America’s Lowest Paid Workers

1938 brochure details the Pecan Workers’ Strike in San Antonio

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In 1938, thousands of Mexican American pecan shellers organized a strike against the Southern Pecan Company in San Antonio. This brochure details the pecan workers’ crowded, diseased living conditions, the industry’s child labor abuses, and police brutality.

San Antonio’s pecan shelling industry employed thousands of Mexican American workers in the 1930s. Workers lived and worked in crowded, slum-like barrios on the West Side for a mere four cents an hour. In 1938, when the Southern Pecan Company decided to cut the workers’ already low wages, six to eight thousand workers walked off the job. Led by the Workers Alliance of America, strikers and sympathizers held nightly meetings to organize against the factory owners. San Antonio police moved to crush what they deemed a Communist revolution rather than a simple strike. They frequently beat and gassed strikers before making arrests. Governor James Allred finally intervened, ordering investigations of the police and persuading the pecan factory owners to meet the workers’ demands.

The strike led to further resistance of intolerable conditions and city corruption, drawing support from the majority of residents on San Antonio’s West Side. The Mexican American middle class was conspicuously absent, however, as LULAC, the Mexican Chamber of Commerce, and the Catholic Church all publicly denounced the strike. Despite this lack of support from their own community, the pecan workers felt the 1938 strike was a success. They learned they had a voice and could make a difference in their lives by organizing together.

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America’s Lowest Paid Workers Artifact from San Antonio
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