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That Red Juice From Strawberries Might Be Blood

Thirty or so migrant workers were shot in Greece. What might that say about the U.S.?
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Strawberries. (PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

Strawberries. (PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

Adding real blood to the saga of blood strawberries, a farm foreman in Greece’s Peloponnese is accused of shooting protesting migrant workers, sending 29 or 30 of them (accounts vary) to the hospital yesterday.

Lots of threads here:

It’s worth noting this was in a rural area, and the assailant used a shotgun—Joe Biden’s suggested home defense weapon—which certainly can be a deadly weapon but in this case left no one critically injured. According to (which is hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health and gets some funding from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs), Greek civilians own 2.5 million firearms (only 5,000 of which are handguns), which lands them at No. 31 on the global rankings. In 2009, the last year cited by the website, Greece had 67 gun-related homicides. That same year, the U.S., with 30 times the Greek population, reported 11,493 gun deaths, 172 times the Greek figure.

The workers mostly were from Bangladesh, which is obviously outside the European Union. Nearby Albanians have long flocked to Greece for work, but increasingly Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Iraqis, and Afghanis, as well as Africans and Middle Easterners, have been heading to the country legally and (mostly) illegally. As other E.U. countries have tightened their borders, Greece’s have remained porous.

As Charalambos Kasimis of the Agricultural University of Athens wrote last year:

 “The evidence now indicates that nearly all illegal immigration to the European Union flows through the country's porous borders. In 2010, 90 percent of all apprehensions for unauthorized entry into the European Union took place in Greece, compared to 75 percent in 2009 and 50 percent in 2008.”

And illegal workers can be easily exploited; the crew fired on yesterday complained they hadn’t been paid in months.

Given the country’s well-publicized economic travails, perhaps it’s no surprise that these foreign workers are being blamed, in some quarters and by some nationalist politicians, for exacerbating Greece’s problems. This immigrant bashing increasingly has moved from the rhetorical to the physical, and has led to calls for banning some of the more strident neo-Nazi parties like Golden Dawn.

Strawberry farming in California and in Greece seem to share some traits, including a Mediterranean climate and relying on a low-cost immigrant workforce to tend and harvest a labor-intensive and back-straining crop. (Along California’s Central Coast, where Pacific Standard is based, workers call strawberries “fruit of the devil” because of the pain that comes from picking fresos all day; there’s even a medical condition known as "strawberry picker’s palsy.") Those workers, often illegal migrants, increasingly bridle at both abuses (here’s a rather florid account from Greece in 2008) and perennially low wages. There is a difference in degree, though: In California, the pickers were unionized (for what that was worth); in Greece, they were hospitalized.

Meanwhile, social media has stepped in where Greek authorities have failed, organizing an effort to boycott berries from Manolada, Greece (ah, the ghost of Cèsar Chàvez), Twitter hashtagged as #bloodstrawberries (no, not the bootleg album by The Cranberries), until the treatment of workers, including incidentals like paying them, improves. Wrote @adiasistos, "Modern Greece has many things in common with Ancient Greece. For example slaves."