Historical Document Curated by Tom Giessel, NFU Honorary Historian
It is abundantly clear to anyone who has seen National Farmers Union’s Farmer’s Share that farmers receive only a small portion of every dollar spent on food at the grocery store. Farmers Union has been sounding the alarm about this issue throughout its entire history, as this 1936 piece by Kansas Farmers Union Vice President John Frost demonstrates. Frost warns his audience of Big Business’s ability and intent to drive American farmers into a desperate state of peasantry. Many of the hazards Frost warns against are still present and are even more powerful than they were in his time. His assertion that organizing among farmers and building coalition with labor and consumers are the keys to prosperity and justice remain true as well.
Some say it is a far stretch of the imagination to prophesy that American farmers will sink to “peasantry.” But some farmers are already peasants. Peasants are farmers who have been whipped in the unequal economic struggle for home and security, who have lost hope, who have given up in despair of their ability to be the masters of their own destinies, who have been cowed to take with a menial’s servility whatever crumbs Big Business charitably offers them, and who are despondently drifting down stream toward a bitter old age of want. Pride of farm ancestry, the surge of red blood for freedom, the hope that springs eternal in the human breast for success, is gone in many thousands of farmers’ hearts and homes today.
Big Business dominates every road from the farm to market. Packers dictate the price of the cattle and hogs and sheep and poultry that the farmers’ care and skill produce. Speculators on the Board of Trade, by their short selling, force down the price of the wheat and cotton and other products of the farmers’ seat and toll. The farmers’ toll to the Implement Trust is high. International Bankers and the Big Corporations bring on wars and depressions and panics to enrich their coffers and despoil the farmers and the farmers’ customers, the laborers. The Bankers’ Trust controls credit and makes the dollar alternately cheap and dear to win by speculation the possessions of the people. Invisible Corporation Government camouflaged behind a screen of vast and deceptive propaganda mocks at Justice. Yes, peasantry threatens.
There is only one escape from peasantry. It is in organization, in union, in hanging together, in ganging up on the Robber Middlemen Gang that takes 60c toll out of every $1.00 the consumer pays for the farmers’ products. If farmers go it alone, it means the hard and bitter road to poverty for all agriculture. Rugged individualism will avail nothing but raged individualism against middlemen wealth entrenched behind vicious legislation and unfair court procedure.
How pitiably futile is the protest of one farmer against the injustice of packer and board of trade and banker domination of his little business. But 30,000,000 farmers organized and informed and militant, and united with their customers and friends, the boats of labor, can break the chains of economic tyranny and bring justice and prosperity to both, and drive back the threat of peasantry. Senator Robert LaFollette, one of the truest and best informed friends of agriculture, has said: “It is my firm conviction that unless the farmers of America join some militant farm organization they cannot hope for economic justice in this country.”