Dry air and native plant life overlooking a bay are the gorgeous dress in which the mountains of Baja welcome anyone with the time and taste to appreciate the natural landscape of Ensenada. But the air has felt unusually heavy over the past week as over half of San Quintín’s 75,000 agricultural workers have gone on strike, citing exploitation and abuse as just part of their 30-year grapple with regional farms.
San Quintín is a rural community 125 miles south of Ensenada known for its swaths of cucumber, strawberry, and tomato crops, of which over 98 percent goes to California and Europe, fetching high prices for their small labels reading "organic."
The demands of the mainly indigenous workers are as follows: increase the minimum salary (currently around 100 pesos or about $6 per 12-hour day) to 300 pesos; provide access to basic government medical care programs, as is their constitutional right; stop the abuse of the elderly in the fields and stop sexual harassment against female workers by farm staff; and revoke and cancel contracts with government-paid unions.
Strikers call out Berrymex, Driscoll's, and Los Pinos as among the most oppressive employers in San Quintín.
"We're just working our land,” says striker Luciano, 67. “That's it. Private companies are very brutal to us. Authorities don't listen. The governor doesn't listen. The municipal president doesn't listen. We get 100 pesos per day, and food is only going up. Not even counting meat of any kind. We can't afford to imagine that anymore. Yet we are only asking for what belongs to us rightfully, and the government answers with riot cops. We don't want violence. We want answers"
On March 26, municipal, state, and federal forces joined army troops in the streets of San Quintín, keeping a watch on the strikers’ campsites. Meanwhile, strike leaders are working toward an agreement with the delegates of indigenous, work, and agricultural affairs, but progress is slow and uncertain.
The majority of small businesses and markets in the area are supportive of the strike. A San Quintín market owner who asked to remain anonymous stated, "[The workers] make the product what it is. They make this market possible. It would be nonsensical to go against our own people."
In the workers’ absence, farms have been machine-plowing fields, incurring huge losses but salvaging what little they can. So far, no farm representatives have appeared publicly or made any statement on the strike.
Update 3/27, 9:30 p.m.
Driscoll's VP Marcus Gamo contacted the Reader to point out that the company had in fact issued a statement yesterday. Also, Gamo said that the author's "statement that strikers call out Driscoll’s as an oppressive employer is inaccurate as well, as Driscoll’s does not grow berries in the town of San Quintín or anywhere in Baja. The brand works with 100s of independent farms globally, that does include BerryMex, but does not employ the workers that are striking directly."