Economics recessions caused by agricultural obstructions have attributed to the ongoing misery and instability of farm workers. Their lives stumble with the turbulences of agricultural economy. Produces stack up and rot in times of depressions. Harvests perish at the whim of a frost or drought. Jobs are replaced by automated machines, leaving tedious and cumbersome labor that can only be performed by men to the workers. Agriculture is a fragile industry that binds its contributors to its stumbling fate. One downfall could be detrimental to the workers that live on the land. After all, land cannot be insured by any human effort.
The Grapes of Wrath vividly depicts the life of migrants who wander from place to place trying to find subsistent work to support the family. The Joads’ land was so devastated by the weather and the dampening economy that they had to join the migrating crusade. The Joads are constantly searching for places where there’s a chance of finding work such as Santa Clara Valley, Weedpatch, and eventually the Hopper ranch. Since the migrant workers are forced off their share-cropped land, their life has been a combination of departure, desperation, and apprehension. They are dragged into this malignant cycle where agricultural workers have to bow to the harsh circumstances and societal problems keeps aggravating. As the migrants find work in large, organized farms that belong to big companies, private farms drive more and more people onto the road. They are too occupied to try to ratify the situation. The few who want to try such as Tom and Casy are sadly sucked into the dark oblivion of upheavals and riots. Poisonous vines of agricultural deficit and economic recession entangle society’s tree trunk, letting off detrimental venom to the humble individuals that live under it.
Eric Schlosser’s truth-digging article, In the Strawberry Field, sheds some insight on the modern agricultural world. The “small slum” the strawberry workers lived in humid, packed apartments. These “crowded living quarters” with “poor building design” housed work-seeking strawberry workers who “inquired about work, and were turned away”. It is shocking how in the 21st century these workers in the strawberry fields are still suffering from the same turbulences and difficulties as the Okies in the 1920s. In the 1920s the Dust Bowl and the farmlands dried up, resulting in the forced migration of Okies who had to give up their subsistent acres. In Schlosser’s description, these workers had no contract beyond temporary employment. Although the strawberry pickers are horribly paid, “the availability of work, not the pay scale, is of greatest concern to migrants.” They also have trouble finding shelters, whereas in Grapes of Wrath the migrants just settled down in crudely assembled camps. The bizarre similarity in modern days makes me wonder what exactly has plunged these workers into the same menial condition as the one after the great natural disaster in a far less developed society. Adding on to that resemblance, the workers “must pool their resources” in order to attain decent neighborhoods. The difference is just that these workers come from Mexico instead of once dust-plagued Oklahoma.
The brutal perspective of farm work is further exemplified in a Huffington Post article which points out that “farm work is seven times more fatal than the private industry average”. Every day agricultural workers die or injure. Considerable numbers of farm workers are severely maltreated and uneducated. Shortages in residential construction and regulation enforcements are creating a new array of poverty. Regardless of the origin of these workers (before migrants and now undocumented immigrants), they are subject to similar social pressure such as inconsistent jobs, inadequate working conditions, and scarce benefits. I find an interesting fact worth mentioning in a research of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment of UC Berkeley, Effects of the Great Recession on the U.S. Agricultural Labor Market. It suggests that during great recessions wages of laborers increase significantly along with fringe benefits such as free housing. Besides, recessions do not impact the scale of immigration to a conspicuous extent as seen from the remittances sent from the U.S. to the home countries of immigrants.
These workers are the basis of a well-functioning agricultural industry, yet the basic conditions of these workers are at hazard. The supporting part of the massive agriculture world, the very workers that sweat in the fields, is a turbulent swirl of overflowing work force and despairing norms. The situation has not seen a significant improvent from Steinbeck’s times.
Reference: Huffington Post, 12 Disturbing Facts About Farm Labor Conditions.