by Ariel Ky
Writer, Dandelion Salad
April 29, 2013
“Blood Strawberries”: A Roundup of Media Reporting on Bangladeshi Workers Being Shot by Foremen in Greece When They Demanded Back Wages
At the village of Nea Manolada, a farming area west of Athens where thousands of migrant workers are employed, there is a history of exploiting migrants, but nothing like the Greek tragedy that occurred there April 17 when 29 Bangladeshi workers were shot by three foremen with two shotguns and a handgun. A photo of one of the victims showed him with bloody bandages over his groin, which leads one to believe that these foremen were vicious.
The workers had been on strike for three days because they had not been paid their wages for six months. It must have seemed that the strike was taking effect. The workers were promised their wages that afternoon, 22 euros a day, (less than the recently lowered minimum wage in Greece of 580 euros a month). Around 200 workers had gathered at the office to receive their back wages, only to be disappointed once again.
Only representatives of the workers were admitted into the office. The foremen told them that were not going to get paid after all, but they had better get back to work. When the men refused, three of the foremen opened fire on them, threatening to kill them, and others started to beat the workers with sticks, according to what workers told an Amnesty International investigative team that visited the farm later. The Bangladeshi worker told them that the shooting went on for more than 20 minutes. It’s unclear about how these events took place from inside the office to the crowd of men gathered outside to receive their pay.
In the aftermath, Amnesty International visited the farm and talked to to workers. They observed that there was a real sense of fear and ongoing danger among the Bangladeshi workers, who feel trapped. There is also great despair because they haven’t been paid and are not able to take care of their families. Amnesty International observers also saw that the workers lived in horrendous conditions, in large crowded sheds that were structured with little more than plastic sheeting, without access to water or sanitation.
That evening, soon after the shooting, some 200-250 workers gathered in the village square, in a tense scene demanding that justice be served and that the foremen and owner be arrested. The next day, April 18, the KKE, the Communist Party of Greece, held a protest and solidarity rally in the village square of Manolado.
Tweeters called for a boycott, urging people to stop eating strawberries grown at Nea Manolada, damning them for “blood strawberries”, relating the incident to the blood diamonds exploitation of workers in Africa.
After tracking down the foremen, the police arrested three of them and also charged the owner with being an accomplice to attempted murder, promptly taking them to court. In one report, the foremen defended their actions, saying that the workers had threatened them with makeshift clubs. According to another account in a Bangladesh news service, the foremen also told the court that they had acted in self-defense as the crowd had become hostile. They also claimed that they fired at the ground and that the bullets deflected onto the victims.
In a separate hearing before a magistrate in Amaliada, Nicos Vangelatos, the owner of the strawberry fields, has denied having anything to do with the use of violence against the workers, and said that the foremen who shot the workers were not his employees, but were employed by the cultivators that he bought the strawberries from. Vangelatos denied having any knowledge that illegal workers were hired to pick strawberries in the fields that he owns.
Meanwhile, the strawberry boycott spread quickly through social media as the public, aghast at what had happened, showed support for the workers. Supermarkets in Athens stopped carrying strawberries from Nea Manolada.
The Greek news website with English translations, http://www.kathimerini.gr, carried several articles on the story, although one story, “Fruit Farmers Say Shooting Spree Fallout is Ruining Them,” was a bit difficult to find, as links were broken. In this article, Fotis Kyriazis, the Greek man who leads the Yrmini cooperative told reporters, “Much fruit is still in the fields because migrant workers are too scared to return to work for fear of inspections that have been intensified. Of the fruit that has been picked, much is in refrigeration after a flood of order cancellations over the past week.”
The local mayor of Adravida-Kyllini, Dimitris Arvanits, attempted damage control by saying that this incident was caused by one businessman who wasn’t even local, but who lived in Athens.
However, Natassa Panagiotara, President of Amaliad’s Labour Centre said that mistreatment of migrant workers was a problem with all of the strawberry growers. They had called for labour inspections, but were told that there was a lack of personnel for inspections, and that access to observe working conditions on the farm had not been allowed.
Ombudsman Callipe Spanou said that the state was to blame for the Manolada incident because adequate inspection could have averted the incident.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias visited the farm and announced to the press, “The brutal assault does not only violate Greek law, but also every sense of humanity. It has no relation to Greek culture.”
The All-militant Workers’ Front (PAME) made a public statement on the shooting spree, “The immigrant agricultural workers in Manolada are on the receiving end not only of state, but also employer intimidation on a daily basis. They work without any protective measures and without social-security cover. They live in terrible conditions and without any measures for their health and medical care. Today they were attacked in a murderous way, when the employers’ thugs opened fire on them. This resulted in 28 of them being taken to hospital.” Officials have announced that 35 of the farm workers have been granted state protection as victims of human trafficking to prevent their deportation so they can testify.
Meanwhile in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Ambassador Golam Mohammad is reported to have said, “I have been informed that the court handed down 18 months of imprisonment to the Greek strawberry farm owner and three foremen.”
Mohammad said earlier today he called on Greece’s Public Order and Citizens Protection minister Nikolaos Dendias and demanded compensation of the wounded Bangladeshi workers; seven of them still undergoing treatment at two hospitals. The envoy said the Greek minister assured him of taking steps for the compensation or “legal aid” for the injured and that they would put in efforts to bring them under a “legal frame” alongside finding a mechanism so they could get their arrears salary.
Several articles that I read carried the information that diplomatic sources said Bangladeshis flow in and out of Greece, trying to get in as a gateway to Western Europe, with their current population possibly over 20,000, half of them being illegal.
[DS added the video report.]
30 Migrant Workers Shot in Greece During Payment Dispute
NewsyWorld on Apr 18, 2013
While no one was killed, the attack highlights increasing racial violence against migrants in Greece.
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Conditions in the U.S. are not really any better, except perhaps in California and Hawaii. No other states have any protections in place for farm workers. When we shop, how many of us ever consider the working conditions and lives of the people who pick the food for us?
I grow my own strawberries, among other fruits/veggies. That’s the way to go.
Did you see this piece by Hedges? https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/tomatoes-of-wrath-by-chris-hedges/
And people think that the Greek Tragedys ended at the golden age of Greece.
Thank you Ariel. Appalling. Shocking brutality. It just goes to show, how the vulnerable are scapegoated as victims in this grotesquely unwholesome foodopoly that is our ill-conceived and badly run global market. We must feed the world the pundits bleat. No! we must allow the world to feed itself!!
Everything should be traceable, duly provenanced and tagged, properly regulated and traded fairly
The Good Guide made a commendable start in that direction, as have so many fair-trade and organic initiatives.
Things will not change in a big way, until the workers who provide the gross consumer demand, begin to take ethical responsibility for the social and environmental implications of the “work” they do.
“Jobs” are not enough. That just renders us fodder for corporate gluttons. Labour becomes just another commodity for exchange and rationalisation. We need people to exercise their god-given freedom to seek purposeful employment as they see fit and earn decent livelihooods in communities of concern that do not penalize initiative.
The old instrumentalist paradigms of the stone-age utilitarians are way past their sell-by date.