The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 14      April 11, 2011

An alliance of workers and farmers

The 53 tractors driven by farmers at the March 12 Madison, Wisconsin, rally to support public workers unions put a spotlight on the need for a fighting alliance of workers and farmers to respond to the capitalist offensive on our living and job conditions. “Busting unions will only make all of us more desperate,” said farmer Tony Schultz. The antilabor attacks by the bosses’ government and political parties in Wisconsin hit farmers as well. Rural schools are losing funds and teachers. State-subsidized health insurance, which many farmers depend upon, is being slashed.

The solidarity between workers and farmers in Madison flows from their shared exploitation—although they are exploited in different ways—by the capitalist families that rule this country. Now is a good time to sharpen our understanding of this fact—something brought to our attention recently by two long-time Militant readers, one of them a farmer, as well as by a volunteer who translates articles to Spanish.

The farmer correctly objected to use of the term “family farmer” in the March 7 issue to describe some participants in an earlier Wisconsin labor rally. Doing so obscures class divisions among farmers, who do not as a whole have common class interests.

In addition to large capitalist farms and ranches owned by big corporations, there are other farmers—whose farms are often owned and operated by a single family—who either rely almost entirely on hired wage labor, or on both farm workers and family members. These small capitalists often call themselves “family farmers,” falsely claiming that they and their organizations (like the Farm Bureau and others) speak and act in the interests of working farmers, who employ little or no wage labor.

In fact, growing numbers of exploited farmers in recent decades depend upon a second job, often in a factory, simply to make ends meet. They are exploited as farmers—as debt slaves heavily mortgaged to the bank, and squeezed between high prices they pay monopolies like Cargill and Monsanto for seed, fertilizer, and other supplies to put in their crops each year, and the low prices they get for their harvests from capitalist wholesale and retail outfits like Del Monte, Krogers, Wal-Mart, and others. Many of these farmers are also exploited as wage slaves like other workers.

In addition to these allies of the working class, there are also several million farm workers in the United States. Together with other wage workers in small towns and rural areas, they are the bedrock of any fighting labor movement in these parts of the country. They face among the lowest wages and most hazardous job conditions. Farm laborers are not covered by the minimum wage, have few benefits, and are whipsawed by seasonal work. Many are immigrants and subject to superexploitation on that basis as well.

The headline in the March 28 Militant—“Labor-farmer unity in Wisconsin”—introduced an additional confusion. Over the past century, worker-farmer unity has often been used by class-collaborationist forces—such as the Stalinist Communist Parties here and around the world—instead of a worker-farmer alliance, or solidarity. Their aim is to obscure class differences in order to rationalize subordinating struggles both of workers and exploited farmers and other toilers to the interests of the capitalist class and its parties—in this country, especially the Democrats.

As the capitalist crisis deepens, the need to forge an alliance in struggle between these two classes of exploited producers—wage workers and working farmers—will be posed more and more sharply in the factories, on the land, and in political and social battles of all kinds. That’s an irreplaceable part of building a mass revolutionary movement that can overturn capitalist rule, establish a workers and farmers government, and begin transforming social relations in the interests of the vast working majority.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home