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The Phalanx in Grapes of Wrath

Theme: so what does this umbrella allusion mean?

Literary Elements
Symbolic and Allegorical
Moral and Anagogical

You've seen many examples throughout the novel which aren't connected in any way except under this umbrella allusion. But how does this umbrella allusion fit into the larger idea of the book? Well here's a theme and a quote to help you:

Theme: As a group or system, people are much stronger than when alone; each person contributes to and is receives from the larger group.
Quote: Applying the thrust of the thought of this passage to the relation of the human individual to his group, one can account for this phenomenon, the purposiveness of the larger animal independent of the individuals composing it, only by assuming that individual men have a dual nature, both a group identity and a personal one independent of it but not necessarily in conflict with it.
  - from "Steinbeck and Nature's Self" by John J. Conder

This rather meaty quote and the theme connect ideas of the book together.
The farmers are being oppressed by harsh weather, an unforgiving bank, and rich capitalists. They are starving and out of a job, with nowhere to go and oppressors crashing down on them. Under current circumstances, each farmer will be wiped out or crushed into the dirt. However, the farmers and their families unite with other farmers and families. They create societies and bigger groups which are harder for the oppressors to take advantage of. Together they become a stronger one although retaining their individual characteristics. Together as one they have a common goal and will each receive the benefit of being in this coalition, just as the coalition will benefit from each joining it.