FEBRUARY 10, 1959
CHICAGO—At the meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Farm Labor in Washington, D.C., last week I was particularly interested by the fact that this type of hearing permitted differences of opinion to be heard in an objective atmosphere.
And in the evening Secretary of Labor James P. Mitchell's speech was significant because he came out for a minimum wage for all farm labor, including migrant labor.
I think I am convinced that the trend is going to be toward either more commercial farms on a large scale or cooperative farms, where a number of farmers join together and run their farms as a cooperative business. The small, one-family, single farm unit, which we have always thought so important in this country, seems from the economic standpoint, judging by the testimony given, not to be very practical.
It is true that there are a great many people who have small farms, but they gain much of their income from work not done on the farm. This was the idea that underlay the subsistence homestead, which was one of the projects established during the depression. If the work that provided most of the livelihood for the family disappeared, they still had a farm land holding and were growing a good part of their own food. Thus, they would at least have enough to eat and during any unemployment period they could make their land holding more productive. Since foodstuffs are one of the essentials, even in times of depression, they could perhaps through barter or sale obtain some of the other necessities of their lives.
As a matter of fact, however, I did not think that it was conclusively established that farm labor should not also form unions. The one objection made was that a union would find it very difficult to serve the interests of a population that moves around as much as farm labor does. This, however, does not seem to be an insurmountable objection, because unions can certainly have representatives that move into areas where there are great movements of farm labor.
I am afraid, though, that I did become convinced that the small family farm is on its way out, and that a great many people felt that if you could not earn a decent living you were not compensated by a way of life that was only preferable if it gave you freedom which you could enjoy.
We also heard some of the same old arguments advanced about standards for the employers of migrant labor being set too high as far as housing, sanitation, etc., went. But these arguments reminded me of the early arguments made against slum clearance, and I think the facts in the history of the labor movement show that when people earn enough to live decently they soon learn the advantages of cleanliness and comfort.
I certainly felt that this committee's meeting served a very good purpose, and I hope that the large attendance meant that information on this subject would be carried back into communities all over the country.