Alexandria Digital Research Library

The Managed Crisis: Labor Relations and Management in California Agriculture, 1930-1980

Lamoree, Elizabeth
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara.History
Degree Supervisor:
Lichtenstein Nelson
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Agriculture, Labor relations, and American history
Business History
Agricultural Labor Relations
California Growers

From the Great Depression of the 1930s to the Great Recession of the 1970s, American agricultural policy institutionalized the notion of agricultural exceptionalism. First, California growers argued the "managed crisis" of the harvest required a flexible and unregulated labor market. Second, California agribusiness represented a middle ground between a yeoman farming tradition and an industrial business model. Many aspects of farming lay completely outside of the control of even the most capable farm operators, regardless of technologically advanced, industrial farming practices. Therefore, growers aggressively pursued business strategies in the hopes of regularizing production and marketing as means of minimizing the gamble of food production. At the same time, they adamantly resisted the decasualization of the farm labor market by either the state or organized farm workers.

However, the commercialization of agriculture made growers more vulnerable to boycotts by the United Farm Workers Union, which forced them to deal with unionism during the late 1960s. Growers temporarily embraced collective bargaining legislation as a way of deradicalizing farm unionism and regaining control over their managerial prerogatives. Although it took twelve years for employers under the National Labor Relations Act to curb organized labor significantly, California agribusiness achieved a similar goal in a matter of months. By the 1980s, innovative agribusiness systems of production and human resource management were no longer exceptional. In fact, California agribusiness labor relations became a model for the managers of non-agricultural American industries.

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