[Photos via Twitter]
Things are getting pretty ugly for striking farm workers in Mexico’s Baja pennisula. Farm workers have been on strike since March in a region centered around the coastal town of San Quintin, an agricultural stronghold, known for growing vegetables and berry fruit. The strikers are fighting for a raise from 120 pesos per day to 200 pesos or from about $8 a day to $13, in addition to ending sexual harassment,
According to CNN Mexico, things became tense at the end of last week when tensions rose after Mexico’s secretary of the interior postponed a meeting with the strikers. Things escalated when strikers moved to block other workers from scabbing. At that point, the growers demanded that the police step in. There are reports that police pursued strikers to their homes and beat them. While there were reports of workers killed by police, so far dozens of injuries have been confirmed, but no one has been killed.
Early on the strike had a major impact on supply chains as produce went unpicked and trucking routes were blocked.
Thousands of laborers in the San Quintin Valley 200 miles south of San Diego went on strike Tuesday, leaving the fields and greenhouses full of produce that is now on the verge of rotting. Though they stopped blocking the main highway to export markets, the road remains hard to traverse as rogue groups stop and, at times, attack truck drivers. ‘
A trucker for Del Cabo Produce reported that people threw a molotov cocktail at his truck on Thursday afternoon. He also saw the throng loot a truck for Mexican retailer Calimax.
“Our driver escaped and went into the town to hide and we called for federal police to support him,” said Juan Oliva, Del Cabo’s operations manager.
Oliva said several trucks had been delayed, causing damage to shipments of zucchinis and cherry tomatoes. Del Cabo’s farms are located in southern Baja California, but must usually go through San Quintin to reach export markets.
“It’s creating a lot of logistical problems,” Oliva said. “It’s product we need to get to the U.S. every day. We’re having to cut orders. “
Costco reported that organic strawberries are in short supply because about 80% of the production this time of year comes from Baja California. At the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, importers reported shortages of tomatoes and chile peppers. Produce market stalls in Tijuana were also affected.
“It’s had a big effect,” said Moises Yeverit, owner of Chene Produce. “There’s no tomatoes, no berries. Everything is stopped up.”
The San Quintin agricultural region of Baja California erupted in violence Saturday as protesters pelted police with rocks and took over a government building. Police retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets in running skirmishes that left dozens of people injured, according to farmworker leaders and Mexican authorities. The rioting came a day after the cancellation of a meeting between Mexican federal government officials and farmworker leaders in this region about 200 miles south of San Diego.
Farmworkers have been seeking higher wages, at least $13 per day, and government benefits, and patience on both sides seems to be wearing thin as negotiations, now in their eighth week, remain at an impasse.
The rioting flared Saturday morning when strikers gathered outside a farm near the town of Vicente Guerrero. They were there to persuade arriving workers to stay on strike, according to farmworker leader Justino Herrera. Police responded in force after some of the strikers began setting fires in the area, according to Mexican state authorities cited in news reports.
Protesters reportedly set fire to two police cars and a police station. About 45 people were injured during the clashes with Baja California state and municipal police, and six were taken to a hospital, Herrera said.
The RT has a little bit of raw footage posted.
This is exactly the kind of violent escalation that union leaders were hoping to avoid. Here’s the LA Times reporting at the end of March:
Before Fidel Sanchez led protest marches this month against growers in Baja California, he fought for higher wages from tomato farmers in Florida.
Justino Herrera, who dons an Army fatigue jacket during labor talks, once led a work stoppage against an abusive labor contractor in Oregon.
Eloy Fernandez said he draws from his union organizing experience in California to keep angry protesters in San Quintin from resorting to violence.
“People get rowdy, but we don’t want that,” Fernandez, who helps run a makeshift camp of striking laborers outside a government building, said Thursday. “We just want to show our presence. To show the government that we are raising our voices. That’s how we did it over there.”
And on the context:
The walkout, in its second week, has crippled the state’s agricultural export economy, leaving crops to rot while talks between labor leaders and industry groups stall over worker demands. Workers want higher wages and accuse agribusinesses of sexual harassment and denial of government benefits, accusations that the growers deny.
Another undercurrent of discontent driving the strikers stems from their shared experiences working in American agricultural fields, where many saw firsthand the slow but steady gains in worker conditions resulting from organized labor movements.
In Mexico, farmworker strikes of this scale and duration are rare. The walkout began March 17 and is the first in decades in Baja California. For many it’s no coincidence that it has taken place in a region so close to the United States.
For decades, workers here migrated annually north of the border, following the tomato and grape harvests up the West Coast. But fortified border security largely stopped the migration.
By the end of the last decade, tens of thousands of laborers had settled permanently in and around the hub of San Quintin. Mostly indigenous people from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, locals jokingly call the area “Oaxa-California.”
After years living in the U.S. they were less tolerant of deteriorating social conditions in Mexico. Once fragmented along ethnic lines reflecting different indigenous groups — Mixteco, Triqui, Zapoteco — they united to demand better water and garbage service, then started pressing labor demands late last year.
“They came back from the U.S. with different ideas,” said Gabriel Neri, a local radio talk show host who thinks the American experience has been a key inspiration for labor leaders, especially the younger ones. “It gave them a different perspective.”
Further reading and background
Los Angeles Times | 28 March 2015 | Thousands of Mexican farmworkers march 15 miles as strike talks continue