cover image Big Sugar: Seasons in the Canefields of Florida

Big Sugar: Seasons in the Canefields of Florida

Alec Wilkinson. Alfred A. Knopf, $18.95 (263pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57312-0

In 1942, the U.S. Sugar Corporation was indicted for enslaving the black American cane-cutters working in their Florida plantations. Here research by New Yorker writer Wilkinson ( Moonshine ), conducted despite company obstructionism and cutters' fear of talking, reveals that the growers, protected by the sugar lobby, sugar import quotas and government foreign workers' programs, still treat 10,000 West Indian, mainly Jamaican, cutters like slaves. The author graphically describes cane growing, burning and harvesting, which he declares to be the most dangerous work in the U.S., and forcefully portrays the cutters' seven-day weeks of filthy and exhausting labor, ill-paid on a piece-rate basis (with no-interest, forced savings deductions). Equally miserable is the existence for most in dirty, crowded camp barracks, with little recreation provided and only shoddy goods available to buy. So far, Wilkinson notes, Cesar Chavez's attempts to unionize the workers have been defeated. First serial to the New Yorker. (Sept.)