Migrant farm workers are often a forgotten people. Commemorate the 50th anniversary of César Chávez’s Wrath of Grapes speech by bringing to light the fight faced by migrant farm workers.
Fifty years ago in May 1968, César Chávez’s Wrath of Grapes began, as he traveled around the country delivering a speech that highlighted the plight of the farm worker. Today, the month of May continues to serve as a time to reflect on the history and status of farm workers in the United States.
It may surprise many people to learn that the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration lists farm work as the second most dangerous occupation in the United States.
According to Philip L. Martin, professor of agricultural economics at the University of California at Davis, there were an estimated two million migrant farm workers in the U.S. during the 1920s and one million in the 1940s. The number dipped in the 1970s due to mechanization. Now, there are roughly 800,000 to 900,000 farm workers in the United States.
César Chávez’s Wrath of Grapes Speech
Labor activist César Chávez brought attention to farm workers’ living and working conditions in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. His personal experience with “wretched migrant camps, corrupt labor contractors, meager wages for backbreaking work, and bitter racism” helped to form his passion for the cause. In 1965, the National Farm Workers Union (later renamed the United Farmworkers Union) put forth a campaign to organize grape workers in California. This led to a 40 percent wage increase in its first table grape contract in 1966.
In 1986, César Chávez’s Wrath of Grapes Boycott Speech galvanized the largest grape boycott in history. Chávez saw farm workers as a family who should be taken care of. He also saw them as important to society because they were the closest people to food production. Farm workers could recognize serious health hazards of agriculture pesticides to both consumers and themselves.
Who are Migrant Workers?
Scott Temple, director of the documentary “At a Stranger’s Table: A Discussion of the Latino Migrant Farm Workers’ Plight in Eastern North Carolina,” says that “we go to the store all the time and we look for the cheapest produce to buy in many cases. Oftentimes, rarely do we think about who picked that food and what their work conditions are like.”
Migrant farm workers come from many different countries including Jamaica, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. However, most farm workers are Mexican-born men with an average age of 31 years who leave their homes in hopes of making enough money to support themselves and their families. Sometimes their families migrate and work with the men as well. Others stay behind in their native country.
Even though the work they do helps to feed people across the United States, 61 percent of U.S. farm workers’ incomes fall below the poverty line with a median income of less than $7,500.
Health Issues in the Farm Worker Community
There are many cases of birth defects and cancer in the families of farm workers. Babies born to migrant farm workers suffer greater exposure to pesticides and a higher mortality rate than the rest of the country. In his Wrath of Grapes Speech, César Chávez reported on a study that showed pesticides used in growing may have been responsible for the illness of over 300,000 farm workers. Pesticide exposure is known to cause harmful effects on the body such as decreased fertility, spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, birth defect, and developmental abnormalities.
Birth Defect Lawyers at Waters Kraus & Paul Fight for Justice
“This is a battle that none of us can afford to lose because it is a fight for the future of America. It is a fight we can win and it is a fight that everyone can join.” – César Chávez
Waters Kraus & Paul is a part of this fight as well. We are a mid-sized plaintiffs’ firm fighting to hold farm owners and labor contractors responsible for the safety of their workers. Our birth defect lawyers are dedicated to representing those farm workers who have suffered because of the negligence of their employers. If you have been exposed to pesticides and you are raising a child with a birth defect, email or call 800.226.9880 to see how Waters Kraus & Paul can help you with your birth defect lawsuit.