In the Floating Army: F. C. Mills on Itinerant Life in California, 1914

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9780252018008: In the Floating Army: F. C. Mills on Itinerant Life in California, 1914
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In the Floating Army chronicles the awakening of social consciousness in a well-educated urban progressive and offers one of the most detailed personal accounts available of itinerant life in California just prior to the United States' entry into World War I.
In May 1914, twenty-two-year-old Frederick C. Mills accepted his first job: a two-month mission, authorized by the California Corn mission on Immigration and Housing, to join the itinerant work force in central California and investigate hobo connections with the violent clashes involving the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Mills set out, self-consciously clad in rags, expecting adventure. What he experienced firsthand, however, appalled and angered him.
Using Mills's daily journal and his reports to the commission, Gregory Woirol follows the young man's progress. To meet migrant workers and study their employers, Mills took jobs in the orange industry, in a Sierra lumber camp, and on a road-building crew. He slept in ramshackle sheds and fresh-cut haystacks, and he learned to hop a freight with his fellow travelers, despite the railroad guards' efforts to eject freeloaders.
Throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, he shared meals and boxcars with bitter men forced by a recession to seek menial jobs far from home, footloose men driven by wanderlust to accept only short-term employment, con artists who filled their pockets by less strenuous means, and pathetic wretches endlessly in search of a drink.
In the decade before World War I, large numbers of men took to the road, seeking employment whenever and wherever it was offered. California already depended heavily upon seasonal workers to pick citrus fruits and other crops, build roads, and lay railroad tracks. But farmers and businessmen were rarely grateful for this convenient source of labor. They expected seasonal employees to accept squalid housing, inadequate rations and sewage provisions, insulting treatment on the job, and the "bum's rush" out of town the moment work ended.
Itinerant workers were shunned by the citizenry, cheated by employment agencies, and harassed by lawmen for loitering. This "floating army" of hungry, homeless men, assisted by IWW activists, protested these injustices both peaceably and violently.
Mills spent several days conversing with IWW members, and he concluded "I have seen, to a very limited degree, some of the workings of the inner circle, the brains of this great army, the organizing force that is trying to tell this army of its strength, trying to teach them how to get their share of the goods of this world. And the message they bring, the message millions of men are listening to, is one of violence, bloodshed, 'Direct Action' they call it."

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Woirol, Gregory R
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