Watch Edward R. Murrow’s ‘Harvest of Shame’

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The people who harvest our fruits and vegetables are, today, among the country’s most marginalized. They earn well below the poverty line and spend a substantial portion of the year unemployed. They do not have the right to overtime pay or to collective bargaining with their employers. In some cases, workers have faced abuses that fall under modern-day slavery statutes. “The extreme is slavery,” observed Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), while visiting farm workers in Florida. “The norm is disaster.”

This is not a new phenomenon. Since the beginning of large-scale agriculture in America, the demand for farm labor has been met by a population that lives in the shadows. Often exploited by the employers they depended on for seasonal, poverty-level wages, farm workers have, time and again, been likened to post-Civil War slaves.

In 1960, legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and his producers Fred Friendly and David Lowe attempted to draw public attention to this state of affairs with the documentary Harvest of Shame. The film — an hour-long portrait of the “humans who harvest the food for the best-fed people in the world” — aired on CBS the day after Thanksgiving, 1960.

Watch it here:

At the end of the film, Murrow mentions that President Eisenhower’s Committee on Migratory Labor made recommendations to Congress to relieve the plight of migrant laborers. “There will of course be opposition to these recommendations: Too much government interference, too expensive, socialism,” concluded Murrow. “The migrants have no lobby. Only an enlightened, aroused and perhaps angered public opinion can do anything about the migrants. The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation. Maybe we do.”

But the recommendations, and Murrow’s powerful documentary, didn’t translate to legislation. Even today, half a century after the film first aired, not much has changed.

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  • Vicki Trusselli

    excellent video about the past and this is where the GOP wants to take us all back to in the work world today. this film should go viral. then would anyone who is a right wing GOP person would even watch it or not say hateful things. Love the documentary and lets go viral…….America needs to see this.

  • Anonymous

    Well we have to abuse Mexicans, they won’t let us have slaves anymore. Treating others poorly is a shameful disgrace. The migrant farm workers are destroyed physically and have no protection. If a man picks 20 bushels of corn in an hour, how much more would an ear of corn cost if his pay was doubled? How about we only pay farm subsidies to those producers who pay the migrant workers fairly. ‘

    In Maine we had DeCosta egg farms where they imported workers . They lived in freezing house trailers with no heat. A dish of water on the floor would be frozen solid over night. DeCosta gave to his church. When the abuse hit the papers, the grocery stores had to have DeCosta come pick up their eggs because not one was sold. They were shipped to some commercial cookie company.
    I will ask at the grocery store if their produce is picked by underpaid migrant workers. I may have to shop around for a new grocery store. I do not want to be part of this abuse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.mason.7359447 James Mason

    Edward R.Murrow would not recognize what we call news reporting today. Media has been owned by corporations long enough now that there is no resemblance to that profession from long ago.

  • James Edward Johnson

    You are right, Ms. Vicki Trusselli….we will go viral on this…

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps because of a complete lack of historical perspective, people would ‘damn’ people to that life. Now, though, it is the illegal immigrant as well. This news report represents the ‘socialism’ the Teabaggers now disdain…..

  • Eileen Susa

    THIS VIDEO IS PROFOUND, AT WHAT POINT IN OUR HISTORY HAVE WE GONE BACKWARD? NOT JUST IN FARMING AND MIGRANT WORKERS BUT OF ALL THE POVERTY FOLKS ARE ENDURING AND NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION. JOBS GONE OUT OF THIS COUNTRY , JOBS THAT WOULD BE FEEDING OUR NATION ARE GONE. THE CORPORATE GREEDY HAVE NO CONSCIENCE , YET THEY CALL THEMSELVES AMERICAN? THEY ARE NOT A PART OF OUR SOCIETY, THEY REEP BILLIONS AND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS WHILE MANY GO HUNGRY, AND AMERICANS BLAME THE INDIGENT AND POOR FOR THEIR PROBLEMS? THAT IS A SICK SOCIETY WHO CAN NOT SEE THE SHAMEFUL ACTS OF GOVERNMENT AND BIG CORPORATIONS. WITHOUT WORK WE WILL BE A STARVING NATION INDEED. AS THIS FILM HAS STATED OVER AND OVER AGAIN CONGRESS KEPT VOTING AGAINST FARM BILLS, WE HAVE ACKNOWELDGE OUR CONGRESS OVER SO VERY MANY YEARS AND ESPECIALLY TODAY DOES NOT WORK FOR THE PEOPLE OF THIS NATION. FACTS THAT HURT. CHNAGE THIS GARBAGE BY VOTING FOR WHO CARES ABOUT THE AVERAGE WORKER IN THIS NATION.
    .

  • Eileen Susa

    TO HELL WITH THE TEA PARTY, THEY ARE MORE OF THE PROBLEM TODAY THAN ANY OF US EXPECTED, WHEN YOUR OWNED BY A GREEDY CORPORATION SUCH AS KOCH INDUSTRIES HOW CAN YOU BE ANY THING MORE THAN CORRUPT, THE TEA PARTY IS INDEED OWNED BY KOCH INDUSTRIES AND THEY ARE THE CHALLENGE WE , OUR NATION HAS TO FIGHT TODAY.

  • Eileen Susa

    I live in calif. the wine region and our farmers and wine industry has created good housing for our farmers, the largest problem is rentals, There is only enough housing for farm workers at the site of work, but towns and cities need to make available MORE HOUSING TO MAKE IT RIGHT FOR ALL OF OUR IMIGRANTS WHO WORK THE FIELDS. WHERE IS THE CONSCIENCE IN THESE BIG CORPORATIONS WHO MAKE BILLIONS YES THE WINE INDUSTRY COULD GIVE MORE NO DOUBT. Same with potato farmers and so on.

  • Eileen Susa

    You are so right , the GOP of this day would love to take us back and lower our standard of survival, I am so concerned with ALEC and their dirty deeds, voting behind closed doors and passing and crushing the laws this nation fought so hard for. COME 2014 I know in my deepest heart of heart I will never again vote republican, and I have some doubts about the Democratic side also, but they seem to still be working for the middle class. So there it is.

  • Doug Ashby

    Murrow, the greatest cougar of all time.

  • Brian Gagnon

    This video provides a lot of lessons in a lot of directions. Most impressive to me is that this is a program that aired on American television that stayed on point and unvarnished. This is what journalism looks like. No celebrities, no short attention span and most of all, this story shows that today’s arguments and those form 1960 are the same. Whether it is healthcare or migrant housing, political positions remain exactly the same. The bad guys are still the bad guys.

  • tomhen@comcast.net

    Some doubts about Democrats? Vote for bills to see what’s in them, cover up Bengazi murders, claim war on women but care less about what happens to women outside the US, use the IRS to squash the “other guys”, spend $100M on a family vacation, stir up racist division re: a court case using our laws, and not caring about the security of our country as there is no need to secure our boarders?

  • Anonymous

    A smart, savvy 9th-grade teacher showed us this “doc” around 1972. It touched me. It touched a lot of us.

  • steve

    What about George Soros owning the left?

  • Mud

    Even if that were true, which it is not {I go to all the meetings and he’s never there), what in the world does that mean?

  • Guest

    In 1977, I asked my Mom for a ten-speed bike (they were coming into fashion.) My no-speed bike that I had since I was 5 was getting too small for me now at age 12, and I still wanted to ride my bike to school. My Mom didn’t like the idea of replacing my bike, but as a public school teacher, she had an idea. I could get my ten-speed if I gave my no-speed bike to one of her Kindergarden students who needed a bike to ride to school, but couldn’t afford to get one of her own. I said sure. My mother insisted I also had to deliver my no-speed bike to her student at her residence. Okay.

    So, one Saturday, we delivered my bike to her student. We drove our car in the concrete suburbs past my Mom’s school, past the 101 Highway, past the paved roads, down a bumpy dirt road on a small farm, where in fact Google Headquarters now sits. We arrived at a group of one-room shacks at the end of the dirt road on the farm. I got the bike out of the trunk, while Mom walked up to the door of one of the shacks, spoke in Spanish to the mother/father of her student. Out came this 5-year old girl toward me and my bike. She was a lot smaller than me, and although never had ridden a bike before, really seemed to take a liking to having it (I didn’t speak Spanish then, so I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but she was smiling, and hugged me.)

    Mom wanted me to meet her parents, so I walked up to the front door and inside their one-room shack residence, shaking their hands, and smiling “Hi!” to them. I peeked around the room. I saw a kitchen table/chairs, a small alcove with a sink/little refrigerator/portable burner, a closet, a few beds, and a hanging light bulb in the center of the room. The toilet was housed in another small shack in the grouping of shacks, Mom said.

    I don’t remember what mom told me about her student, her parents, or their situation. The only thing I remember was giving my no-speed bike away to this girl/family, and what happened and what I saw that day. I never forgot it. Thank you for reminding me of this day, of these people, of Silicon Valley/USA history, of my mothers genius, and what teaching/learning/citizenship is all about.

  • Guest

    “It’s amazing how people can get so excited about a rocket to the moon and not give a damn about smog, oil leaks, and devastation of the environment with pesticides, hunger, disease. When the poor share some of the power that the affluent now monopolize, we will give a damn.” Cesar Chavez, Founder of farm workers’ union, human rights activist, 1927-1993

    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hope of its children…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” Dwight Eisenhower, Military leader, president of the United States, 1890-1969

  • Wm. Sweeney

    Imagine any Republican today talking about the role of government or the needs of the least fortunate as the Secretary of Labor in the Eisenhower Administration did in the 1960 CBS documentary “Harvest of Shame”.
    There is no need to look further for an example of how far right the GOP — and the country — has moved over the past 50 years.

  • Rory O’Connor

    It’ still happening today–and about 400,000 of the migrant workers are children. For more, check out “The Harvest/La Cosecha,” the documentary film I produced two years ago:
    http://theharvestfilm.com/

  • Berkeley Grandma

    See also “Rape in the Fields,” Frontline’s recent documentary about the abuse of women workers in our food industry. The expose is shocking, but it also shows women learning to stand up for themselves, and what’s left of our War on Poverty institutions trying to support them.

  • John_St_John

    And therein lies much of the problem in these United States today, the corporate monopolies on the news services.

  • Anonymous

    This is exactly why the immigration mess will continue essentially unchanged. Illegal laborers are so badly disadvantaged that they can be forced to do almost anything, and certain interests receive a huge financial benefit from the resulting cheap, quasi-slave labor. Hence, the broken immigration system is never fixed. The talk about immigration reform today, just as in 2005, will only result in more unworkable legislation (or no change whatsoever), and that is the deliberate plan. US immigration policy is “Keep them illegal, to keep them cheap; and keep them coming.” And Big Money demands that this policy must continue.

  • Ali Husnain

    its true

  • Gjn

    I’m sick of paying for people who just lay around and do nothing…women having children when they know they can’t provide for them….men leaching off the woman’s welfare…..after procreating…I am behind the people that work…but the the lazy people….are on their own.