dorset chiapas solidarity

March 25, 2015

‘Disposable’ Farmworkers in San Quintín Valley Rise Up

Filed under: Human rights — Tags: , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 9:00 pm

‘Disposable’ Farmworkers in San Quintín Valley Rise Up

Luis Hernández Navarro

La Jornada, 24th March, 2015

The uprising of the day farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley could very well be a new chapter of México bárbaro. The working conditions that they suffer, the work stoppage and the seizure of highways in which they have played a leading role, are every bit as good as the dramatic narratives in John Kenneth Turner’s book, in which he documented the savage exploitation and slavery to which peasants and indigenous were subjected and recounted the labour strikes in Mexico during the Porfiriato.

The protests in San Quintín began on March 17 at three in the morning. In the boroughs that make up the valley, thousands of farm workers, led by their community leaders, headed out on the highway that crosses the Baja California Peninsula amid cries of “In struggle for the dignity of day labourers!” and “The people united will never be defeated!”

More than twenty videos uploaded to the Internet narrate in a piecemeal way the long, fast walks that men and women, summoned by the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice, carried out on long stretches of federal roads, and how they set up small roadblocks with burning tyres and tree branches.

Recorded by the strikers themselves, this account bears witness to how along the way some young people threw stones at the windows of pawn shops and department stores, while others knocked down signs for farm names. Others—several of them children—throw themselves into looting shops, while the movement’s leaders condemn the excesses. One of the leaders warns: “We are poor, but we know respect. We come to win this struggle. We did not come to fight. We did not come to wreak havoc.”

Finally, moments can be seen when the police, supported along some stretches by a motor vehicle, fire rubber bullets at the protesters, breaking the roadblock, beating and arresting workers. The strikers—as Olga Alicia Aragón wrote in La Jornada—maintained the blockade for 120 kilometres [75 miles] of highway for 26 long hours.

San Quintín’s day farmworkers labour in humiliating conditions on farms that grow produce for export: tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries. In exchange for starvation wages, they work up to 14- hour days without a weekly day of rest, let alone holidays or social security. Foremen sexually abuse the women, and they are forced to take their children to the premises to perform work.

The farmworkers usually live in makeshift settlements that have become permanent. The settlements are overcrowded, lacking basic services; the houses have tin roofs and dirt floors. Many are indigenous migrants from Oaxaca (Mixtec and Triqui), Guerrero, Puebla and Veracruz, who have made San Quintín into another of their communities. Three generations of Oaxacalifornianos live there. They suffer constant police harassment. They rely on a single hospital [run by the] Mexican Social Security Institute [IMSS].

The farms on which they work are equipped with irrigation and high-tech equipment. These farms generate four-fifths of the value of the state’s agricultural production. Most of them are owned by 15 families and transnational consortia. Their owners are part of the state government.

These agricultural companies intensively exploit a cheap, abundant, easily replaceable manual labour pool; therefore, [they see them as] disposable. They have no need to take responsibility for ensuring decent conditions. If a worker becomes ill, dies or is exhausted, he is replaced by another at no cost. They squeeze the labourers as if they were oranges from which they need to extract the juice until they leave them converted into shells.

The companies do not respect the labour laws. They enjoy the willingness to please of the labour authorities and of unions of protection affiliated with the CTM [Confederation of Mexican Workers] and CROM [Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers]. In order to resist, agricultural workers were organized into groups like the Oaxacan Binational Indigenous Front (FIOB) and other ethno-political associations.

The revolt of the day farmworkers shows the unsustainability of this model of labour exploitation. The migrants’ settling down in the region, the development of forms of resistance and unprecedented class consciousness, and the total exasperation with employer abuse announce a new cycle of class struggle in the region. Precursor of the current struggle was the 1996-1997 agricultural work stoppage over three weeks’ non-payment of wages.

The Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice warned owners and government officials in every possible way of the imminent social explosion. Since last October, they have been saying that dialogue was necessary. Arrogant and insensitive, the state government never agreed.

Instead of understanding that this model of exploitation has now bumped up against the dignity and strength of the day farmworkers, government officials have wanted to discredit the strike movement by spreading the most absurd explanations of its origin. It is said, without providing a shred of evidence, that narcotrafficking is driving the protest, that it is organized by agitators from other states to create political instability, and that it aims to create problems for the governor ahead of the upcoming elections.

To the east, the uprising of the Baja California farmworkers has set off alarm bells among the horticultural entrepreneurs in Sinaloa. Guillermo Gastélum Bon Bustamante, president of the Culiacán River Farmers Association, has warned against the threat of what he calls “a type of virus that can replicate” in the Culiacán Valley.

Throughout this week, the day farmworkers of San Quintín have demonstrated that, contrary to what businessmen and politicians believed, they are not disposable. They are not just a labour force. They are, as they affirm, people of flesh and blood, indigenous workers proudly aware of their origin.

Translated by Jane Brundage

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