tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera October 9, 2015 3:30am-4:01am EDT
survive despite the new threat from poachers to their traditional way of living. al jazeera, malaysia. and you can find out more on that story and all of the day's top stories on our website. the address al jazeer aljazeera. >> every year, the u.s. imports more and more produce - fresh fruits and vegetables - from mexico. and every year, wages have stayed the same for the people that harvest that produce - sometimes the last people to touch the fruit bought by u.s. consumers. but after years of long, hot days and stagnant pay, workers left the fields and took to the streets to demand better working conditions - and a living wage. the response from the government was swift - and fierce.
this was the first time in over a decade a strike like this has happened in mexico. in this episode of fault lines, we went to meet the people picking so much of the food we eat in the united states and asked what is keeping them at the bottom of our food system. >> we're about an hour away from the heart of where farmworkers have started to protest their conditions and we're already coming up on a checkpoint, this could be an early sign the movement is starting to spread. >> thousands of farm workers had been on strike for over a week here. with the fields empty - and the main highway blocked off, they'd brought production to a halt at the peak of harvest in one of mexico's main agricultural areas, the valley of san quintin.
>> they're asking drivers for donations to support their cause, because while they're striking, they're not getting paid. >> when they are paid - workers here make an average of 120-130 pesos a day - or $8-9 dollars. >> for laborers, especially those with children, it's hard to understand how they could get by on the wages they're paid here.
which is why workers like ana joined the strike. she's been picking in the fields since she was 12 years old. she works at a nearby raspberry ranch now, normally 6 days a week, but sometimes it's everyday - and even then, she says it's not enough for her and her family. >> because i don't know how much a carton of eggs costs here or milk, so i'm curious how that money spends, how do you make ends meet, how does that affect your budget?
>> i don't see a refrigerator, so are you able to refrigerate food? >> most of the people who live in ana's neighborhood are also farm workers in the surrounding fields, working long hours where they pick produce mostly destined for the u.s. >> ana told us she isn't sure how much longer her family can go without her paycheck - but she's even more afraid of going back to the fields and to the same low wages.
>> all that tension along the road is about what's happening right now in this building where protest leaders are meeting with authorities. >> with the strike entering its second week, workers finally got the meeting they had been asking for, with state officials. but even more importantly, with a representative of the farm owners, their bosses. after hours of negotiating, they reached agreements on a few points - but everything stopped at one issue.
but that's not difficult to do because the minimum wage here is only about $4.50 a day. by this point, workers had been striking for more than a week - and it had become a question of who would blink first - them or their bosses - and of how long workers could go without getting paid. >> nights fallen and the negotiations are still continuing up the road, but workers have amassed here and there are hundreds of them, standing with their backs to the police who are just across the road. and they say that they're going to stay here until they find out what's happening with the negotiations. >> as talks dragged on into the night and the next few days, workers lowered their demand from 300 to 200 pesos...but even that, they would find out, would be too much for growers. >> a source has just told us that the talks are about to stop - these talks have been going on for days - and the growers have
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after negotiations broke down, farm worker leaders moved on to talks with the federal government, to try and persuade them to help... ...and meanwhile, pickers returned to work, unable to go any longer without a paycheck - even if it wasn't as much as they'd hoped for. with the strike over, we wanted to see what a day was like for workers in san quintin. so we went to visit the fields of one the largest growers in the valley - berrymex... ...better known to u.s. consumers by their distributor - driscoll's. the workers hands are basically the starting line of the track that leads produce to it's ultimate destination - the consumer. >> in the states everything is so automated, you go into a grocery store and everything is just laid out with dozens of these boxes and all the food ready for you. you kind of forget that every single berry is picked by human
hands, by a person and then is sorted and put into a box. and every box is opened up and every berry is looked at for quality control - it's really a human intensive process. i think we've forgotten that at today's grocery stores. >> because it's peak season right now, workers aren't being paid a day rate - but by the box - so their earnings depend on how much they're able to pick - but that depends on how much fruit there actually is. berrymex gave us permission to film on their ranches, but said we couldn't talk to anyone on camera. but as we walked through the fields, pickers told us how precarious a day can be for them - when they have to rely on there being enough good berries to pick. >> even with the small raise after the strike, it didn't seem
like it was enough to help workers like they'd hoped. >> for everybody that thinks that farm worker is unskilled labor - they're wrong. i would challenge them to go to the fields for an hour and let's see if they can pick some strawberries. but the fact remains that the workers are some of the most marginal workers within mexico. >> miguel is a strawberry picker for berrymex. like the majority of farm workers here, he comes from oaxaca, one of mexico's poorest states. >> how was your day at work today, what'd you do?
>> how long do you plan on doing this? >> berrymex has said that workers have the "opportunity" to make between 5 and 9 dollars an hour with the salary rise after the strike... though the workers we met denied that. >> one misleading way to really say that workers make a lot of money is to measure wages at the peak of the season and what would a fast picker make. so you would really have 3 very strong months in which you can make a lot of money. however, remember that you don't need to eat only 3 months out of
the year. the wages that are now set between 140-180 - it doesn't go a long way. >> miguel's words were echoed by other workers, like this raspberry picker who works for berrymex. she asked us to keep her identity anonymous because she's afraid of the repercussions for speaking out. for her, it's not the pay alone - but the long hours...and feeling pressured to work harder - and faster. >> what time do you come home?
for them to come up to the rates that workers are asking for - but they said no to our interview request. so we decided to head north to see if we could get an answer from the people that buy from berrymex - their distributor. >> berrymex and driscoll's berries are two independent companies but they're owned by the same family and in fact, berrymex's only customer is driscoll's. so we've come to watsonville, ca to see if we can talk to someone at driscoll's about what's happening with the workers down in san quintin. >> for weeks, we'd asked them to speak to us about the situation in san quintin. >> we wanted to ask driscoll's what they would say to the pickers in baja california that claim that they can't make ends meet with what they're being paid right now and what the company do to help raise their wages but driscoll's says they won't talk to us on camera about this. >> all the investment, all the economic model is really for the attraction of transnational capital but how about the people
of mexico's largest exporters of tomatoes to the us. where we were given a tour by the ceo, fernando rodriguez - and shown what a day was like for workers here. the idea seemed to be - pick as much as you can - and as fast as you can. >> is there room within the profits of the company to pay the workers more than they get now? >> as a base, no. we did an increase of about 15% after the strike. but the margins are not so good, so increasing that amount can get us out of business. >> rodriguez told us the costs of production and transportation make it too difficult to increase workers' pay - because of what his produce sells for up the chain. >> the margin of what i know is the margin on the supermarket it's more than ours and more than the distributor and more
than everyone. >> why does our food system act the way it does? it's really about profits. and it's really about these margins. and it's really about who gets what at the end of the day. >> moving up the produce supply chain, everything stops here - at the retailer - and the price they pay for a product is what trickles down to workers in the fields. >> the tendency of the industry is for the retailer to squeeze the supplier. so who does the supplier squeeze? the supplier squeezes the workers. and since the workers are the weakest in the value chain, they're the ones who end up suffering the most when all this squeezing is said and done. this is a tremendously wealthy food system - $6 trillion a year. it's just very poorly distributed.
>> what do you think is at the heart of the strike, why do you think they're striking? >> i don't really know - it's hard to tell because there is no interest on what the company think about it. >> it seems to us, having spent some time with workers, what's driving this is that they are having trouble making ends meet, that everything is going up around them except for their pay is what they feel like. does that seem true to you? because they tell us they're having trouble making ends meet. >> well in mexico, we are suffering inflation. mexico is getting expensive, yes. not just baja california, it's all of mexico. so that impacts our pocket. >> so you see how that impacts the workers? >> mm-hmm. >> do you see how it would be hard to get by on their salary? >> yeah. >> a month after the strike ended - farm workers took the street once more...after leaders
>> a month and a half later, the government announced that they'd gotten growers to agree to pay a bit more - but not the 200 pesos that the workers had been fighting for. worn down - and with their options exhausted too, they had no other choice but to accept the offer. >> the beauty for the retailer of growing in san quintin, mexico is 1 - these people are not seen and the strike is not heard. i don't think that the retailers have to try very hard to obfuscate the source of the food that we eat. that's the nature of this system - when you pick up an apple, you don't see the labor in that apple - but it's embodied in that apple. you walk down the grocery aisle - think about all this phantom
>> i've seen people sittin' there for 10, 11 months and not even know why they was in jail. >> if you don't have any money, you're finished. >> you get mental scars from this. >> how many kids have they thrown away? >> "faultlines". >> what do we want? >> al jazeera america's hard-hitting... >> today the will be arrested. >> ground-breaking... >> they're firing canisters of gas at us. >> emmy award-winning, investigative series.
we'll be live with the latest in syri. ♪ ♪ hello there, i am shiulie ghosh in doha. also coming out program, russia denies four of its long range cruise missiles fired at syria landed short and land ed in on ron. the u.n. proposes a ube if i government to end the conflict in libya. but the rival parliament still need to approve a. plus. >> reporter: i am