The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1973, Volume 19, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

The Bracero Program: Interest Groups and Foreign Policy. By Richard B. Craig. Austin & London: University of Texas Press, 1971. Bibliography. Index. 233 pages. $7.50.

Reviewed by Lowell L. Blaisdell, Professor of History, Texas Tech University and author of The Desert Revolution: Baja California, 1911 (1962), and various articles on the United States and Mexico.

Many readers will recall the controversies swirling around the bracero program in its twenty-two-year existence. More recently, the increasing unionization of domestic farm labor is partly the consequence of one aspect of the defunct bracero system. Craig’s book is an analysis of the program from its inception in the first year of World War II to its liquidation at the close of 1964. While others, such as Ernesto Galarza and Richard Hancock, have examined particular facets of this subject, it is fair to say that this work has taken advantage of the increasing perspective afforded by the passage of time to present a reasonably complete picture.

The author focuses upon the special interest groups, i.e., agribusiness, union, domestic labor, and the Mexican and American governments, involved in the bracero program. Since his study has the political scientist’s construct, he is concerned to show how the bracero experience illustrates interest-group theory and systems analysis. To the non-pressure-group specialist his evidence and conclusions seem convincing, and could stand without reliance upon his framework. With respect to interest-group theory, Craig holds that the eventual demise of the program is an illustration of J. K. Galbraith’s theory of countervailing powers, i.e., that a special interest, agribusiness, was for many years sufficiently influential to maintain an arrangement chiefly advantageous to itself, but that ultimately the rising pressure of labor and the friends of domestic workers brought braceroism to an end. If the Galbraith theory is sound, the bracero program does seem to be a good example of how, in a pluralistic society, a pressure group finally will be counterbalanced by its opposite.

The book is especially useful for its collating of essential factual data. Thus, we learn of the absence of braceros in Texas in the earliest years due to discrimination, the number of braceros and of wetbacks within our borders at about 1950, when the latter problem was at its height, the amount of total American farm production handled by braceros at the peak of the program (20%) and their distribution by states (Texas absorbed 45% and California 34% ), the rate of increase in mechanization in cotton production, thus reducing the bracero need, and much more. In this connection a trivial factual error appears in a footnote, wherein the late Senator Tom Connally of Texas is confused with former Governor and Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally.

To Californians, particularly those in the Imperial and central valleys, who may be seeking a detailed examination of the bracero program within the state, it will be necessary to go beyond Craig’s book. His overview precludes analysis of particular regions. Ernesto Galarza’s Merchants of Labor (1964) provides extensive data on the California situation. It is written from a viewpoint critical of large-scale agriculture and sympathetic to domestic labor, but, for partisans of the opposite viewpoint, it is not offensively anti-agribusiness.

One limitation results from Craig’s approach. His concentration on interest groups enables him to contrast effectively the competing elements in the group sense, but the individual components do not emerge so clearly. Thus, while he is able to show the Mexican government’s skill as a bargainer and its embarrassment at what the bracero problem revealed about rural Mexico, the background and feelings of the braceros themselves are not so clear. For this, Richard B. Hancock’s, The Role of the Bracero in the Economic and Cultural Dynamics of Mexico: A Case Study of Chihuahua (1959) is better. The latter is also interesting as a sympathetic treatment of the bracero program, chiefly from the standpoint of the succour it represented for Mexican agricultural labor. Craig, in like fashion, conveys the viewpoints of agribusiness, unions, and domestic labor as pressure groups, but not the inner feelings of each. Thus, in light of the evidence, he probably justifiably comes to conclusions that are anti-agribusiness. Yet, from the position of agricultural interests, it might be plausibly argued that he did not succeed in conveying their state of mind, in the form of manpower headaches, expenses, exasperations, etc. The same could be said of domestic labor and of the bracero, but the nature of the conclusions happen to work in their favor rather than disfavor. For direct evidence of the frame of mind of employers, domestic labor, certain governmental personnel, and of congressmen from interested states, the best source is probably U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Agriculture, Farm Labor and Mexican Labor. Hearings before Subcommittee on H.R. 7028 and others, 850th Cong., 2nd. Sess., on Problems in the Southwest and Mexican Labor (1958).