Work in the Strawberry Fields

Eric Schlosser


The fastest growing and most profitable segment of California's farm economy--the cultivation of high-value specialty crops--has also become one of the most dependent upon the availability of cheap labor. Nearly every fruit and vegetable found in the diets of health-conscious eaters is picked by hand. As the demand for these foods has risen, so has the number of workers necessary to harvest them. Illegal immigrants are willing to work long hours for low wages. Of the migrants in California today, anywhere from 30 to 60 percent, depending upon the crop, are illegal immigrants. The rise in the number of migrant workers in California, along with the growth in the proportion who are illegal immigrants, reflects a national trend that has passed largely unnoticed. Schlosser states, "All those who now consider themselves devotees of the market should take a good look at what is happening in California."

Key Points Discussion Questions
  1. From a structure-functional perspective, what important role do migrant workers fill for U.S. society?
  2. From a structure-functional perspective, in what ways might the conditions of migrant farm workers harm the well-being of US society?
  3. From a conflict perspective, how would we interpret the working conditions of migrant farm laborers?