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R. Craine

Arizona’s Big Cotton Kings Strike
Against Paying 30¢-an-Hour Wage

(November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 48, 30 November 1942, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There is a strike on in Arizona. Involved is the long staple cotton crop used in the production of parachutes for the Army and Navy – yet there is hardly a word of denunciation in the press, no cries of sabotage and no demands for immediate government action to “shoot the organizers” or to draft the strikers into the Army. For this is a strike of big cotton growers who are refusing to pay the government minimum of 30 cents an hour for cotton pickers.

For years the large cotton growers in Arizona have recruited laborers from Mexico or from among the dust bowl victims, the “Okies,” and have paid them miserably low wages. The workers were completely at the mercy of their employers; because they lacked organization they had to accept whatever was offered them. The Senate Civil Liberties Committee has disclosed that the cotton growers spent in one year some $125,000 for this method of securing cheap labor, that this expenditure was more than compensated for by the extremely low wages paid.

This low wage policy was maintained through the Farm Labor Service, which is financed by Western Cotton Products Co., a subsidiary of Anderson, Clayton & Co., one of the biggest cotton firms in the world. Will Clayton, head of this outfit, is an assistant to Jesse Jones, Secretary of Commerce.

Because of the current labor shortage, the cotton growers have found it extremely difficult to get men to work their plantations. They have turned for assistance to the government, which has stipulated that while it is willing to get Mexican and other labor necessary for the cotton picking, and to pay their transportation to Arizona, the growers would have to pay a minimum of 30 cents an hour for this work, and supply men with decent living conditions.

The answer to this requirement, in itself more than modest, has been, first, a “slowdown” and then a strike organized and supported by the Farm Bureau Federation. The FBF president, himself a rich Alabama plantation owner, Edward A. O’Neal, has stated that these wages were “outrageous” and that the 30 cent minimum would “socialize agriculture.”

The government has made a number of overtures to the cotton growers, one of which was to raise the price of cotton. In spite of the fact that the increase in wages would thus be covered, the Federation is holding out against the principle of decent wages for 3,000,000 farm workers, stating further that the requirements of the government for decent living conditions, including toilets, baths, cold and hot water, was just a lot of “red tape stuff.”

A telegram sent by McNutt, of the War Manpower Commission, and Wickard, Secretary of Agriculture, calls upon the Arizona cotton growers “to accept the terms of the government contracts, or else the government will hold the growers responsible for saving the current crop of long staple cotton in that state.”

That is how the government gets tough when it deals with big business. There is no indication here of the Army or Navy stepping in and running the plantations, no threat of “work or fight” to the rich cotton growers, as would be the case had the cotton pickers struck for higher wages and decent living conditions.

The farm lobby in Washington has many powerful friends in Congress and in the Senate who are demanding that farm labor be frozen at whatever wages the employers want to pay. What is needed is not a counter-lobby, such as the National Farmers Union, composed of smaller farmers, is trying to establish, but an organization of farm workers, which will enforce its own minimum wage scales and decent living conditions through union strength and control.

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