ILL FARES THE LAND by Carey McWilliams


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Factories in the Field provided an altogether too convincing source book for Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (actually, the two men were working on the subject independent, the one of the other). Now comes this much more far-reaching survey, a study of the whole vast problem of migratory workers, depression migrants, and the latest element, defense migrants. The industrial revolution has now its counterpart in the agricultural revolution, -- a whole new pattern of rural life is taking the place of the tenant farmer, share cropper pattern, and bad as that was, this is worse. Living conditions of the migrants are sub standard, health, education, housing, all are in fearful state; the demoralization of the labor market, with the inherent threat to the democratic theory of free labor markets, is a grave peril. The awareness which followed the popularity of The Grapes of Wrath assumed this to be a California problem. McWilliams shows it to be nationwide, -- wherever there are crops, fruit, wheat, cotton, potatoes, and so on. Various sections have their own particular version -- take their own measures, many of which are essentially vigilante processes. A vicious circle, increasing with greater consolidation of large scale farming, greater mechanization, spread of chemical agriculture. The government has done some farm rehabilitation; FSA projects present object lessons -- but the surface is not scratched in handling this most underprivileged group in America, -- 1,500,000, of whom 50% are only seasonally employed, and for whom there is no social legislation, no labor standards. The last part of the book puts forward various proposals, for federal action, -- rehabilitation, large scale PWA projects, cooperative farming, construction work, reforestation jobs, rural housing, public health, motive schools. But he shows how palliative all such steps must be unless politically implemented, democratization through the application of the TVA principle, and public control of land use. Pretty extreme, many will think. But if only he makes people think, the job is at least under way.

Pub Date: March 13th, 1942
Publisher: Little, Brown