The social relations of production of American Crystal Sugar Company : a capitalist co-op in the Red River Valley
Miller, Virginia J.
North American farmers in both the United States and Canada have united their efforts, voices, and resources periodically during the last century in an attempt to overcome the opposing forces which exist between agricultural production and the industrial market economy within the capitalist system. The organization of cooperatives is one result of the historical process of such unions which has gained some prominence. This study examines the social relations of production of the American Crystal Sugar Company, a Minnesota agricultural cooperative corporation, which is owned by the sugarbeet farmers in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota. The grower-owners, the Spanish-speaking migrant workers, who are primarily from Texas, the southwestern United States, and Mexico, and the workers and management in the five processing plants are the categories of people who interact with each other within the capitalist economic system in order to produce sugarbeets in the fields and refined beet sugar in the factories. Opposing forces, or contradictions, between the social relations of production, or property and power relations, and the requirements and organization of production are noted. Important relationships between the small town of Drayton, North Dakota and the surrounding rural area and the processing plant at Drayton are also considered. The structure of the co-op is described in detail and its value and limitations within its local and national contexts are assessed, as well as how the co-op is related to and affected by the larger world capitalist system. The changes that have occurred due to the formation of the cooperative have improved the economic and political conditions of the farmers who grow sugarbeets in the valley. The American Crystal co-op succeeds in its major purpose by gaining greater control over the market for its sugarbeets, but the co-op loses that control in the free domestic and world market where prices for raw and refined sugar are unstable. When there is a strong national sugar program in operation the domestic sugar industry receives some protection and the co-op benefits... The co-op has produced no fundamental change in the existing capitalist economic relations regarding a more equitable system of decision-making, distribution of surplus, and property relations for all people. The structure and operation of both the producer co-op and the larger capitalist economic system of which it is a part are oppressive and exploitative. Thus, profits, capital, and at least the short term survival of both the co-op and the larger system are perpetuated. American Crystal Sugar Company is a capitalist co-op. The class distinctions and struggles between the smaller farmers and the larger farmers and between the workers and the owners are becoming sharper. The cooperative is part of a movement toward capitalist agribusiness in the Red River Valley, and unfortunately, profits are still more important than people and vital human needs. This study suggests that the increasing number of grower-owned producer cooperatives is leading to the emergence of a new class organization within the agricultural sector.