Andalucia Steve

...living the dream

Fruit picking, a personal perspective.

Thoughts on fruit picking of an ex-pat whose ancestors were agricultural labourers for three centuries.
Fruit picking, a personal perspective.

One of the consequences of Brexit often visited by the media is the future of fruit and vegetable harvesting. The reporting comes in two stripes. The anti-Brexit media report the downsides of course. In a nutshell the 'hostile environment' created by the Tories towards foreigners and Brexit uncertainty has deterred immigrants from EU countries filling the seasonal vacancies in the industry. There are many reports of fruit rotting on the ground and farmers fearing they will be driven out of business completely or forced to relocate abroad. Then there is the Brexit positive media who claim this is all scaremongering. They report on the job opportunities for picking fruit in Britain soaring e.g. "£700 per week job boom" says 'The Sun'. Another common theme in the pro-Brexit media are reports about the development of fruit and veg picking robots, so clearly there is a fall-back in case Britain's youth don't care to relocate to a field in East Anglia to pick strawberries in July.

I've never picked fruit commercially myself. Well I owned a small-holding in Spain for a couple of years but apart from trading several tree-loads of olives to the local co-operative in exchange for virgin oil, I never sold anything, nor was I paid.
 
However that wasn't the norm for my ancestors. A friend of mine who is a whiz at these things came to stay for a few weeks and her parting gift was a family tree going back to 1740. For generation after generation my forebears were agricultural labourers.
 
I knew my grandfather was a farm labourer but not that the entire stock of my family were so as well, male and female. All lived and worked in the same village, Froxfield Hants for centuries. Grandfather Alfred though was a little different. He moved where the work was, over some considerable distance.
 
My father Edmund was born in Tolworth, Surrey in 1908. He told me he didn't see his father very often when growing up. Alfred did seasonal work which meant he was away for much of the year. One month he would be hop-picking in Kent, another harvesting turnips in Suffolk and so forth. Money was good when Alfred came back and my father and his seven brothers and sisters ate well. However one year, Alfred did not return. This was before the welfare state remember, there were no benefits to take care of single mothers with eight children, so the siblings who could work did, while my father and his younger brother George were found a place in Bizley Farm School, a charitable institution for borders, where the children would tend crops, manufacture wickerwork baskets, produce honey, cheese and so forth all of which was sold to pay for their farm education. 
 
Dad also picked fruit but he did so to survive. In good old Dickensian manner, the children at the school were largely fed on bowls of gruel, apart from Easter when they were treated to a boiled egg. My father and his friends therefore foraged in the countryside scrumping whatever fruit and veg they could find. They would trap birds, game, pigeons etc. A particular favourite was a hedgehog rolled in mud and cooked on a bonfire. It is a sobering thought that this is not a fairy tale from long ago - this is the real story of my father and these events took place less than a century ago.
 
Anyway, I didn't think too much about picking fruit again until in 2003 when my wife and I moved to Spain. We bought a country house in a small inland village in the north west of Murcia which is very much an agricultural economy. We became friendly with many of the local farmers and after a time, a picture of the black economy emerged. Fruit picking is obviously an activity where time is of the essence. As a crop is about to ripen, people have to be there in numbers not required throughout the rest of the year. In a somewhat 'backward' area of Spain at this time (by which I mean few people had email), there was an unspoken seasonal tradition. Come say, June, the apricots would ripen. A convoy of battered cars would arrive full of itinerant fruit pickers as if out of nowhere. At six in the morning the 'workforce' would gather at a point on the edge of town, and farmers would haggle to get the amount of workers they need at the lowest price. These people were working in black money so they would invariably earn below minimum wage, perhaps two to three euros per hour. After a twelve hour day in the blazing sun the workers would return to their cars, which were normally parked near the river where they could bathe and wash their clothes. This is tough work too. An Ecuadorian woman of my acquaintance appeared one day with her hand in a sling. When I enquired she said she had slipped from a tree and sliced off her little finger. She shrugged and said live goes on, explaining she needed return to work quickly to continue sending money back to her family.
 
As far as I could gather, the itinerant labourers in Spain have a similar lot to my grandfather. They move about, not just in Spain but in other EU countries, providing work where it is needed, often (mostly as far as I could see) in black money. There seemed to be a mix of Moroccans, Bulgarians and South Americans, all of whom had the common thread of being so far down the food chain they never get out of the black money trap.
 
However I have since seen another class of migrant workers in Spain with much better terms and conditions. Indigenous Spanish who are already in the system get much better 'gigs'. I knew a builder, a very industrious chap called 'ni' (short for Antonio) who would go to Switzerland each summer picking grapes, for which he got good money, stamp paid for etc. I understand that the building trade is quiet in Spain during the summer months so this is a popular way for workers who would otherwise be picking up unemployment to get some good money in. Now the Spanish unemployment money is not bad anyway so for this to be the case I reckon the Swiss money must be pretty good. I've heard of similar schemes where town halls in Spain organize groups of people to go fruit picking in France and Italy, again on legal money that is high enough to make it worthwhile. One woman told me she will be doing three months at 3000 euros per month and she will be taking most of that home. 
 
What these subjective, personal and somewhat random observations suggest to me is the future of the farming of fruit and vegetables in Britain is this. With Britain leaving the EU I see it as unlikely that the lot of fruit-pickers in Britain will get any better. On the 19 December 2019 the Johnson government published a revised version of the EU withdrawal agreement which no longer contains clauses on the protection of EU-derived workers’ rights. Robots aside (fruit picking robots are a long way from being viable), a demand for fruit pickers (which has apparently gone from four fruit pickers to each job to four jobs for each fruit-picker) will inevitably drive up wages, so I doubt the British supermarkets will accept the corresponding increase in the price of produce required by farmers for their operations to remain profitable. There are therefore two ways this could go. Either the government will takes steps to make the environment for the unemployed so unpleasant that they will be induced to chase low paid agricultural work to avoid starvation as my ancestors did, or alternative suppliers to British farms will fill the void on the supermarket shelves. The countries that may gain the most out of the latter are non-EU countries with low labour costs that are not the other side of the world and have climates that suit agricultural production. The British government has already had preliminary talks with several North African countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and these may well be smart places for investment in a post-Brexit economy.
 

 

 

The Jewish Question

I was triggered this week. Here's why
The Jewish Question

So it came to pass I was on Facebook this week and a post came up that caught my eye. A friend of mine, someone I knew in real life, had posted a comment on a group that I'm not a member of, claiming the political left had a long history of anti-Semitism.

The comment he made was in response to the daubing of anti-Semitic graffiti on a synagogue in North London on Hanukkah. The post read:

Anti-semitism has long standing roots on the Left - read Marx on 'The Jewish Question' - and please remember that Muslims are brought up, in varying degrees, to loathe Jews and for some indeed - it takes but a few - to envisage a world where they are wiped out. The Left are allies of a certain stripe of Islam so don't immediately jump to the facile conclusion that the 'Far Right' is responsible. The rise of anti-semitism has coincided with large numbers of Muslim migrants into Europe, some of whom deeply resent Judaism and 'nationalist' parties have arisen in response to this and the increasing emphasis on pressing for a monolithic European 'government'. The 'Far Right' was a risible minority until these two processes were underway.

I was immediately angered by this. Triggered if you will. Now the friend in question (no names no pack drill) isn't your typical Britain First thug. He's an educated man with a degree from the LSE of all places. He is well read and has a house full of books. I was aware he leaned to the right as I've enjoyed many late night alcohol-fuelled discussions with him, during which times we've never had too many violent clashes.

In my experience and of what I have read, the very notion that the left is anti-Semitic is a nonsense. The communists famously battled alongside the Jews in the battle of Cable Street against Moseley's British Nazis in the 1930's. It was the nazi's spouting anti-jewish slurs and propaganda during the 70's that necessitated the formation of the anti-nazi league. During 2019 election there was even an anti-Labour proppo starring Maureen Lipman that listed the life-long links that previously existed between the Jewish community in Britain and the Labour party. But then later in the video one gets to the nub. This horrendous piece of anti-Corbyn propaganda is part of a much larger and more sinister campaign by the right deliberately designed to smear Corbyn as anti-Semitic.

Going back to my friend's original post, if you have read 'On the Jewish Question' you'll know that it was far from being anti-Semitic. Marx wrote it in response to an essay by the German philosopher Bruno Bauer, who himself was arguing that Jews should renounce their religion in order to be free in a secular society, clearly an anti-Semitic position that Marx was attacking. If instead of reading the whole piece you only dip in and grab snatches of it one can easily confuse it as being anti-semitic because Marx uses many quotes from Bauer which have anti-semitic language in it. Also the language Marx used is perhaps a little less delicate than we would use today, but one has to consider the essay was written in 1843 in a time when the phrase anti-Semitic had yet to be coined. Marx also used irony and takes Devil's Advocate positions which go over a lot of reader's heads. Let's not forget too, he himself was Jewish! This leads to misconceptions about the piece such that even some Jewish scholars argue among themselves whether Marx was being anti-Semitic or not. It is this has been taken advantage of by the right who have cited the piece many times since around the year 2000. One can see the cited articles in Google Ngram searches and by searching for mentions of the book with the advanced Google search tag site: e.g. "on the jewish question" site:telegraph.co.uk

Clearly my friend's claim that anti-Semitism has deep roots on the left is completely without foundation. The far right however have been solidly anti-semitic since Hitler wrote Mein Kampf and that has manifested itself in various forms with the rise of the right. My suspicion is, that like many people my friend has been the victim of right-wing gaslighting.

Further clues follow in the rest of his comment which is pure Mainstream Media 'dog-whistle racism' as seen everyday in the Mail, Express, Times, Telegraph, Star etc etc.

1) He suggests Muslims hate Jews. There are about 1.5 billion Muslims on the planet, I'd be surprised if some of them weren't brought up to hate jews as are some Christians, but it's simply a racist stereo-type to regard being Muslim as automatically anti-semitic.

2) The left are allies of a certain 'stripe' of Islam. Hmm, not sure which stripe that is. Does he mean the Palestinian stripe who has had their lands occupied by Israel in defiance of UN resolutions, or does he mean the stripe of Islam opposed to the war being waged by the Wahabbi's on Yemen? Tell you what, we'll leave that for another blog post.

3) The rise of anti-semitism has coincided with large numbers of Muslim migrants into Europe. Has it though? He was saying earlier how old the roots of anti-Semitism were in Europe because of the political left. Is there more anti-Semitism in Europe now than there was in the 1930's? Clearly not.

4) ..'nationalist' parties have arisen in response to this [sic. large numbers of Muslim migrants into Europe] and the increasing emphasis on pressing for a monolithic European 'government'. This is a Brexiteer trope. The increase in Muslim migration to Europe is a direct consequence of American meddling in the Middle East and the notion that there pressure for a monolithic European government is also a distopic fantasy from the minds of Bannon and Farage. Anyone who believes this is barmy but anyone who believes this and uses it to accuse the political left of being anti-semitic is clearly of a dangerously confused mind.

So I politely replied to my friends post rebutting his arguments I also added the following:

"What is a crime against intellectual freedom is the notion that any criticism of the State of Israel is automatically antisemitic, and the recent decision by the Tories to prohibit public bodies like universities and local authorities from supporting the BDS movement. That's worse than Thatcher supporting apartheid."

Of course the unanswered question here is who hoodwinked my friend and the electorate into thinking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party were anti-Semitic, but that is a theme for another blog post on another day!