LABOR
IN AN INDUSTRIAL AGE
CHAPTER 30

California’s massive population growth did not occur without serious societal problems. The blue-and-gold tourist brochures that urged visitors to spend winters in “the Golden State” never hinted that severe issues continued to brew beneath the surface of the purported good life. Real estate advertisements that extolled the state’s attractions likewise stood in stark contrast to its social unrest.

After the turn of the century, tensions between laborers and employers grew even more pronounced than in Denis Kearney’s time. Now workers, through a new Union Labor party, spoke out even more forcefully against powerful financiers and shipping tycoons. Labor had also raised a strong voice of protest during the Ruef-Schmitz scandals in San Francisco. That city became a labor stronghold from which union organizers penetrated the surrounding rural areas.

Following 1905, a national labor organization, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), turned its attention to California. The IWW sought to organize seasonal and part-time workers into “One Big Union.” Among these migratory laborers were field hands, lumberjacks, and cannery workers not welcome to join the nationally powerful American Federation of Labor (AFL), which had been organized along craft lines. New farm machinery had lessened the need for such harvest laborers.

The work day on farms and ranches remained long and the pay extremely low. Furthermore, sanitary conditions in farm labor camps were deplorable. These conditions drew the attention of IWW leaders. From 1908 to 1913, its organizers recruited about 1,000 migratory farm laborers as new members of a dozen local chapters.

The IWW, the first labor group to reach out to migrant workers, urged radical reform of the economy. Its members were referred to contemptuously

-265-

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