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TOLAN COMMITTEE ON INTERNAL MIGRATION

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TESTIMONY OF OTIS NATION, DIRECTOR,

0KLAHOMA TENANT FARMERS' UNION

Mr. PARSONS. State your name and address for the record.
Mr. NATION. Otis Nation. Mr. Chairman, I wish to submit to the committee a report of the Oklahoma Tenant Farmers' Union, an affiliate of the Committee for Industrial Organization, into the migratory labor problem. There are a few things, but I don't know whether you will have time for me to elaborate on these points, the basic causes for migration.
The CHAIRMAN. We will be very glad to have your statement and the members will go through it very carefully and it will be incorporated in the hearing. Some of the members of the committee may wish to ask you some questions.
Mr. CURTIS. Are you a native Oklahoman?
Mr. NATION. Yes, sir.
Mr. CURTIS. And what is your position in this union?
Mr. NATION I am director of the Oklahoma Tenant Farmers' Union, an affiliate of the C.I.O.
Mr. CURTIS. Who is president of it?
Mr. NATION. Donald Henderson.
Mr. CURTIS. Where does he live?
Mr. NATION. Washington, D. C.
Mr. CURTIS. Is he a farmer?
Mr. NATION. He is a president of the International Union; I am director here in Oklahoma.
Mr. CURTIS. International--how many countries do you operate in?
Mr. NATION. The United States, Hawaii, and Alaska; all United States possessions.
Mr. CURTIS. Then it is not international?
Mr. NATION. We have some organizations in Canada.
Mr. CURTIS. Any in Europe?
Mr. NATION. No; we don't have.
Mr. CURTIS. Asia?
Mr. NATION. No.

ORGANIZATION OF OKLAHOMA TENANT FARMERS' UNION

Mr. CURTIS. Who came to Oklahoma and organized you?
Mr. NATION. I organized it myself.
Mr. CURTIS. Who got in touch with you and sold you on the idea?
Mr. NATION. I migrated to the West myself. I was pushed off the farm for a number of contributing causes; I went to Arizona and California and there the wages for cotton picking was so low that we formed ourselves in a group and finally got in touch with the labor organization, the United Canners Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America, with which our present organization here in Oklahoma is affiliated.
Mr. CURTIS Who are some of the leaders in organizing this particular group you represent?
Mr. NATION. In Oklahoma?
Mr. CURTIS. No; in California.
Mr. NATION. Well, we have Patrick Callahan, Dorothy Ray, and a number of other organizers.
Mr. CURTIS. Name three or four others.
Mr. NATION. I don't know, offhand, any of the other officials; I was more out with the people, like myself, that were farm laborers.
Mr. CURTIS. Do you admit Communists to your organization?
Mr. NATION. We admit anyone without regard to race, color, or creed, regardless of religious or political affiliations.
Mr. CURTIS. Do you know whether you have any Communists in your organization?
Mr. NATION. I don't know.
Mr. CURTIS. You do have some, don't you?
Mr. NATION. I don't know who they are if we do.
Mr. CURTIS. But you are quite sure there are some, aren't you?
Mr. NATION. No; no.
Mr. CURTIS. Was your organization ever involved in any violence of any kind on the west coast?
Mr. NATION. No, sir; the only violence that labor organizations are usually involved in is on the receiving end of groups like the vigilantes on the west coast, the Associated Farmers and other vigilante associations.
Mr. CURTIS. I am not undertaking to determine who was right in the controversy, but I want to know if your organization has had any clashes?
Mr. NATION. Yes; we have
Mr. CURTIS. Was anybody injured?
Mr. NATION. In Arizona we had a little strike and there was something like 500 people on the picket lines walking around and there was over 400 members in the Associated Farmers on horseback and with rifles and arms. A boy coming from school was walking along and said something to one of the Associated Farmers and he swung a gun and broke the boy's jaw; in that particular strike I think that was the only person that was injured.
Mr. CURTIS. Where else had you had strikes?
Mr. NATION. Well, at Salinas, the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee has a complete report on that; I couldn't give it.
Mr. CURTIS. But your organization was the organization that was striking?
Mr. NATION. Yes.
Mr. CURTIS. That is all; thank you very much. Your report will be incorporated in the record.
(Witness excused.)

    (The report of the foregoing witness was submitted and received by the committee and is as follows:)

    REPORT OF OTIS NATION, ORGANIZER FOR OKLAHOMA TENANT FARMERS' UNION, U. C. A. P. A. W. A.--C. I. O.

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  1. This report is made in behalf of the members of the Oklahoma Tenant Farmers' Union, affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. I feel that I am in a position to give a true picture of the migrant problem, not only because I have worked in their organization, but even more, because I have been both a tenant farmer and a migratory agricultural worker myself. I was born and raised on a farm near Calvin, Okla., and I, too, with my family of five, have gone down the twentieth century trail of tears, Highway 66, to California and Arizona. I would like in this report to outline the main causes of these migrations of farmers and to recommend actions necessary to rehabilitate them.

  2. Much has been written of our droughts here in Oklahoma, and how they have driven the farmers from the land. But little has been said of the other tentacles that choke off the livelihood of the small owner and the tenant. We do not wish to minimize the seriousness of these droughts and their effects on the farming population. But droughts alone would not have permanently displaced these farmers. The great majority of migrants had already become share-tenants and sharecroppers. The droughts hastened a process that had already begun.

  3. We submit the following as the cases for migratory agricultural workers:

  4. 1. High interest rates.--Often a farmer borrows money for periods of 10 months and is charged an interest rate of 10 percent. These rates are charged when crops are good and when they fail. Through such practices the farmer loses his ownership; he becomes a tenant, then a sharecropper, then a migrant.

  5. 2. The tenant and sharecropping system.--When share tenants are charged 33 1/3 percent of all corn or feed crops and 25 percent or more on cotton, plus 10 percent on all money borrowed at the bank, when sharecroppers are charged 50 to 75 percent of all he produces to the landlords, plus 10 percent for the bank's share on money invested; when these robbing practices are carried on in a community or a State, is it surprising that 33,241 farm families have left Oklahoma in the past 5 years?

  6. 3. Land exhaustion, droughts, soil erosion, and the one-crop system of farming.--Lacking capital and equipment, small farmers have been unable to terrace their land or conduct other soil-conservation practices. The tenant and sharecropping system is chiefly responsible for the one-crop system. The landlord dictates what crops are to be planted--invariably cotton--and the tenant either plants it or gets off.

  7. 4. Unstable markets.--Approximately a month and a half before the wheat harvest this year the price for this product was 93 cents here in Oklahoma City. But at harvest time the farmer sold his wheat for 46 cents to 60 cents per bushel, depending on the grade This, we were told, was due to the war. But in years previous similar declines in prices came at harvest time. Kaffir was selling for $1.30 one month ago, and yesterday we sold some for 85 cents per hundred. And in this case the war was in progress a month ago.

  8. It is obvious to all of us that farm prices are set by speculators. The farmer's losses at the market have contributed in no small part to the farmer losing his place on the land. Higher prices for farm products are quoted when the farmer has nothing to sell.

  9. 5. Tractor farming.--In Creek County, Okla., we have the record of one land-owner purchasing 3 tractors and forcing 31 of his 34 tenants and croppers from the land. Most of these families left the State when neither jobs nor relief could be secured. This is over 10 families per machine, 10 families who must quit their profession and seek employment in an unfriendly, industrialized farming section of Arizona or California. Many of these families were even unable to become "Joads" in these other States, and had to seek relief from an unfriendly national administration and a more unfriendly State administration.

  10. Tractors produce crops cheaper. A small farmer who is unable to equip his farm with a tractor loses out and is driven from the land. The small independent farmer begins slipping down on the ladder of agriculture, slipping down toward becoming a migrant.

  11. 6. The Triple-A Program.--At present this program pays up to $10.000 to farmers who cooperate. The large owners who receive such a high premium buy tractors with these payments and force their tenants and croppers off the land.

  12. A program of cutting down on the acreage under cultivation limits the amount of work for laborers in agriculture, creating a surplus of this type of labor, and it always results in lowering wages. The workers then go from place to place and from State to State in search of work.

  13. In addition to these six basic causes of migratory workers is the situation created by a State administration which refuses to cooperate with such Federal programs that do assist these displaced farmers, such as W.P.A. California's 3-year residence requirement for relief assistance is matched in Oklahoma by Governor Phillips's veto of a bill that would bring a rural-housing program to the impoverished farmers of our State. The State administration further refuses to cooperate with the W.P.A. administration by furnishing investigators to certify eligible clients, thereby making it impossible for the dispossessed to secure relief.

  14. At this hearing we will have all kinds of statistical material presented and arguments based on this material. But I am one of those who is more interested in the people, my people, than in mere figures. I do not agree with those who say "the no-good must always be weeded out." I say that all of these people, casually referred to in statistical sums, are 100-percent Americans. There are no more important problems facing us than the problem of stopping this human erosion and rehabilitating those unfortunates who have already been thrown off the land. Certainly it is un-American for Americans to be starved and dispossessed of their homes in our land of plenty. Those who seek to exploit and harass these American refugees, the migratory workers, are against our principles of democracy.

  15. We of the Oklahoma Tenant Farmers' Union and of the Congress of Industrial Organization offer the following program for meeting this problem:

  16. Cost of production for farmers.--This will also enable the grower to pay a decent living wage to the field workers.

  17. The extension of a wage-and-hour law for agricultural labor.

  18. Unemployment compensation for agricultural labor.

  19. Maximum triple-A payments to be lowered to $500; no payments to those who violate the wage-and-hour law.

  20. Loans for resettling the agricultural workers at low interest rates, 3 percent, and long-term payments.

  21. Adequate funds for F.S.A., to enable tenants and sharecroppers to buy farms, thus stopping the 'cow of the dispossessed into the already overcrowded migratory army.

  22. Public-works programs for all who are able to work.

  23. Extension of the health services of the F.S.A. to all migratory workers.

  24. Federal protection of the civil liberties of migratory workers. Organizations such as the Associated Farmers and the K.K.K., and all organizations that resort to terror and intimidation have no place in our democracy. The La Follette Civil Liberties Committee exposed such practices; what we need now is prosecutions which will stop such Fascist violations of our law.

  25. At least two cooperative farms for 500 families here in Oklahoma. These cooperative farms have proven successful in Arizona and California where they enable their membership to compete successfully with large-scale, corporation farms.

  26. National legislation patterned after the Oklahoma Farmers' Union's graduated land tax.

  27. Mr. Chairman, every statistical number mentioned here represents either a refugee or a refugee family. Behind each cold figure is an untold story, a story of hungry, homeless, and jobless people--people who have been driven from the land through no fault of their own.

  28. Thousands of children live in tents by the roadside and on the canal banks. I have seen them myself. Flat-chested, underdeveloped children in faded dresses and overalls with many patches of worn material; kids that play with a homemade doll after a day of picking cotton in the fields. They do not think fast. Their laughter is not that of normal, healthy children. Their supper is fried corn grits, white flour gravy, and sorghum molasses. Flies must be brushed away with one hand and the bite must be taken quickly. Everyone eats quietly. Nothing to talk about and everyone is too tired. The kids doze off to sleep and are carried to bed. The bed isn't too clean. The Mrs. has been working too hard in the field to keep it clean. The kerosene light is blown out, and the buzz of mosquitoes continues through the night, sucking blood from these tired little bodies, spreading disease. The coming of day is a signal for another of back-breaking toil. But some day? Hope? Yes. These people never give up. They keep fighting, against all odds. Once they had homes of their own. They are proud. They accept relief only as a last resort.

  29. This family and thousands of others like them have crossed our country in search of work. Refugees; men and women without a country; wanderers of the wasteland.

  30. The Oklahoma Tenant Farmers' Union of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America affiliated with the C.I.O. are helping and will work with this committee and with all other good Americans in solving this, America's No. 1 problem, the reclaiming of our most exploited group of citizens--the migratory workers.