We are in the Souss region, in the south of Morroco. Casablanca is 5 hours driving north, Marrakech, 3 hours driving north-east. Welcome to Agadir ! A touristic city with its beach of fine sand, its royal ranches and golf courses. This is exactly what our taxi driver rushes to sell us, using a French tongue that he prefers to Arabic, since he has Berber origins. He presents his region with a dangerous naivety, ensuring that there is no lack of water. It only rains an average of 20mm per month, and all of the rivers that we cross, on this day of June, are totally dry.
The city extends its suburbs for several kilometers because of the economic development of the last 20 years. On the road of the agricultural plain, small trucks full of vegetables (turnips, beets, carrots, …) are crossing each other and walls protecting the crops hide the skyline. Sometimes greenhouses appear, sometimes just their metal skeleton dressed with tattered plastic pieces.
Arriving at the Plain
This agricultural plain is located between two rivers, Oued Souss on the North and Oued Massa on the South, along the ancient caravans’ path which were going up to the Rif mountains from Mauritania, and not so far from the commercial port of Agadir. So it is not surprising that this place was chosen to harvest vegatables for exportation : water capabilities, transport facilities … and plenty of workers. Cheap when the labor is Moroccan, and even less when it is from Sub-Saharan countries, especially from Senegal.
In the heart of the plain, Ait Amira, a far-west town built along a road where farmworkers and food are carried (human beings are carried in the same conditions as vegetables, accidents are common and often very critical). A town without cultural roots : nothing is Moroccan here, in this suburb without neither the common bread oven nor the hammam, that are constitutive of the urban units of life in any town’s district.
We find Hamid Mhandi, a union representative, in a café along the road. From the terrace we are looking at this strange city’s life. Women are rare in the streets. At a first sight, we should think that they’re staying at home, as usual. But here Hamid explains to us that they are at work, and they are hired more easily than men : they are hard workers, and they do not complain about the conditions of work, the labor hardships, or the wages… In fact Hamid’s wife had found a job before himself when they had arrived around 2003. This is totally shaking up Moroccan habits, which are Hamid’s habits too.
Sitting around a nouss-nouss coffee, he tells us his story : the appalling working conditions in the greenhouses and how he joined a union… Before going forward in more political issues, he brings us to his union’s local HQ, the FNSA (National Federation of the Agricultural Sector). It’s a single level house made of raw concrete transformed into an office, the rooms are almost empty and echo with the sound of our voices. We sit on garden plastic chairs as we listen to Hamid’s foresight on workers’ conditions.
Conditions and Workers’ Struggles
Here we do not speak about peasants anymore, but about agricultural workers. Indeed Hamid’s story looks like class struggles in the mining industries in northen France or England, whereas the Moroccan society is traditionally and implicitly organized in social casts. Here, uprooted workers coming from all over Morocco (and Africa) do not get back the structural patterns they are familiar with. Without those benchmarks, they replace the traditional caste system for a social class system that recreates their lives and communities. Here it is poor workers against agricultural companies, particularly European and North American.
This class struggle allows Morrocan and Senegalese workers to overcome the gap between their nationalities and to claim altogether equality and improved working conditions. Since the 2004 new working laws in Morocco, the minimum wage is MAD 87 (€8.5) a day for 44 hours a week. However, the agricultural sector is an exception with its minimum wage of MAD 60 (€5.5) for 48 hours a week. In addition to these inequalities between legal workers, the arrival of undocumented workers lowers the legal wages. Today, wages can decrease to MAD 40 (€3.6) without any written working contract. Instead of being a source of xenophobia, this leads unions to want to join all companies, especially those that employ undocumented workers. Therefore, FNSA is fighting for the levelling of working conditions and not for a stigmatization of Senegalese or Sub-Saharan workers.
It’s around the Friday traditional familial couscous that a long digestion of this information can begin.
Translated with the kind support of Renda Nazzal.