Synopses & Reviews
At the outset of World War II, California agriculture seemed to be on the cusp of change. Many Californians, reacting to the ravages of the Great Depression, called for a radical reorientation of the highly exploitative labor relations that had allowed the state to become such a productive farming frontier. But with the importation of the first braceros—“guest workers” from Mexico hired on an “emergency” basis after the United States entered the war—an even more intense struggle ensued over how agriculture would be conducted in the state. Esteemed geographer Don Mitchell argues that by delineating the need for cheap, flexible farm labor as a problem and solving it via the importation of relatively disempowered migrant workers, an alliance of growers and government actors committed the United States to an agricultural system that is, in important respects, still with us.
They Saved the Crops is a theoretically rich and stylistically innovative account of grower rapaciousness, worker militancy, rampant corruption, and bureaucratic bias. Mitchell shows that growers, workers, and officials confronted a series of problems that shaped—and were shaped by—the landscape itself. For growers, the problem was finding the right kind of labor at the right price at the right time. Workers struggled for survival and attempted to win power in the face of economic exploitation and unremitting violence. Bureaucrats tried to harness political power to meet the demands of, as one put it, “the people whom we serve.”
Drawing on a deep well of empirical materials from archives up and down the state, Mitchell’s account promises to be the definitive book about California agriculture in the turbulent decades of the mid-twentieth century.
“The bracero program was the ideal business recipe for cheap immigrant labor, cooked up by growers and stamped ‘Government Approved.’ Mitchell has written the definitive history of the era, which all future studies of California farming and Mexican immigration must build upon. By its archival depth and trenchant analysis, it sets a new standard in the study of farm labor and provides an unassailable indictment of grower power and abuse of workers—all the while expanding the theoretical envelopes of geography, political economy, and labor studies.”—Richard A. Walker, author of The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of Agribusiness in California
"'They Saved the Crops is a tremendous book. It is extremely well written, and it organizes an astonishing amount of material in an innovative way, all the time avoiding the easy simplification so tempting with multi-layered material. Even more important, it couldn't be more timely, insofar as renewed assaults on immigrant workers remind us that 'guest worker' politics is a pot always on the boil."—Geoff Mann, author of Our Daily Bread: Wages, Workers, and the Political Economy of the American West
“The author’s research is extraordinarily thorough and well-documented, making the volume indispensable for scholars of agriculture, immigration, and labor.”—C.K. Piehl, Choice
“Few people know the social and economic contours of California’s industrial agriculture landscape better than geographer Don Mitchell. And no one has written a more thorough, passionate, and critical history of the landscape’s “morphology” during the bracero era than Mitchell in his new book.”—David Igler, Western Historical Quarterly
“Mitchell achieves more than enough in They Saved The Crops to distinguish this book as the history of record for the Bracero program. As with his previous work, he focuses on our societal tendencies to conceal exploitation in our food system, and how these exploitative acts bleed into the relationship between labor and capital throughout the US economy.”— Matt Garcia, Journal of Historical Geography
“Mitchell has made an important contribution to both our understanding of landscape as well as California agricultural history.”— Laura Pulido, Cultural Geographies
“Anyone interested in the bracero program, agricultural history in the United States, and the history of California will find this important and often fascinating book well worth the time.”—Cindy Hahamovitch, American Historical Review
"Ernesto Galarza, Karl Marx, and Carey McWilliams come together in the industrial agricultural establishments of California in Don Mitchell's extraordinary exploration of the bracero program. In a book that both illuminates and infuriates, Mitchell deftly draws on the insights of geography and political economy to bring to life a rich archival record of exploitation, abuse, class struggle, and the ugly pursuit of profit at any cost. In doing so, Mitchell powerfully shows how the multifaceted violence of the bracero program lives on in the land and bodies that make up California's contemporary agricultural landscape."—Joseph Nevins, author of Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid
About the Author
Don Mitchell is a distinguished professor of geography at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. He is the author of many books including The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space and The Lie of the Land: Migrant Workers and the California Landscape.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations
Introduction. "Reality Soon Caught Up with Us"
Chapter 1. The Agribusiness Landscape in the "War Emergency": The Origins of the Bracero Program and the Struggle to Control It
Morphology: Things on the Land
Chapter 2. The Struggle for a Rational Farming Landscape: Worker Housing and Grower Power
Reproduction: Housing Labor Power
Chapter 3. The Dream of Labor Power: Fluid Labor and the Solid Landscape
Scale: Infrastructures of Landscape and Labor Markets
Chapter 4. Organizing the Landscape: Labor Camps, International Agreements, and the NFLU
Violence: Overt and Structural
Chapter 5. The Persistent Landscape: Perpetuating Crisis in California
Determination: Labor's Geography
Chapter 6. Imperial Farming, Imperialist Landscapes
Squeezed: Capital's Geography
Chapter 7. Labor Process, Laboring Life
Wetback: Surplus Labor
Chapter 8. Operation Wetback: Preserving the Status Quo
State: Capital's Foremen
Chapter 9. RFLOAC: The Imbrication of Grower Control
Domination: Of Labor, by Capital
Chapter 10. Power in the Peach Bowl: Of Domination, Prevailing Wages, and the (Never-Ending) Question of Housing
Dead Labor: The Past Materialized, the Present Shaped
Chapter 11. Dead Labor--Literally: (Another) Crisis in the Bracero Program
Property: Contract Farming, Contract Labor
Chapter 12. Organizing Resistance: Swinging at the Heart of the Bracero Program
Prospect: Persistent Landscapes and Sculpted Futures
Chapter 13. The Demise of the Bracero Program: Closing the Gates of Cheap Labor?
Landscape: Power Materialized
Chapter 14. The Ever-New, Ever-Same: Labor Militancy, Rationalization, and the Post-bracero Landscape
Conclusion. "They Saved the Crops"