Posted by: kokoro | 24th Feb, 2009

Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle

Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle accounts many of the things we’ve learned about labor. It handles the radical movement and the striking itself very well.

The book depicts radicals taking an important part in 1930s labor organizing. While it perhaps puts too much emphasis on strikers being drawn into the radical movement, which wasn’t always necessarily the case, it shows the extreme paranoia surrounding radicalism in the U.S. It’s presumed that Russia pays the radicals to stir up men and create a revolution, but the book is clear in expressing that people don’t need to be influenced by some ideology to realize that something is wrong with the way they are living. Nonetheless, the experiences the men go through in striking helps them develop their political beliefs.

The book also focuses the logistics of the strike in a way that we haven’t spent too much time discussing in class. In order to keep strikes going there are issues of food, sanitation, living quarters, and space for everyone. If these problems aren’t met, then the strikers are unlikely to remain unified, and the authorities can use improper living conditions as an excuse to break the strike up. While it’s up to the organization to supply the strikers, public sympathy is also important for providing supplies. Under these conditions it’s much clearer to understand why a strike is less likely to be successful the longer it lasts.

Steinbeck writes about the organized power of the valley and the brutal steps it’s willing to take, but he also doesn’t shy away from the brutal actions of the strikers either. The strikers maintain an ends justify the means mindset that leads to a willingness to sacrifice Anderson’s property, beating scabs, using a dead man to rouse up the men, and knocking around a young boy.

Steinbeck’s story does differ from the Ruiz and Weber readings on the California fruit picking and packing industry. Aside from a few Italians, Steinbeck makes no mention of immigrants, let alone the Mexican immigrants that made up a majority of the CA fruit industry in the 1930s. The Mexican immigrants had close family connections that make them more successful in their unification and strikes, something that isn’t seen in the book. Steinbeck also gives the women a passive role, which is almost insulting when considering the actions of the immigrant women in Ruiz and Weber readings. They were far from passive, and in fact, were strike leaders and even attacked scabs.

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