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Syndic Literary Journal

Photo Essay: California Farmworker – Onion Cutter


Photo by Cathy Murphy (c.1975)
This young girl – the same age as some of my grade school granddaughters – cuts onions to support her family.
It’s a fact: child labor supplements the poverty-wage income of farmworker parents. When work is available, each family member pitches in for the sake of the family’s economic survival.  Summer school?   Field trips? Educational camps? All these opportunities must be sacrificed for the sake of mom and dad.
The driving force behind the use of child labor is the piece rate system – the faster you work, the more you pick, the more you earn. The California onion crop – $345 million dollars – ranks 17th in the state’s largest industry, agribusiness. Each season the industry makes the same announcement: this is what we pay this year, take it or leave it.
Farmworkers have no choice, no voice, no leverage – they were excluded in 1935 from any labor rights protections of national legislation passed to protect industrial workers.  The use of child labor to support the family and subsidize  agribusiness is a national disgrace!


Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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