Oxnard Strike of 1903

The Oxnard Strike of 1903 was a significant historical event because some consider it the first time, in American History, that people of different racial backgrounds allied together to form a labor union. Traditionally, at the time, Japanese and Mexican laborers (as well as all ethnic groups) were generally against each other. They sort of kept to themselves, and were segregated. This segregation kept the work forces generally weak as a threat to the labor contracting companies, allowing the contractors to keep wages low and render the workers powerless. However, this victory achieved by the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association (JMLA) in 1903 created the realization that multi-racial unions have power. Below are images of Japanese and Mexican Sugar Beet workers.

In 1897, three brothers--Henry, James and Robert Oxnard, formed the American Beet Sugar Company. The major labor contractor of this company was called the Western Agricultural Contracting Company (WACC). This company composed of over 75% of the local work force and pretty much held a monopoly over the workers at the company. This was the company that the JMLA picketed against. In February 11, 1903, 500 Japanese and 200 Mexican workers who had formed the JMLA opposed the WACC on three main issues:

  • They accused the WACC of unreasonable wages
  • They opposed a subcontracting system that caused workers to pay double commissions.
  • They wanted to be able to buy goods at a reasonable price rather than be subjected to inflated prices at the company store.

On March 23rd, one of the Mexican laborers was killed in a violent shooting incident. Almost immediately after this, a final agreement was reached. This was possibly due to the press coverage of this incident, which could’ve made the WACC look really bad. The final agreement consisted of the WACC conceding to the JMLA’s demands.

I think that the Oxnard strike of 1903 was significant because the outcome had two somewhat powerful implications. One was that it increased the awareness of picket lines organized by class, and not race. This victory demonstrated the possible effectiveness of multi-racial labor unions. In history, employers had taken advantage of these differences that existed among different racial groups to keep them under their control. Another impact of the strike was the American Federation of Labor’s (AFL) reaction to the victory. The AFL continued to exclude all Asian laborers from its union and maintain its exclusive/racial policies. This is evidence of the stereotypes at the time, which are still somewhat present today. That America is a white nation, and that Asians, at the time, were unable to assimilate to American culture.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, do you possibly know the source of the top photo? Great article!