In 1971, Bruce Neuburger—young, out of work, and radicalized by the 60s counterculture in Berkeley—took a job as a farmworker on a whim. He could have hardly anticipated that he would spend the next decade laboring up and down the agricultural valleys of California, alongside the anonymous and largely immigrant workforce that feeds the nation. This account of his journey begins at a remarkable moment, after the birth of the United Farm Workers union and the ensuing uptick in worker militancy. As a participant in organizing efforts, strikes, and boycotts, Neuburger saw first-hand the struggles of farmworkers for better wages and working conditions, and the lengths the growers would go to suppress worker unity.
Part memoir, part informed commentary on farm labor, the U.S. labor movement, and the political economy of agriculture, Lettuce Wars is a lively account written from the perspective of the fields. Neuburger portrays the people he encountered—immigrant workers, fellow radicals, company bosses, cops and goons—vividly and indelibly, lending a human aspect to the conflict between capital and labor as it played out in the fields of California.
“In these stirring pages you will find exquisite descriptions of the work, lovely accounts of the people who do it, and a unique view of farm worker politics, all delivered in straight forward, good humored prose. Most of all, Neuburger reminds us of what it felt like to be young and believe in Revolution.”-Frank Bardacke, author, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the UFW
“Does an outstanding, exceptional job of providing the reader with an inside, on-the-ground view of the industrial farm labor experience in California and elsewhere. Bruce Neuburger’s story is compelling and often spell-binding. This is surely one of the most important contributions to the social justice literature exposing farmworker injustice at all levels.”-Dr. Ann López, Executive Director, Center for Farmworker Families; author, The Farmworkers’ Journey
“Adds a new and carefully observed chapter to the farm labor saga in Steinbeck country during the Chavez years. . . . It’s the story of Neuburger’s real life in a notoriously hardscrabble labor market, one that seemed like a vestige a generation ago but now serves as the default model in a new era of global neoliberalism. If you’ve ever felt that we’re all ‘casual labor’ now, this is the book for you.”-Peter Richardson, author of A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America and American Prophet: The Life and Work of Carey McWilliams
“An extraordinary book. On one level, it is a political memoir of a young radical’s decade of immersion in the world of farmworkers—their work, their lives, and their struggles for union representation. On another level, Neuburger offers a history of the successes of the Farm Workers Union and its later degeneration. . . . a fascinating story of a young man successfully adapting to an unfamiliar culture.”-Michael Perelman, professor of economics, California State University, Chico; author, The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism
“In the noble tradition of narratives of protest and witness, this historical work is relevant and timely. It forces us to cast a critical eye on our American democracy, where the rights of countless workers are trampled upon by those with political and economic power.”-Alba Cruz-Hacker, author of No Honey for Wild Beasts