During the Dust Bowl large farm owners distributed pamphlets targeting family sharecroppers’ yearning for land and financial stability by publicizing agricultural work in California. Throngs of homeless families took what little they had and headed to California. Tragically, once they reached the promise land of California their hopes were demolished as they experienced a competitive job market with minimum subsistence labor.
Nothing forced the capitalist to give the worker more money than is necessary to barely live. In other words, as long as the worker isn’t dying from starvation or exposure and is still able to work the capitalist can continue using the workers’ labor to make profits without paying more then the basic requirements to keep his labor power alive. It is easy to see the working class forced to live at the subsistence level throughout the Grapes of Wrath. When the Joads move into California they live in “Hovervilles” made up of hundreds of makeshift shelters. Even those who retain work end up struggling to survive. Steinbeck describes their living conditions, “The rag town lay close to water; and the houses were tents, and weed thatched enclosures, paper houses, a great junk pile” (234). The workers are forced to accept the minimum wage because if they complain they will end up without any work and no source of income. Therefore, they continue working all day, every day, in poor conditions, just to fill their empty stomachs.
Moreover, those who have a job are considered lucky by the industrial reserve army of the unemployed. In other words, those who had a job and had something were better off then those who didn’t have a job and had nothing. The industrial reserve army of the unemployed help maintain the wage at the subsistence level because if anyone complains about the low wage the capitalist can simply hire a different worker. In the end, the capitalist can take advantage of the working class because of the competition between the unemployed for work allows the capitalist to determine their own policy.
Unfortunately, the capitalist policy always tends to benefit the capitalist and not the average worker. Wages are paid for the “working day” or a period of production. If the capitalist keeps the workers’ wage at the subsistence level the capitalist can keep the surplus produced over the cost of the workers subsistence level. For an illustration, if it costs ten dollars to feed, clothe, and shelter a worker then that will be the amount the worker gets paid daily. Moreover, if the worker can make a profit of ten dollars in two hours out of the ten hour work day then the other eight hours of profit will go to the capitalist. Thus, ten dollars will go toward the subsistence wage of the worker and the forty dollars earned during the other eight hours of work will become the property of the capitalist. In short, the worker sells their labor power for a subsistence wage while the capitalist takes the remainder surplus labor and creates profits which further extend the capitalists’ overall capital. Thus, the capitalist increase their power and wealth while exploiting the working class. Steinbeck sums it up perfectly when he states, “He paid the men, and sold them food, and took the money back” (232).
I think that folk music describes the kind of distrust of government and corporations that the Joads family experienced when they moved to California. Much of folk music shares a message of rebellion towards institutions that don’t serve the people. Most importantly, I feel that folk music captures how poverty affects individuals on a personal level.
Steinbeck, John and Robert Demott. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 2006