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Chapter 3 of the book by Barger, Reza, and Velásquez (1994) is dedicated to the history of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and the movement associated with this labor union and the promotion of immigrant farmworkers’ rights. In their analysis, the authors rely on available historical documents as well as secondary studies of other scholars. In the chapter, the focus is placed on labor, migration issues, and the relationships among laborers, growers, and other participants of the agricultural industry, such as labor contracting companies. The historical analysis presented by the authors is aimed at explaining the way agriculture in the United States changed largely due to the FLOC movement.
Barger et al. (1994) primarily argue that the movement supporting farmworkers’ rights to proper working conditions resulted in a better, more efficient pattern of cooperation among the participants of the agricultural industry. Immigrants working on farms had been a vulnerable group because their rights had been ignored and violated, and they had to work in poor conditions. Creating a movement to protect their labor by organizing boycotts and strikes and demanding better conditions resulted in the redistribution of roles: farmworkers became able to work with growers directly and to “have an active and effective role in determining their conditions” (Barger et al., 1994, p. 49-50); this initiated a reform in the American farm labor.
The events described in the chapter are arranged chronologically. The authors adopted this structure to show how specific activities carried out by the FLOC movement led to the changes in the way processes, interactions, and modes of cooperation in agriculture in the United States had been organized and practiced before. Also, this structure allowed introducing background information to allow readers to understand the historical context of the events.
Instead of generalizing and relying mainly on concepts, the authors provide specific examples, in which farmworkers went on strikes and persuaded particular food-producing companies with which they worked to improve working conditions and ensure that relevant labor rights are respected and fulfilled. Moreover, the chapter contains a timeline of the FLOC movement’s development and achievements that outlines the process of the union’s interaction with growers and companies. It stresses the authors’ point and shows the gradual development of the changing agricultural industry. For example, the inclusion of farmworkers in the National Labor Relations Act’s regulations is convincing evidence of the movement’s achievements that supports the authors’ claim.
Barger et al. (1994) use both primary and secondary sources; primary sources are related to the times the FLOC movement was founded and began its development, and secondary sources discuss the movement’s achievement and impacts. Primary sources include reports on the FLOC’s activities, and these sources are important in documenting the movement’s progress. For example, statistical data on the general public’s opinion about boycotting illustrates the authors’ point that “external support has been effective in counterbalancing the relative powerlessness of farmworkers” (Barger et al., 1994, p. 50). The authors lean on secondary sources, too, to show that other researchers provided supporting evidence and came to similar conclusions.
Overall, the argument is convincing, and the only weakness that can be identified is that the perspective of labor contracting companies is not fully presented; i.e., it may not be clear to readers why the conditions against which the FLOC fought were the way they were and why some stakeholders were interested in preserving the status quo. The descriptions of specific achievements are the strongest evidence the authors used. Finally, I would recommend the chapter to undergraduates specifically because it reveals crucial and basic mechanisms of changes in labor relations in the 20th century.
Barger, W., Reza, E., & Velásquez, B. (1994). The farm labor movement in the Midwest: Social change and adaptation among migrant farmworkers. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.