Abstract: Gambling on Grapes: Management, Ideology and Politics in California Agribusiness

Elizabeth Lamoree


From the Great Depression of the 1930s to the Great Recession of the mid-1970s, California growers reduced competition and stabilized prices through a combination of private consolidation and public assistance. Ironically, the process of regularizing production and the farm economy made agriculturalists more vulnerable to organized labor and labor relations legislation. Despite growers' reliance on state support in their battle to tame market instability, agribusiness employers espoused an anti-statist labor ideology to avoid labor relations legislation at both the state and federal levels. However, by 1968 the United Farm Workers Union had turned farm workers' exclusion from the National Labor Relations Act into a liability. The United Farm Workers Union became a potent foe by bringing the farm labor debate out of the fields and into the supermarkets and transportation hubs with an international boycott. To escape the boycott and reinstate orderly marketing, growers temporarily submitted to collective bargaining contracts and aggressively pursued labor relations legislation. But even as agribusiness employers were forced to deal with unionism, they steadfastly refused to disassociate modern farm management from the ideology of agricultural exceptionalism.