by Marc Norton
I just started reading Lettuce Wars, a new book by Bruce Neuburger, subtitled “Ten Years of Work and Struggle in the Fields of California.”
I got hooked when I read the introduction. Neuburger, working as a taxi driver, is hustling up fares from the St. Francis Hotel back in 1984. He gets an airport run for a lawyer who is in town to meet with Salinas growers “looking to get out from under their union contracts.” Neuburger, who spent several years working in the lettuce fields, asks if companies can dump their union contracts by “going out of business, and then returning to operation under a different name.” The shark tells Neuburger that he should have been a lawyer.
The conversation continues. The lawyer talks about “bored lawyers scratching notes on legal pads and well-dressed growers’ representatives discussing legal strategies.”
Neuburger is thinking about “farm labor buses, their sides freshly repainted, and lettuce workers with knives sticking out their back pockets standing in the chill of a morning street trying to catch a job, with the trepidations of soldiers defeated in battle, hoping for lenient treatment from their captors…”
I jumped next to the end of the book, to see where this is going. It doesn’t have a happy ending…
Neuburger asks, “Isn’t there something seriously wrong with a society that treats the people who produce our food as inferior?” That is a fitting comment both for agricultural workers and fast food workers. I expect I will be writing more about this book…
Marc Norton became a political activist and organizer during the war in Vietnam. Marc has been a member of San Francisco’s hotel and restaurant union, UNITE HERE Local 2, since 1976. He is also a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).