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Diego Cañamero: 'defend our food sovereignty'

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The 51 year old is the spokesman for a trade union belonging to a new genre: its rural foundation intends to represent workers from an urban background

We are in Seville, on the eighth floor of a sinister block of flats. At the end of never-ending corridors flooded by sunlight are the headquarters of the Andalusian Trade Union of Workers (SAT), which was formed on 23 September 2007 from the union of several small and rural trade unions linked back to the trade union of workers from the countryside. Its model is unique to Europe.

Emmanuelle Palliot greets us. She has begun a study into eastern workers who come to work in Andalusia during the strawberry picking season. ‘Hundreds of thousands of eastern seasonal workers come to work in Andalusian fields,’ the young French woman explains. ‘But few of them introduce themselves to the trade union. The majority come to Spain without a residence permit and do not want to have any complications: they earn three times more money than they would do in their country of origin and don’t want to create the impression that they are demanding anything, whatever it may be!’

Diego Cañamero is founder of the trade union of workers from the countryside, andhas become spokesperson for the SAT. He began his career in trade unionism at the age of 16, in 1974. During this period, poverty was very widespread in the countryside. It was common for gatherings of seasonal workers, who ended up clashing with the police. The workers could even be imprisoned.

Has trade unionism allowed for positive developments in the countryside?

Yes, especially after our first public and private land jobs. In 1978, we discovered that 20, 000 hectares of land were redistributed to the peasants. Later, in the 1990s, I became mayor of my village whilst relying on the trade union.

Don’t you think that trade unionism is losing momentum in Europe?

Indeed. Trade unions and political parties have thrown themselves into the mould of the capitalist system. Their noble ideas have become corrupt. Some trade unions have become like the real mafia, others depend too much on money from the state and cannot defend their workers until the very end. You also find too many entrepreneurs in the political parties concerned about their personal interests. Because of this workers are becoming very disillusioned.

Why did you form the SAT when the SOC already existed?

Because people from the countryside no longer work only in the farming sector and the SOC’s image used to depend too much on the figure of the seasonal worker. A lot have left to go to the building sector, renewable energies and rural tourism. Whilst these new sectors have developed, accidents within the workplace have reached the number of 90, 000 in Andalusia only. The rate of unemployment stands at 12% compared with 8% for the whole of Europe. Wages and pensions are 10% lower than the Spanish average. 44% of the land is always in the hands of 4% of the population. On top of that, the rise in the price of biodiesel could create financial speculation. The more powerful people could see an opportunity here to make some money from this.

In order to fight against this, we have formed a trade union based on contributions from workers only. We are therefore independent from the state. For us, a trade union must not be bureaucratic. We are gambling on direct action. (The SPA represents workplaces and is committed to defend the workers without having any representatives in the committees of companies, ndlr).

Do you think that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) helps Spanish farmers?

Having seen the sale price of what is gathered in the fields, if there were no subsidies, it would not even be worth it to sow whatever it may be. However, what had at the outset helped to rebuild the farming and rural world after the second world war turned into protectionism. The prices of some products imported into the EU have been slashed. Today, money from all European citizens is used to make some noble families rich like the Dukes of Alba, the Mora Figueroa, or people like the former banker and known criminal Mario Conde (sentenced for abusing public ownership, ndlr).They all live in Madrid, like pashas, 500km from their subsidised land.

This is why it is no longer possible to continue paying assistants according to the area of cultivated land. You must try to combine several factors: the area of course, but by giving less to the bigger farms, the number of employees, respect for the environment, maintenance of the rural environment and paths, the construction of industries with transformations on the premises…

Are you a supporter of the community preference sought after by Nicolas Sarkozy, the rather conservative French president?

We defend food sovereignty. We are unable to sell wheat and meat to the Argentines, because they already have too much of it. Conversely, why would they sell to us foodstuffs that we produce in our own country?

What is the SAT’s stance regarding the production and commercialisation of transgenic products?

We are against it. Seeds represent a genetic heritage preserved throughout centuries, from father to son. They cannot be modified and patented by a private multinational company. The human diet must not be in the hands of a small number of people. Seeds are like air or water. They are gifts from nature dedicated to the human being.

What solid measures are you expecting from the European Union for the development of the rural world?

First and foremost, we must put into place better infrastructures: renovated rural paths, a reforestation plan in order to fight against soil erosion, modernisation of the networks of irrigation so as to save water, electrification of the countryside…

In-text photo: Diego Cañamero protests in Seville (pedrobea/ Flickr)

Translated from Diego Cañamero: defendemos la soberanía alimentaria