Can you tell us about the campaign to ban the short-handled hoe?

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The hoe is unquestionably to a huge number of agricultural workers was just a horrible thing. It physically tore their bodies apart and it was this nasty symbol, but it was not people that were likely to make a change themselves personally. Many of them didn't have the right to vote; not being citizens they certainly were not incredibly powerful group of people in a political sense. They didn't have a lot of money so they couldn't influence people that way, so the fight to terminate the use of the hoe is all about finding people to fight the cause for you and this is--As we look at history, this is often the case, that there's no end of problems and issues that need to be solved and it's often finding the people and convincing those people that can solve them to work on it for you. In this particular case of the hoe, there were many groups that were interested in ending the use of the hoe and there frankly were groups that were interested in preserving the use of the hoe. In terms of those that wanted to end the use of the hoe, Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers were certainly a very strong group, that Chavez was very strong about raising the physical conditions for agricultural workers. Some of the most downtrodden workers in the nation are agricultural workers and trying to free them from pesticides were one of his big causes and trying to make sure they got fair wages and trying to make sure that they physically were not being abused and the hoe was part of this. The hoe became part of this physical abuse, so as the farm worker union became stronger, the pressure to not use the hoe became stronger. Some of that pressure was pushed onto the legal system, onto the pro bono kind of legal system. In this case, the lead was taken by the California Rural Legal Assistance group and they had to use a very wide group of folks to help them. They had to take testimony from thousands of workers. They had to find doctors who would testify that in fact stooping over for eight hours a day [for] years of time was causing back injury. They had to show that statistically in reports that could stand up in court, that statistically, workers who use the short-handled hoe were much more prone to back problems than workers not using the hoes and while they did some of these kinds of surveys on an ad hoc basis and were convinced that they were right, eventually there was a university professor who got a bunch of students together and they did a real survey that would have cost tens of thousands dollars to do except it was all done on a volunteer basis and that became one more piece in their arsenal to beat it, so it was a very widespread movement to end the use of the hoe.


Interview with Peter Liebhold, National Museum of American History, May 31, 2006.