‘The Orange Industry of Southern California and the Workers Therein’ by Harry S. Carroll from The Industrial Union Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 14. May 30, 1908.

‘Picking oranges on Richards Ranch, north Pomona, California, 1905’
‘The Orange Industry of Southern California and the Workers Therein’ by Harry S. Carroll from The Industrial Union Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 14. May 30, 1908.

A California “navel”! Whoever has had the luxurious privilege of eating one of these delicious California oranges may have thought with some of these cultured, aristocratic, bourgeois tourists who from time to time visit the city of Redlands, that orange picking is a delightful, aesthetic, ideal occupation. If so, let him be undeceived: it is not. For the ivy-poison of capitalism, here as elsewhere, mars the pleasantness of this occupation. The conditions under which the orange picker labors are far from being ideal. Ideal! What a mockery!

What are those conditions? Let us see. The picker works nine hours a day, and his wage is two dollars, that is, when working by the day. He is expected to pick at least fifty boxes a day. He must furnish himself with sack and clippers; he must pick quickly, and the stems of the oranges must be cut as close as humanly possible —neither must they be in the least “nicked” on the surface by the clippers. As the work is not steady, there being as usual more men than jobs, the pickers have to be very economical and therefore have to live in shacks, or “dog-houses.” as they call them here, and “batch.” This necessitates getting up at 5 a.m. and cooking breakfast and preparing lunch, as there is only a half hour’s halt at noon. The picker sallies forth in the morning with his sack, “the nose-bag of capitalism,” across his shoulders, and proceeds either by car, bicycle or afoot to the grove.

As the fatal hour of 7 a.m. strikes, he starts his desperate struggle for existence, trying to “hold his end up.” Sometimes the grass is quite long in the grove, and then, there being generally a  heavy dew at nights, he gets soaked from his heels to his hips, and he remains so till the torrid sun dries him, and dries him too much at times. He has also to carry around from tree to tree a heavy ladder, risking breaking his neck by a fall from a high tree. His sufferings consist of cold, damp, heat, sweat, dust and anxiety. And this when all around him there is a delicious fragrance of orange blossoms, beautiful scenery, and a balmy, genial climate that is, of course, overlooking the early morning inconveniences of dew and cold, elite to the high elevation here. But he has no time to linger a while to enjoy his surroundings; the greedy eyes of the profit-monger and exploiter are ever upon him. and he must hurry to accomplish his task.

As the day advances the “nose-bag” gets heavier and the shoulders of the unfortunate more tired. Now comes blithely along an automobile party or sight-seeing tourists, who inspect the grove and comment upon all the felicities of orange picking. It is to laugh, were it not so truly tragical.

Such a sight is an eyesore to the class-conscious proletarian, for he at least realizes the tragic irony of it all, envies them their life of ease and comfort and elegance; not because he would be an idler, a parasite or a useless nonproducer: not because he would desire to live their wasted life and be as shallow-minded as they, but rather because, given but a portion of their leisure time, he could make a good and rational use of it. and so live and enjoy a fuller, completer life. Most of the pickers are “floaters,” and drift away to other parts as the summer advances, and the orange crop more exhausted. They are in general apathetic and indifferent to the grand message of Industrialism which we workers in Local 419, I.W.W. (Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union) bring to them.

We have held street meetings, distributed literature, gone around from grove to grove (this we find to have some good effects) and spoken with them, but yet they are still “in their sins,” not yet really organized, not yet awake and alive to their real interests.

Nevertheless we have made some headway. We have about 55 members in good standing, and wherever they go they will spread the good news of Industrialism. We never forget to tell the slaves that when they join the Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union, Local 419, they have joined the Union of the Working Class and are permitted to work in any industry wherever the I.W.W. is organized.

Such, in brief, are the conditions “this glorious climate of California,” in the Southern California orange belt. Nevertheless, we have made a first attempt to improve them, and confidently hope that by the time the next season rolls around there will be “something doing.”

Harry S. Carroll, Financial Secretary Local 419, I.W.W. Redlands, Cal.

The Industrial Union Bulletin, and the Industrial Worker were newspapers published by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) from 1907 until 1913. First printed in Joliet, Illinois, IUB incorporated The Voice of Labor, the newspaper of the American Labor Union which had joined the IWW, and another IWW affiliate, International Metal Worker.The Trautmann-DeLeon faction issued its weekly from March 1907. Soon after, De Leon would be expelled and Trautmann would continue IUB until March 1909. It was edited by A. S. Edwards. 1909, production moved to Spokane, Washington and became The Industrial Worker, “the voice of revolutionary industrial unionism.”

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/industrialworker/iub/v2n14-may-30-1908-iub.pdf

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