Thanksgiving Weekend 1960 was the best of times for America, which was about to enter a glamorous new frontier.
Pax Americana was everlasting. We were, undeniably, the supreme military power on earth, with the capacity to bomb any country from here to eternity. Few Americans were bothered by military skirmishes happening in such remote and strange-sounding countries as The Congo, Laos, and Vietnam.
The American economic machine dominated the globe. Automakers rolled out cars at a record pace. George Romney had just added the compact car to America Motor Company’s fleet.
Thanksgiving 1960 herald a golden age of sports. The American Football League commenced play that Fall as did the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. Cassius Clay won his first professional bout after bringing home the gold from Rome.
Nothing could seemingly shake White America’s sense of comfort.
However, at 10:00 Eastern Time on Friday the 25th, Fred Friendly and Edward R. Murrow endeavored to do just that by airing: “CBS Reports: A Harvest of Shame.” For fifty-five minutes, the programs’ audience watched disturbing scenes (underscored by Murrow’s hard-hitting words) of migrant workers’ picking our (Thanksgiving) food for very little money under the most horrible of working conditions. Morrow and Friendly juxtaposed these scenes of human bondage with those of the growers enjoying the fruits of the harvest (Edward R Murrow).
Murrow closed that program (and his broadcasting career) with these words:
“…The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation. Maybe we do. Good night, and Good Luck” (Harvest of Shame)
In the nearly fifty ensuing years, America has gone to the Moon and beyond and has won the Cold War. Its technological geniuses have helped re-shape the world. The financial markets (as manifested by the Dow Jones Industrial Index) have soared a thousand-fold. An African American has become President. Cassius Clay has become Muhammad Ali aka “The Greatest,” and the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team.
Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and others have formed the United Farm Workers (UFW), which has organized over 27,000 farm workers. Farm workers and their families now have health insurance, credit unions and pension plans thanks to the UFW.The UFW has also enabled Hispanic farm workers to flex their political muscle, as manifested by recent rallies in support of comprehensive immigration reform.
America has apparently changed for the better since that thanksgiving of nearly a half-century ago. Not necessarily so.
Human bondage is still pervasive in America’s agribusiness. As of 2008, 25% of America’s farm workers are undocumented immigrants who are paid poorly (Pew Hispanic Center). They are not entitled to any benefits.
Agricultural workers who are American citizens or guest workers are denied many of the basics-- a paycheck that meets the minimum wage to live; a place to sleep; and healthcare(California’s Harvest of Shame). Farm workers Justice News reports that Federally-funded migrant health centers only reach about one quarter of farm laborers.
Despite being one of the most dangerous jobs in America, farm workers are not eligible to enroll in workmen’s compensation programs. Efforts to change this injustice have been met with fierce opposition from agribusiness interests. The New Mexico Legislature has failed in 2007 and 2009 to pass legislation that would amend the state’s workmen’s compensation program to include ranch and farm laborers.
This deplorable treatment of those who gather our food must stop. Otherwise, can we ever truly enjoy our Thanksgiving meal?