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Migrant Workers
Excerpts from Speeches       Proceedings and Debates       Hearings       Committee prints and reports

Migrant Mother, 1936; credit: Library of Congress
Summary

Senator Mondale was appointed to the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare in 1968, filling Senator Robert Kennedy's (D-NY) seat after his assassination. He was named Chair of the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor in 1969 and continued the work Kennedy had started in trying to improve the living and working conditions of migrant workers. As a teenager, Mondale worked alongside migrant workers in a canning factory and on farms and saw first-hand the horrible conditions and pay the workers were forced to endure. He even went so far as to try to organize the workers to ask for better pay, and quickly learned how powerless they were when they were, as he described, "packed up and shipped South, like so much bad merchandise."[1]Robert Coles, "Champion of Powerless People - Mondale of Minnesota," The New Republic, December 25, 1971.

Powerlessness became the topic of several months of hearings over which Senator Mondale presided as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor. After meeting with César Chávez and visiting migrant labor camps, Senator Mondale said in an interview, "I have tried to find out for myself how migrants live, and I want to help them—really help them, not urge band-aids for the deep wounds they have."[2]Ibid.

He organized the hearings in seven parts, each part focusing on a specific aspect of the life of migrant and seasonal farm workers. Instead of only hearing from experts and outsiders who had visited migrant labor camps, he insisted that the workers themselves have a voice and testify in the hearings. Many of them testified about the unsanitary conditions in which they were forced to live and the powerlessness they experienced in trying to affect any positive change. They described the sporadic education their children received and they talked about how they often ended up being in debt to the crew leaders after weeks of work due to being underpaid and overcharged for transportation. Rudolfo Juarez, a migrant worker from Florida stated, "Gentlemen, bad working conditions and low wages for generations have maintained a slave labor system which ensures that the migrant farm worker's children will have to live the same way he did and will continue to be slaves to agriculture and business."[3]Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, 91st Cong. 92 (1969)(statement of Rudolfo Juarez, migrant farm laborer).After hearing reports from doctors who had investigated the health and living conditions of migrant workers, Mondale returned to the Senate floor to say, "I wish that all of my colleagues could have been in the hearing room as these doctors testified, for it is impossible to recount to you the hushed silence as they enumerated their findings. It is impossible to capture today their rage at having to recount their own experiences. There were few men and women that could sit through the testimony with dry eyes, insensitive to the realities of how we are daily destroying human beings."[4]91st Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 116 (October 1, 1970) at 34546.

Due to the political climate after the election of President Nixon, Mondale did not attempt to introduce new legislation to help migrant workers, but rather tried to work to strengthen existing laws. His attempts to extend unemployment compensation and Social Security coverage to migrants and to obtain increased funding for migrant health, education and legal service programs were defeated in Congress.[5]Finlay Lewis, Mondale: Portrait of an American Politician, (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1980), 190-194. He did succeed, however, in extending occupational hazards to farm workers.

Excerpts from Senator Mondale's speeches on migrant workers: [Top]

Children of Mexican-American migrant farm workers playing outdoors in Minnesota, ca. 1960; credit: Minnesota Historical Society

 

 

"There is absolutely no good reason why farm workers, the most hard-working Americans and the least paid, should continue to be outside the whole framework of social and economic legislation." 91st Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 116 (August 4, 1970) at 27315.

Farm Worker Housing; credit: United Farm Workers

"I have tried to find out for myself how migrants live, and I want to help them—really help them, not urge band-aids for the deep wounds they have. It's easy to disguise the problem and talk about increased benefits for them. Sure they need medical care and schools that even half take notice of their children; but the real problem is that migrants (and maybe a lot of other people, too) are powerless, which means they have no real say in what happens to them. They don't get the protection of a whole group of laws we enacted in the thirties to protect the working man, to guarantee him collective bargaining rights and a minimum wage and unemployment compensation and all the rest." 92nd Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 118 (January 24, 1972) at 872.



César Chávez and the UFW, 1965; credit: United
Farm Workers

"I condemn this resort to violence. It would be unconscionable if farm workers are denied their right to choose a union of their own because of resort to physical brutality, and varied forms of threats and reprisals. The intimidation, harassment, and interference with legitimate organizing efforts in the Salinas Valley cannot be justified nor tolerated, and is a total anathema . . . to the principles of nonviolence to which Cesar Chavez and UFWOC are dedicated." 91st Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 116 (September 24, 1970) at 33563.




Mexican American migrant farm workers harvesting asparagus
near Owatonna, ca. 1955; credit: Minnesota Historical Society



"I wish that all of my colleagues could have been in the hearing room as these doctors testified, for it is impossible to recount to you the hushed silence as they enumerated their findings. It is impossible to capture today their rage at having to recount their own experiences. There were few men and women that could sit through the testimony with dry eyes, insensitive to the realities of how we are daily destroying human beings." 91st Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 116 (October 1, 1970) at 34546.

Selected U.S. Senate proceedings and debates on migrant workers, 1970-1972: [Top]
U.S. Senate hearings on migrant workers in which Senator Mondale participated: [Top]
  • Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1969: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower, and Poverty, 91st Cong. (1969)

  • Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, pt. 1: Who Are the Migrants?, 91st Cong. (1969).

  • Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, pt. 2: The Migrant Subculture, 91st Cong. (1969).

  • Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, pts. 3A and 3B: Efforts to Organize, 91st Cong. (1969).

  • Agricultural Labor Legislation: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Labor, 91st Cong. (1969).

  • Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, pts. 4A and 4B: Farm Worker Legal Problems, 91st Cong. (1969).

  • Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, pts. 5A and 5B: Border Commuter Labor Problem, 91st Cong. (1969).

  • Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, pts. 6A, 6B, and 6C: Pestices and the Farm Worker, 91st Cong. (1969).

  • Problems of Migrant Workers: Hearing Before the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, 91st Cong. (1969).

  • Migrant Health Services: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Health, 91st Cong. (1969).

  • Manpower Development and Training Legislation, 1970, pt. 1: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower, and Poverty, 91st Cong. (1969, 1970).

  • Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, pts. 7A and 7B: Manpower and Economic Problems, 91st Cong. (1970).

  • Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, pts. 8A, 8B, and 8C: Who is Responsible?, 91st Cong. (1970).

  • National Nutrition Policy Study-1974: Nutrition and Special Groups: Hearings Before the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, pt. 3, 93rd Cong. (1974).

Selected Senate committee prints and reports on migrant workers: [Top]

    Committee Prints

  • Staff of the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, 92nd Cong., Federal and State Statutes Relating to Farmworkers: A Compilation (Comm. Print 1972).

  • Committee Reports

  • Comm. on Labor and Public Welfare, Employment and Training Opportunities Act of 1970, S. Rep. No. 91-1136 (1970).

  • Comm. on Labor and Public Welfare, Domestic and Seasonal Farm Worker Health Act of 1972, S. Rep. No. 92-1063 (1972).
  • Comm. on Labor and Public Welfare, Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act Amendments of 1974, S. Rep. No. 93-1295 (1974).
  • Congressional Research Service Reports

  • Linda Breedon and Marsha Rotunda, Cong. Research Serv., Federal and State Statutes Relating to Farmworkers: A Compilation (1972).

Endnotes:[TOP]
  1. Robert Coles, "Champion of Powerless People - Mondale of Minnesota," The New Republic, December 25, 1971.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Powerlessness: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, 91st Cong. 92 (1969)(statement of Rudolfo Juarez, migrant farm laborer).
  4. 91st Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 116 (October 1, 1970) at 34546.
  5. Finlay Lewis, Mondale: Portrait of an American Politician, (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1980), 190-194.