Daily Archives: August 3, 2013

The Wheatland Hop Was 100 Years Ago Today

And while it may sound like a new dance craze, it was actually a riot that took place during a strike on the Durst Ranch in Wheatland, California that resulted in four deaths. It was among the first major farm labour confrontations, blamed on the radical syndicalist trade union of the Industrial Workers of the World, and a * example of what an organization can expect if it tries to take advantage of poor workers in developing, and more importantly, emerging countries or, even worse, workers at home by trying to force interns and low-salaried workers to work long hours for little pay and no benefits.

As per the Wikipedia entry, in the summer of 1913, Durst advertised for temporary workers with a promise of ample work at high rates of pay for every hop picker that arrived on the farm by August 5. In this particular year, the supply of willing workers almost doubled the demand, and Durst slashed pay rates. To make matters worse, not only were workers on his farm making roughly half of what workers on other farms were making (for toiling twelve hours a day in fields that could reach 110F / 44C), but the workers were forced to live in tents on a barren hillside that they had to rent for 75c/week when they made, on average, $1.50 a day with drinking water a mile away and unspeakably unsanitary toilet conditions. And to add insult to injury, Durst retained 10% of the earnings until the end of the harvest, and only paid it out if the workers stayed until the end of the harvest.

It was only a matter of days before a temporary local chapter of the IWW was organized that demanded a better pay rate per lb of hops picked, worker supervision of measurement of the hops, provision of drinking water in the fields, improved toilet facilities, and assistants to help women and children load and unload heavy hop sacks. Durst responded that toilet conditions would be improved, water would be provided in the fields, and one worker could be allowed to witness the weighing process. The local chapter of the IWW then threatened a strike. Durst responded by calling the sheriff (who could not do anything for lack of an arrest warrant). By the end of August 2, a mass meeting for all of the workers was planned for August 3. On the 3, with a mass meeting underway, Durst went into town to gather authorities to put down the revolt. The sheriff, a number of deputies, and the district attorney was pulled into the ranch.

Upon arrival, shortly after the mass meeting had begun, the sheriff and his men tried to arrest the leader of the of the local IWW chapter, but workers intervened. In response, one of the law enforcement officials fired a shotgun into the air, which was taken as an act of aggression and which prompted a full-fledged riot and an attack on the sheriff, the deputies, and a district attorney.

Unfortunately, instead of being a warning siren for other farm and ranch owners that used migrant workers, it was only the first of other bitter strikes between California growers and farm workers that would take place over the next couple of decades.

In a nutshell, Corporate Social Responsibility is more than just good PR, it’s good business.