Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 54 Number 6, March 30, 2024 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Farmers take action

Farmers across Britain and Europe are Joining Together to Fight for their Rights

Over 100 tractors blocked streets around the Houses of Parliament on March 25, demanding support for food production and expressing concerns about the future of agriculture - Photo: The Drinks Business

Over 100 tractors blocked streets around the Houses of Parliament on March 25, demanding support for food production and expressing concerns about the future of agriculture. The protest, organised by Save British Farming and Fairness for Farmers of Kent, was largest such action so far in England, part of a growing movement involving farmers and agricultural workers, the latest section to join the collective demand by working people that "Enough is Enough!".

Protests have been taking place across England. On March 3, farmers in Kent drove a convoy of tractors and other vehicles through Canterbury to express anger over the low prices being paid by supermarket monopolies for their goods. In October last year, farmers in Somerset attempted to block a Morrisons distribution centre in Bridgwater. One banner read "Proud to Farm", upholding the dignity of their labour.

In Wales, 3,000 farmers gathered to demonstrate in Carmarthen to demonstrate against rising costs. Some carried a mock coffin with a plaque reading" "In memory of Welsh farming". In Ireland, over 100 members of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) gathered on the outskirts of Galway city, expressing support for their counterparts on the Continent. In Mullingar, County Westmeath, farmers demanded a reduction in the bureaucratic burden through consultation with those working the land.

Similar demonstrations demanding that farmers' voices be heard have occurred over recent weeks and months across Europe, including in Greece, Germany, Portugal, Poland, Belgium, and France, and is set to become a feature of the upcoming European elections in June.

Brussels protest of farmers - 24/05/2023 - Photo: Hungary Today

In France on February 23, angry farmers returned to the streets of Paris with their tractors, on the eve of a major agricultural fair in the French capital. Farmers demanded more government support and simpler regulations to ease their burden. In Brussels, protests took place as part of international action on February 26, in the European quarter. Farmers clashed with police, spraying them with liquid manure and setting fire to piles of tyres.

Farmers' costs for energy, fertilisers, and transport have been increasing across Britain and the EU, while farm-gate prices have been simultaneously dropping. Some products, like olive oil, have experienced shortages, contrasting the trend.

In short, there is an unsustainable situation in agriculture across Britain and mainland Europe of crisis proportions, putting farmers' livelihoods at risk and affecting all in society who rely on the industry. Though there are many features, from disequilibrium between rising prices of raw materials and energy and falling produce prices, to supply chain disruption arising from trade blocs and embargoes, as well as the impact of environmental regulation, one key factor is the takeover of the sector by oligopolies in the form of ever fewer and larger monopolies and the cartel groupings they form amongst themselves. The dominance of these oligopolies allows them to manipulate prices, from the land and other raw resources, through to livestock, feed, fertilisers, and finally through to wholesale and end food prices. These oligopolies have the power to manipulate markets, and hold sway over all forms of public authority at every level. They use this power to drive smaller producers out of business, driving the creation of "bigger is better", larger farms. Oligarchic power also extends to the supermarkets, which are fixing prices and not paying the price of production.

Spanish Farmers - Photo: BBC

Another key factor is the contradictions between these competing sections of the global oligarchy, with competition for markets and control of regions and trade routes like the Red Sea and Suez Canal increasingly breaking out into war. Embargoes on Russian oil and gas have been a factor, while fertilisers from both Ukraine and Russia have been a subject of contention.

Ukraine’s cheap agricultural imports have impacted local produce in central and eastern Europe, as the EU waived quotas and duties on Ukrainian produce after the breakout of the war, leading to an influx of cheap goods. Contradictions are sharpening over the issue, and farmers in Poland and Hungary are demanding measures to address the competition they now face. Last year, Eastern Europe experienced border crossing blockades to prevent cheap imports entering from Ukraine.

The deterioration of the natural and social environment - in the present a direct result of the division of society and wars in the age of oligarchy - is such that immediate concerted action and deep-going changes are required. Yet this is itself utilised by authorities representing these powerful private interests to ruin the smaller farms. Germany's plan to phase out tax breaks on agricultural diesel, and the Netherlands' nitrogen emission reduction requirements, have in this context been raised as concerns by farmers in those countries.

A new militant phenomenon is breaking out across Europe with farmers and agricultural workers demanding "Enough is Enough!". It occurs at a time when workers' solidarity and internationalism is deepening its all-sided opposition to the imperialist offensive. At the same time, migrant farm workers in Britain, on whom production increasingly relies, are actively campaigning for their rights. A new coalition called the Seasonal Worker Interest Group was formed recently, supporting agricultural workers on the Seasonal Worker visa, and who are notoriously poorly treated. Additionally, there have been concerns about migrant farm workers being trapped and mistreated by employers in conditions of modern slavery [1].

The ruling elite and their media are working flat out to foster great British chauvinism to divert and block this movement by sowing divisions. The emphasis put by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on its "support for British farmers" is manipulation of the issues with this aim, as well as providing cover that the government is in no way dealing with the crisis.

In this situation, the concerns of farmers and agricultural workers need to be heard. The struggle of farmers and farm labourers is just. It is part of the generalised chaos and destruction that all people face. Indeed, food prices and availability of goods are affecting all people in the cost-of-living crisis.

People need to aim their action at the oligopolies and their representatives in power, organising themselves to defend their rights and address the crisis in food and other sectors. Solutions to the crisis, such as new techniques and investment in land, machinery and technology, or proposals to regenerate wasted land, are not taking place: it is agricultural workers themselves who hold the solutions.

1. "New UK coalition on migrant agricultural worker rights", FairSquare, November 7, 2023

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