Friday, August 10, 2018

Labour & Pop Culture: In Dubious Battle

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture looks at the novel “In Dubious Battle” by George Steinbeck (1936). This books looks at an agricultural workers strike and follows two communist organizers who orchestrate it. It precedes his better-known works such as Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and Cannery Row. James Franco recently released a film adaptation that was poorly received.

Jim Nolan is a new organizer, being shown the ropes by Mac McLeod. They become fruit pickers and jolly along a strike that is brewing because the owners have cut the fruit pickers wages. A more interesting aspect of the novel is watching Mac teach Jim how to mobilize workers through a combination of education and manipulation.

The owners respond in typical ways, using economic pressure, vigilantes, the police and the state (in the form of health regulations) to undermine the strike. The death of a worker at the hands of a vigilante galvanizes the flagging strike.

The owners then up the ante, by shooing Jim, burning buildings, and kidnapping allies of the strikers. Jim is eventually killed, sacrificing himself for his principles (or perhaps the party). Mac uses Jim’s death to further advance the interests of the workers.

-- Bob Barnetson

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