The Price of Food and the disciplining of workers

April 24, 2013 at 2:35 AM Leave a comment

When I was in my teens I lived in Kent and used to work on farms in the Summer to make a lot of money.  It was backbreaking work especially picking fruit or veg, very long hours and you could not get rich on the pay. As far as career choices go that experience taught me that agricultural labouring was to be avoided and that the various pronouncements that I heard my supposed betters make about the nobility of work were (excuse my french) crap.

When my children were small I was appalled to find out that many of their friends in primary school had no idea were food come from.  Virtually none of them new what kind of bean a baked bean was and most had no conception of how food was grown and produced.  More recently this has made me realise that then implications of this ignorance go wider than the debate about healthy eating. It has made the people who do this work invisible and allowed people to believe that we have a right to (supposedly) cheap food. What’s made their invisibility worse is that  alot of the workers are migrant workers, many of whom are, exploited undocumented workers. But hey I hear Daily Mail headlines scream, they’re illegal workers, scamming their way into Britain and therefore should not be regarded to as being our equals and be treated with dignity and respect, after all their criminals.  What does it matter of they put the food on our table.

Every time  I see a supermarket ad claiming that ex hundred amount of  food products are cheaper than their  rivals I wonder how many people watching  think about the people who slaved to provide it and know in my heart that its probably nobody.  I was consoled by the fact that agriculture was the last bastion where there was an institution that was charged with trying to ensure that agricultural workers were not super exploited by setting a minimum wage for the industry.  This was the agricultural wages board which the Government scrapped in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill last week.  This was despite accepting the evidence that this agricultural workers would lose about £240 million in pay over the next ten years. But who cares, their migrant workers, their invisible and they haven’t got a vote.  This is about scrapping unnecessary red tape to allow the already considerable profit margins of the food industry to grow.  After all in this modern civilised world we grow food to make money, not to feed people.

The only trouble is that if governments don’t protect the workers from super exploitation  than very horrible things happen.  This was the case in Greece late last week when 200 strawberry prickers, the majority of whom came from Bangladesh held a what they thought was going to be a peaceful protest over the fact that they hadn’t been paid for six months. Imagine their shock when their employers took exception to their  audacity and turned guns on them. 28 of the workers ended up getting shot and injured., mercifully none of them were killed.  So much for the  European Union, western civilisation, democracy and the rule of law.  That’s what’s happens when workers become invisible are demonized  because of their migration and  ethnicity as a result dehumanised and treated as outsiders.  I for one will be checking to see if my strawberry’s come from Greece, and if  I have to pay a little more  because they don’t, then I will gladly hand over the money in the hope that some of it might find its way into the hands of a worker who gets paid a semi decent wage and is treated with some respect for their role in getting those strawberry’s from the field into my hands


Entry filed under: Politics.

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