Further rumblings from the establishment over The Guardians expose of slavery in province

Further to yesterday’s editorial denouncing the “lies, manipulation and stupidity of The Guardian” by our local Pravda, La Voz de Almería, the newspaper continues with this theme today, dedicating most of the front page, and pages 2-6 to the issue.

The Guardian, in a piece written by Felicity Lawrence (view it here), claimed that “Charities working with illegal workers during this year’s harvest claim the abuses meet the UN’s official definition of modern-day slavery across the province of Almeria”.

The PP have promised to raise a question in Parliament about the “affront” caused by the British newspaper, and Rafael Hernando, one of our local Deputies in Parliament will ask both the Junta de Andalucia and the Kingdom of Spain to issue a complaint to the newspaper “in defense of the farmers of Almería, the quality of our produce, the hard work of our agricultural labourers, of our respect towards the Law, and the promise of total agricultural quality in all produce that comes from Almeria”.

Several farming cooperatives have joined forces in asking the local government delegate to issue a formal protest to the British Embassy.

Interestingly enough, it seems that Asda, the supermarket chain, has been so worried by the Guardian piece that, according to La Voz, it has sent out a team of consultants to examine the allegations raised in the paper. The Asda team are visiting farms they buy produce from, as well as checking on the housing and labour conditions of people working on those farms. La Voz, without commenting on their findings (they have yet to comment, I understand), says that this report will give international credibility to our claims that The Guardians piece is nonsense.

Hortiflor, one of the larger cooperatives, has told La Voz that it has asked for a round of talks with the major British supermarkets to discuss the issue and to ensure that the British chains are happy with the quality of produce being sent there.

Manuel Leon, writing in La Voz, has sent Felicity (the journalist behind the original article) an email, reproduced in todays edition, which can only be described as vituperative. He makes some snidey comments about her origins (London – or Birmingham? he asks, no idea why he seems to think that being from Birmingham is an insult), suggests that she has enjoyed stirring things up and jumping into puddles from “an early age”, suggests that if she has children (he doesn’t know and admits it) she must have abandoned them at an early age in order to write her bestselling books (two, both on the food industry it seems), and ends up saying that she is a filibuster, a redhead with an unsteady gaze, and a prime example of that serpent, perfidious Albion, who switches allegiance between Tory and Labour to serve her commercial interests.

The union quoted in the article, the SOC (Sindicato de Obreros del Campo) is directly accused of stirring up things in order to gain publicity and members, and is -somewhat obliquely- accused of treason.

The headline of La Voz screams that “Nine influential Spanish journalists give their professional opinion of the article”. When we open up the paper, we see that, actually, it’s only eight. Who dropped out, I wonder?

Anyway, a series of journalists – head of Canal Sur news, an El Mundo writer, director of Interalmería Television, the director of Focosur, director of the COPE in Almería, someone described only as “a journalist”, a writer for El País and director of Teleprensa.es – all line up to gain some brownie points with the locals and bluster on about how inaccurate the report was. I gave up reading it all after about 2,000 words of closely typed anger.

We are then treated to a series of carefully selected comments from meaneme.net, facebook and twitter, all of which either support Almería, or are so obviously blasé that it seems clear to the reader that the only people on the web against Almería have no idea of what the debate is all about.

Interestingly enough, the bombardment we’re receiving from our masters in the capital city doesn’t actually include any attempts to refute the article. The whole emphasis seems to be that the article is such nonsense that it’s a waste of time trying to refute it, because it’s so obviously a lie.

Which, to my mind, is a cunning argument that prevents anyone actually being put in a position of having to go out to the farms and asking the workers what they – the subject of the article- think about it, and hence preventing any unpleasent answers coming back.

I’d go myself, but if I went into those greenhouses without a police escort, I’m probably not coming out again. Which, I suspect, is exactly what the journalists think back in Almería. They’re not running the risk, either. They’re not stupid – they know that inside that mass of plastic is a heaving mass of unemployed, illegal immigrants, who will work long, back breaking hours with no medical assistance, no labour laws, and no modern western convienance, for a couple of euros an hour. Of course, we only hear about the nastier black murder (say, when they’re chased down the streets of Níjar by a gang of local youths before being kicked to death, or found floating face down in the town’s water supply), or the white farmer murders (three of them alone, I think, last year).

Just what are immigrants worth to Almería?

A three year investigation, published late last year, which started off just trying to work out how to calculate the benefits and costs, has revealed that 52,000 immigrant workers in the province generated 140 million euros worth of tax in 2006, or around 2,700€ a year per immigrant. For Andalucia as a whole, the immigrant economy brings in some 1,340 million euros to the region.

The study is titled “El impacto de la imigración en el desarollo económico de Andalucía“, published by the UAL and the Seville University Press.

The study pulled out some surprising figures for the province. If the figure of 52,000 is correct, then 1 out of every 4 workers here is now an immigrant, out of which 21,000 work in the agricultural sector, and a further 25,000 in other works. 3,000 are autónomos and 1,000 are women working in domestic service.

Of course, this ignores the fact that in August last year, there were 111,000 people searching for work in the province – legally. One study I saw in early 2010 suggested that there were up to 80,000 illegal immigrants living in the Poniente area of the province, mainly dependent upon agricultural work.

Oh, check out this post about a 1993 article about farming in Almería in The New York Times.

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