By Leon Thompson
May 15, 2015 (San Quintin, Baja Mexico) – About 220 miles south of Tecate near the Pacific Coast is the rich agricultural region known as San Quintin. Strawberry fields stretch as far as the eye can see. Tomatoes, blackberries and raspberries bound for American grocery stores like Whole Foods and Vons are grown in this fertile valley. The work is backbreaking, the weather is scorching and the workers work from sunup to sundown. They earn around $5 per day – about the cost of a basket of strawberries at Whole Foods.
KPFK Radio reports that about 30,000 workers from the San Quintin region earn less than $10 a day and aren’t given any benefits. The workers have been fighting for a contract that includes at least $14 a day and basic federal health benefits. Many are sub-contract farmers who pay even less than the big industrial growers like Driscoll’s, Berrymex and Sakuma.
Farm workers have organized and attempts to negotiate with growers have been futile. The big growers say they pay more in San Quintin than they do elsewhere in the world and refuse to talk.
Doug Porter with City Beat has done in-depth reporting and has uncovered disturbing facts.
The farm works are protesting working conditions and low wages. They planned a strike as their grievances had not been addressed for months and some of the workers decided to blockade a tomato farm Sunday morning, asking their colleagues to join them on a picket line until next Wednesday, when the deputy secretary of the interior, Luis Enrique Miranda Nava, was to arrive.
“Many Baja California and Mexican government officials are actually owners or investors in the twelve largest farms as well as in some of the smaller one. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, for example, is an investor in one of the companies. The near fusion between corporate executives and the Baja California government has made it difficult for workers to achieve even the minimal wages, benefits and conditions to which they are entitled under the law.”
This weekend’s violence followed the failure of Interior Minister Luis Miranda Nava to show up for a meeting with leaders of farm worker organizations in the area.
Thus the suffering workers can expect little from the police, government and law-enforcement authorities. Organizers say hundreds of Mexican federal police attacked a mostly peaceful worker rally. The workers allege that police have been carrying out raids on their homes in the neighborhood of Nuevo San Juan Copala without authorization, which resulted in assaults on whole families – including children, according to the website La Jornada (the Journal).
Mexican authorities say protesters pelted police with rocks and bottles. Officers responded with tear gas and fired numerous rounds of rubber bullets. Reports estimate dozens were injured. Organizers told La Jornada, a Mexican daily, that police infiltrators began instigating the crowd and are mostly to blame for the unrest. Reports say two cars and a police station were torched.
The Mexican army was also patrolling the massive rally but sources say they did not appear to get involved. This was reportedly followed by the owner of the ranch calling the police, who arrived around 5:00 a.m. local time and allegedly started raiding workers’ homes with no warrants.
Thousands of Mexican farm workers from San Quintin, Baja California, just a few miles from our Southern California border are regrouping right now after a harrowing day of protests and political rallies.
Max Correa Hernandez of the Central Campesina Cardenista (CCC), and Fidel Sanchez Gabriel, spokesman for the Movement of Agricultural Workers of San Quentin have called upon the state and federal government to intervene, saying more than 80 people have been injured by police in recent days.
The protestors are now asking us, the public, to help by boycotting produce from the region. La Jornada Baja California says union leaders will be issuing an international call on Wednesday for a boycott of fruits and vegetables exported from this region, in protest of violations of human and labor rights suffered by workers.