Strawberries and human exploitation

Strawberries and human exploitation

Strawberries and human exploitation
Manolada5These are the two basic export products, both in big amounts, of Nea Manolada, a region in Ilia, 260km west of Athens. On one hand, we can see the strawberries every spring, red and fresh, in the supermarkets and the street markets. On the other hand, the exploitation of the immigrant workers, during the whole year, a well hidden secret in the racist and xenophobic local society, being published in local and international Medias only when some landowners’ minions do something very extreme to the workers.
A few words about the medieval fields of Manolada
In the fields of Manolada the recent years’ work around 4000-5000 land workers. All of them immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh and from Pakistan, with many of them having no papers. Their basic job is farming, harvesting and packing the strawberries but depending on the period of the year they work also in other farming operations like harvesting potatoes, oranges etc. Their work starts at 6 o’clock in the morning and ends at 9-10 o’clock at night with a day work of 25 euro and off course without insurance and any medical help in case of a work accident. They live, winter and summer, in tents or inside the greenhouses without water, electricity, toilet and other basic necessities. The working conditions are totally inhuman, as apart from the grueling working time they have to work under the constant surveillance and blackmails of the big landowners’ minions who treat them as slaves. Beatings and derogatory behaviors on a daily basis, threats of their life, blackmails to those who don’t have papers that the police will arrest them, deny of paying them and even shooting them, when the workers dare to speak for their rights.
The incident
200 immigrants from Bangladesh working at one of the many fields of the area, that of the big landowner Baggelatos, started to demand their money that the landowner owed them since 6 months. They were asking constantly for their money but the big landowner and his guards were always answering with insults and threats. They even wrote a letter of complaints trying to give it to the police and the local authorities but without any success. A few days before the murderous attack against them they had a one day strike but the big landowner threatened them by bringing other workers to take their place, Albanians, Rumanians, Bulgarians and that he won’t pay them. The workers’ answer was : “give us the money that you owe us and we will leave”. Obviously the landowner didn’t bring new workers because the Balkan workers demand 40 euro per day. So at 17/4 the same Bangladesh workers decided to go at his house and protest. What they receive as an answer was the bullets of landowner’s minions guns, injuring 30 workers, 7 of them severe. Except that it took 2 hours for the ambulance to arrive, the first thing that the police did was to try to arrest the immigrants not having papers without caring about the murderous gunmen.
It was the local and mainly the foreign medias reports and the damage to the country’s fame[1], the incapability of hiding the incident and the fear of the immigrants’ workers reaction that forced the authorities to deal with the matter and prosecute the perpetrators.
The following 2 days, 18 and 19 of April, none of the immigrant workers, in the whole area, went to the fields and there was even a protest with the participation of more than 10.000 immigrant farm workers. The media didn’t report anything about the protest but it was the main reason that made the minister of public order, N. Dendias to promise the immigrants the obvious, that they would be paid and that the police would arrest the killers and their boss.

It was not an isolated incident; it is the future they try to impose
At 2008 some photos of the same area that of Manolada, were showing the inhuman living and working conditions of the immigrant land workers. Then most of the immigrants were from Pakistan. As now all of us were “shocked” from the incident, the media had put for a while their charity mask and the state declared the solution of the problem, saying it was just an isolated incident. But also the years before 2008 the agriculture production model was the same. The only difference was that instead of Pakistani and Bangladesh workers, the workers were from Albania.
After all this year’s nothing has changed. The working conditions are even harder and the exploitation of immigrants is a plan of the state and the bosses for economic growth and overcoming the crisis.
It’s the state itself that directly or indirectly pushes the immigrants to work at the fields of these local big landowners. Those immigrants in fact who manage to pass alive from the minefields of Evros or the depths of the sea. Those for whom there is not enough space in the hellholes of the police stations and the detention centers. All those who have to answer in the question of staying alone and frightened enclosed and starving in their homes, as in every corner there are police and fascists, or working like a slave avoiding in this way the deportation or the enclosure in a detention center. And this, because there is an agreement among the state, the local authorities and the big landowners not allowing the police to arrest all these immigrants working in Manolada’s fields[2].
In this way the labor under these terms seems to the immigrants as the only way out and lifeline and for the bosses a great tool for exploiting more and more the workers. Icing on the cake of exploitation, as for the bosses’ minions not having any complaints, the money withholding from immigrants land workers’ day work for giving them just a piece bread[3].
What happened at 17th of April at Manolada it is not just another isolated incident. It’s a violent and inhuman working status that is firstly imposed to the outcasts and those being in the bottom of the barrel. And as the crisis becomes deeper this barrel’s bottom fits more and more of us. As long as we fight each other and put the blame on the immigrants and the “others” for what we suffer, we make it easier for the exploitation and oppression to spread out. As long as we do not fight the real enemy, those who are getting richer to our detriment, we doff our eyes with our own hands.



Assembly of immigrants and solidarians of ASOEE


1 The image of the injured immigrants land workers traveled around the world. For one more time different international organizations redacted convictions against Greece for her immigrants’ handling policy considering that 5 signatures are enough to give a solution to this problem. Furthermore, various entities and organizations have started, mainly through social medias (facebook, tweeter, etc) a campaign named “Blood and Strawberries” for boycotting the strawberries of Manolada.
2 The plan is :The local big landowners, in awareness of the local authorities and the government, are asking every time a specific number of workers. They communicate with an immigrant considered “their cooperator” known as ‘the craftsman”, usually having the same citizenship as the workers, who finds the workers living in Athens. There is no need for the immigrants future workers to have papers, all they need is good acquaintances and a bit of luck. Their transportation to the fields is done by cars that arrive and collect them to Athens. The only guarantee of the deal is that for as long as they work without creating any troubles, they will not have problem with the police.
3 The day works are between 17 and 25 euro but are paid every 2 to 3 months. The food expenses and any other subsistence costs of the immigrants are withhold from their total salary. Even at this case, the exploitation has no end. The shopping is not done by the immigrants themselves but by the supervisors or by the “craftsman”. Even though every immigrant needs 70-80 euro to meet these needs, they have a withholding that sometimes reaches the amount of 400 euro per month, getting paid finally with 150 euro per month. It’s obvious that this withholding money end to the big land owners’ and their guards pockets.