National Farmers Union

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The National Farmers Union was founded in 1902 in Point, Texas, "to help the family farmer address profitability issues and monopolistic practices." There are 250,000 farm and ranch families filed under NFU's membership in all states (with 32 organized state chapters).[1] The National Farmers Union has a long history of communist ties.

Partner of the March for Science

National Farmers Union is listed on the March for Science website as a "partner."[2]

Vaccine Coercion

Joe Biden called on the National Rural Health Association and other groups to convince people to take the coronavirus vaccine as part of a $1.5 Billion Dollar vaccine coercion effort.

From USA Today:[3]

White House press secretary Jen Psaki "said administration officials are working with conservative groups, faith leaders and others with a strong voice in rural America.
That includes NASCAR, the County Music Association, the National Rural Health Association, the National Farmers Union and NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association.
Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, will be talking with evangelical leaders Tuesday on how to partner with them."

From The Hill:[4]

The White House has looked to business groups and religious organizations to urge their constituencies to get the shot when it’s their turn. Personal physicians will play a key role, and entertainers and athletes popular with different demographics could help overcome vaccine hesitancy, experts said.
The National Rural Health Association, the National Farmers Union and the Rural Broadband Association are among the groups the White House has leaned on to reach more traditionally conservative areas of the country, where vaccine access will also be critical.
Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, has appeared on Christian Broadcasting Network.
Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to the White House on the pandemic, has appeared on Fox News and Hugh Hewitt’s radio show in recent weeks in a bid to use conservative media to update the public on vaccination efforts. During his Fox hit on Thursday, Slavitt made a point to credit the Trump administration with laying the foundation for the state of the vaccine rollout.
“I do think it’s incumbent upon the Biden administration to ask conservatives to help get white conservatives vaccinated. And I do think there are people in the Biden administration who want to do that,” said Joe Grogan, who served as head of the Domestic Policy Council during the Trump administration and now works with the bipartisan COVID Collaborative, a group working with state and local officials to combat the pandemic.
Experts said it may be too soon to tell which groups are truly the most reluctant to get the shot until there is enough supply to meet demand for the vaccine.
“It’s hard to talk about it in a way because right now it’s really a supply problem, but at some point in the foreseeable future it will become a demand problem,” said Jamie Druckman, a professor at Northwestern University who conducted a survey last year that found mistrust in institutions was one contributing factor to vaccine hesitancy.
“And at that point we’ll be able to have a much clearer picture of: Is it the people who are saying in these surveys they’re vaccine hesitant? Is it a subset of them? Or is it a different group?” he added.
Republicans are far from the only group that has expressed reluctance to get vaccinated. The administration has been adamant about the need to reassure African Americans, Hispanics and other minority communities that the shot is safe, especially since they are hardest hit by the virus. Early data has also shown members of the military and some health care workers are declining the vaccine at concerning rates.

Early communist ties

Screenshot: The Wetumpka Herald, Wetumpka, Alabama, 11 Jan 1945, Page 8. Link:
The cold war took a toll on U.S. liberalism. Subjected to McCarthyite attacks, liberals often had to defend themselves rather than advance their agenda. In many cases, besieged reformers adopted a defensive strategy, attempting to portray themselves as more anti-communist than their conservative opponents. Recent scholarship on these subjects provides us with a rather tarnished image of U.S. liberalism. In a manner of speaking, the liberal response to McCarthyism itself often was illiberal. The country's leading liberal farm organization - the National Farmers Union (NFU) - coped with cold war pressures in the decade after 1945 by moving toward the political center and assuming a more conservative stance. Thus, the cold war years marked a major transition in the history of this farm group.
The NFU was formed in 1902. Its organizers were veterans of the populist movement and the organization claimed a populist image for much of its history. It was not a political movement but rather a farm organization, more like a trade union than a political party. It built cooperatives, educated farmers and their families, lobbied state legislators and congressmen, and often sided with organized labor. The Farmers Union was the country's third largest farm organization and the only one consistently left-of-center. Its membership was concentrated in the Upper Midwest and on the plains, with its greatest influence in states such as North Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma. In the late 1930s, a pro-New Deal faction took over the national leadership.
The NFU played a major role in the left wing of the New Deal coalition in the 1940s. Its president, James G. Patton, was a national figure with a standing in liberal circles, and he was not publicly identified as a strident anti-communist. His organization seemed part of a left-liberal political movement or what some historians have characterized as popular front liberalism. Patton and the Farmers Union often had the hacking of communists in the 1940s and there was no public parting of the ways until the 1948 Wallace campaign. Even then, the NFU leadership remained critical of the Truman Doctrine and the administration's internal security program. One 1950 observer claimed: "Proud of the fact that it consists of basic American radicals, the Farmers Union has, by word and deed, shown that it will not be dissuaded by red herrings and witch-hunts from winning its objectives of fighting monopoly and building up regional developments, improving public health and educational services and liberalizing our foreign policy." Yet, there was a considerable range of opinion on many issues within the organization. Until 1950, a left-liberal grouping made national policy while more conservative elements within the union were normally outflanked. This would change with the outbreak of fighting in Korea.
There were strong conservative pockets in the Farmers Union, such as the Nebraska organization, but they were unable to find a more conservative candidate to challenge Patton at a national convention. By 1948, Patton himself had become reconciled to Truman, largely because of the appointment of Charles Brannan as secretary of agriculture. Still, many NFU members had little enthusiasm for the Truman candidacy. A number of influential Farmers Union members had publicly backed Henry Wallace and others, including Patton privately, often agreed with the former vice president on foreign policy. The NFU continued to resist efforts to ban communists from its membership or adopt a strident anti-communist stance. None of its functionaries were fired or expelled for endorsing Henry Wallace's 1948 candidacy or for opposing the Marshall Plan. As late as 1950, the NFU stood in marked contrast with liberal organizations such as the American Veterans Committee (AVC), Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) on these issues.
By the 1948 Wallace campaign, mainstream liberal groups had endorsed the Truman administration's policy regarding the cold war and were unwilling to tolerate those who urged cooperation either with the Soviet Union abroad or with communists at home. Although liberal leaders may have been unenthusiastic about Truman as the Democratic nominee, they agreed that Wallace's third-party candidacy should be opposed. In fact, support for the former vice president's campaign often was seen by these organizations as pro-communist and any involvement with it was suspect. The ADA, formed in early 1947 as an anti-communist Liberal group, became a severe critic of the third-party effort that emerged. In 1948, the AVC expelled Communist Party (CP) members from its ranks, while the CIO required support of the Marshall Plan and opposition to the Wallace candidacy from its affiliates. In the next two years, the CIO booted out eleven unions, including the United Electrical Workers (UE), one of its largest affiliates, for alleged "communist domination." In each case, the expelled organization had left-wing leadership and had not lined up with the CIO on foreign policy.
The NFU seemingly followed the beat of a different drummer in this era, but there were elements within the organization that sought to have it take a strong anti-red stand. One of the leading proponents of this position was Kenneth Hones, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. In the fall of 1947, the state board removed a local president in Clark County because he was a communist. Then, in early 1948, Hones terminated a husband-and-wife team who worked in the state office, allegedly because of their communist sympathies. These steps were followed at the 1949 state convention with the adoption of an anti-communist membership provision. But a similar measure never got to the floor of the 1950 national convention. The NFU leadership was perturbed by the Wisconsin measure and tried to pressure Hones into repealing it, because it conflicted with the national constitution that forbade political tests for membership. Hones was not reelected to the executive committee of the national board at the 1950 meeting and was replaced by the president of the Montana affiliate, who had had left-wing backing in the contest.
Hones' defeat did not mean that there were no fissures in the left-liberal coalition. Left-wingers in and near the NFU were well aware of their differences with Patton; his chief ally, Glenn Talbott, president of the North Dakota affiliate; and M. W. ("Bill") Thatcher, head of the Grain Terminal Association (GTA), which was the Farmers Union's most important cooperative enterprise. Some of these differences related to U.S. foreign policy and others to organizational politics, but there were no open fights over these issues. The 1950 national convention was marked by a great deal of harmony between the Patton-Talbott forces and the left. One left-wing observer reported: "The Patton-Thatcher-Talbott forces leaned over at the convention to embrace the left in order that they might show a united front to the administration. They worked hard to keep any anti-red resolutions off the floor."
The outbreak of fighting in Korea came as a great shock to Americans. Although almost all liberal groups in the country, including the AVC, the ADA, and the CIO, had already signed up with the anti-red campaign, they and their congressional supporters were often subjected to bitter assault from conservative rivals. Many liberal politicians went down in defeat in the 1950 primary and general elections. The right wing chewed up their defenses, along with their efforts to seize the anti-red banner. During this election campaign, the Farmers Union found itself in the midst of a controversy that had far-reaching consequences.(8)
In early September 1950, Senator Styles Bridges launched a blistering attack on the liberal farm group. The New Hampshire Republican charged that communists had wide influence in the NFU and that its leadership often followed the communist line. During the long speech, Bridges mentioned by name a number of Farmers Union luminaries, including Patton and Talbott. The thrust of his attack was that Patton and others had tolerated communist efforts within the NFU and that it was virtually a communist front.
Liberal senators such as Hubert Humphrey (Minn.) and William Langer (N.D.) rose to defend the Farmers Union, and a few of their right-wing colleagues, including Karl Mundt (S.D.) and Joseph McCarthy (Wis.), testified to the pro-Americanism of the NFU affiliates in their own states. Still, Bridges' speech had a tremendous impact on the organization. Conservative opponents publicized the speech and sent copies to rural box holders in some states. Although aggressively defending itself from the Bridges assault, the NFU also assumed a more conventional anti-communist position than previously and made an effort to silence elements within the organization that opposed Truman's Korean policy.
One of the most notorious episodes involved the Iowa Farmers Union. This organization was headed by Fred Stover, who had been a strong supporter of Patton prior to the 1948 Wallace campaign. Stover had enlisted in the Wallace crusade as soon as it was announced and had given the nominating speech for Wallace at the Philadelphia convention. When the Truman administration intervened in Korea, Stover emerged as an opponent of this action. He was the only state president at a NFU board meeting who voted against a resolution of support for U.S. policy. While Stover received a brief mention in the Bridges speech, Patton began to pay attention to him. The Iowa state convention was scheduled for late September, and Patton attempted to intervene so that Stover would not be reelected as president. The Des Moines Register published a Patton statement that both defended the NFU from Bridges' charges and opposed Stover's view on the Korean War: "I feel certain that the members of the Iowa Farmers Union, too, almost to a man, disagree with him. Our national board disagrees with him." The NFU leader also sent a communication to the convention in which he noted that a state charter could be lifted "in the case of intolerable departures from the democratically-adopted policies."
What happened at the 1950 convention and immediately after is complicated. Stover remained as president, however, and the validity of his continuing as Iowa's president was upheld by a court derision. The national office encouraged Stover's opponents for years, but he managed to keep control of the small Iowa organization. Although Patton maintained he had taken "a hands-off" stance on this controversy; he reportedly told a Denver FBI agent in 1951 "that he had been instrumental in stirring up a fight in the Iowa state organization with the idea in mind of unseating FRED STOVER."
Soon after Patton intervened in Iowa, the Utah Farm Bureau referred to the NFU as "communist dominated" in a mailing to its board of directors and the charge subsequently was reprinted in several newspaper accounts. In response, the Farmers Union sued the Utah farm group for libel. The case came to trial in Salt Lake City in the spring of 1951. For the NFU, there was a great deal at stake. If it lost the case, Bridges' charges would be confirmed in the court of public opinion. In the mid-1940s, the Farm Journal had published an article on the Farmers Union titled "Communist Beachhead in Agriculture." Archie Wright, state president in New York, had sued the magazine for libel on the same grounds that the NFU later brought in 1951. The initial verdict in the Farm Journal's favor was reversed on appeal. However, Wright decided not to pursue the case, his attorney later explaining "that the prevailing sentiment was such that it was impossible to win a witchcraft case." The fact that the New York farm leader had not obtained a favorable verdict was used for years to "prove" that he was a communist. Bridges himself cited this incident and the Farm Journal article in his bill of particulars against the Farmers Union. On the other hand, if the organization was successful in the 1951 suit, it was hoped that the verdict would go a long way toward immunizing the NFU from further right-wing attack.
Soon after the decision was made to sue the Farm Bureau, a controversy emerged in the National Farmers Union's national office in Denver. One of its newly hired attorneys was Clifford Durr, a former member of the Federal Communications Commission and, more recently, president of the National Lawyers Guild. A native Alabaman, he was a dose friend of Aubrey W. Williams, a New Deal relief administrator in the 1930s who was president of the small Alabama Farmers Union. Durr was a well-known critic of J. Edgar Hoover and his employment in Denver had not gone unnoticed in Bridges' speech.
The Denver Post reported in late February 1951 that Virginia Durr had signed an anti-Korean War petition. Unlike her husband, she had been a political activist and a strong Wallace supporter in 1948, running herself as a Progressive Party senatorial candidate in Virginia. As soon as the story appeared, Durr's boss at the Farmers Union office prepared a statement for Virginia Durr to sign, disavowing the petition. The details of the incident are opaque, but Virginia refused to sign the document. Clifford backed her decision and lost his job. Later, Patton reportedly told the FBI "that he fired CLIFFORD DURR ... because his wife associated herself with the American Peace Crusade" and "he felt that Mrs. DURR's connections with the American Peace Crusade had caused embarrassment to the National Farmers Union." Thus Durr, because of his wife's signature on a petition, was deemed too controversial to work for the organization. His firing attracted some criticism and alienated Aubrey W. Williams, who had been a close personal friend of Patton. Although never saying anything publicly, Williams became disillusioned with the NFU and later bitterly criticized it in his private correspondence.
The 1951 trial in Utah proved a disaster for the Farm Bureau. One of its witnesses was Robert Cruise McManus, the journalist who had written the 1944 Farm Journal article. During the trial, it was revealed that McManus had also researched and prepared Bridges' speech. That fact, combined with a $25,000 judgment against the Farm Bureau, provided a big boost for the Farmers Union. The following year, the verdict was upheld on appeal. Although the NFU was able to use this decision to counteract right-wing attacks, Bridges' speech or versions of it often reappeared and the organization never developed a strategy that fully immunized it from charges of communism. Still, the verdict was a welcome development for Patton, and the Farmers Union often used it to pressure others to retract similar charges.
This victory was not enough to reassure the NFU leadership, and it continued to maneuver against Iowa and the Eastern Division, another small affiliate based in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that had left-wing leadership. Initially, there was reluctance in some NFU circles to remove the charters of these organizations, perhaps because there was no legal basis to do so.
A major battle ensued at the 1952 national convention, which marked the Farmers Union's fiftieth anniversary. The leadership's strategy was to change the constitution so that a state charter could be withdrawn if the membership dropped below a minimum of 3,500. This minimum was fixed high enough to make it unlikely that either Iowa or the Eastern Division could meet it by 1954. The left-wing forces organized a floor fight against the amendments under the name of the Farmers Union Rank and File Committee. Although they lost the baffle, their efforts received a large amount of publicity and reinforced the divisions within the organization. They also battled over the NFU program to be adopted at the convention. In place of an endorsement of the free enterprise system, the Rank and Filers called for "the establishment of a cooperative commonwealth which can and will adapt itself continuously to the common good." This measure, along with every other proposal the group advanced, was handily defeated. Another sign of opposition to the NFU leadership was a challenge to the incumbent vice president. The left nominated a North Dakota farm woman who ran on an end-the-war platform. But her meager vote was an index of the weakness of the dissenters' forces.(18)
By the time of the 1952 NFU convention, the left in agriculture was a mere shadow of what it had been. The CP seldom devoted much attention to farmers, and its dwindling band of supporters in the countryside received little reinforcement in the postwar era. The only NFU affiliate with communist leadership in 1952 was the Eastern Division. Its membership included a number of communist poultry farmers in New Jersey and a handful in eastern Pennsylvania. A 1953 FBI document stated "that ... all officers of the NFU-ED including the editor of the 'Eastern Union Farmer' are members of the Communist Party and of the eleven members of the Board of Directors, seven are either present or past members of the Communist Party." Even here, however, most Farmers Union members were not communists and some were hostile to the CP.)
In New York, the NFU affiliate lost its charter in 1951, officially for nonpayment of national dues. Its key leader, Archie Wright, was one of the most capable left-wing farm figures. Although he had worked with the CP from time to time, he called the shots for his group regardless of whether they conformed to communist positions. Wright's views on foreign policy were almost the same as Stover's, and the attention he was given in Bridges' speech embarrassed the NFU. The New York affiliate's failure to pay national dues made it easy for the Patton-Talbott leadership to remove its charter. Although Wright offered moral support and advice to Farmers Union left-wingers, neither he nor his small organization were in any position to provide real assistance to them.(20)
Outside of New Jersey, communist farmers in this era were found scattered across Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. By 1952, it seems unlikely that there were as many as two hundred of them in these states. However, the left in the countryside was not limited to CP members. Others, frequently with family and neighborhood ties to earlier radical causes, were part of the forces that alternatively pressured or backed the Patton-Talbott leadership from the left. These people or their parents often had helped organize the Farmers Union in their communities and felt betrayed by the new direction of their organization. Many of them had earlier worked with communists in a common cause and, despite the cold war, saw little reason to change that approach.
This view perhaps best describes the attitude of Fred Stover. He saw himself as a disciple of Franklin Roosevelt and explained his positions on issues in terms of the New Deal and anti-fascism. Many left-wingers cloaked their views with these banners for tactical reasons. In Stover's case, they were basic convictions that he did not abandon. Here Stover stands in contrast with some of his dose friends and allies such as Elmer Benson, the former Minnesota Farmer-Labor senator and governor, who often criticized FDR. Due to his tenacity and organizational base in Iowa, Stover emerged as the key opposition figure to the Patton-Talbott leadership. A tireless fighter, he attracted a small but devoted following among left-wingers in the Upper Midwest and on the northern plains.
Although Stover's public positions on some issues were seemingly indistinguishable from those of the CP, the party was concerned that he might emerge as the leader of a new farm organization. The CP wanted communists and others to remain inside the Farmers Union, so when Iowa and the Eastern Division lost their charters, it discouraged the formation of an alternative group. One FBI document, reportedly minutes of a 1954 CP Midwest Farm Commission meeting, reads:
There is no guarantee that the Iowa Farmers Union will proceed on the right path. There is no CP there. To some extent a tin god has been made of Stover, who is really a bourgeois and anarchistic, no organizer, a good salesman, a fighter, but with no clear and consistent program or fundamental understanding of social forces.
We must stop the business of our people writing for advice to Stover. He is not capable of giving them proper advice, and such practices inflate his ego and spur tendencies to "go it alone." There should be absolutely NO jo[in]ing the Iowa FU by people in other states.
Ironically, Stover then was suing the Des Moines NBC affiliate over a radio program that had identified him as a communist since the early 1930s. That program had been broadcast a few weeks prior to the 1954 NFU national convention and had received widespread attention. Despite public perceptions, the agrarian left was divided and that contributed to its growing ineffectiveness.
Following the 1954 national convention, the NFU notified in writing individual members in Iowa and the Eastern Division that their organizations no longer existed. That step obviously caused confusion, but both groups managed to continue some of their activities. The Eastern Division was more vulnerable because much of its membership was enlisted through local Farmers Union cooperatives. Some of them quickly dissolved their ties with the state organization in an attempt to maintain their association with the NFU. In Iowa it seemed business as usual for a while. State NFU organizations in this region and on the plains obtained much of their income from education funds distributed by Farmers Union local and regional coops. Although Iowa's sums were much smaller than those in North Dakota or Montana, they still were significant. Most of their education funds came as a result of business with the GTA, the Farmers Union grain marketing cooperative. Although NFU leaders were unhappy that GTA payments continued to be sent to Iowa, they could do nothing about it. GTA boss Bill Thatcher followed his own counsel, and he and Stover maintained a reasonably cordial relationship for several years. Perhaps Thatcher opposed the drastic measures taken or perhaps it was another reminder to Patton and Talbott that he could do things his own way.
The NFU campaign against the left did not end with the 1954 expulsions. The national organization next threatened the New York, Eastern Division, and Iowa groups with legal action if they did not cease and desist from using the Farmers Union name. Both New York and the Eastern Division had made slight changes in their names, but Stover refused to budge and his organization was sued by the NFU. This was only one of numerous legal fights the Iowa group had with the Farmers Union or its coops. Because Iowa was more important to the national organization than the eastern states, Patton was convinced that the Stover organization had to be eliminated if the NFU were to have a chance to reestablish itself there. Although it is true that there was real potential to organize Iowa farmers in the 1950s, the Patton-Stover fight continued for years and the Farmers Union was unable to take advantage of the widespread rural dissatisfaction that exist. The NFU won its suit against Stover, but by the time it chartered a new affiliate in 1957, the National Farmers Organization (NFO) swept across the state.
Although the timing was important, it is questionable whether the Farmers Union could have organized as effectively as the NFO in this era. Patton's organization had lost much of its populist image and had assumed more domesticated trappings. Patton was alarmed in 1954 when some Wisconsin members planned to take a casket full of petitions to a hearing of the House Agricultural Committee. Upset by this protest tactic, he stated that "had the casket arrived before or while we were testifying, [it] would have been almost tragic." But "fortunately," a committee staffer, who was "a very good friend," interceded to prevent the incident. By the end of 1950 at the very latest, Patton had completely hitched the NFU wagon to the mainstream of the Democratic Party. A persistent critic of the Republican secretary of agriculture in 1953, Ezra Taft Benson, Patton went so far as to denounce the Eisenhower administration when it considered selling agricultural products to the Soviet bloc. Journalist I. F. Stone asked: "After all these years of being Red-baited is Jim Patton trying to prove he's more anti-Soviet than the Republicans?"
This is not to suggest that the Farmers Union became a conservative farm organization or sold out all its basic principles. It continued to identify itself with the family farmer, to call for high price supports, and to support civil rights, civil liberties, and many of its other traditional planks. But the NFU had discarded excess ideological baggage on its trip to the "vital center" during the crucial cold war years of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
McCarthyism is not the only explanation for these changes. Farmers Union business enterprises, including the regional coops, fertilizer operations, and especially insurance, had become increasingly important in this era, and their activities played a role in the "deradicalization." Decisions to line up with the Truman administration on both domestic and foreign policy, to endorse the free enterprise system, and to kick out dissenting state affiliates were based on political judgments and should not be accounted for primarily in terms of sociological determinants. The NFU - like the CIO, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Association of University Professors - did not give up everything it had stood for. But, none of these groups were as outspoken in the McCarthy era as they had been previously. Some members and ex-members of the Farmers Union were convinced that the Patton-Talbott leadership had sold out completely.
Yet there was no consensus on the left. Stover and others in his camp were alienated, but the CP never gave up on the NFU. By 1956, the party had pretty much written off the Eastern Division and criticized earlier positions that had contributed to the isolation of the left. A 1956 New Jersey CP discussion bulletin summarized the "errors of a 'left' nature" that had weakened the eastern group, including "taking of advanc[e]d positions on various matters outside of the farmers' immediate interests; and the taking of positions on foreign policy which were identical with positions advanced by the Soviet Union." Although Stover rebuffed suggestions that he stop fighting Patton, the only remaining Pennsylvania local in the Eastern Division reportedly tried as late as 1956 to be re-admitted to the NFU.(29)
"Rejoin the mainstream" was the CP approach by the mid-1950s, and communists and their supporters were encouraged to abandon left-wing organizations such as the Progressive Party and the UE. In agriculture, this meant going back to the Farmers Union or perhaps experimenting with the NFO. The shift was not as disruptive here as in labor, as a number of radical farmers had remained in the NFU and the left-wing farm groups never had a large following. There were not very many agrarian radicals in the U.S. in this era. The left in agriculture had virtually disappeared.
Only the Stover-led U.S. Farmers Association (USFA) remained by the early 1960s. It published a monthly newspaper and held an annual convention. Eventually, it became more of an eclectic grouping of left-wingers opposed to mainstream liberalism than a farm organization. During the Vietnam War, Stover emerged as an anti-war farm leader and attracted attention to his group through that role. Although the USFA had few activities, it provided an organizational home for some figures who later emerged as leaders in the rural insurgency of the 1980s, including Merle Hansen, who became the president of the North American Farm Alliance, and Dixon Terry, who served as a spokesman for the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition and later co-chairman of the League of Rural Voters.
The agrarian left had almost disappeared by the late 1950s, and the liberal mainstream represented by Patton and the Farmers Union was more moderate than it had been in the previous decade. In this sense, the NFU story is similar to that played out in the CIO and other liberal groups. The timing of these developments differed from organization to organization, but the basic similarity on several key points remains. For agriculture, an era ended that had dated back into the late nineteenth century. Left-wingers and liberals often had had an uneasy coalition in farm movements for decades, but the cold war issues finally destroyed those bonds. By the mid-1950s, the left in the countryside was purged or isolated. That the liberal mainstream in agriculture became more conservative reflects both its own move toward the center and the demise of the historic agrarian left.[5]

Union ties

According to the Communist Party USA's Tim Wheeler , "most farmers understand that they are no longer strong enough to resist the onslaught of agribusiness by themselves. They are actively looking for allies to fight the agribusiness common enemy. The National Farmers Union is actively recruiting farmers with the concept that only with union solidarity can they hope to win in the struggle against the monopolies. The NFU has developed a close working alliance with the AFL-CIO. Several thousand farmers traveled to Seattle in Nov. 1999 to join organized labor, environmentalists, youth and other progressive groups to shut down the World Trade Organization. A few months later, these same forces brought about 3,000 farmers and their allies for a "Rally for Rural America" in Washington, D.C. It was co-sponsored by the NFU, the AFL-CIO, the National Coalition of Family Farmers, the Corn Growers Association, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and a dozen other rural organizations and movements. It was an impressive outpouring of Black, Latino, and white farmers from every region of the country.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), now the chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, and Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn) delivered powerful speeches in which both zeroed in on the key questions: a fair price to the farmers for the commodities they produce; tough enforcement of antitrust laws to break up the agribusiness conglomerates; a ban on feedlot factory farms that are polluting the air, land and water across the country. Gerald McEntee, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, delivered a strong blast at the agribusiness profiteers and appealed for farmer-labor-environmental unity.[6]

Later Communist Party links

According to the Communist Party USA's Tim Wheeler, writing in 2001, "we have reestablished a commission that we propose now to name the Farm and Rural Life Commission, which has met three times in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Bill Gudex, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin, is the chair of the Commission. Lem Harris, at age 96, is still going strong, traveling to Minnesota in the dead of winter to interview leaders of the farm movement and getting the stories into the PWW. Lem is a living link to the Party's pioneering work in rural America, the "farmer holiday" movement, the "penny auctions," the struggles to defend family farmers faced by ruin during the Great Depression. We were part of the struggle that won enactment of the Agricultural Adjustment Act and other New Deal legislation for farmers and farm workers.
Our goal is to build up our ties and connections with the coalition of farmer organizations including the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the National Farmers Union, Coalition of Family Farmers, and so on. Obviously, the goal is to recruit farmers and farm workers, Black, Latino and white to our Party. We will have a workshop on the crisis of farming and rural America at the Convention to be held in "America's Dairyland."[7]

Harris connection

As recently as Spring 2002, Lem Harris traveled to Minneapolis where he met with leaders of the National Farmers Union and the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy on the struggle against agribusiness and the ultra-right Bush Administration. [8]

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