Interview/Mexico: Between an institutional crisis and self-management efforts

mess-3

Lorcon

We publish the interview of our two colleagues from the Mexican Anarchist Federation, done on August 2016, covering the volatile situation of the country. Evidently, this interview isn’t a thorough report of the complex situation of Mexico, but the main points of these last years are confronted and tackled through an anarchist perspective: structural reforms (particularly in education), the issue of land distribution, drug trade, the indigenous community and gender violence.

R1: Mexico is currently on the verge of a social war due to a rapacious and wild form of capitalism that has corrupted the lives of everybody and all social sectors: in the workplace, education and even in rural areas through the confiscation of land from the farmers, now backed by the law. Similarly, the drug trade controls both the neighbourhoods and the State as a whole, hence why we refer to Mexico as a “Narco-State”. From 2006 until nowadays this system has provoked the death of more than 130.000 people: 130.000 assassinated by hit men, known as “sicarios”. There are now more than 25.000 missing people due to the current state of Mexico: if a drug trafficker wants economic manpower in this country they usually invade a village with a jeep, full of hired assassins, and kidnap people to make them work for them as slaves and if anyone resists they are murdered and buried in a ditch. When the 43 students disappeared from the Rural School of Ayotzinapa we all expressed our solidarity with the families of the missing students, but the real number of missing people wasn’t 43: in total, it was between 25.000 and 30.000.

D: How are you organizing yourselves as an anarchist movement in Mexico? What is the situation in the country?

mess2R2: This system also provokes the systematic assassination of women, directly tied into sex trafficking. This is entirely caused by impunity because nowadays it isn’t legally possible to report a violent friend, father or brother, so lots of women are killed by their own relatives. All of this happens within a context in which the social decomposition of the Mexican state is increasingly creating the destruction of social relationships and collectivism.

R1: Just to give you an idea on what my colleague is saying, this year (from January until April) in a locality of Mexico almost 12.000 women were killed purely due to their gender. These homicides are a sex-based hate crime known now as Femicide.

R2: In such a context, as anarchists we are directly impacting this trend through several methods. For instance, we are working with indigenous communities and certain social sectors not only to associate ourselves with their struggle, but to also position ourselves through our anarchist ideas in the discussion, organization and resistance of certain sectors of the country.

R1: We look for ways to help the indigenous community in their fight against the confiscation and expropriation of land. We have also been involved in meetings organized by indigenous members in defence of the earth and against mining extraction and drug trade. With all these means of communication and meetings we produce counter-information, publish our own newspaper and with the students we discuss problem surrounding the drug trade, dealing with these fundamental questions: who gets richer from this business and which are the sectors in society that suffer the most negative consequences from the drug trade? We also examine the social cynicism and despair generated by the working conditions and we contribute to these fights. In Mexico we call this process “generating tension and exposing the contradictions”. We create political tension, discuss problems with the workers and participate in very specific actions: on the 1st of December 2012 there was an unprecedented clash in the history of Mexico between many protesters and security forces.

In that moment we launched the fighting strategy of the Revolutionary Anarchist Alliance, formed by students, our Federation and anarchist sympathizers. We managed to gather 1000-2000 anarchists for marches against the systematic repression conducted by our government. The police invaded some of the strikers inside their own homes, so they had to end leaving their houses.

R2: A media witch-hunt masterminded through the big means of communication emerged against anarchists: TV, radio and widely diffused national newspapers. This hostility was aimed against anybody opposed to the political parties of the country. Anarchists and people from the non-institutional opposition were persecuted through raids in their houses and received constant death threats if they continued protesting.

R1: We call this media and police violence.

D: Another question: how have you intervened in the teacher’s protests of these past months?

R1: We have just created an “autonomous group of teachers”. With the new education reform a new law devoted to the evaluation of the teaching staff has been introduced. This evaluative law is an idea, a mandate from the organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international organization of entrepreneurs that demands that the government must evaluate its own teachers in order to certify the professional quality. What the government refers to as “quality education” to us means privatization: one the one hand you fire one and a half million teachers, permanently taking away all their rights, and on the other hand you replace them as temporary workers. With the new educational law the intervention from external and economic figures has been planned: it is a reform that steers towards privatization. The educational reform belongs to something known as “structural reforms”. The current government, guided by Enrique Peneñeto, has started organizing and promoting structural reforms that were mandates, dictated by international financial organisms like the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Mexican government started this with the “Pact for Mexico”, a pact between the political and economic class. The economic class can count on the support of Parliament members from left, centre and right-wing groups to ensure that there will be no opposition so that they can quickly pass all the structural reforms. They also passed a new work-related law in which the worker is stripped of all his guarantees and rights achieved through the Mexican revolution. There will be a healthcare reform after this educational one, there have already been financial reforms and an energy reform that has led to the privatization of all the energy industry. Particularly, on the educational reforms we have identified crucial problems: All educational workers, teachers and academics will stop being permanent workers and become workers with temporary contracts through “academic certifications” or “educative quality”. The government promised that there would be a wage increase for teachers, which was another lie.

R2: The educational law represents a severe restriction of worker’s rights disguised as a reform of the education sector, so that public opinion or people that don’t belong to this particular sector endorse it and discredit all the current teacher mobilizations. It is a pejorative reform of work conditions because workers at schools will have to lose all their rights from this supposed evaluation that will certify the quality of teachers. It supposedly defends the children’s rights towards education and providing a quality education, without ever defining this quality education.

Therefore, “Quality” is a word used to translate through capitalistic-industrial terms the educational matter and such evaluations are completely anti-pedagogical: 12 hours where you have to answer to questions on a series of laws, which you need to memorize to obtain a good assessment, instead of actual pedagogical topics used in the classes. Furthermore, this evaluation is unfair because, by standardizing the exam, it doesn’t take into account the enormous differences between rural and indigenous schools and so-called “superior schools” coursed by the rich. Another extremely negative aspect of the “educational reform” is that through it the state removes the financing of education by transforming schools into private institutions, thus forcing families to fully pay for everything. In the education system of Mexico only 1% of the internal product was invested, now not even that, and many people are unaware of this. We have informed workers and families about this particular factor and contributed, through whatever means possible, to create a movement that nowadays seeks to oppose this reform: in different places, states and cities of the republic, families are occupying schools with teachers and many representatives of the local community.

R1: Let’s say that the first factor is work. The Mexican government has sent their spokespersons to reassure teachers, telling them that they would only be evaluated to guarantee the quality of education. However, 80% of the teachers realized that this law reduces education into another commodity and deprives workers of their rights and autonomy.

D.: What is the relationship between the anarchist movement in Mexico and indigenous movements?

R1: We could say that this relationship is limited, in the sense that only some organizations are working with the indigenous communities. From 15 years the Anarchist Federation of Mexico and the Autonomous Collective have been carrying out work with indigenous communities and villages, especially in the area of Oaxaca. How do we do this? We have organized this through different ways, taking part in workshops with young people, women and farmers. In these workshops we all learn from each other respectively. It is like a self-sufficient training collective; everything is learnt, especially regarding agricultural matters. These indigenous communities then bring all the information that they have learnt into their own communities and share it.

For instance, in Oaxaca, which is a big region with 500 indigenous villages, it is very difficult to move an entire community to the city to attend a meeting. Hence, delegations come to the city meetings we arrange and then coordinate workshops in each of their communities. The second thing we do is express our solidarity and support with their demands for respect of their traditions and participate in their fights for the implementation of an organizational indigenous autonomy. For instance, in the coast, where they enslaved for many years the indigenous communities of the region, our comrades through the Zapatista Alliance have taken the land from the German owners and have collectivized it (70.000 hectares). Some tourist businesses were interested in acquiring it because we are referring to an area that is an hour and a half away from Puerto Escondido, a popular tourist destination. However our comrades refused because these are hectares that belong to indigenous communities. There are already indigenous groups that are working autonomously in the agro-alimentary sector: agricultural production and poultry companies where workers are organizing theirselves autonomously and the earned money is equally distributed between them. We are contributing in whatever ways possible to these events and we are constantly learning.

D.: Are there any self-organized groups against drug cartels, even if they aren’t strictly anarchist?

R1: At this moment we have Mexican people affected by an economic and political system, purposefully imposed by the ruling class, which has inflicted tears and blood through a government of death. However this suffering and pain is now transforming into anger. Mexico is angry, thus all forms of self-organizational fights have spread, directed towards those at the “top”. Many people are mad not only because of all the liberticidal reforms that have taken place in the country, but also because ever since 2006 there have been 130.000 homicides connected to drug cartels and we have almost 30.000 missing people. Some groups formed by our comrades, workers and indigenous members in the area of Guerrero have responded to these massacres by creating a community police: armed groups opposed to drug trafficking cartels, trying to guarantee the security in villages.

R2: Yes, in some regions people organize theirselves that way because the military and police are strictly connected to the drug trafficking cartel.

R1: In Mexico it is well-known that the Narco-State rules the country.
To give you a specific example of this, the 43 “missing” students of the rural school of Ayotzinapa, discussed everywhere in the media, were arrested by tmess4he police and killed later on by hit men of a cartel group, known as “Los Rojos”. The same state of the government has links with the drug trade: the government of the city of Veracruz has notorious connections with the cartel members of the group Los Zetas. Indeed, drug trafficking groups are ruling Mexico and many people know that even the military are deeply involved with cartels. In fact, as a way to not invest training their own members, the cartels prefer recruiting labourers directly from military schools in order to have members that know how to handle weapons and expand their turnover.

In particular, there have been two indigenous villages that were the first to arm and organize theirselves to fight against the government and the cartels, military, police and armed groups connected to the drug trafficking trade. Our comrades were there and resisted. It was a process of self-defence that has claimed many lives but continues, it resists. This trend has spread across many self-defence groups and many people nowadays begin to understand that it is important to oppose with weapons a criminal government comprised by drug traffickers and their accomplices.

Many villages have started arming theirselves, activating many strong movements of self-defence against cartels in the country. There is a self-defence coordination and this has started spreading across many villages, on the internet you can even find many videos. When the police and other institutional representatives of the drug trade arrive into a town where there is a clear disagreement between the community and the municipal president, the self-defence forces must confront the hit-men that are waiting for them, a confrontation is unavoidable. Wherever they manage to regain control, these groups of self-defence promote a new self-government system in which the local population are encouraged to organize theirselves in order to guarantee the safety of the villages from the violence and oppression of the cartels. When this happens the Mexican government sends in their military to fight against these self-defence groups instead of targeting actual drug traffickers.

D.: From what you have said, it is evident to see that in Mexico the government is the drug trafficking trade. This dismantles the whole argument of characters like Saviano that, in Italy, with the book “Zero Zero Zero”, have spread the idea that the drug trade is fought with more state-intervention, with more government action. This is also an idea diffused in the Anglo-Saxon world.

R2: The extension of the self-defence movement has started to resemble some of the revolution processes that the country had previously known with events like Morelos’ campaign (Mexican war of independence) or the advance of the Zapatistas during the era of the revolution: arm, arrive in a village, take a village, arm the population, teach it self-defence methods and then go into another village and repeat the same process.

What the Mexican government does is kill and attempt to split and divide the movement into two: this is what happens to some of the self-defence groups that are offered military support from the government, entrusting it legally to the defence of some of these villages, like in Michoacan. Meanwhile, those that continue fighting suffer attacks or are imprisoned in high security prisons, like in the case of dott. Mireles, one of the promoters of this disseminated campaign of defence. Firstly, they tried to kill him in an assassination attempt and then they imprisoned him in a high security prison.

As anarchists we participate as much as we can in this resistance movement that, not having a specific political ideology, possesses many libertarian features and fights with courage against the political, economic and military system that dominates and oppresses Mexico.

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“Get out Aguirre, Murderer”

Translated by Pietro Casati (pietrokuyath@gmail.com) for Theory Without Borders (https://theorywithoutborders.wordpress.com/)

Taken from newspaper Umanità Nova, year 96, number 28: http://www.umanitanova.org/2016/09/23/tra-crisi-istituzionale-e-spinte-autogestionarie/

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Mexico: Solidarity with the struggle of the teachers and popular uprisings

México  Solidaridad con la lucha de los maestros y la insurrección popular

Mexican Anarchist Federation

On the 19th of June, the Mexican Federal police fired with real bullets against demonstrators that were blocking the road close to the village of Nochixtlán in the State of Oaxaca. This violent state repression has left many injured and a dozen deadly fatalities.

This rally was organized by the National Coordinator of Workers of Education (CNTE), along with several students and parents, many of them belonging to indigenous communities. For several months, especially in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero and Michoacán, the movement against the “Education Reform” intended to be imposed by the Government has suffered harsh attacks through violent means like tear gas and rubber bullets: teachers are also constantly threatened, fired or imprisoned. Thus, roadblocks were undertaken during the beginning of June after the arrest of several leaders of the CNTE from the area of Oaxaca.

A huge media war  has been waged against these ‘rebels’ by labelling them as “terrorists”, “opposed to progress”. Such “progress” from the “Education and Quality” consists in transforming education into a commodity by delivering it to the private sector so that it benefits the most privileged economic sectors of the population. As the banner exposes “The education reform not only affects teachers but also society as a whole”. Many families, especially indigenous communities, support teachers and have attended these manifestations.

Already in June 2006, teachers had taken control of the center of Oaxaca, before being brutally evicted. The population –fathers, students, indigenous villages- joined them and organized the resistance and autonomy of the city: it was only in November when the “Commune of Oaxaca” was defeated by military and police repression through extreme violence.

Our comrades of the Mexican Anarchist Federation are fully involved in this fight and have been informing us on the situation. In response to the National Indigenous Notice (CNI) and the zapatistas of EZLN directed on the 20th of June “to the village of Mexico and the entire world”, the Anarchist Federation declared its complete solidarity with the teachers in their struggle and popular uprisings. It demands the immediate end to this repression and the release of all its prisoners.

What is being established by the Mexican State is an authentic “state of siege”, not a common “state of emergency” that allows other countries like France to restrict more liberties in order to try and impose a “Labour law”. In a period where some preach resignation and submission and others advocate for a nationalistic direction through the illusion of elections, the Anarchist Federation reaffirms itself more than ever as an internationalist practice founded on concrete solidarity with those who don’t succumb against the State for the service of capitalism.

This is how it is remembered by the CNI and EZLN: “A storm, along with chaos, also fertilizes the earth where a new world is always born”.

[Translated from http://federacionanarquistademexico.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73:solidaridad-con-la-lucha-de-los-maestros-y-la-insurreccion-popular&catid=35&Itemid=160.]

Translated by Pietro Casati

THE SAN QUINTÍN REBELLION

From Regeneración Radio
IGD encourages you to view the Original Microsite
Translated by Scott Campbell

I. THEY SAID WE WERE CRAZY

The strawberry harvest was approaching and thousands of farmworkers were preparing to shut down the Transpeninsular Highway on March 17, 2015. There was no turning back. Two years earlier, a slogan had spread like a dust cloud throughout all of San Quintín Valley: fair wages. And between the rows, there where celery, squash, greens, chile, beet, cucumber, tomato, strawberry, blackberry and raspberry are planted to be sent to the other side of the border, there was already talk of a “crazy idea”: they had to rise up. On a clear morning, in a barren spot some fifty meters from his home in the San Juan Copala neighborhood, Bonifacio Martínez recalls the moment that started it all:

– “One afternoon I came home from work, tired. And I saw my mother. She told me she had worked all week and that they hadn’t paid her. So we went to the boss who told her to wait a week. That got me really angry. Imagine, you supposedly work to get paid, because you’re doing the work. And this is what I thought: What kind of bosses do we have? If as it is they are paying us so little, where are we going to end up? Where are our rights?”

Bonifacio is around 40. He is no taller than 1.6 meters (5′ 3”), wears a black jacket and a cap covers his hair, he’s Oaxacan Triqui through and through. Two kilometers from where he stands, the waves of the Pacific Ocean break on the brown beach, and opposite the hill he looks fromfields of strawberries spread as far as the eye can see. Nearby, a dozen bundled-up farmworkers with their faces covered work their shift. “In this field” – as he points to the carpet of green – “in previous years work started at 6am. You ate in less than 15 minutes, in the middle you grabbed lunch, some tacos, and went until 6pm without stopping. Be careful if you rest one day, because the next you won’t have a job. It’s Felipe Ruíz Conrado’s business. He paid 9.50 pesos a box.”

Before the uprising, Bonifacio had worked at almost all the ranches in the region. “Awful treatment from those bastards. They didn’t care what happened to you. They only cared about the quality of the fruit, that you don’t bruise it, that you don’t put in one or two bruised strawberries, because then they won’t pay you for that box. There were days when they didn’t pay you for up to ten boxes; at 10 or 12 pesos each.”

THE SEED OF DISCONTENT

FARMWORKERS IN MEXICO:
3,355,264

2,366,428
WITHOUT HEALTHCARE

50%
EARN BETWEEN 60 AND 120 PESOS DAILY

81%
WITHOUT A CONTRACT

79%
AS INFORMAL LABOR

SOURCE: INEGI, NATIONAL OCCUPATION AND EMPLOYMENT SURVEY (ENOE), FIRST TRIMESTER OF 2015

Bonifacio began to organize with two other farmworkers, Juan and Cirilo. Their objective, contrary to what had happened before – focused work stoppages on small ranches – was to organize and get the entire valley to rise up, a strip of coastal desert that reaches from the municipality of Ensenada, Baja California, and extends to the towns of Vicente Guerrero, Camalú and San Quintín, and where in addition to clamming, the ranches of companies like Driscoll’s, BerryMex and Los Pinos are the only sources of employment. A neo-slavery that has crashed onto this land.

San-Quintin-Jornalero-Bonifacio

“They told us we were crazy,” says Bonifacio with his Oaxacan accent. And from memory he recounts for the tape recorder the talk that he started to share with his neighbors. “You love your children, so what are you doing to defend them? If you love them, now is the time for us to seek a solution so they don’t live like us. Wouldn’t you like for them to pay you more? If you want something better, let’s defend this together. I don’t come offering handouts or money or loans, I don’t have these things. What I can tell you is that I am a worker, just like you, and this hurts me the same as you. What I can tell you is that I wake up at 4 in the morning, and my wife does, too, to make lunch. And I’m sure that you and your wife do as well; I’m sure that there isn’t enough for cooking gas, for the electric bill, right? Well, the time has come.”

From those talks the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice was born, meeting every Friday. And in the ranches, in the neighborhoods, the word spread. “The supervisors, the foremen, the producers already knew, they had heard. But they said: “What can they do to us? For years we’ve beaten down those fucking Indians.”

The date was set for March 17, when the strawberry season was drawing near. That day, at dawn, nothing and no one would pass on the Transpeninsular Highway that runs from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas in Baja California Sur. The farmworkers, thousands, would stand up as one to make themselves heard. A prophecy written centuries ago came to pass, when Jacinto Canek rebelled in the Yucatán: “The Indians have revolted!” – as the Indians from Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chiapas are the majority in San Quintín. On the night of March 16, no one in the valley slept, and at dawn the whole world knew about the farmworkers standing up in the middle of the desert in the cold and hidden north of Mexico.

II. THE UNION AND SHADY POLITICS

On the road south from Tijuana, the asphalt of the Transpeninsular opens out into long kilometers of muted landscape. Mountains, gloomy and indifferent cacti, shrubs and dangerous curves crowd together alongside the fierce and foaming sea. An architectural crucible, sometimes Arabic, other times modern, and other times humble, decorates the route and a faint silence seeps in from the outside. Inside, a station, XEQIN, the Voice of the Valley Radio, is on at low volume on the stereo. It is the only channel for kilometers. Little-used paths appear, heading towards “Wine Country.”

The road snakes forward and up ahead, on the icy sea, a group of cruise ships, white like the purest milk, sit in front of Ensenada, the last large city on the Peninsula before La Paz. Up ahead, in Vicente Guerrero, when the car stops, night spills over the valley and it will be time to sleep at 16 degrees centigrade (61°F). A deep cold.

The following day, January 13, in Ensenada, the cruise ships are still there. In the Zu Taza café, some 30 meters from the beach, the spokespeople for the farmworkers of San Quintín are seated around a large table. They outline for the local media an evaluation of the movement after almost a year of blockades, marches, caravans, boycotts and meetings. On May 13, 2015, after almost two months of rebellion, the Alliance and the federal government signed agreements establishing some ways of resolving the conflict. Government healthcare, punctual pay, certification that companies don’t use child labor – in the fields women, children and men work – respect for labor and human rights, and an increase in wages. “San Quintín decided to sneak away under the table…none of the issues have been resolved…we want to recoup the benefits that have been taken from us,” said Fidel Sánchez Gabriel.

THE DAILY LABOR OF AN AGRICULTURAL WORKER IN THE RED

The agreement reached in August 2015 with the owners of the more than 122 companies that grow in the San Quintín Valley was that they would pay a minimum wage of 150 pesos per day and that wages would be fixed in three different categories: 19 companies would pay 180 pesos per day, 39 would pay 165, and 64 would pay the minimum of 150. But in reality, few companies do and the state and federal governments have not been monitoring the implementation of the demands. In the fields, reality is different, said Lorenzo Rodríguez, an indigenous man in his twenties:

– “The categorization of salaries remains stuck on the table. And the companies that have increased wages have also increased the work. They require that you work more rows, not recognizing overtime.”

San-Quintin-Sindicato

Because of this, the entire movement in the valley has turned toward the creation of an independent union. Even though it was not an initial demand, the farmworkers’ own union is the long-term wager for the movement. The press conference in the Zu Taza café is actually the formal announcement of the union, whose registration was granted one day before by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS). TheIndependent National Democratic Union of Agricultural Workers (SINDJA) has been recognized “for the purposes of advancing the legitimate representation of those farmworkers,” reads the official notice. Its general secretary is Lorenzo Rodríguez, who now takes the wheel of the car that returns to Vicente Guerrero after the press conference.

THE MOVEMENT’S DEMANDS

300 pesos
MINIMUM DAILY WAGE

30 pesos
BOX OF STRAWBERRIES

17 pesos
JAR OF BLACKBERRIES

8 pesos
BUCKET OF TOMATOES

They reached an agreement for a daily salary of 150 pesos; increased by 30 pesos, but the work doubled.

“I am from Oaxaca. I arrived in the valley in 2005 at 15 years old when I finished grade school and during the vacations I came and worked for two months. I thought then that there was money to be made and I decided to stay. I began at BerryMex. I explained to them that I went to high school in the afternoons, and they gave me a chance, but I did not do well in class and the work was very hard. So I left school. I didn’t care about anything, I didn’t see the exploitation or the humiliation or the harassment. To say nothing of the miserable wages. Before I was 17 I didn’t see a future for myself. I thought I was young and could do well in any job; that those who had to would struggle. Not me. But then I opened my eyes. What was going to happen when I was 50, 60 years old? I was not going to have the same energy. And my children?”

Lorenzo is dark skinned. His hair is gelled and today he’s dressed “formal” for the press conference. But later he must return to the fields. He is perhaps the youngest union general secretary in the country, barely 25 years old, and also the only one who, along with his union role, is a farmworker. On the road, he points out to the places that were blockaded on March 17, and where days later the caravan traveled to Mexicali, the seat of the state government headed by Francisco Vega de Lamadrid, a pure PANista [a member of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN)], who farmworkers say is the benefactor of Rancho Los Pinos, one of the biggest in the valley. The inner workings of power.

THE BEGINNING OF THE REBELLION

Rancho Los Pinos holds the National Export Award. The recognition was granted in 2013 by President Enrique Peña Nieto. The award, said the government, “is the highest honor…for companies, institutions and organizations that operate in Mexico in the realm of international trade, and thanks to factors such as effort, perseverance, creativity, quality and innovation have managed to compete, increase and diversify their sale of goods and services abroad.” Antonio Rodríguez Hernández, the current owner of the ranch founded in 1952, was a PAN state representative from 2004 to 2007. Later, until 2013 he served as Secretary of Agricultural and Livestock Development in Baja California in Governor José Guadalupe Osuna Millán’s cabinet, the PANista predecessor of Francisco Vega. A meteoric career, with mutual benefits.

The position that Rodríguez Hernández formerly held now belongs to Manuel Valladolid Seamanduras, a relative of Antonio Valladolid Rodríguez, the current Secretary of Planning and Finance. Manuel Valladolid has been identified by the farmworkers, and by local PAN representative Rosalba López Regalado, as the owner of Rancho Valladolid, according to information gathered by the weekly publication Zeta, from Tijuana, on Saturday, March 21, 2015. The political network linked to the ranches on which the farmworkers give up their lives for 100 pesos a day or less extends even further in the case of Antonio Valladolid. In a report published by Newsweek in Spanish, on May 16, 2015, he is mentioned by journalist Javier Cruz, who has investigated the agricultural industry in San Quintín since 1981. Witness to the exploitative conditions that predominate in the region, Javier says that, “The Valladolid and Rodríguez families, the main producers in the region, have been beneficiaries thanks to their closeness to political power (…) Manuel Valladolid Seamanduras has no properties listed in the public property registry, nor does he appear as a partner in the businesses; however, there are parties that report of his position within AgroIndustrias Vigor, S.A. de C.V. as sole administrator, general manager, and legal representative.” And an indexed directory of exporters on the state government’s website proves this.

Lorenzo Rodríguez, the young union secretary general who now drives through curves and hills behind an employee transport bus, makes a calculation: “Imagine, Driscoll’s – the most powerful transnational in the region – sends some five or six trailers along this road. Each trailer, depending on its length, carries twenty or thirty pallets of strawberries and each pallet yields some 150,000 pesos. We are talking millions daily. There is no money? The employers can’t pay the farmworkers more?”

Lorenzo speaks with clarity: “Of everything we did, out of the whole struggle, the union is one of the best results. The plan now is for mass membership, first in the small ranches, where if 50% of the farmworkers plus one join, you can legally call a strike. To fight for collective contracts and beat the sellout unions, the CROM, the CROC, who haven’t defended the farmworkers. In truth, there is discouragement with the massive layoffs that some companies made, but there are also hopes. With the union, the power is still in our hands. When the union was registered in Mexico City, some journalists questioned my age and experience. That may be true, I said, but don’t worry, that’s why we’re here, to learn.” A new evening emerges in the valley and Lorenzo remains at the wheel.

San-Quintin-Jornalera-2

III. THE WOMEN AND HARASSMENT

In the fields, in addition to the economic exploitation, another problem was given refuge, waiting to float to the top. And it surfaced. The uprising on March 17 made clear that the harassment of women in the fields, by the foremen, employers and farmworkers, is also an unresolved matter. One that is harsh, difficult and rooted in the rampant machismo that those in power use to grate at and undermine dignity.

Sitting in a small restaurant serving carne asada burritos, Gloria Gracida Martínez tells her story: one that begins with a 10-year-old girl arriving in the valley, who they paid 50 cents per bucket of tomatoes (currently they pay between 2 and 3.5 pesos) and who 20 years later is now a teacher with a Master’s degree from the Universidad Iberoamericana, but above all an active participant in the strike who has turned to denouncing the exploitation of children and women in the fields and the homes.

– “It impacted me, the sexual harassment. Above all from the supervisors, from the drivers of the trucks that transport the farmworkers. We’re talking about girls, minors. Including rapes that are not reported. Out of fear, out of women’s culture. There is a self-imposed silence. And if you report it, the care one gets isn’t the right kind. So a woman, out of necessity, has to remain in the field. And if you go to another one, the same thing can happen.”

A choir of voices is created out of the testimonies. A day before, Lorenzo Rodríguez, the young union secretary general, had said: “There is a lot of harassment directed at women. The supervisors, the foremen, take advantage of their positions. Sometimes it’s the sons of the bosses. They like ‘to play,’ ‘to have a little fun,’ when they look at a girl they think is pretty. During the strike, this was condemned a lot. And things changed a little. Some supervisors now behave more respectfully, but there are fields where it remains the same. And this, from what I know, also happens in the maquiladoras [sweatshops] in Tijuana, Mexicali and Ensenada.”

For Gloria, the movement has changed her life. Before March 17, she wasn’t aware that a strike was being planned for the entire valley. But that day she arrived at the school where she works as a teacher and the classes had been suspended. “I went back to bed. Later they told me: ‘there’s a movement and the highways, the banks are closed.’ I left and there was no one in town. I walked until I reached a group a people and approached a lady who was at the front. She told me that they were denouncing, as farmworkers, the injustices and the violations of their rights. She said to me: ‘Don’t stay silent, child, you have to speak, wherever you are, you have to speak.’” A mountain of memories came over her and she joined in the fury.

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In her article, The crisis of agricultural workers in Mexico, published in August 2015 by the Autonomous University of Chapingo’s Tzapincomagazine, Rocío Guzmán Benítez includes the testimony of Mónica Rendón Toleda, a farmworker and mother: “Life starts at three in the morning and goes until ten at night. You suffer harassment from the supervisor and your own compañeros. You go home to your work (wash, make dinner, check your children’s homework). The next day it’s the same.” An exploitation that spreads and positions itself over everything: gender and labor.

Bonifacio Martínez had said: “The general supervisors or foremen see a good-looking lady and tell her that if she wants to work she has to go out with them. Those are the terms. And there are compañeras who prefer not to work, not to eat, in order to avoid those bastards.”

Gloria Gracida, unhurried by the tears covering her brown face, doesn’t want to end the interview without saying: “We know that the struggle has just begun. Now comes direct confrontation with the owners. We’re here, we’re strong, we are many, we’re united and that is the message that we have to share; it’s not easy work, but we can do it.”

IV. OFFICIAL NOTES; UNFINISHED BUSINESS

On March 12, 2016, the Senate’s Belisario Domínguez Institute (IBD) published the report Agricultural workers. One year after the San Quintín Rebellion. The official document situates farmworkers as a priority during the defining of the country’s Constitution a century ago. The Magna Carta, in article 123, established labor rights:

“a work day of eight hours, the banning of labor of children under 12 years (and limited hours for those under 16), one day of rest for every six of work, adequate wages, equal pay for equal work, limitation of overtime to three hours a day at pay that is twice that of normal hours; responsibility of the employers for work accidents and illnesses, the right to unionization and training, obligation of employers to provide decent housing with rent that does not to exceed .5% of its assessed value, as well as the obligation to provide infirmaries, schools and other necessary services.”

The demands of the farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley – says the document – is, in short, the fulfillment of their rights enshrined in the 1917 Constitution. The report says that, “The farmworkers have precarious working conditions compared to other employed persons in the country in regards to access to healthcare, wages and type of employment. These conditions place the agricultural workers and their families among the poorest and most exploited in the country; they lack the most basic labor rights as established by the law.”

And it concludes: “A social policy focused on rights instead of pure welfare policy should concentrate its actions on the development of institutional capacities to achieve the rule of law, not only in the case of agricultural workers but in the entire agricultural sector; in particular it should strengthen labor oversight, guaranteeing adequate conditions for the effort (among them a sufficient number of supervisors), their specialization by sector and the legal power to review contracts, work hours, wages and other rights, as well as the ability to impose fines and sanctions for noncompliance, as promoted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) since 1969.”

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V. A VALLEY ON EDGE

Seen from the sky, the San Quintín Valley extends to the western edge of a turbulent country. A brown and barren plain bathed by the ocean breeze, more than three thousand kilometers from Mexico City. Flying over it, capricious and green geometric shapes like soccer fields will appear here and there in the valley. Fields on which the life and future of more than eighty thousand farmworkers from the deep south is debated.

Today San Quintín is the spearhead of unbridled rage, but one that seeks organization and direction in the form of an independent union. The memory of entire generations of indigenous whose rights have been forgotten speaks in San Quintín.

The strawberry harvest was approaching and thousands of farmworkers were preparing to shut down the Transpeninsular Highway on March 17, 2015. There was no turning back. Two years earlier, a slogan had spread like a dust cloud throughout all of San Quintín Valley: fair wages. And between the rows, there where celery, squash, greens, chile, beet, cucumber, tomato, strawberry, blackberry and raspberry are planted to be sent to the other side of the border, there was already talk of a “crazy idea.”

AN EVALUATION OF THE MOVEMENT

BOYCOTT DRISCOLL’S

According to Lorenzo Rodríguez, the union general secretary: Driscoll’s Berries is the most powerful transnational in the region.

In the U.S., there is a growing movement calling for a boycott of Driscoll’s Berries, with 41 committees active in several cities. This is a joint effort between Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) in Washington State and the Independent National Democratic Union of Agricultural Workers in San Quintín.

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In March and April 2016, FUJ organized a West Coast tour of the U.S. to spread the word about the boycott. The exploitation of workers by Driscoll’s Berries and its associated companies extends beyond the San Quintín Valley.

For more information about the Driscoll’s boycott, visit: boycottsakumaberries.com.

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