The Yardstick - "Minimum Wage for Farm Workers"


Worker in the lettuce fields along the Colorado River

Courtesy of the National Archives

Before he became physically involved in the Delano grape strike, Monsignor George G. Higgins was advocating for workers with this pen. As of 1966, Higgins had been the author of The Yardstick, a column syndicated by Catholic News Service, since 1945. Higgins used the column as a pulpit of sorts, writing on the topics of the day, particularly labor issues.




Higgins would use his July 25, 1966, coulmn to argue for federal intervention in providing better living condition for farm workers, particularly migrant workers. While he did not address any specific issues, Higgins' document seemed to point directly at the situation in California, where the grape strike had been going on for a year. He argued that the labor problem stemmed from low wages and a surplus of workers brought in by growers over the indigenous labor force. "It should be public policy .... to accomplish in agriculture what we have already largely accomplished in other sectors of our economy -- the restoration of respect and dignity, based on good wages, working conditions, and steady employment to the men and women who labor for hire on American farms."

YS-Minimum Wage.pdf

"Minimum Wage for Farm Workers"
Courtesy of ACUA

Higgins solution was to extend the federal minimum wage to farm workers which, he argued, would also cause hiring practices to be improved by forcing owners to not simply settle for the cheapest workers. Due to their unorganized structure, however, farm workers were not able at that time to exert pressure on the government to make such changes. In essence, Higgins argued that the federal government had a duty to improve the lives of some of its most impoverished citizens.  



1. Why does Higgins want the government to get involved in the eradication of poverty?

2. Why does Higgins argue that the loss of some workers through extension of the minimum wage “would not necessarily be a bad development?”