Nea Manolada, 160 miles west of Athens, is an area where thousands of migrant workers are employed in agriculture.
On Wednesday 17 April, about 200 strawberry pickers, migrant workers from Bangladesh, went to the company offices to ask for more than six months’ wages they had not received.
Three foremen employed by the landowner, a big capitalist strawberry exporter, met the workers and stonewalled their demands. The workers protested.
Two foremen went to their car and took out their shotguns. A third took a revolver and began firing into the air. The first two then began to shoot to kill, injuring more than 35 people. Eleven workers were injured severely and one is still in a critical condition.
The perpetrators, with the assistance of two drivers, left the site. The police arrested the landlord of the business, and then on Thursday the three foremen. Reportedly, one of the foremen is the same person who in the summer of 2009 tied two migrant labourers behind a motorbike and dragged them through the streets of Manolada on the suspicion that they might have stolen a few sheep from his flock.
Even Greece’s fascist movement, Golden Dawn, and SEV (the Greek CBI) have mumbled condemnations of the shootings. But this brutalisation of labour relations affects not only immigrants or the agricultural production. It is being extended, bit by bit, and in different ways, to the entire working class, trashing collective agreements, trashing the right to strike, suppressing trade-union organisation.
The story is that the only way out of the crisis is for capitalism to become more capitalistic, i.e., more exploitative and more reactionary
According to the national Inspectors of Labour, not only the Manolada strawberry pickers, but over 30% of the Greek working class are owed six months’ wages or more. Greek-born workers have not been shot by their capitalist bosses, but they have been bullied and terrorised into submission by the bludgeon of 27% unemployment.
Maria Kanellopoulou, an MP for the left-wing party Syriza, accused the government of arresting injured immigrants and their comrades in the aftermath of the Manolada massacre.
Kanellopoulou stated that: “Migrants were sent for deportation because they have no legal documents to remain in Greece, aiming to eliminate the witnesses of the attempted mass murder against immigrants."
In a similar tone, the Greek Communist Party, KKE, denounced the government because the police of Amaliada had arrested six injured migrant workers, transferred them from hospital to the police security office in Amaliada, and threatened them with deportation.
Public Order Minister Dendias and the Government have denied the allegations and promised that they will not deport the injured illegal immigrants of Manolada.
The left-wing coalition Antarsya stated: ”This crime must not go unpunished. The working class movement should break the immunity of the known exploiter of the workers from Bangladesh, and his henchmen. The labour movement and trade unions must embrace all immigrants from Bangladesh and every exploited Greek and ‘foreign’ worker.”
Giannis Vroutsis, the Minister of Labour, Social Security and Welfare, has stated: “I condemn in the strongest terms the inhuman working conditions, violence and human exploitation.”
As if we have the memory of goldfish! Giannis Vroutsis is a minister whose government has imposed the massive impoverishment of workers, sky-rocketing unemployment, destruction of collective bargaining agreements, massive reductions to the minimum wage, restrictions on the right to strike, and “civil mobilisation” orders against strikers.
The government proudly declares “zero tolerance” and the “reoccupation of towns” from the refugees, and promises day care nurseries without migrant children.
On 5 February, the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, ruled unconstitutional an earlier law granting second generation migrants the right to apply for Greek citizenship. Moves have also been made, unsuccessful so far, by the conservative ruling party New Democracy demanding that naturalised Greeks be banned from entering military academies or joining the armed forces and police services.
In August 2012, police in Athens, led by Public Order Minister Dendias, organised mass arrests of migrants. By early February 2013 about 4,200 people were being detained for lack of papers, and awaiting deportation. They are held in 30 special camps set up with EU financial support.
Undeclared “black-market” labour exceeds 36% of the total in Greece, and over 45% for immigrant workers.
Meanwhile, two groups of strawberry producers have protested about the “bad press” that Greek production of strawberries is receiving. They say that in Turkey workers get $6 a day, while they are obliged to pay 20 euros daily to the migrant workers. Even the diminished monthly minimum wage of 500 euros imposed by the memorandum government creates a competitiveness problem.
The immigrant workers are employed on strawberry production for about five or six months of the year. Around 12,000 acres of strawberries were cultivated this year.
Total production last year was approximately 42,000 tons, much of it exported to Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. Greece is 20th in strawberry production worldwide; the US is first (1.312 million tons), Spain second (514,000 tons) and Turkey third (302,416 tons).
Harvesting is done by hand, and approximately 75 workers are required per acre per year. Unofficial estimates are of 5-7,000 workers — mostly migrants from Bangladesh, the overwhelming majority without legal residency rights.
A May 2007 report on strawberry-pickers’ conditions in the KKE paper Rizospastis found that workers worked from sun-up to sun-down, with a short lunch stop on hot days, for 22 to 25 euros daily, which they had no guarantee of receiving.
On hot days the temperature inside the greenhouses is over 45 degrees. If the migrant workers ease off while working, the foremen beat them, threaten them with guns, and sometimes shoot in the air.
The workers are accommodated in sheds with few facilities. They sit and sleep on wooden pallets. There is no electricity. For washing, cleaning and drinking they depend on a drill pipe, with stagnant water around it.
In April 2008 migrant workers in Manolada struck, demanding better wages and conditions.
Squads organised by the bosses invaded their sheds, demolishing them and physically attacking the workers.
In 2011, two journalists from the newspaper Vima were beaten mercilessly while seeking to report from the fields of Manolada.
Manolada is not the only case. A few years ago it was revealed that the big peach producers in Northern Greece were hiring immigrants from Bulgaria to pick peaches; then, when the production season was over and the time had come to pay wages, they would ring the police to arrest and deport them.
A newly launched social media campaign urges a boycott of fruit from Manolada. It calls the region’s produce “blood strawberries”, in the same way as people talk about Africa’s “blood diamonds”.
An answer can only be given by a combative working class movement, which needs to enforce in practice the slogan “nobody on their own” and “Greek and foreign workers united”. Despite good intentions, the class struggle cannot be conducted electronically or by boycotting a company’s products, but in the workplaces, the neighbourhoods, the streets.
The issue is too serious to be left in the hands of the bureaucrats of the official trade-union leaders of GSEE. GSEE argues that “A working regime of modern slavery has been created in Manolada and especially in the strawberry fields”. It calls for retribution against those employers who strangle “even the remaining labour and insurance rights and sink the pension funds by non-payment of the employers’ contributions”.
But GSEE complacency or inaction has facilitated the Government’s anti-working class policies.
Neither this government nor any future capitalist government will confront the super-exploitation of immigrants or the rise of racism and fascist groups and parties such as Golden Dawn.
The arrest and conviction and exemplary punishment of the guilty strawberry producer and his henchmen is the minimum that should be demanded.
The bosses will be loyal to their own “internationalism” that says “capital has no country”. The working class should counterpose our own class solidarity and internationalism. With working class solidarity as our strength, with class unity as our compass, we aim for another world where the touchstone of humanity will be decency and respect for every worker, regardless of colour, of nationality, of religion.