This article argues that Carey McWilliams's primary emphasis in Factories in the Field was not on the scale of California agriculture, but on the basic civil rights of farm workers, especially free speech, free assembly, and collective bargaining. Only these civil liberties, McWilliams felt, could help equalize social relations and also improve environmental conditions in California agriculture. Furthermore, by interpreting the 1930s agitation on California farms as having deep roots in the past rather than simply being spurred by white refugees from the Dust Bowl, McWilliams launched a radical critique now recognizable in the writings of both New Western Historians and social ecologists.

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