04300 Limans, France Limans, May 2005
(33) 492 73 05 98
(33) 492 73 18 18
france [at] forumcivique [dot] org
Project of SOC
Almeria to establish
trade union centres in the
greenhouse zone around El Ejido (Andalusia) to enable
migrant workers to defend their rights
Sindicato de Obreros del Campo (SOC – Union of agricultural
workers) was officially created almost thirty years ago, just after
the death of Franco, based on experience gained in illegal work
committees during his regime. It has led a long and hard struggle to
defend and improve the rights of Andalusian day labourers. Back in
the early 80s there were 500.000 such jornaleros in the
region, most of whom had to emigrate for much of the year elsewhere
in Spain or to other European countries.
has been active in the parts of Andalusia in which agriculture is
dominated by enormous latifundia owning vast stretches of olives,
fruit trees and other crops which require a large seasonal workforce.
It was only in
2000 that the SOC began its activities in the Andalusian province of
Almeria where there is a totally different form of agriculture which
has expanded massively since the 80s: the highly intensive production
of vegetables in plastic greenhouses. The farmers, many of whom are
former emigrants, own small plots of land of 1 to 5 hectares. With
its 30.000 hectares the area around El Ejido is the biggest
concentration of greenhouses in Europe, and probably in the world. It
produces three million tons of vegetables a year, much of which is
exported to the rest of Europe (above all Germany, France and the
miracle” (from being one of the poorest areas of Spain El Ejido has
become the third richest town in the country) depends entirely on the
possibility of employing large numbers of migrant workers for short
periods throughout the ten-month season. Many of the migrants are
undocumented and almost all have no work contract. They are subjected
to intolerable working and living conditions. At present it is
estimated that there are about 40.000 “legal” migrants in the
province, and about the same number of undocumented ones.
municipality of El Ejido has a deliberate policy of segregation aimed
at discouraging migrants from “colonising” the town centre.
Most have to live in old shacks abandoned by the rural population or
in huts made of old wood and plastic. They have to work in heat of up
to 50°C and contact with huge amounts of pesticides. Needless to
say, they are poorly paid (20 to 30 euros a day). Faced by the
enormous pressure from distribution chains to cut prices, the
producers try to survive by making savings in the only area they
control, namely employment.
There is a
powerful climate of racism against the migrants, both from the local
authorities and much of the population. This was clearly revealed by
the vicious riots that broke out in February 2000 in El Ejido against
the mostly Moroccan workers and Spanish associations seeking to
Members of the
SOC came to the province with the aim of supporting and strengthening
the struggle of the migrant workers working in the greenhouses.
Following the riots the workers had organised a general strike which
paralysed production for several days. They managed to force the
employers and the local administration to sign an agreement including
most of their demands. This agreement was, however, never respected
and the El Ejido riots have come to be seen as a victory for the most
racist and reactionary forces in the province.
is very difficult for the migrant workers to organise. At least half
of them are undocumented and fear deportation. Most migrants live
dispersed throughout the zone in huts between the greenhouses or on
wasteland, many kilometres away from the towns. They have no places
where they can meet and drink a coffee together.
is also a very high level of mobility among the migrants. Due to the
miserable wages and accommodation as well as the climate of racism
they leave the region once they have the chance, above all if they
succeed in obtaining a residence permit. They then go to other parts
of Spain or Europe. The major trade unions in Spain have never become
actively involved in the defence of migrant workers in the region.
This is why the
SOC decided to open an office at Almeria in 2000. They share it with
USTEA (an Andalusian teachers union). The SOC has two full-time
representatives: Abdelkader Shasha who is Moroccan and Gabriel Ataya
M’Binki (Senegalese). They both have considerable experience of
local conditions, having worked for several years in the greenhouses.
They have established a service of information and have become
directly involved in problems linked to work conditions, violations
of labour laws, poor accommodation, illnesses caused by pesticides…
They have also helped migrants in their requests for residence and
the reigning atmosphere of institutional racism the SOC is confronted
with major obstacles. As a union it is marginalised and harassed by
the local authorities. Its two representatives often receive threats.
It is the only union genuinely active in the field ready to denounce
systematically the abuses suffered by the migrants and to expose the
fundamental injustice inherent in this form of hyper-intensive
agriculture. And yet it receives almost no grant support from the
government, unlike the major trade union federations.
The fact that
there is a constantly changing workforce means that it is difficult
to build up a strong basis of union militants able to organise the
struggle for better conditions. This problem has been made even more
acute by the growing phenomenon of “ethnic replacement”. Since
2002 there has been a big increase in the number of people arriving
from eastern Europe and Latin America in search of work. It would
seem clear that the employers and authorities have a deliberate
policy of replacing the workers from North and sub-Saharan Africa who
have shown that they are capable of organising strikes and
demonstrations in defence of their rights.
social situation is very tense as there is still a large African
population in the region which desperately attempts to find work,
even for a few hours a week. What is more, the pateras (small
boats) continue to arrive on Andalusian beaches. There is therefore a
growing competition between different migrant communities on the
labour market – all to the profit of the employers.
The migrants do
not perceive the SOC as a support or humanitarian association, but as
their own organisation. It not only encourages workers to join the
union, but also seeks to give support to immigrant organisations in
the province. The SOC has actively participated in all of the
struggles over the last four years: protests against the non-respect
of the agreement signed in February 2000 after the riots, occupation
of Almeria university and many other demonstrations and actions to
demand the regularisation of undocumented migrants, demonstrations to
protest against the local climate of racism…
The SOC has also
denounced many recent cases of physical aggression against Moroccan
workers in El Ejido and has helped the victims to lodge complaints in
the courts. On 13 February the most serious of a long series of
attacks took place. Azzouz Hosni, a Moroccan who had worked worked in
the greenhouses for five years, was stabbed to death in the streets
of El Ejido by a group of youths. He was an active member of the SOC
whichg is convinced that it was a racist murder.
Project to open three union centres
in the area
increase its impact and efficiency the SOC urgently needs to
strengthen its presence directly in the greenhouse zone. It is for
this reason that it has decided to open three union offices or
centres at El Ejido, Campohermoso (Nijar) and Roquetas de Mar.
These will enable
the workers to have access to the services supplied by the union:
information on their rights, assistance with the many administrative
procedures (residence and work permits, work contracts…)… The
centres will also provide places where the workers can meet socially,
exchange experiences and organise campaigns to demand better
conditions. Training courses will be organised with the aim of
increasing the migrants’ self-defence and organisational
SOC intends to buy these three centres. It is unrealistic to rent
them as it is practically impossible to find a landlord willing to
accept the union as a tenant, in view of the high level of
intimidation and pressure which he or she would be subjected to.
Each centre would
An office for
administrative activities and documentation
room for meetings and training activities
A social area
with a bar and telephone cabins (this will provide income which
should cover the daily running costs of the centres)
view of its difficult financial situation and the lack of support
from both the regional and national authorities, the SOC is not in a
position to cover all of the necessary funds itself. It does,
however, intend to apply for financial assistance from the
municipalities in Andalusia which are run by a political party close
to the SOC. These municipalities have a policy of providing a certain
proportion of their budgets for solidarity and development projects.
Many have already expressed their readiness to help the SOC with its
project in the province of Almeria.
cost of each centre is :
The SOC believes
that it can raise about 15.000 Euros for each centre from
municipalities, local campaigns etc. In addition, it intends to take
out a bank loan of 50.000 Euros per centre. It therefore needs to
find financial assistance of around 54.000 Euros for each office.
This support could come from other regions of Spain, but also from
the rest of Europe.
European Civic Forum has been closely following developments in the
region of Almeria since the riots in 2000. At the beginning of 2005
it launched an appeal in different European countries. The ECF calls
on trade unions, organisations and individuals to provide financial
support for this project. This solidarity should not, however, only
take the form of donations. It is also essential to develop long-term
relations of friendship with the SOC, to visit them in Andalusia and
to be ready at any time to intervene on its behalf when its
representatives face threats or intimidation.
First SOC centre opened in El Ejido
to financial support already sent by the ECF and other organisations,
a first centre has already been bought in El Ejido. It started to
function in April and rapidly became a focal point for immigrants
seeking information about the regularisation process then underway
for undocumented migrants wishing to obtain residence permits.
Most of the
immigrants in El Ejido are North Africans, above all from Morocco.
The SOC now wishes to open a second centre in Nijar where there is a
large concentration of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa.
contact at the