OCTOBER 30, 1958
LIMA, Ohio—A large number of people are gradually becoming aware of a growing problem in the United States—the decline in the farm economy.
The National Sharecroppers Fund, of which Dr. Frank P. Graham is chairman, has organized a new national advisory committee on farm labor problems with Dr. Graham and A. Phillip Randolph as co-chairmen.
In November, 1957, the Fund held a conference on migratory labor and low-income farmers, coming to the conclusion that this new committee was needed to study further the whole subject of the country's farm economy.
Farming is basic to the economy and the security of this country. And the problems of both the large and small family-size farm operators, the sharecropper, the farm worker and the migrant are becoming increasingly more complicated. The public needs the understanding of these problems to take an interest in their solution and make them a matter of government concern.
Since the approach to any general problem should first consider the phases that are most urgent, small farm families, the wage workers and the migrant workers would seem to have priority.
The low standard of living on the small farm has brought about inefficient use of the land and the workers. Both our native and imported labor will continue to suffer unless this standard be raised to the average for all Americans.
It is curious to find that where men's pocketbooks are involved, they do things which they probably would be ashamed of if they were out in the open. For instance, would Senator Harry F. Byrd, the biggest apple grower in Virginia, point with pride to the conditions under which his migrant apple pickers live in a camp run by the Frederick County Fruitgrowers Association?
This camp considers as adequate housing a family apartment consisting of one room with a two-burner gas stove and one double-deck bunk. Many of the dingy gray shacks were built before Pearl Harbor. Only now they are being replaced by cinder-block "improvements"—a room 25 feet square in which 40 Bahamians sleep in double-deck bunks less than a foot apart. American Negroes, mostly from Florida, and their wives and children also occupy these one-room apartments.
There is running water in the central kitchen outside of the buildings and in the community bath, which is not very carefully cleaned. Garbage is left in the hot sun where the children play, and flies collect on the garbage and children alike.
If a man works 10 hours a day, six days a week—and Bahamians often do—he can gross $54 a week. But from this is deducted his mandatory health and accident insurance and the fees for administering the contract with the fruitgrowers association.
Social Security officials of the AFL and CIO say that, under international labor agreements, this deduction for administering the contract is a violation of standards.
In addition, if a Bahamian worker, because of illness or other sudden emergency, has to go home before his contract expires, he has to pay for his own transportation. So he really works under conditions far below those provided for Mexican labor under supervision of the Federal government.
It is high time the people of this country knew more about the living conditions of the small farmer as well as those of domestic and foreign farm labor. So a conference of this new committee has been called in Washington on February 5 and 6, 1959, and if nothing more comes out of it, I hope that it will better acquaint the people of the U. S. with this important subject.