Migrant Farmworkers in Iowa
After the Bracero Program ended, migrant farmworkers continued to come to Iowa. In the 1960s, approximately 2,900 migrant farmworkers and their families came to Iowa and southern Minnesota each year to work in the fields.1 Migrant farmworkers in Iowa, and across the United States, endured reprehensible living and working conditions. Access to medical care and education was also lacking. Schools were unable or unwilling to provide adequate services to Spanish-speaking students, with some teachers being reported as apathetic or hostile to migrant children.2
Migrant farmworkers found it difficult to break out of the system. On average, migrant farmworkers in Iowa earned $5.86 per day for potatoes and $3.91 per day for other crops.3 Domestic farmworkers (predominately white) earned an average of $10.75 per day nationwide.4 In addition to the low salary, migrant farmworkers were often bound to a particular employer by a per-basket withholding, in which a certain amount of each basket picked would be withheld from the worker's earnings until the end of the season. However, daily work was not guaranteed, so a worker might have to report at the job site at the beginning of the day, with no possibility of earning income for that day. If the worker were to leave the employer, they would forfeit the per-basket withholding on work already completed.5
League of United Latin American Citizens and the California Grape Boycott
During the 1960s, members of the Davenport League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) led actions in support of migrant farmworkers rights in Iowa. LULAC's Quad City Grape Boycott Committee organized pickets and leafletting campaigns throughout 1969 to educate consumers and ask them to participate in the boycott of California table grapes. Migrant farmworkers in Delano, California, had been on strike since 1965. Led by the combined efforts of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committe (founded by Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz) and the National Farm Workers Association (founded by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chávez), they sought the right to bargain collectively for a fair wage and for better living and working conditions.
Iowa migrant farmworker legislation
The national prominence of the California Grape Boycott gave traction to LULAC’s simultaneous efforts on behalf of migrant farmworkers in Iowa. Iowa’s first migrant child labor bill was passed in 1967 and prohibited the employment of children under the age of 10 in the fields. LULAC supported efforts to pass two bills introduced in the Iowa General Assembly in 1969: one to strengthen the migrant child labor law, and a second to improve housing and sanitary conditions in migrant camps. These laws were opposed by Iowa growers and manufacturing companies. The migrant housing bill was signed into law later that year.
"¿A donde vamos ahora? (Where are We Going Now?)" (Link)
"¿Que lejs hemos venido? (How Far Have We Come?)" (Link)
- 1. Iowa State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. "¿A donde vamos ahora? (Where are We Going Now)," September 1970. http://publications.iowa.gov/11638/1/Where_are_we_going_now.pdf.
- 2. Iowa State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. "¿A donde vamos ahora? (Where are We Going Now)", September 1970. http://publications.iowa.gov/11638/1/Where_are_we_going_now.pdf.
- 3. In 1956 dollars. Equivalent to $36.17 to $54.20 per day and $723.40 to $1,084 per month in 2018 dollars. Frederic O. Sargent and William H. Metzler (1960). "Incomes of Migratory Agricultural Workers." Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, http://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/87871.
- 4. In 1969 dollars. Equivalent to $73.69 per day and $1,473.80 per month in 2018 dollars. Robert C. McElroy, "The Hired Farm Working Force of 1969: A Statistical Report." USDA Economic Research Service, Agricultural Economic Report no. 180, https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED051357.
- 5. Iowa State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. "¿A done vamos ahora? (Where are We Going Now)," September 1970. http://publications.iowa.gov/11638/1/Where_are_we_going_now.pdf.