Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cherries ripe for picking, pickers ripe for organising.

Ned K.

Cherry growers in the Adelaide Hills have had a bumpy ride over the last few years.
Cherry production yields in a particular season have varied significantly due to unexpected changes in the weather combined with the ruthless price reduction demands for cherries by the big retailers Coles and Woolworths.

However this recent season, Adelaide Hills cherry growers have become less dependent on this retail duopoly as the main market for their product. Now the cherries are picked, packed and exported by air freight within the space of a couple of days to eager customers in Asian cities, particularly China. Cherry growers are also getting a better price and hence realization of profit from these markets. New storage technologies and the increasing speed with which commodities can be moved from one country to another can change the fortunes of one section of capitalists compared to another very quickly.

This rapidity of movement is extending to labor power. Most of the cherries for export from Adelaide Hills to Asian markets are picked and packed by about 1,000 migrant workers from Afghanistan. They are on some form of Visa and return home after the cherry picking season is over. One cherry orchard owner was reported in the daily press as saying that with rising export demand to Asia he expected the number of Afghanistan migrant workers to grow to 1500.

These workers are at best being paid the casual award rate. It is unclear whether their food and accommodation is provided free of additional cost to these workers. Further investigation is needed to find this out. It is not a unique situation for Afghanistan migrant workers, thousands of whom work in dangerous conditions on construction sites in Dubai and other oil rich cities. 

In Australia for the foreseeable future, we can expect growing numbers of migrant workers on short term visas working in food production as food producing companies compete with countries like Chile for a greater share of the Asian market and try to take advantage of the rising number of 'free trade agreements'.

Most of these workers are not yet organised. Most have yet to see a union Organizer because they are the new 'invisible workforce' in Australia and vulnerable due to the temporary nature of their work in Australia. Most would not have experienced union activity in their home countries. 
However this is also a great challenge for unions in Australia. How to organize these workers is no easy task but an essential one for the benefit of the Australian and international working class.
Unions in the USA have had some success in organizing 'undocumented' farm workers who have risked their lives in crossing southern borders of the USA in search of income to feed their families back home in Central and Latin America.

Co-operation between unions and communities locally, combined with co-operation between unions internationally, can succeed in organizing the many thousands, perhaps millions of migrant workers whose labor feeds the world.

The industries in Australia where the working class was strongest have disappeared or are in decline due to changes within capitalism in its imperialist form. Unions that wish to remain relevant to workers' lives have to organize the unorganized wherever they are or whoever they are.

Marx when asked about national boundaries said he saw himself as a citizen of the world. Now it is thousands, perhaps millions of migrant workers who are actually living their lives as citizens of the world rather than of one country. By so doing they provide another practical dimension to the meaning of proletarian internationalism.

Progressive elements within the unions have a choice to take the lead here and seize on the new situation of mobility of labor as an opportunity not a threat. History of working class struggle in Australia over the last 150 years or so demonstrates that the opportunity will not be missed, no matter what obstacles are faced.

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