Dignity for migrant workers and the movement for food sovereignty are the same struggle!

(This article originally appeared in the 34th edition of the Nyeleni Newsletter and is being republished here, as the current global pandemic brings the spotlight back on the plight of migrant workers around the world.)

“In early times, human beings moved around to look for water and fruit to feed themselves as well as to avoid ferocious wild animals. It was their way of protecting themselves. They travelled to preserve their lives. The first stage of evolution of our race came when the first objects were invented. Humans then moved on to organise their food supplies (hunting, fishing and gathering) as well as to protect themselves from rival groups”.

These are the words of Mamadou Cissokho, a leading figure of the West African peasant resistance movement, at the opening speech in January 2018, where he reminded everyone of their responsibility in the current tragedy of migration.

Moving to feed themselves and survive

The same causes have produced the same effects on all continents. It has become a very large-scale business, with climate change forcing many millions of people to become refugees leaving Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia as well as Latin America. Their lands no longer allow them to feed themselves as soil and wells had dried up, and crops destroyed by repeated natural disasters.

Political instability, often instigated by neo-colonial interests and imperialists, have plunged countries and whole regions into situations of tragic insecurity, conflicts and wars and that many have tried to escape. Central America, Yemen, Syria, Sahel offering the latest examples. These situations had become worse when famines occurred and placed populations in imminent danger, such as in the case of Yemen.

However, it is also essential and urgent to recognise unbridled globalised capitalism as the cause leading to the impoverishment of the indigenous communities and peasants around the world.

Land-grabbing, violation of customary rights, extractivism, restricted access to markets, economic partnership agreements and other free trade treaties are all the repeated and real translation of the law of the strongest. These measures are responsible for the physical and cultural uprooting of peoples. Furthermore, in this challenging context, it is vital to bear in mind the degree to which there has been very violent and even murderous State and police repression.

“(Europeans) and peoples have left us writing and historical manuscripts in which they confirmed that they had met so-called “soulless” people; they took whatever they found and sold it as they saw fit”. (M. Cissokho).

Stolen land and the destruction of food and popular culture

This uprooting of cultures is particularly illustrated through the Moroccan example. To supply the European market with low-cost tomatoes and citrus, the Moroccan State facilitated entry for Spanish, French and Dutch investors as of the 1990s, hunting the local peasants off their land, pretexting that the land belonged to the Royal Family of Souss Massa Drah. These companies also gained simplified access to water resources and irrigation as well as State agricultural subsidies. There were such needs for labour that everything was organised in such a way that thousands of small-scale peasants who lived in the Atlas mountains abandoned their families’ land and moved to the areas where industrial agriculture was being practised.

This phenomenon of extreme exploitation and pauperisation of an uprooted national workforce still exists and encourages men and women to leave their homes for horizons that are ever further afield and more uncertain.

Parallel to this, traditional food crops (such as wheat, one of the main ingredients in Moroccan food) have been abandoned to serve better the interests of the export industry and unbridled capitalism! This situation is similar to many others from which people around the world are suffering.

Food insecurity

The current discussions around the Global Compact, the project of a global pact on migration currently under negotiation at the United Nations, openly unmasks the cynicism and criminal attitude of the principal decision-makers. When people are being blocked at borders such policies take on an inhuman aspect and also violates the Convention on Human Rights. It does not stop there. “Western” States are turning people away or establishing conditions for granting development aid linked to creating border controls (including heavy police presence) in the countries of departure. It is very worrying. The cynicism and the refusal to provide a dignified welcome to political, economic and climate refugees is leading to a concentration of these helpless people in major urban ghettos or in rural areas (such as the extreme south of Italy). There are refugee camps there, and severe insecurity: violence, lack of any organised healthcare, poor housing, forced labour, and human trafficking are rife. Thus these very circumstances mean that a migrant loses his or her capacity and food autonomy and becomes dependent on the agribusiness system.

“Let us work together to share the wealth and well-being everywhere and for all. The strength of a poor man or woman is that he or she loses nothing because he or she has nothing to lose” (M. Sissokho)

Dignity for migrant workers and the movement for food sovereignty are one and the same struggle!

La Via Campesina and its member organisations and allies are committed to resisting and joining in their struggles for rights and dignity for migrants, and to supporting food sovereignty. The movement is increasing the spaces where it mobilises against the big multinational corporations. It continues to resist the growing control that the agribusinesses exert on resources and food production, always to the detriment of the lives of small-scale peasants. The movement is working on the process of supporting the proletariat to build their struggles and fight the destabilisation of democratic principles of food sovereignty.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in rural areas (UNDROP) has stated solutions to address distress migration. The Declaration does it by defending the right to land and water use, by claiming peasants rights over traditional seeds, by working for the recognition of their collective rights, by guaranteeing the freedom to organise in unions and by demanding equal status for women peasants.

As La Via Campesina, we stand against the walls that are being built in a wave of totalitarian madness! It is essential to build bridges between peoples and connect the peasants of the world!

“Rather than taking up arms, let us take up solidarity” (M. Cissokho)

Agribusiness thrives on the exploitation of the workers and peasants. Migrant workers, have been uprooted and are highly fragile and vulnerable when faced by these economic predators and by “consenting” against their will to sacrificing their rights, they contribute to feeding the appetite of a system that is annihilating them.

La Via Campesina and its member organisations, resist and create solidarity among the peasants and the working class and carry out agitations and campaigns to secure the rights of migrant workers.

La Via Campesina and its allies open the path to food sovereignty for peoples and peasants without borders.

Solidarity with Migrant Workers!

Treat migrant workers with the dignity and respect!#LaViaCampesina #StandWithTheMigrants The situation of migrants during the COVID crisis19 represents a debacle of shameful proportions. At a time when governments boasted about the security measures taken, some of them ignored the awful situation of migrants, aggravated by these same measures, and sacrificed them in a dehumanising manner.Workers, both rural and urban and those who migrated abroad, who lived through the health and economic crisis before the advent of the coronavirus, now find themselves in extreme poverty. The long period of confinement has deprived them of the meagre income from their informal food-producing activities. It has exposed women – especially women with children – to violence, begging and blackmail.Tens of thousands of people who were on the move were surprised by the border closures. Most governments have been indifferent to their plight. Even within countries, the abrupt containment measures have separated workers in cities from their rural families, and some have had to walk long distances on foot.Yet in the big farms of wealthier countries, seasonal migrant workers have been 'flown in', to ensure steady food production. Not long ago, these workers were demonised and driven out through xenophobic campaigns. It is time for the hypocrisy to end.It is time to respect the life and dignity of migrants and support their lives and livelihoods.

Publiée par La Via Campesina sur Lundi 15 juin 2020

Cover Photo: Edu León. from France, Gypsies Room expelled, 2010.