California's Migrant Workers

A Case System Enforced by State Power

Bruce Neuburger

n the era of Trump and his anti-immigrant fascist mongering, California stands out as a kind of fortress of tolerance—after all, it is a sanctuary state. This was not always the case. California was at one time, arguably, the most overtly racist state in the United States outside of the former slave states—ground zero for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Operation Wetback in 1954, and Proposition 187 in the mid–1990s. Something changed—partly demographically, partly due to persistent struggle, and partly because of the country’s dependence on the very people Trump and his kind like to bash.

But if we should become too taken by the signs of progress in California toward embracing diversity and opposing overt white supremacy, Chasing the Harvest will help bring us, literally, back down to earth. It is not a sweeping analysis of exploitation nor does it seek to unearth the mainsprings of that exploitation. But it does give a compelling and powerful picture of what exploitation and oppression—indeed, what an apartheid labour system—looks like up close. It brings us face to face with the fact that this is a society that cannot sustain itself, cannot feed itself, without a labour system that ensnares hundreds of thousands in a web of extremely oppressive social relations; a system that is, in all but in name, a caste system enforced by state power.

The interviews in Chasing the Harvest flesh out a part of this picture—an important part. And they are an important beginning for grappling with this history and this current reality.

These narratives are meant to be used also as material for school curriculum, so that students can engage with experiences that are both little known and intimately connected to our lives and well-being. They offer the possibility that these windows to the world of farmworkers will inspire students to seek out causes of injustice and to uncover the system that has produced them. They are a starting point for challenging that which needs to be upended, for this oppressive and life-crushing farm labour system cannot be allowed to stand.


For a full read of this brief, click here or on the picture to download the pdf file.


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