Agricultural Employment in California
Seasonal employment in the important agricultural activities in California as reported by local U.S. Employment Service offices increased slightly during the week ending March 28 to a total of about 26,500 workers. Significant increases during the week were reported for the asparagus harvest, now using about 5,900 seasonal workers, the spinach harvest, using about 1,000 workers, and sugar beet thinning, with about 1,300 seasonal workers now employed.
There was a reported State-wide surplus of 6,500 unemployed agricultural workers on March 28 in counties where major crop activities are now in progress or about to begin. About 5,000 of these were reported in southern California and nearly 1,000 in Sacramento Valley counties, while smaller numbers were reported in other areas.
At present there are about 8,000 seasonal workers picking citrus in the southern counties and about 2,500 workers are currently engaged in harvesting carrots in the Imperial Valley. Ventura County, with 3,200 seasonal workers, 2,800 of them in citrus, led the central coast area in number employed. In central coast counties an increase of more than 600 workers was reported, most of these for thinning lettuce and sugar beets. There was an unfilled demand for 600 seasonal workers in this area. This work is done mostly by Mexicans and Filipinos and facilities by farmers are available to these groups only.
In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta counties asparagus was the only crop activity reporting an unfilled labor demand. About 1,200 additional seasonal workers were requested by growers. Although the reported surplus of workers in this area is about equal to the shortage of asparagus workers, farmers prefer to hire Filipino workers rather than whites for this work. So far, farmers growing asparagus, sugar beets, and lettuce have shown little inclination to use other than Mexican and Filipino seasonal workers. One grower brought in 35 Negro workers from Georgia and another grower hired a full
― 4 ―Negro crew in Los Angeles, but this practice has not been favorably accepted by other growers.
Several instances of local farm labor shortages occurred last year in California and more of such instances are probable for this year. Apart from this there is a widespread belief that general shortages are imminent. For example, the BAE Farm Labor Report of March 16, 1942, estimates farm labor supplies of California to be from 22 to 39 percent below normal and from 25 to 39 percent below the supply available on January 1, 1940. Since these figures are based upon estimates of farm crop reporters they may be taken as farmer appraisal of the degree of reduction in labor supply. However, the same report shows that despite the real or anticipated shortage, there was an increase in total farm employment in the Pacific States. On March 1, 1941, total farm employment for the Pacific States was 459,000 persons compared with 474,000 persons on March 1, 1942. Of these it was estimated that hired workers numbered 173,000 persons on March 1, 1942, as compared with 158,000 on March 1, 1941.
Thus, farmers, as represented by crop reporters, have increased their number of hired employees by almost 11 percent from a labor supply estimated by them to be only three-fourths to two-fifths of that in 1940. No one may deny the fact that fewer farm laborers are available this season. This reduction has been made against a great surplus of farm workers built up during the 1930's.
However, it has not been demonstrated that a general shortage exists. Such a contention cannot be reconciled with an increase of 11 percent in the number of hired farm workers reported on farms for March 1 of this year. No doubt, in many instances, these workers were obtained at higher wages, but this is true for all other industries as well. The extent to which potentially available workers can be induced to take agricultural employment depends in a large part on relative wages. Although farm wages have risen during the past year they are still at levels which compete unfavorably with wages for alternative employment for potential and other farm workers. Compared with last year, farmers on March 1, 1942, were reported to be paying 15 to 24 percent higher monthly wages, 20 to 30 percent higher daily wages, and 20 to 30 percent higher hourly wages. Even with these increases monthly wages are $65 with board and $90 without. Day wages are $2.90 with board and $3.70 without, while hourly wage rates vary from 35 to 60 cents with the most frequent at 40 and 45 cents. Wages in nonagricultural lines (not only in war industries) generally range from 50 cents to 70 cents per hour. With this differential it is not surprising that unemployed workers are often reluctant to travel far from their homes to take short-time agricultural jobs. By way of illustration, it may be mentioned that the Los Angeles office of the Employment Service last week received an order for 600 workers for the guayule fields in the Salinas Valley, 300 miles distant. The wage offered was 60 cents per hour and the local manager advised us he expected to have no difficulty in filling the order. He stated, however, that it was often difficult to persuade workers to take farm jobs at 35 cents and 40 cents per hour. Nevertheless, the only other large order for agricultural workers pending at the time (200 vegetable workers in Los Angeles County) was being readily filled at 40 cents an hour by workers taken off the public assistance rolls.
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(3) Possibilities for Rationalizing the Use of Labor in the Production of Sugar Beets
The A.A.A. has reported that up to April 4, 1942, there were 185,016 acres of sugar beets contracted by beet companies in California, of which 137,997 acres have been planted at that date. This compares with estimates made by sugar beet companies that 195,106 acres are contracted for 1942. On the basis of present plantings, the harvested acreage this year will be slightly in excess of the 126,409 acres harvested last year, and then only if no crop failure is experienced.
In comparison with most field crops the annual seasonal labor requirements for sugar beets is relatively high. Operations for which seasonal labor is required include thinning, hoeing, pulling, topping, and loading. Peak periods of labor demand occur during April and May, mostly for hoeing and thinning operations, and from August to October when harvesting is at its height. When reference is made to seasonal labor in the sugar beet industry it is to what is known as contract labor. Farm management studies of the California Agricultural Extension Service indicate that on efficiently operated farms in northern and central California there are 77 man-hours of contract labor required out of a total of 102 man-hours per acre. If production techniques remain unchanged there are three alternatives open to the sugar beet grower in meeting the need for contract seasonal labor required for his crop. A shortage of Mexican and Filipino workers at prevailing wage rates may be met either by raising the wage to a level which competes favorably with those occupations into which Mexican and Filipino workers are said to be going, or by using workers other than Mexicans and Filipinos. Neither of these two alternatives is as desirable to sugar beet growers as the third, namely, the importation of Mexicans. Raising wages results in greater costs, and hiring workers other than Mexicans and Filipinos involves adjustments in methods of hiring, supervision, housing, feeding, etc. Hence, importation of Mexicans is the easiest and cheapest thing to do because it requires no alterations in either the wage structure or the labor structure.
There are, however, numerous possibilities for rationalizing the use of available farm labor within the present labor structure aside from adjustments which contemplate the use of workers other than Mexicans and Filipinos. First, there are several well known innovations which will reduce labor required for thinning and hoeing.
Almost all thinning of beets in California has been done by Mexicans, together with a few Filipinos, Japanese, and Hindus. These workers use a short handled hoe, crawling along the rows on their hands and knees. Usually a worker takes two rows at a time, blocking and thinning as he goes. Professor W. W. Robbins, one of the highest authorities on beet production, states that, "Generally speaking, there is much room for improvement in the method of work of thinners." He believes the method of thinning used in Europe, the Middle West, and the Rocky Mountain States is superior to that used in California. Two distinct operations are involved in this method. There are (1) blocking or spacing, and (2) thinning proper. Blocking is done with a long handled hoe or by machine, and thinning is done by hand. Advantages of
― 6 ―this method are stated by Robbins to be (1) thinners are compelled to leave a beet in the block, (2) the stand is usually more uniform, (3) the spacing or blocking can be performed when the beets are still too small to be thinned, and (4) increased yields are obtained. Note that the above suggestion not only lengthens the season for working but eliminates one "stoop" operation by substituting a long handled hoe for the short one if blocking is by hand, and better yet, machine blocking eliminates almost entirely the hand labor of blocking. Machine blocking has been demonstrated by experiments and hundreds of successful growers as a practical substitute for hand blocking of beets grown on the flat as they are in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valleys. No special equipment is required since the usual type of cross blocking is done with an ordinary beet cultivator with the tools spaced to leave blocks of the required size. Robbins considers the advantages of mechanical blocking to include the following:
A second proven method of reducing seasonal labor required for thinning is the planting of sheared seed combined with mechanical cross cultivation. Mr. C. A. Lavis, field superintendent of the Holly Sugar Company, estimates that 15 to 20 percent of the acreage contracted by his company this year in California has used sheared seed. He states that this together with cross cultivation completely eliminates the necessity for hand thinning and reduces hoeing as much as 50 percent. It is further thought by Mr. Lavis that even though unsheared seed is used there will be a considerable increase in cross cultivation this year to reduce the costs of thinning and hoeing. It is significant that this increase is stated to be due to increased labor costs and not due to a labor shortage as such. Mr. Lavis points out also that cross cultivation may begin as early in the spring as a satisfactory degree of germination is assured. This offers a very much extended period over which thinning is accomplished and permits a smaller labor force to be hired for hand hoeing over the extended period.
Harvesting beets in California begins only when there are sufficient beets matured to keep the factory in the district operating at full capacity. The season would be extended and fewer workers required if harvest were begun as soon as tests indicated the maturity of a specific grower's beets. Stock piles could be accumulated until sufficient tonnage was available to merit operating the plant at capacity. Storing beets in large piles is a common practice in regions where it is necessary to harvest beets more rapidly than they are processed to avoid early freezing of the soil. This involves the use of mechanical piling and subsequent handling at the expense of the sugar plant and has been largely avoided in California for that reason.
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During the season growers ordinarily may not harvest beets more rapidly than they may be processed by the sugar plant in their district. When the incoming tonnage exceeds plant capacity the usual practice is to prorate the acreage to be harvested each week among the farmers having mature beets. Often this results in partial work weeks and even partial work days for topping and loading crews and for hauling trucks.
Such prodigal use of labor is not feasible in the present emergency. Increased tonnages will undoubtedly be received this year. Sugar beet plants should disassociate rates of harvest from rates of processing. Records of the California Department of Employment, Unemployment Reserves Commission, show that the level of monthly employment in sugar beet processing plants during August, September, and October is usually four times the level existing during the months of December, January, February, March, and April. The accumulation of preseason and postseason stock piles would reduce considerably the magnitude of this seasonal variation in employment.
There are numerous adjustments that could be made in promoting more efficient use of skilled beet workers. Possibilities for shifting organized groups of single males from one crop to another within a given area are considerable. The work of recruitment is minimized, workers gain more steady employment and greater annual income, and growers obtain skilled labor of the type they desire most. For example, thinning and hoeing of sugar beets is under way in southern and central coast counties. Thinning in Orange County is about completed and 250 to 300 workers will be released. A large part of these might be induced to go to Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties where shortages of about 600 beet workers were reported last week. Declining harvest of naval oranges and lemons now using 2,800 workers in Ventura County will release additional workers to join the surplus already reported. Numerous Mexican workers will be released from citrus picking during the months of April and May. Beet growers in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties could obtain a portion of this group through wage inducements which would equal those offered in alternative employment.
Thinning, blocking, and hoeing of sugar beets has begun in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valleys. Around 4,500 seasonal workers are required at the peak during May. Many of these workers of the type desired by growers may be obtained from asparagus workers released during May. Achieving a high degree of rationality in the use of available labor held by growers to be suitable for sugar beet operations will require a considerable amount of coordination among field men of the asparagus, citrus, lettuce, and sugar beet growers. However, no great barriers preclude this coordination if growers and field men can be prevailed upon to give the matter serious thought.
2. The Case for the Mexican
It was pointed out above that there is, as yet, no general agricultural labor shortage in California. The case for Mexican importation rests with the conviction on the part of sugar beet growers and processors and vegetable growers that only three population groups are suitable as sugar beet and vegetable labor—the Mexican, the Filipino, and the Japanese. The Japanese labor supply can be written
― 8 ―off as a consequence of the actual or forthcoming evacuation. It is the contention of these employers that the supply of Filipino labor is dwindling rapidly as the competition of war industry grows and as inductions into the Army increase. There remains only, according to this premise, the resident Mexican labor supply, insufficient in itself for the need and likewise dwindling. So far as new recruits are concerned, if eligibility is restricted to Filipino, Japanese, and Mexicans, importation of Mexicans is the only available source.
The contention that only Mexicans, Filipinos and Japanese are suitable labor for sugar beets and vegetables has a long history in California. It is at the very heart of the widely held belief that "stoop labor" can be performed only by certain racial groups. These "stoop labor" theories have been elaborated to the point where many persons firmly believe that there are anatomical differences which make one race suitable for certain tasks and others quite unsuitable. That these contentions are patently absurd in no way diminishes the force with which they are held. It is certainly true that individuals of long experience and conditioning to certain tasks will be far more skillful in their performance than will unskilled and unaccustomed persons. Consequently an experienced Mexican will be far more efficient than an inexperienced non-Mexican. But he will be more efficient than an inexperienced Mexican as well. The petitions for importation of Mexican labor do not require that the labor imported be skilled beet or vegetable workers, indeed they would be very difficult to come by. All that is required is that they be Mexicans. The issue is basically one of race.
The close identification of Mexicans with sugar beet labor occurs after importation. The reasons are fairly obvious. The housing and working conditions which have prevailed in the sugar beet fields as well as the nature of the work have made sugar beet labor unattractive to any group with alternative opportunities for employment. The great majority of housing available is designed for single males and is entirely unsuitable for family labor groups. This has further fostered the almost exclusive uses of disadvantaged minorities in the sugar beet fields which in turn has reinforced the identification of sugar beet labor with low social and economic status. So long as sufficient supplies of labor were available from racial minorities there has been no incentive or need for improvement of the working conditions of sugar beet labor and no broadening of the labor base. When supplies of Mexican, Filipino, or Japanese labor grow short the first resort is to the reservoir of labor across the border in Mexico.
Presumably the evidence on which the decision will be made to support or oppose the importation of agricultural labor from Mexico will be evidence of actual labor shortage. This question cannot be considered in any rational fashion until the question of the suitability of non-Mexican labor is disposed of. If the contention of the sugar beet companies that no one except Mexicans, Filipinos, and Japanese can work in sugar beet fields is agreed to, the probability of a labor shortage is greatly increased. If, on the other hand, the widespread use of native-born labor that is so characteristic of Utah and part of Idaho is suitable to California as well, the probabilities are against any significant labor shortage in 1942.
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One of the most persistent reasons advanced for the obligatory use of Mexican labor (single males) is the unsuitability of present housing accommodations to family group. It is argued that alternative labor supplies, even if alternative supplies are available, would require family housing which is not available and cannot be constructed due to the earmarking of materials for war use. This is a valid argument at this time and it is quite true that there would be virtually insuperable obstacles in the way of any extensive new construction. It is equally true, however, that no effort was made to construct suitable family housing last year when shortages were anticipated and materials were available. Each crop year has its own emergencies and so long as employers of sugar beet labor can use Mexican importation as a means of meeting these emergencies little improvement can be expected.
The five California sugar companies have petitioned the Department of Justice for permission to bring 4,000 single Mexican males into California as sugar beet laborers. In support of the need for such importation the petition sets forth a schedule of labor requirements month by month in 1942. According to this schedule, compiled on March 9, and submitted to the Department of Justice on March 27, the peak requirement occurs in the month of May and necessitates 11,602 laborers. The requirements for the month of April are set forth as 10,443. The month of April is half over and it is very much to be doubted that the petition could be favorably acted upon, importation get under way, and labor not yet even recruited be made available at the farm in time to meet the peak requirements of May. In any event the labor needs of April, if met, will have to be met by labor now available and the lateness of the petition does not suggest that the several sugar companies have counted very heavily on using Mexican labor to meet the requirements for April.
In itself there are no serious objections to labor importation. The objections arise from the ease with which labor importation may be used to evade what may be considered the reasonable obligations of employers to pay fair wages, provide decent housing, and working conditions, and to use labor efficiently and without waste. Labor importation in California has more frequently sprung from a desire to cheapen the price of labor than from any absolute need for labor per se. There is no convincing evidence that the same motives are not operating at present. The sugar companies maintain that this is not the case and could not be since the Government sets the wage for sugar beet labor. However, the Government establishes minimum wages only. In the absence of any sizable labor importation wages to sugar beet labor may be expected to be 10 to 20 percent above these minimums. If guarantees can be provided to Mexican labor that will insure that Mexican labor will be as costly to employers as labor presently within the United States much of the attractiveness of importation would disappear and some progress might be made in the more efficient utilization of available labor supplies. It cannot be too strongly urged that if importation of Mexican labor is allowed a responsible agency be charged with the formulation of a set of conditions and guarantees covering wages, hours, working conditions, and living conditions which will insure the use of this labor supply only under conditions of labor shortage and not as a means of perpetuating the disadvantages under which sugar beet labor has always worked.
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No one can predict with assurance the adequacy of a labor supply. What evidence there is points to sufficient supplies of labor in California to meet all the needs of agriculture this year, providing only that adequate wages are paid and tolerable working conditions provided; that the available labor is efficiently used and moved quickly from place to place to meet the shifting labor demands; and that local labor resources are intelligently mobilized to meet peak demands. It seems to us only sensible to make maximum use of labor resources in each community and in the State, to eliminate unemployment and underemployment before importing foreign laborers. We would go farther and argue that unemployed and inefficiently employed workers in other states should be moved to California before resorting to foreign labor. Mr. Taeuber's recent testimony before the Tolan Committee gives ample evidence of large agricultural labor reserves in the southern and southwestern states.
At the same time, we realize that most farmers in California are exceedingly fearful of a crippling labor shortage. Even the best statistics could not allay this fear and our statistics are none too good. The farmers' anxieties are rooted in the history and culture of California agriculture. Farmers in this State have always been accustomed to and dependent upon a large pool of casual labor, upon which they could draw at will and with little effort, to meet their needs for temporary, seasonal work. Farmers have not had to learn how to operate without an abundant labor reserve nothing in their experience has prepared them for a situation which might require rationalized employment practices. Consequently, at the first signs of diminution of the labor pool, when farmers find that they must recruit labor, must compete for labor, must adjust their operations to the availability of labor, they cry "labor shortage."
At present the cry has become a roar. The fear of labor shortage approaches panic and it may have serious repercussions on production, quite regardless of whether it is justified or not. The first objective of agricultural policy during the war is to increase production. If panic fear of labor shortage threatens to defeat this objective, as seems likely in the present instance, then it becomes necessary to take steps to allay the fear, even though it may have no foundation in fact. As previously indicated, no amount of statistical evidence (even if we had it), and no amount of urging of economies in labor use and mobilization of community resources will suffice to allay the present panic. The farmers are likely to be reassured by nothing less than a promise to restore their assuctomed [sic] labor pool.
These considerations prompt us to suggest that it would be wise policy to arrange for importing Mexican laborers under certain conditions. But we attach very great importance to the conditions which should surround any importation. Simply to let down the barriers and permit private agencies to recruit labor in Mexico at will, as employer interests are proposing, would be, in our opinion, disastrous. The supreme importance of surrounding labor importation with stringent conditions will appear from a review of past importation and its consequences.
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3. The Record of Previous Importation of Labor from Mexico
The importation of laborers from Mexico during World War 1 and subsequent years is one of the sorry episodes in the history of California. Mexicans were brought in by employer groups and labor contractors, usually with promises of high wages and steady employment, sometimes with promises of repatriation and sometimes without. But once in this country, promises made little difference. On the whole, the Mexicans were shamelessly exploited. They were used at the hardest kinds of labor, under the meanest working conditions, and when employers had no further use for their services, they were thrown on their own devices and left stranded. In many cases wages promised them were never paid; unscrupulous labor contractors took advantage of their ignorance to deprive them of their earnings. Guarantees of repatriation were seldom fulfilled. The Mexican Consulate at Los Angeles has handled thousands of cases of Mexicans victimized by unscrupulous employers and labor contractors and left stranded in a foreign country without resources.
The importation of Mexicans during the World War and afterwards helped build up a tremendous pool of cheap, casual labor in California and other border states. This population has been and still is treated in much the same fashion as the Negroes in the South. They are accorded no place in "white" society; they live in segregated slum quarters similar to the Negro districts in Southern towns; they are expected to work for less pay than "white" men and are discriminated against in all types of employment except common labor, in which they are valued according to their docility. They have no civil liberties safe from violation. They have been much esteemed as casual farm laborers because they were not inclined to question the employer's account of wages, willing to work at hard, exhausting labor for long hours with little pay, and demanding little in the way of housing or other living facilities. This was true of the "greenhorns" freshly arrived from Mexico but it became less true as the immigrants became familiar with their new environment. A Mexican Agricultural Workers Union was organized and called a number of strikes, always met by terroristic vigilantee and deputy sheriff action quite prepared to use violence to put the Mexican in his place. The last strike of the Mexican Agricultural laborers occurred in Southern California in 1936 and was the occasion for breaking the union by a combination of vigilantee and deputy sheriff terrorism using clubs, guns, tear gas, wholesale arrests and most of the other weapons in the union-busting armory.
The social segregation, economic discrimination, poverty, exploitation, intimidation, violence, and violation of civil liberties which have been the accustomed lot of the Mexicans in California could be documented at length and in detail. In this report we can only point out the main features of the situation.
Casual laborers for the most part, the economic position of the Mexicans has always been intensely insecure. When the depression came, they were the hardest hit of all groups. Thousands of families went on relief when they could get it. Many thousands were glad to get out of this country and be repatriated to Mexico. The Mexican Consulate at Los Angeles estimates that 50,000 persons were repatriated from that one city. For many thousands of Mexicans who came to this country as laborers, repatriation was the end of a very sad story. Large-scale repatriation ended in 1936, but has been continuing sporadically down to the
― 12 ―present time. A member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors made a trip to Mexico City last winter to discuss further repatriation with the Mexican Government. We have not been able to learn the outcome of his mission.
4. Necessary Conditions for Importation
In order to grow and harvest the crops required for successful prosecution of the war, it is necessary to have an adequate farm labor supply. But it is not necessary to have exploited labor, nor is it necessary to perpetuate the bad conditions—the bad housing, the violation of civil liberties, the misery and degradation of the working force which has been characteristic of California agriculture. It is not necessary to repeat the shameful treatment accorded Mexicans who in the past came to this country to work in the fields. Certain employer groups are fighting to perpetuate these conditions; it is not merely a labor supply which they wish from Mexico, but a cheap, docile labor supply which will enable the perpetuation of traditional labor conditions. The proposals for importing 50,000 or 100,000 Mexicans emanating from presumably responsible groups reflect in part sheer panic, and in part a desire to flood the State with cheap, exploitable labor.
This year, for the first time in many years, there is a reasonably close balance between the supply and demand for agricultural labor. Providing panic fears of labor shortage can be allayed, we believe it is highly desirable to maintain a close balance. To do so will encourage efficiency in use of labor, encourage the development of a rationalized labor market and stimulate improvements in housing and other working and living conditions on farms. Already some progress has been made in these directions. In several counties, the farm labor committees are making plans for more efficient use of labor and for mobilizing community resources to meet peak needs. A new attitude toward housing is beginning to appear. The FSA camps are now popular with the farmers where once they were fervently disliked. The California Division of Immigration and Housing reports a change of attitude toward its program; many farmers are now writing in to request assistance in improving their camping and housing facilities. In brief, farm workers are beginning to be regarded as persons of value, rather than as commodities to be used, then gotten rid of as quickly as possible.
These developments, we feel, are highly worthwhile both in war and in peace. We are loath to see them cut short by another flood of cheap, foreign labor. Therefore, we hold that Mexicans should be brought in only as needed, not in great numbers, and with iron-clad guarantees as to wages, employment, living conditions, civil treatment, and eventual repatriation.
5. International Considerations
The bearing of Mexican labor importation upon relations with Mexico and other Latin American nations must not be overlooked. Our Government is placing much importance on the Good Neighbor Policy, on Hemisphere Solidarity, Hemisphere Defense, and special programs to strengthen economic and cultural relations with Latin American countries. It would ill accord with this general policy to assert
― 13 ―the right to exploit the labor of Mexico; to bring in large numbers of Mexican people and turn them over to the mercies of farm employers and labor contractors. Were the United States to repeat the experience of the previous period of Mexican labor importation, it would undoubtedly be difficult for many Latin Americans to believe wholeheartedly in the sincerity of the Good Neighbor policy and the policy of Hemisphere Solidarity. We are guided to this conclusion by recent talks which we have had with leaders of the Mexican colony in Los Angeles and with Consular officials. We find them all working earnestly to swing their people into full cooperation with the American war effort. At the same time they are keenly sensitive to the low-caste position of the Mexicans in American society, resentful of the discriminations against the Mexicans, and rather bitter over the long record of exploitation and injustice to which the Mexicans have been subjected in this country. All with whom we talked were very skeptical of proposals to import Mexican labor; they seemed to feel that such importation would be the beginning of another period of exploitation of the "greenhorns." If our contacts in the Mexican Colony of Los Angeles are at all representative of opinion in Mexico (and the California Mexican leaders are in close touch with affairs in Mexico and make frequent trips there), then importation of Mexican laborers is a very delicate issue from the standpoint of relations with the Mexican people. Incidentally, we were told that C. T. M. is on record as opposing recruitment of Mexican labor for work in the United States.
In the light of all the considerations set forth above, we submit the following recommendations:
It is quite doubtful that any large contribution can be made to the labor supply in California in 1942 through Mexican immigration but we urge that Government machinery for such importation be established as soon as possible. The great danger is that the claims of urgency by employers of agricultural labor will result in private contracting of labor and the complete absence of those absolutely essential guarantees without which we will be liable to a repetition of the experiences of the last war and subsequent years.