The Briefing Column: People Against Machines in Andalucia
About 1.5 per cent of the farmers of Andalucia—one of the most fertile areas in Europe own over half the land, about 11 million acres. On the other hand, 450,000 smallholders make do with 1 million acres between them.
To maximise profits the estate owners have switched from traditionally labour-intensive crops such as sugar beet, cotton, tobacco and olives to crops like wheat and sunflower seeds which can be mechanically harvested. This way they save over £20 million a year in wages. The unemployment rate among farm labourers is 20 per cent and rising. They have no land of their own and receive no unemployment pay if they fail to find work on the farms or in the villages.
One in five farm labourers is illiterate. Their motto—‘The land for him who works it’—is as it was before the civil war. One in four rural houses lacks a bathroom, one in five running water or electricity. The standard of living is one of the lowest in Europe, on a par with Sicily. In the most depressed provinces per capita income is only one third of the lowest European average.
Due to the recession the Andalucian labourer has difficulties finding work in Spain’s industrial cities or in Western Europe. Between 1960 and 1973 two and a half million people (over a third of Andalucia’s present population) left the area to find work in Europe’s industrial centres. This figure included half a million farm labourers. As a result wages began to rise. Many of the large estates, which had existed profitably on cheap labour for more than half a century, turned to mechanisation to stay profitable.
The unemployed view the new machines as their enemies and have repeatedly invaded the estates to stop mechanical harvesters. They have set fire to wheat fields and staged hunger strikes against hunger. The government has tried to create ‘communal employment’ at wages of £6 a day to alleviate some of the anger. If that does not work the Guardia Civil steps in to keep the peace.
Spain is also changing her education system to cater for the needs of a growing industry. From primary schools onwards education in Spain was once mainly private and very expensive. The standard of teaching in the few state schools that existed was very low. The state is now providing more schools and modem industry will of course require more workers with a basic understanding of the three ‘R’s, as well as more advanced knowledge.
Sympathise as we may with the plight of the farm labourers, what is going on in Andalucia is the inescapable development of captalism. Spain after Franco is slowly getting more industrialised. It is almost certain that the workers’ attempt to stop mechanisation will be fruitless.