Farm supervisors opened fire into a crowd of 200 migrant workers on a strawberry farm in the village of Manolada, western Greece, last week. They hit more than 30 workers, mostly from Bangladesh, and seriously injured eight of them.
The workers were demanding unpaid wages. They hadn’t received their meagre pay of just £2.70 an hour in seven months.
“They hit us and said, ‘We will kill you’” one of the workers told aid workers. “Three of them were shooting at us while the others beat us with sticks. The shooting went on for more than 20 minutes.”
But the workers are getting organised, along with activists from the anti-racist coalition KEERFA and the union of immigrant workers. Petros Constantinou from KEERFA said, “More than 1,000 migrant workers came to an open assembly.”
Workers voted for a mass demonstration in the centre of the village on Sunday of this week. Their slogans will be “stop the racist terror of the bosses,” and “legalise all immigrants now”.
Hundreds joined the union of migrant workers, and now plan to organise a strike on May Day. Petros and others have been visiting other unions in the region to build support.
“We held a conference with lots of local unions. The teachers are holding assemblies to build for the demonstration.”
Strawberries from around Manolada are exported all over Europe, in an industry worth £85 million.
Around 2,000 Bangladeshis live in the area, along with several thousand workers from elsewhere. Many do not have official residence permits so have no access to healthcare.
Workers have to pay nearly a full day’s wage every month to live in sheds at the farm. Made from plastic sheeting, these house more than 20 workers each, with a hosepipe providing the only running water.
“What you have in the peasant regions of Greece are capitalist exporters with huge profits,” said Petros. “And we’re building a new tradition of resistance there.”
The Manolada workers follow in the footsteps of orange growers near Sparta, who struck two years ago.
They came home from work to find their belongings out on the street. Bosses wanted to kick them out of their homes and impose extra shifts without extra pay.
But the workers went on strike. They won back their homes—and the right to stay in Greece legally.
The Manolada workers are demanding legalisation, in the face of the government’s campaign of terror against migrant workers. Tens of thousands have been rounded up and taken to detention camps since August.
But 20,000 migrant workers marched against the raids last year in Athens, and hunger strikers in the camps last month exposed the horrific conditions inside.