Monday, September 2, 2013
Labor Day Remembering Being A Child Laborer In American Agricultural Fields
Tacoma's Connie D called this morning with her usual annual Happy Labor Day wishes. During the course of the usual annual Happy Labor Day wishes the subject of why Labor Day was a holiday came up.
The subject of why Labor Day was a holiday led to talking about our long ago youth. In those days, when school let out in the agricultural areas of Washington State, in the United States of America, most school kids would go from being students to being field workers.
Picking strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, beans, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables.
Our moms would wake us at the crack of dawn, give us a sack lunch, then load us on rickety old school buses to be taken to the fields.
We knew nothing different, so this all seemed perfectly normal, kids being field hands, sometimes under a very hot sun, often very dirty.
Picking berries was hard work. Particularly being a little kid trying to carry a big flat full of berries. Trying to carry a big bucket full of cucumbers was even more back breaking.
The pay was not good. A berry flat had 12 boxes. If I remember right the pay was 75 cents a flat. On a really good day, in a really good strawberry field, you might fill 12 or more flats a day.
You picked at your leisure. There was no one with a whip keeping your picking pace up. A field boss would inspect your berry row to make sure you were picking all your berries. You could get docked a box for various infractions.
I remember at some point in time, over some issue I've long forgotten, I lead an insurrection in a cucumber field. I remember one by one I had us pickers throwing our buckets of pickle wannabes in the air. I do remember us pickers won that particular battle of the Labor Wars.
Looking back on it, years later, years after it no longer being permitted to use child labor as berry pickers, some of what I remember appalls me.
The sanitary conditions, for one thing. Each field had a couple primitive outhouses. Outside the outhouses there was no hand washing device. We were picking food, with this type un-sanitary condition allowed.
Drinking water was provided at the fields I worked at. A big cooler with paper cups. Connie told me the water situation at the field she remembers consisted of a big tub of water with one water scoop which everyone shared.
I do not know who picks the fruit and vegetables in 2013 in the State of Washington. But I know it is not little kids doing the picking.
And that is part of what we celebrate on Labor Day here, today, in America.