How did the migrants become such a powerful unit something that is related to the unity and strength in numbers meaning the amount of the people that were in the Dust Bowl?
Tom Joad expresses this philosophy of the "phalanx" when he tells his mother before he leaves,
"I'll be ever'where--wherever you look. Therever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there....I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready..."
He will assimilate himself in the cause of the migrant workers. After Ma leaves him, she offers to share her ride with others as they go to pick in the morning. And, finally, Rose of Sharon gives of herself to keep a man from starving to death. Together, the migrant workers endure and survive.
When they don't know where to turn, they have to turn to each other. United by a common goal, the migrant workers shared a common past and a common present; if they had any hope to share a common and better future, they had to unite. People with similar ideas are a good working group, as are people with simillar needs. However, nothing's quite as strong as a group of people who share a common grievance. They've been wounded and they're ready to fight. And if their grievances turn to desperation, there's no stoppong them--they have nothing to lose. And that's what united these migrant workers.
Great reference to the phalanx which experienced great success as the preferred military formation of Alexander the Great. Often formed in squares of 20 men by 20 men, the closeness of spacing and willingness to fight and die for the greater cause made the phalanx a premier battlefield technique for many, many years. This is essentially what Cesar Chavez used to finally form labor unions in California.
Ahh...you've hit on just the thing that would have made Steinbeck smile. Steinbeck has a complex philosophy about something he called the "phalanx" theory. In an essay titled, "The Argument of the Phalanx," Steinbeck explains:
"Men are not the final individuals but units in the creator beast, the phalanx. Within the body of a man are units, cells, some highly specialized and some coordinate, which have their natures and their lives, which die and are replaced, which suffer and are killed. In their billions they make up man, the new individual. But man is more than the sum of all his cells. He has a nature new and strange to his cells.
Man is a unit of the great beast, the phalanx. The phalanx has pains, desires, hungers and strivings as different from those of the unit man’s as man’s are different from the unit-cells. The nature of the phalanx is not the sum of the natures of unit-men, but a new individual having emotions and ends of its own, and these are foreign and incomprehensible to the unit-men."
Thus, when the migrant workers bond together, they become a "new individual," able to fight and survive as a coherent phalanx, able to overcome adversities which they had been hitherto been unable to do, as "unit-men."
Just being in the situation together is enough to draw people closer. I'd relate this to many athletic teams. Coaches tend to put their team through difficult tests and trials in practice. Part of the reason is to condition the athletes and teach them how to perform when under pressure and tired, but another reason for this is to bring the team closer together. If they think they are all suffering together, they will form a sense of unity that otherwise wouldn't have occurred. This is the same with the Okies.
Ma Joad makes the statement that if you are poor and want help, you need to ask for it from other poor people. When you see somebody going through the same problems as yourself, you're empathetic and sympathetic. Once the migrants realized how many people were in the same situation, they were able to bond together with complete strangers (like the Joads and Wilsons). Then, once they were bonded, they were able to plan their future and figure out how to overthrow the bosses.