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Seeds of conflict in a salad bowl?

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Americans ought to look into their own salad bowl, and ask if the crisp lettuce they enjoy has been grown under conditions conducive to conflict or to peace.

These thoughts are prompted by a report on a lawsuit undertaken by some farmwork-ers in South Bay, Fla., against the US secretary of labor for permitting foreign workers to be imported under contract to pick lettuce, and thus depriving them of badly needed jobs.

On the south side of Lake Okeechobee, South Bay sits in an area given over to agribusiness. Miles and miles of sugar cane stretch as far as the eye can see, interspersed with miles and miles of truck farming. Here, migrant farmworkers - American blacks, Chicanos, Haitians, Central Americans - live under conditions of poverty and poor housing which have been described as the worst in the nation , and which led to the filming of the documentary ''Harvest of Shame.'' Because of mechanization, the influx of immigrants, and the poor economy, there is an oversupply of workers, 5 to every 1 job.

Until recently, some of the farmworkers could count on five months' work picking lettuce. But last fall the workers learned to their dismay and anger that the growers had obtained permission from the Department of Labor for the importation of 202 foreign workers under H-2 visas. Such visas can only be obtained if the Department of Labor certifies that the job has been advertised nationally, that no United States workers are available for the job, that housing will be provided, and that fair labor practices are observed.


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