Spitou Mendy

Rights of migrants Labor rights
Sindicato Andaluz Trabajadores (SAT). Sindicato de Obreros del Campo (SOC).

He arrived in Almeria in 2001. He came from Senegal, where he had studied Spanish philology at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar and where he had been working for more than a decade as a language and literature lecturer. He ended up in La Mojonera, a village of less than 10,000 inhabitants in rural Almeria, surrounded by greenhouses. He soon became involved in union struggles to claim rights and respect for agricultural workers.

During almost five years he worked as a labourer in Almerian fields. He worked sowing and harvesting fruits and vegetables, so he has first-hand knowledge of what goes on in what is known as “the plastic sea” in Andalusia. During that time, in 2014, he managed to obtain documents, which allowed him to move to Lanzarote for six months to work in construction.

In 2006 he became the spokesperson of the Almeria branch of the Union of Agricultural Workers – Andalusian Union of Workers (SOC-SAT). Since then and until 2017, he worked in the SOC-SAT defending social and labour rights for agricultural workers in Almeria. He was involved in negotiations with companies, teaching and supporting immigrants in their dealings with public institutions and started working as a union representative for international affairs.

Despite all the challenges he has had to face during all these years, he speaks about his host country in gentle words: “Sometimes it is hard to tell why we fell in love with someone” he answers when asked why he likes Almeria so much.

Interview with Spitou Mendy

How was your arrival in Spain?

I arrived at La Mojonera, a village where I had cousins, and it was really shocking. The village was surrounded by greenhouses and everything smelled like plants, even the toilet. The brutal August heat was sweltering. I had to adapt and start working immediately to be able to pay for the trip and the family I had left behind.

How did you join SOC-SAT?

I had just left my position as Secretary-General of the National Secretariat for Private Catholic Education in Senegal (SENECS) at the dioceses in Dakar. It was a powerful organisation, with more than 2,000 members. At La Mojonera, although I was surrounded by cousins and countrymen, I felt lonely and I started looking for something to fill my time with. At the library I saw a poster that called for a General Assembly of agricultural workers. It was November 2001, and since then I started helping in translation. In 2006 my colleagues trusted me to become the spokesperson for Almeria.

What role do you play in SOC-SAT?

Currently, nothing important. After all these years you wear down. The SOC-SAT in Almeria is really complex. Workers here are foreign people with communication and administrative problems… and many obstacles. Since last September someone else, with more energy than me, has taken over. I support them and help them every time I am needed.

Which are the main difficulties faced by agricultural workers in Almeria?

They are not recognised as workers; collective bargaining agreements are not kept. There is often illegal work without contract or contribution. There is a strong fear of deportation, people do not dare to take a forward stand in their own struggles.

What do public bodies do in front of these abuses?

Labour Inspectors have not got enough staff to watch all the irregularities happening in agriculture. Also, we believe that sometimes there is collusion, for instance, when the government sub-delegate defends the farmers when we criticise them.

Is Spanish society conscious of what is happening in Almeria?

No, what’s going on in the greenhouses is even unknown in Almeria.

You say you have tried to integrate but that poverty makes you different from others. Is it poverty or also racism?

It’s both. I have worked since I was a kid, but in Senegal I have only contributed to the social security system for 13 years and only 7 in Spain. After 18 years in Spain I am still a foreigner, with less rights and hostile gazes. I am afraid when the neighbours, because of capitalist interests, say that I am an enemy of the region. My work is to regulate in a society that has lost its heart and its soul. I am afraid when neighbourhood associations ask me to leave or to go back to my country if I am not happy. Basically, I am afraid when councillors and mayors of some municipalities do not greet me because of the role I play in a democratic society.

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