Founded in 1934, the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union was unique in that it was an interracial organization of white and black sharecroppers in the South during the Great Depression. This union was formed in response to the fact that tenant farmers were mercilessly exploited by plantation owners. During this time, they frequently stole stipends from the federal government intended to be shared with the workers, cheated them through underpayment and credit schemes, and generally made life miserable for those who tilled the soil.
To this end, the STFU was formed as a collective bargaining association/group to represent and defend the interests of tenant farmers. Its first action was a lawsuit against landlord who frequently exploited many workers, Hiram Norcross. The union’s first victory came in 1935, with a successful strike for higher wages which resulted in a raise to 75 cents per 100 pounds, with some paying a dollar, which was the union’s demand.
In 1939, STFU organizers organized a massive protest in the Missouri bootheel over massive evictions from landlords who refused to divide federal checks with the workers on the plantations. There were massive tent cities set up alongside a local road. Solidarity with the strikers came in from all over the country, along with support from the Communist and Socialist Parties. A New Deal agency responded by doling out $500,000 in stipends and constructing low rental housing for sharecropping families.
During World War II, the STFU organized transportation for plantation workers to industrial cities in the East and West for better paying jobs. After the war, the STFU received an American Federation of Labor charter and changed its name to the National Farm Labor Union, organizing a massive strike in California of farm labor which saw victory in wages. The history of this organization shows the value and righteousness of interracial organizing on a class basis, and should be learned from.