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Dirty, Dangerous and Demanding: An explanatory

model applied to social exclusion in El Ejido (Spain)

BA Thesis


April 2003
Department of Anthropology,
NUI, Maynooth

William Wilde Award for Best Overall Undergraduate Thesis in

Anthropology, November 2003































List of Tables and pictures


EVOLUTION OF THE POPULATION BETWEEN 1900 AND 2001 ....................2


LABOUR ACTIVITY IN GREENHOUSES......................................................18


EVOLUTION OF THE PRICES OF VEGETABLES ..........................................20

Almeria and the North of Morocco

Sierra de Gádor





Fieldwork diary entry, 19/8/2002

I had lunch this afternoon with José and Manuela in a cheap Chinese [restaurant] in
Roquetas to which they go quite often. During the meal they commented that after [the
ethnic riots of] February 2000 [in El Ejido] farmers don’t want to hire Moroccans because
they only give problems: “Romanians, Lithuanians or Ecuadorians –they say– are much
better and socially integrated [workers]”. José claims to know other farmers who handed
cottages over to [Moroccan] immigrants working for them and, soon after that, they [the
immigrants] filled them with many other immigrants, from whom they get rent.
On the way back to El Ejido we drove through a secondary road in the very heart of the
greenhouse land. In Roquetas immigrants are mainly black Africans and, as we were leaving
Roquetas, we saw mostly black men: some of them walking along the road, others riding
bicycles, and many just chatting outside the cottages, in the late sunshine of the Sunday
summer day. Unexpectedly, a very old car, full to bursting with black men, pulled out onto
the road, just in front of out car, without indicating. Manuela had to slowdown with visible
annoyance. “They’re a danger driving, and if you have an accident with them you’re fucked,
because they never have insurance” she said. After this incident José told us what happened
to his cousin’s friends when he gave a lift to a Moroccan man:

The other day a cousin’s friend gave a lift to a petrol station to a Moor whose car had run out
of petrol on this road. When they were at the petrol station the Moor said that he’d got no
money, so he asked my cousin’s friend for money. When he couldn’t get money from him he
asked for a lift back to where his car was, and because he [my cousin’s friend] said that he had
no time to do it, the Moor tried to stab him. Fortunately, he [my cousin’s friend] was very
lucky, because the knife’s blade broke when he raised his arm to defend himself. I don’t think
he’ll ever give a lift again to a Moor.

Approaching Las Norias [a neighbourhood of El Ejido] the Moroccan community, suddenly,

becomes the majority. I noted North Africans hanging around in large groups, in front of
phone call centres, Moroccan bars, and shops that have their signs in Arabic. José took the
lead again to comment that Moroccans have taken over Las Norias, and that the local
Spaniards are selling their houses, moving to other areas. However, he said that he is not a
racist. “I like cultural variety, people from different places coming to El Ejido to live and to
work; but most of Moroccans don’t come to work; they always create problems; they are
socially very backward, and they don’t adapt to our culture”. I replied to him that most of
the Moroccans I know don’t fit into his description, but my comment provoked a hot-
tempered reaction. “You don’t have to work with them! You don’t have to do business with
them! When they talk to you, comfortably sitting in a bar, they’re very nice. Rent them a
house and you’ll see!” he shouted at me.

As we see in the narration, José does not believe his comments to be racist: he likes ‘cultural
variety’ and people from other countries coming ‘to live and work’ in El Ejido. The problem
is that Moroccans ‘don’t come to work’, ‘always create problems’, and ‘don’t adapt to our
culture’. The relationship between Moroccans and criminality is also clear in the narration

of the incident at the petrol station. There is also a feeling of being ‘invaded’ by Moroccans
that we can observe when José mentions that they are ‘taking over’. On the other hand,
when I tell him that I have met Moroccans, and that most of them are not like that, José
accuses me of not really having a clue of what I am talking about: “You don’t have to work
with them! You don’t have to do business with them! When they talk to you, comfortably
sitting in a bar, they’re very nice. Rent them a house and you’ll see!” José, therefore, claims
to have a ‘real knowledge’, based on his daily interaction with Moroccans, which I do not
We had more conversations over the same topic, and I tried to explain him that the social
exclusion of Moroccans, and the subhuman living and working conditions into which they
are forced to exist are responsible for the troublesome relationship between Spaniards and
Moroccans. However, José always went back to his own experience or ‘real knowledge’,
how he used to call it in opposition to my ‘book’s knowledge’. And his is not an isolated
case, most of the Spaniards I know in El Ejido hold to be true a similar belief about the
Moroccan community. The practical consequence of this belief is that Moroccans are not
allowed to go to most bars, pubs, and night clubs in El Ejido, or to rent houses. In a word,
there is very little social interaction between Moroccans and Spaniards, except in the
greenhouse. This is the only place where this interaction cannot be avoided because
Moroccans have come to El Ejido to work in the greenhouses as labourers due to the
scarcity of labour that the booming agricultural activity of this area has created. The
following quote from the newspaper El País (4/2/2001; my translation) gives us an idea of
the daily social exclusion and discrimination that Moroccans suffer.

Thursday, February the first, 2001. At about 15:10. Bar Tahití. Prince of Spain Avenue [El
Ejido]. A journalist asks for an orange drink. A North African comes in after a while and asks
for the same.
–There’s only the big size, to take away.
–Ok, then give me one of those small ones that are there in the fridge.
–I’ll give it to you, if you have it outside in the street.
–I want to have it here inside.
–Then go away, there’s no drink.
When the young man leaves the comments are:
–If you let one of them come in, the following day there will be three hundred.
–And it’s not ‘cos they’re Moors, it’s ‘cos they don’t know how to behave themselves.

This essay is, in a sense, a long and meditated attempt to account for the ‘real knowledge’ of
the Spanish farmers of El Ejido, and for the exclusion and discrimination of Moroccan
labour migrants. However, during the process of writing this thesis, I realised that an
explanation of any social phenomenon needs solid theoretical foundations if it is going to
have any validity.
Therefore, the scope of this thesis is, firstly, to arrive at an explanatory framework of
the process of social exclusion along ethnic lines, which could be applied to El Ejido; and
secondly, to test whether this framework holds true for El Ejido.
This is why this thesis does not deal directly with ethnicity, as was my initial purpose;
rather, it explores how the mode of production and the organisation of labour1 can determine
The organisation of labour is one of the aspects of the social relations of production. Narotzky (1997:
29) define the latter as “the purposeful organisation by human individuals or groups, of labour, land and
instruments with the aim of producing a specific output”

the construction of the ethnic boundaries that lead to the social exclusion of Moroccans; that
is, whether ethnically based processes of social exclusion are mainly a consequence of a
differential access to the means of production of different ethnic groups, and whether this
differential access causes the ethnic segmentation of the labour market.
In a multiethnic society such as El Ejido, belonging to a certain ethnic group
determines in practice, although not in theory2, the range of jobs that a person of that group
can get, and that range of jobs determines, in turn, the social status of the member of that
ethnic group. Local Spaniards believe that Moroccans are the most troublesome and
problematic of all the foreigners that live and work in El Ejido. The fact is that they are at
the bottom of the hierarchical division of labour since they work overwhelmingly in farms
as labourers for local Spanish farmers. This work has the lowest social status in El Ejido
because, although it is not the necessarily the lowest paid work, the hardship and temporary
nature of the work (partly due to the seasonal character of agricultural production) make it
the least attractive.
The point of view I take is from economic anthropology, drawing substantially on
Narotzky (1997) and Wolf (1997). So I give priority to the analysis of the economic
processes such as mode of production, relations of production, labour market, and labour
migrations in order to understand exclusion. A good explanation of social exclusion needs
also to be contextualised since it does not happen in a void; neither can it be separated from
the wider processes in which it is immersed. The categorisation of Moroccans in El Ejido as
troublesome workers and individuals, and their social exclusion come into being in a certain
economic context; (1) is immersed in the world-wide process of migrations from developing
to developed countries3; (2) it has an ethnic and a class character; (3) it is the product of an
interaction with another ethnic group (the Spaniards); (4) and it is determined by the history
of both ethnic groups, a history that has been sometimes common due to the proximity of
Morocco and Spain. Therefore, for all the foregoing reasons, practices of social exclusion,
although commensurable, are always local processes that have to be studied in their own

This thesis is placed within the framework of an anthropological practice, and a quest for an
understanding, closer to Social Science than to Humanities. Anthropology is an academic
discipline that aspires to gain certain kinds of knowledge about the social and cultural life of
humans. But, what kind of human knowledge or, at least, understanding do we get?
Religion, astrology, or literature, contribute to human understanding of society, but not in
the way science does. Perhaps the most distinguishable feature of science is the belief in
regularities and patterns in nature, which can be known; and the scientific method: “the
systematic comparison of alternative strategies” (Harris 2001: xvi). The kind of knowledge
at which Anthropology aims is unclear. Jenkins (1997: 8), for instance, declares himself a
‘disciplinary minimalist’: “comparative, epistemologically relativist, methodologically
holistic, focusing on culture and meaning, stressing local perceptions and knowledge, and
documenting the routine of everyday life”. But, then, he goes on to say that the only
‘maximalist’ position that he assumes is “the possibility of sufficient cross-cultural
understanding”. And, if this was not enough, he admits a ‘post-modern’ critique to this basic
assumption: namely, the one contained in the works of Bourdieu (1990), Clifford and
We have to remember that Spain has a democratic constitution, which states that all individuals are
equal before the law.
The use of categories like these ones can be problematic since they can reflect ethnocentric biases, but
they can be very useful. I borrow the opposition developing-developed from Nigel Harris (1995)

Marcus (1986), and Grimshaw and Hart (1995), among others, about ‘the possibility of
representation’ and the ‘collapse of faith in scientific ethnography (Jenkins 1997: 5). After
this final remark, what is left? Is it possible at all to explain human ideas and behaviour?
This is not a happy perspective for those who conceive anthropology as a sort of ‘pan-
human science of society’, as Marvin Harris (2001: xviii) has tried to settle it. Any theory
that intends to explain something should take a clear epistemological stand if it is going to
be tested at all. In order to explain human behaviour, thought, and speech –the components
of human social life– and make them susceptible of being generalised and commensurable
cross-culturally, I start with the epistemological premise that the material conditions of
human life, namely, the mode of production and reproduction, can account for the different
ways in which social life is organised. It can also be said that social life and culture also
influence the way in which production is organised.

The four chapters of this thesis are organised in a logical explanatory order. In the first
chapter I describe the economic and social context in which this ethnography is placed (El
Ejido), and also give an account of the ethnic riots of February 2000, which have marked
the recent history of El Ejido and the relationship between Spaniards and Moroccans.
Chapter II examines the local mode of production in the context of the global capitalist
economy, with a special focus on the family farm, which is the basic unit of production.
Chapter III deals with the migration of labour between Morocco and El Ejido in the global
context, and the issue of immigration controls. Concepts such as ‘control of mobility’ and
‘differential reproduction costs’ will be fundamental in this chapter since the segmentation
of the labour market and the social construction of race and ethnicity will be based on them.
Finally, in chapter IV, I apply the theoretical framework developed in the previous chapters
in order to explore how the way in which labour is organised determines the social relations
that Spaniards and Moroccans sustain in El Ejido.

Dublin, April 2003

Chapter I

Introduction: context and method


This chapter will familiarise the reader with El Ejido – the local society in which this
ethnography is set. Firstly, I briefly describe the economic and social context in which the
ethnography is placed, and give an account of the ethnic riots of February 2000. Secondly, I
offer a brief report of how the fieldwork was done. Finally, I describe some of the relevant
ethnographic work that social scientists have previously carried out in El Ejido.

El Ejido: Brief geographical, economic, and social description

El Ejido is a municipality of 55,710 inhabitants4 located on the south-east coast of Spain, in

the province of Almería, about two hundred kilometres from the north coast of Morocco (See
maps on pages v and vi). With La Mojonera, Vícar, and Roquetas, it is one of the four
municipalities of the region of Poniente (lit. the West), previously known as Campo de
Dalías (lit. Countryside of Dalías)5. Poniente is a tongue of land 30 km long and a maximum
of 13 km wide (Martínez 2001: 14-5) enclosed by the sea to the south and the southern
slopes of the Sierra de Gádor mountains to the north (see map on page v).
The main economic activity of the Poniente region is the intensive commercial
agricultural production in greenhouses, during the winter months, of vegetables such as
peppers, tomatoes, watermelons, and cucumbers among others. The typical weather of this
area, warm, sunny and dry6, allows the production of vegetables when other parts of Europe
cannot produce them because of the unfavourable climate conditions. Almería produced 3
million metric tonnes of vegetables in the season 2001-27, which reached a final value of
1,940 million euros8 (La Voz de Almería, p.3, 25/7/2002). About half of the production is
exported to European markets. In the 1998-9 season, for instance, 44% of the total
production was exported (Gaviria 2002: 62). According to the government of Andalucía
there are 28,500 hectares of greenhouses in Almería province divided among 24,500 farms,
with an average of 1.1 hectares per farm, which is an indication of the predominance of small
farms (La Voz de Almería, p.3, 25/7/2002). However, most of this economic activity takes
place in the region of Poniente, which accounts for 75-80% of all greenhouses in Almería

Source: ‘Instituto Nacional de Estadística’ (Spain) 1/1/2001
Dalías is a town of 3,679 inhabitants (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica 1/1/2001) located in the nearby
mountains. El Ejido was a part of its territory since at least the times of the last Muslim Kingdom of Granada
(XIII-XV centuries), but it became a separate municipality in 1981.
The web page of the municipal authority of El Ejido informs us that this town has stable climate
conditions with an average temperature during the day of 27 degrees in summer and 15 in winter, and about
3.000 hours of sunshine per year.
The typical agricultural season in Almería goes from September to June.
However, the farmers only got 1,357 million euros. The other 583 million euros was the added value
obtained by the international supermarket chains. This issue will be dealt with in the next chapter.

(Aznar & Sánchez 2001: 78). El Ejido, which is the main municipality in Poniente, has about
half of all greenhouses: 12,500 hectares according to the Local authority, although Martínez
estimates about 14,000 (Martínez 2001: 81-2). There is no exact information about the
number of hectares, because in 1984 the Junta de Andalucía (Regional Government of
Andalucía) banned the construction of new greenhouses due to the over-exploitation of the
aquiferous deposits, but farmers continued building them illegally.
The prosperity of Poniente9 is recent –the first greenhouses made their appearance in
1963 (Martínez 2001: 24) – and has attracted an increasing number of migrants in the last
four decades. The following table gives us an idea of the spectacular population growth
compared to the rest of Almería and Spain in the last century.

TABLE 1. Evolution of the population between 1900 and 2001 (1900 = 100)10
1900 % 1950 % 1970 % 1991 % 2001 %

Ejido/Dalías11 7,136 11,386 21,230 45,139 59,095

Roquetas 2,396 3,761 12,776 32,361 47,570

Vicar/Mojonera 802 657 4,022 17,424 23,424

Poniente 10,334 100 15,804 152.9 38,028 367.9 94,924 918 130,089 1259

Almería 359,013 100 357,401 99.5 375,004 104.4 465,662 129 533,168 148

Spain 18 M 100 23 M 127.0 33 M 183.0 39 M 216 41 M 227

Poniente has increased its population by 1,259% in the last hundred years while the province
of Almería grew by 148% and Spain by 227% in the same span of time. These figures
indicate that the economic development of Almería is overwhelmingly centred on the
Poniente area12. The population growth of Poniente has been mainly due to labour migration,
and its context and characteristics will be discussed in detail in chapter III. Suffice it to say
here that there have been two different processes of labour migration to the area. Firstly, an
internal process, within the limits of the Spanish State that has attracted migrants initially
from the nearby region of Las Alpujarras from the 1950s onwards (see map), and
progressively, later, from other parts of Spain; secondly, an external process, from the 1980s
onwards, which has drawn different ethnic groups from other countries. The Moroccans form
the largest of these ethnic groups, and they were also the first to arrive. This fact is probably
related to the proximity of Morocco and Spain. The two processes of labour migration can be
further differentiated by the fact that while the internal migrants have become farmers who
own land, the external migrants are overwhelmingly agricultural labourers.
According to the Statistics Unit of the El Ejido municipal authority there were 6,902
non-nationals13 registered as living in the municipality in 2001, of which 72.7% were

I will refer to Poniente instead of El Ejido when dealing with phenomena which do not specifically
concern El Ejido alone.
My own elaboration from data taken from the web page of the Instituto Nacional de Estadística
See footnote number 2.
In the next chapter we will describe in more length the economic evolution of Poniente.
These 6,902 non nationals are included in the total population of 59,095.

Moroccans, 9.9 % Eastern European, 7.5% South Americans, 5% Sub-Saharan African, and
4.49% were EU citizens. However, these figures do not account for all the foreign labour
migrants living and working in El Ejido. It has been estimated that the number of immigrants
without legal residence could be similar to the number of those with legal residence (Aznar
& Sánchez 2001: 90). Martínez, for instance, gives the figure of 12,000 immigrants in El
Ejido in 1999 (2001: 81), and Aznar & Sánchez 30,000 in Poniente in 1998. If this is the
case, then, at the end of the 1990s, about 20% of the population in Poniente were foreign
immigrants, which is a much higher proportion than the 3.17% overall rate for Spain at the
same time (El Mundo, 4/1/2003).
Therefore, we can consider El Ejido as a multiethnic society in which Spaniards are the
largest group, followed by Moroccans. In the next section I succinctly describe the ethnic
riots of February 2000, in which both groups were implicated. These riots were the climax of
a decade of escalating tension between the two communities, and they already constitute a
landmark in the recent history of El Ejido. They also triggered my interest in carrying out
this ethnographic project.

February 2000

Much of the work published about the ethnic conflict of El Ejido, and much of the
subsequent interest in it in Spanish public opinion, has been concerned with understanding
the causes that provoked it (Checa 2001; Martínez 2001; Martín 2002). Checa, for instance,
mentions exogenous circumstances such as: (1) a lack of immigration policies set by the
central government; (2) the agricultural and fishing agreements between Spain and Morocco,
in which, according to the farmers of El Ejido, the Spanish government traded “fish for
vegetables”14; (3) the quotas of vegetables that the EU has granted to Morocco to sell in the
European market; (4) and the control distribution market for vegetables by a few
multinationals. But he also mentions endogenous circumstances such as labour exploitation,
social exclusion and isolation of foreign labour migrants (Checa 2001: 13)15.
The reality is that most of the Moroccans who work in El Ejido come into the country
illegally, and live in precarious accommodation, in adapted warehouses or groups of
shantytowns outside the urban centres, while they wait three to five years for legal residence
and work permits that will allow them to move to other parts of Spain, France, or elsewhere
in Europe to find better jobs. This clandestine situation has generated a feeling of insecurity
among the locals, who have become conscious that their town has become one of the
gateways for undocumented immigration to Europe. But there are reasons for these illegal
immigration flows, apart from the proximity of the area to Morocco. Firstly, the large-scale
production of vegetables in El Ejido demands abundant manpower. Secondly, the
predominance of small farms means that demand for labour is not controlled centrally or
legally, but is based on direct contact and verbal agreement between employers and
employees16. Finally, the seasonal and unstable character of the work make the jobs
temporary and vulnerable, only attractive for undocumented immigrants who do not have
any other choice. The combination of these three circumstances works to the advantage of
the farmers, who tend to increase the exploitation of labour, which is the only element in the

The farmers of El Ejido believe that Morocco forced agricultural concessions of the EU as a condition
to renew the fishing agreement that this country has with Spain. These concessions are seen as a threat since
Morocco can offer vegetables at a cheaper price.
The foregoing issues that led to the ethnic conflict in El Ejido, and others, will be analysed in detail in
the course of the essay, so there is no need to detain us now to explain them.
Martínez estimates that over 80% of this seasonal hiring is verbal (2001: 129)

production that they can control, and which represents approximately 48.1% of the running
costs of the farm (Gaviria 2002: 40).
The clandestine arrival, residence, and work of the Moroccans, and their increasing
number have raised suspicions among the local population, who relate criminality with
undocumented immigration. Moroccans, for instance, are blamed for nearly all theft on
farms17. But, as I have said above, endogenous developments are intertwined with exogenous
ones. Two months before the riots, Gabriel Barranco, president of La Unión, a vegetable
auction centre in El Ejido, estimated that the 1995 agreements between Morocco and the EU
had resulted in a loss of 180 million euro to agriculture in Almería in the 1998-99 season,
and he calculated (at the time) that the losses for the 1999-2000 season were going to be over
420 millions (La Voz de Almería p.3, 3/12/1999; cited in Martínez 2001: 189).
Consequently, on the 25th of January 2000, farmers from Poniente gathered at the port of
Algeciras to stop the entry of Moroccan trucks loaded with vegetables, opening them and
destroying the goods that they carried. For the farmers, according to Martínez (2001: 191), it
was not difficult to establish an unconscious relationship between the invasion of Moroccan
tomatoes and Moroccan immigrants.
That was the mood in El Ejido when, on the 22nd of January, a Moroccan immigrant,
apparently for no reason, stoned to death a local farmer and cut the throat of another one who
went to help the other farmer. The killer sat beside the two corpses and waited there for the
arrival of the police18. On the 30th of January about 10,000 people gathered in the main
square of El Ejido in solidarity with the families of the farmers, and to protest against attacks
of that kind. In that rally, Juan Enciso, mayor of El Ejido, made a speech in which he
challenged progressive intellectuals and the mass media to condemn not only crimes against
immigrants but crimes against locals too: “We miss the manifestos full of indignation of the
pseudo-progressive writers19, who are only ready to shoot when the facts are accommodated
to their schizophrenic vision of reality. We miss more than ever [the support of] some
national media, which are quick to slander our people, and [we do not want this national
media] even to defend them, but to understand them” (La Voz 31/1/2000, cited in Martínez
2001: 194; my translation). Juan Enciso expressed, and encouraged, the feeling of a
community besieged by Moroccans and misunderstood by the rest of Spain. This feeling
would also fuel the ethnic conflict.
The incident that finally triggered the riots was the stabbing to death of a 26 year-old
Spanish woman in the weekly market of Santa María del Águila (a neighbourhood of El
Ejido), killed by another Moroccan and, again, for apparently no reason. The killing
happened on the 5th of February, at about 11am, when the market was at its busiest. The
corpse remained at the scene of the crime until 3:30 pm, when the judge ordered its removal.
Spontaneously, shortly after the crime, on the same day, Spanish neighbours began to gather
in the main streets of Santa María, Las Norias20, and El Ejido, stopping also the traffic on the
motorway in order to protest for the lack of security that they thought were suffering. The
slogans in the protests blamed mainly Moroccan immigrants and the NGOs working towards
their social integration. But these massive and, at first, peaceful movements of protest then
turned more aggressive and led to the arson and destruction of shops, bars and other

The head of the police in El Ejido declared, during the ethnic clashes, that foreign migrants are
responsible for 30% of all crimes denounced (Checa 2001: 34).
The following narration of the ethnic riots is mainly based on the lengthy account given by Checa
(2001: 34-68) and Martínez (2001: 120-7).
Probably he is referring to Juan Goytisolo and the Nobel Prize Winner of literature Saramago. Both
have written against the social exclusion of Moroccans in El Ejido.
Another neighbourhood of El Ejido where there is a large presence of Moroccans.

properties owned by Moroccans, as the North Africans fled the urban areas to vanish among
the maze of greenhouses and nearby hills. There were no attacks on persons or properties
belonging to other ethnic communities, such as Sub-Saharan Africans (black Africans),
South Americans, or Eastern Europeans, and, although over 50 people were hospitalised, no
deaths were registered.
The only properties of Spanish institutions attacked were the headquarters of Almería
Acoge21 and Mujeres Progresistas de Andalucía (MPA – Progressive Women of Andalucía)
– two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that work for the social integration of the
foreign migrant labourers. A local business man summarised the feeling of the Spaniards
about NGOs during the conflict: “[the violence, on the immigrant part] starts [sic] two years
ago, when the so-called NGOs devote [sic] themselves to protect criminals and, from that
time on, life become unbearable in Poniente. Then a woman cannot go out to bin the rubbish,
and children have to be escorted to schools and discotheques” (La Voz de Almería
10/2/2000; cited in Martínez 2001: 205)
MPA estimates that about 10,000 people took part in the protests. Shops, businesses,
and farms closed for the three days that the riots lasted. Children did not attend to school on
Monday. It has been claimed that small fascist organisations sent their members to El Ejido
to take part in the riots. Local Spaniards blame them for the violence. But MPA has accused
local Spaniards for, at least, encouraging groups of violent youths to attack Moroccan
persons and properties.
On Tuesday the 8th of February, economic and social activity seemed to go back to
normality, and the security of persons and properties seemed to be protected by 675 police
and national guards deployed by the central government in El Ejido. But on the same day,
gatherings of Moroccans came together and demanded protection22. This culminated in a
week-long strike organised by the Moroccan workers who, for the first time, came out as an
organised social actor – both as a class and as an ethnic group. This strike took place at the
peak of the agricultural season, when the demand for labour is at its height, and local farmers
started to hire Romanians, Lithuanians, and Ecuadorians, who had begun to arrive in the area
a year earlier.
The Moroccan provisional organisation that arose out of the strike was called the North-
African Council of Migration. It unified the demands of the workers on strike, but also
grouped them together with shopkeepers and owners of properties lost during the riots.
Therefore, it seems, at a first glance, that the ethnic element, and not the class one, was at the
basis of the Council. The main demands were: (1) the legalisation of all immigrants in
irregular situation; (2) the compensation and accommodation of those who lost their
properties; (3) a plan to end the lack of public housing for all nationals and foreigners
deprived of “decent” accommodation (a social class based demand); and (4) the effective
application of the minimum wage of 30 euros per day for agricultural labourers. The strike
was called off on Sunday the 13th of February, when the authorities promised a program of
about five million euros for accommodation of immigrants, and the regularisation of those
living and working illegally in Spain. According to the North-African Council, in the end
they only achieved the regularisation of those without documents of residence and work, and
compensations worth 2,400,000 euros. The Council ruled out the possibility of another strike
and approved a lock-in in a church in Almería city the week before the 1st of May. UGT and
CCOO, the biggest Trade Unions in Spain, did not support the lock-in. This fact distanced
them even further from the foreign migrant labourers of Poniente. On the 1st of May,

Almería Welcome, a charity institution promoted by the Catholic Church.
On Tuesday the eighth, 500 Moroccans gathered in front of the police station in El Ejido, and in Las
Norias another 500 Moroccans and some Spaniards organised a demonstration against racism.

immigrants and native workers celebrated May Day in two separate parades. The
immigrants’ parade had about 3,000 demonstrators and was double the size of the official
parade. UGT, CCOO, and the Moroccan Association of Immigrant Workers (ATIME)
supported the latter. ATIME is mainly based in Madrid and does not have a real
representation in Poniente.


The fieldwork for this thesis took place between the 22nd of July and the 9th of September
2002, more than two years after the ethnic clashes. It was done mainly through a voluntary
work placement with the local branch of Mujeres Progresistas de Andalucía23 (MPA,
Progressive Women of Andalusia) – an NGO that mainly offers legal assistance to foreign
immigrants and that is considered close to the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE)24. I
also organised a Spanish language course for foreign migrants in the headquarters of MPA
that was attended exclusively by Moroccans. Through these two activities I became
familiarised with the legal and social problems that the Moroccan community has in El Ejido
and in Spain. They also allowed me to meet some migrants who became informants and,
later, friends.
The method I used was participant observation. Rather than organising interviews I
preferred to spend time with them in an informal way. I followed in this the methods of
Social Anthropology as formulated by John Beattie (1964: 37, 82, 245). In interviews and
conversations we record merely people’s ideas about the social phenomena that are relevant
for them. They also express how social behaviour should be. The problem is that, sometimes,
the observations that we make about what is happening do not match with the appreciation of
the people that we study. And opinions also differ between different people, according to the
social position of each individual, such as ethnic identity, class, gender, age, or religion.
Therefore, the information that we get observing people’s behaviour can be more accurate.
At first, nearly all the conversations with Moroccans were about their legal situation in Spain
and their quest for legal residence. Later, nearly all of them would talk about the social
exclusion that they suffer in El Ejido. They said that local Spaniards do not like Moroccans.
Morocco, hospitality, friendship, and religion were also important themes for discussion. In a
sense, these conversations reflected the hierarchy of their priorities, and their main concerns.
I also visited shacks, huts, old warehouses, and other sorts of dwellings where they lived,
which will be described in the chapter IV. I recorded the information that I considered more
relevant in a diary that I kept at night. During my stay in El Ejido I resided in my parents’
house. I am myself a local Spaniard, born in El Ejido.
From the beginning, I thought that it was going to be impossible to understand the social
exclusion of Moroccans without spending some time doing fieldwork with local Spaniards.
After all, the social exclusion of an ethnic group implies the existence of at least one other
ethnic group – the excluders. Ethnicity is, above all, “an aspect of a relationship”, not a

There are two other organisations that work with foreign immigrants in El Ejido: ‘Almería Acoge’
(Almería Welcome), and the Red Cross. They give legal aid, information about getting accommodation and
PSOE held the central Government in Spain between 1982 and 1996. In the local corporation of El
Ejido it was the ruling party until 1990, when the PP (Popular Party; a right wing organisation) won the local
elections. Although MPA maintains a good relationship with PSOE in Andalusia, in El Ejido that link does
not exist probably due to the deep differences that they have about immigration policies.

property of a group (Eriksen 2001: 263). Therefore, the social behaviour that Spaniards and
Moroccans enact in their everyday interaction must reveal the nature of the relationship that
the two groups maintain in El Ejido. The main problem that I faced was that I had to do the
fieldwork in the summer months, when the agricultural activity is reduced to a minimum;
that is, between 10% and 30% of its level at peak times. Many immigrants return on holidays
to Morocco (only those who are legally in Spain), and others migrate searching for summer
jobs to other regions, such as Lérida (Catalonia) for the fruit harvest. The majority of the
Moroccans I met were, at that time, unemployed. So, I could not observe them working.
I deal with some of the foregoing and other issues in this section. Firstly, I describe the
job I performed for MPA and the language course that I organised. I give a portrait of its
President, and comment on the relevance that this experience had for my fieldwork. I then
briefly depict my main informants, as they will come up in the course of this work. Their life
stories are very much intertwined in the history of El Ejido, and they are a good introduction
to the main social actors that are the protagonists of this work.

MPA initiated its activity in El Ejido in 1988. It had two goals: firstly to increase the
participation of women in the public spheres of society, and secondly to work against all
kinds of discrimination. In 1993, as a result of the increasing arrival of Moroccan immigrants
to El Ejido, MPA launched a special program for the integration of Moroccan women.
However there were far more male than female immigrants and, since the main principle of
the organisation was to fight against any discrimination, MPA decided to extend their services
to men, who are now the main clientele.
The president of MPA in El Ejido, since its establishment in 1988, has been Mercedes
García Fornieles. She is a local woman, born in El Ejido, in her forties and married with two
children. She works full time for MPA. Her job has made her name very well known, inside
and outside the town. She is invited to give talks in forums against racism in Spain and
abroad, and is constantly interviewed by the national media. She is also in touch with the
writers Juan Goytisolo and the Portuguese Nobel Prize Winner Saramago, who have a keen
interest in what happens in El Ejido and have frequently visited the town.
However, this charismatic image in the broader world contrasts with her social isolation
in her own town – Mercedes is locally known as “the one who is with the Moors”25. Since
February 2000 she and her family have continuously received anonymous telephone death
threats. One of her sons was even warned to leave the town, threatened with a knife to his
throat. Rumours and gossip about Mercedes are normal currency in El Ejido. Local
Spaniards comment that she is receiving generous amounts of money for helping the Moors,
and that she is getting rich thanks to that, because “no one does anything for nothing”. She is
even accused of having sexual affairs with them26. In El Ejido, those who try to help
immigrants to integrate into the wider society can pay a very high price, and the fear of
undergoing the same fate has had the power to silence leftist organisations and trade unions
in El Ejido, according to Mercedes. In a situation of open ethnic conflict, loyalty to the group

Moor is the term that local Spaniards would apply to any North-African. For North-Africans they
understand the inhabitants of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia, and Sahara. Although by extension, any
Arab, or even Muslim, would be called Moor in El Ejido. However, in the last few years, since most Muslims
in El Ejido are from Morocco, Moor and Moroccan have become synonymous terms.
I met Mercedes personally and I had access to all the files in MPA, and I have to say that these
rumours do not correspond with what I have seen. When she went on holidays in August she gave me a key
for the office, and freedom to use all the material I needed and going in and out the office at any time. She had
probably nothing to hide.

is required, and the crossing of the boundaries between the two communities can be socially
I started my period of voluntary work for MPA just after getting a short training in the
last week of July. I worked there for the month of August, twice a week, from 10am to 2pm.
The office normally closes for holidays in August, so Mercedes looked for two Moroccans,
Hamid and Omar27, to help me as translators and organising the queue of people seeking
help, and I did not see her again until September. Hamid and Omar were also doing
voluntary work. My work chiefly consisted of dealing with inquires from undocumented
immigrants who were applying for work permits. In most cases, the procedure began with an
application to the Oficina de Extranjeros of the Subdelegación del Gobierno in Almería (lit.
Aliens’ Office, Sub-delegation of the Government) based on having roots in Spain28. In that
case the immigrant is required to bring forward evidence of three years of stay in Spain29,
such as bank account statements (it is possible in Spain to open an account in certain banks
without having to prove legal residence), medical certificates from a local doctor or hospital,
and so on. However, the government also sets maximum quotas in each province every
year30 and, therefore, not all complete and correct applications are awarded with the permit.
Many applications are also submitted with incorrect or false evidence. If the application is
dismissed, the applicants can appeal once. A second rejection means that the claimant has to
ask for a lawyer, because they have to go to law. Since they have no means to pay one, the
State guarantees them free legal aid. According to one of the lawyers I talked to when I was
doing my voluntary work for MPA, the whole legal process can last more than five years –
five years in which the immigrant has to work and live illegally in El Ejido.
My work for MPA also gave me access to the files, magazines and books of the
association that contained a great deal of valuable information about migrants in El Ejido,
although a large amount of it was lost in February 2000, when local Spaniards attacked the
office, burned all the documentation, and destroyed the computers. However, the most
important thing about my work for MPA is that it gave me the chance to meet Moroccans,
among whom I became known as “the lawyer”. Almost everyday Omar or Hamid introduced
someone to me, in the street or in a park, who, outside of the office hours, wanted to get
some advice about how to get the legal residence. I also was asked, by some of them, to
falsify documents in order to prove residence in Spain since 1998. This fact made me think
about ethical questions in the course of my fieldwork, since it put me in the moral dilemma
of either failing to help people in a real need or else breaking the law. Life for an
undocumented immigrant is very hard, and many would try desperate ways of getting legal
residence. There are in fact criminal organisations making a lot of money in the informal
market for forged proofs of residence, and not all these organisations are made up of
Moroccans. Hamid spoke to me of farmers, lawyers, and consultancy companies that charge
a minimum of one thousand euros for a fake offer of work31. Mercedes also confirmed this

I will talk about them later in this section.
To be rooted, or to have put down roots in the Spain (translation of ‘arraigo’, lit. rooting). However,
there were also immigrants applying for family grouping, or renewing their work permits.
According to the article 1,31. section 3 of the ‘Ley de Extranjería’ (Aliens’ law) a foreign person (it
does not apply to EU citizens) can get temporary residence in Spain if she can proof that has been living in
Spain for a minimum of five years. However, sometimes the central Government give temporary facilities to
get the residence, as, for instance when the number of labour foreign migrants living illegally in the country is
very large. At the time I was doing my fieldwork the Government had come out with the ‘law of the three
The quotas for 2003 are 10,575 permanent jobs and 13,672 temporary ones (El Mundo, p.12,
This is another of the requisites needed to get a work permit.

information, but I cannot reveal what she told me. These facts show how difficult is to
observe the law, or even to consider it fair, when one is doing fieldwork at the margins of
society, between legality and illegality, between life and death.
Apart from my work in the office, I decided to organise a language course for foreign
immigrants, with the permission of MPA. This was to be held three times a week in the late
afternoon, and only Moroccans attended it. There was a minimum of two people and a
maximum of eight each day. The sessions normally lasted two hours, divided into two
sessions of one hour each. In the first hour I taught them Spanish, and in the second hour
they taught me Moroccan Arabic. I found that this was a very informal and friendly way to
meet Moroccans. They also highly valued my interest in learning Arabic; since they think
that local Spaniards only show disdain for their culture. After the classes we used to go for a
walk or a coffee.


Although I met many Moroccans and Spaniards during my fieldwork, I only had continuous
contact with a few of them. They were two Moroccans, Hamid and Omar, and four locals,
José, Manuela, Luciano and Carlos.
1) Hamid is a 36 year old man from Sale, near Rabat (see map on p.vi), where he left a
wife and two daughters when he set off to France in 1996. He only stayed a few months in
France, with some relatives of his, and moved to El Ejido because he heard that it was easier
to get the legal residence there. The only jobs that he has been able to get in El Ejido have
been in greenhouses, and never permanently. When I met him last summer he was
unemployed. In the riots of February 2000 he was stoned by local Spaniards in the streets of
El Ejido, who also burned the shack32 where he was living, just outside the town. He suffered
a severe brain concussion and stayed two months in hospital. Since then Hamid has been on
medication that he gets through the Red Cross. He did not apply for residence in 2000, when
nearly all “illegals” were granted it, because he “was sick and halfhearted”. Finally, he
applied at the beginning of 2002 thanks to the encouragement of Mercedes, but he was not
granted residence. Last time I visited El Ejido, in December 2002, he was not there.
According to some friends of his, he was in Jaén, working in the olive harvest. Mercedes told
me that just before going to Jaén he looked quite depressed. I remember that almost
everyday, that I met him during the summer, he used to daydream about the possibility of
getting residence and going to Morocco, to be with his family for the holy month of
Ramadan33. His dream did not come true.
2) Omar is a 27 year old single man from Kenitra (see map). He crossed the sea from
Morocco two years ago in a patera34, with thirteen other people, arriving at Barbate (see
map). There he spent several days in a friend’s house recovering from the crossing. Then, he
took a bus to Logroño (Rioja), where he worked for a while. From Logroño he went to
France, where he lived for a year; and, finally, he moved to El Ejido, where he has stayed
until now. He is still waiting for legal residence and, occasionally, works in the greenhouses.
Omar currently lives, with three other Moroccans from Kenitra, in a little old cottage just
outside the town of El Ejido, among greenhouses, with neither water supply, nor electricity,
nor toilet. The farmer who owns the cottage does not charge them any rent. He is happy
enough with having someone who can keep an eye on his farm, beside the cottage, at night.

In chapter IV I will describe the living conditions of Moroccans in El Ejido.
Ramadan took place last year between November and December. It is easy to go to Morocco without
the legal residence; the problem is to come back to Spain.
This is the name given to the one motor engine boats with that Moroccans use to illegally enter Spain.

One of the main worries of farmers is the theft of vegetables and machinery in farms. Hamid
used to live in that cottage until he went to Jaén to work.
All this time Omar has been able to move throughout Spain, and between Spain and
France. He knows that once in Europe it is relatively easy to move around without being
stopped by the police, especially after applying for legal residence and a work permit,
because once the process of legalisation has started immigrants cannot be deported until
there is a Government resolution, and it can take years. In El Ejido I have met many
Moroccans, who went first to France, and later moved to Spain because, according to them, it
can take ten years to get legal residence in France, and then only if they have a relative living
there. In the course of my fieldwork I soon realised that there are highly effective informal
information networks that immigrants use to find jobs and accommodation. They move
easily between France, Italy, and Spain; and between different regions within Spain, looking
for jobs and places to stay while they are working. They manage this information, and they
move around with little or no knowledge of Spanish. Within the same year they can work in
Lérida collecting fruit in summer; in Huelva, in the strawberry harvest; from November to
February in Jaén, in the olive harvest; and the rest of the year in El Ejido. The Moroccans are
workers specialised in agricultural jobs and very flexible in terms of geographical mobility.
3) My main Spanish informants were José and Manuela, a young married couple of
small landowners in their early thirties, with no children. They have a farm of 1.2 hectares
outside La Aldeilla, in one of the neighbourhoods of El Ejido, but they are associated with
José’s parents and work altogether two hectares, splitting in two the costs and earnings. José
says that they cannot afford to pay wages to anyone because they have too many debts to pay
(the mortgage for the house and the land). Before getting married José used to work for his
parents, and Manuela was in a cooperative, packing vegetables.
4) Then, there is Luciano, a friend of theirs, also in his early thirties, single and living
with his parents in Carmona (a neighbourhood in Santa María del Aguila). He works one
hectare of greenhouse on his own. Recently, he got a house in El Ejido town, where he is
planning to move when he marries to Anita, his girlfriend. Anita works as a clerical officer
for COAG, a trade union of farmers and cattle holders. Luciano sometimes hires migrant
labourers from Romania or Lithuania, but he avoids Moroccans because he thinks that they
are too troublesome as workers. Lately, he has been thinking of selling the farm and getting
salaried work. He told me that “in two or three years all farmers are going to be fucked up,
and we all are going to swim in shit again”. He is probably referring to the control of the
distribution market by a few multinationals and the competition from Moroccan
5) Finally, there is Carlos, a 45 year old farmer married with two children. He lives in
Santo Domingo, a well off neighbourhood of El Ejido, and has one hectare of greenhouse.
Like Luciano he works on his own, and his wife works in a medical centre as a clerical
officer. Until last year he had two hectares of land, but at the end of the season 2001-2002 he
decided to sell half of the farm. The reason he gives is that the price he gets selling his
vegetables does not compensate for the cost of hiring labourers, so he decided to reduce his
greenhouse in order to reduce the use of salaried labour. Carlos is member of the committee
of the cooperative where he sells his products36, and has been campaigning for the last few
years, giving talks to members in cooperatives, in favour of the unification of all vegetable

We will deal with these issues in Chapter II
We will deal with the issue of commercialisation in Chapter II. Succinctly, we can say here that there
are two ways for farmers of commercialising their vegetables. They can sell them in an auctioneer centre
(‘Alhondiga’ in El Ejido), or they can associate themselves in vegetable growers’ cooperatives to sell them
directly to the big European supermarkets chains.

growers’ cooperatives. His dream would be to break the control of the big distribution
companies and sell directly to the consumers. This move would give farmers an added value
of around 30%37 for their crops.
To finish this section I have to talk about my own status in El Ejido. I was born, grew
up, and lived there until 1997, when I moved to Ireland, and I knew about the ethnic riots of
February 2000 through watching Euronews on television, here in Dublin. When I started in
College, in September 2000, my decision to take Anthropology was influenced by these
events. Therefore, the idea of this thesis has been in my mind ever since then. In one way, the
fact of being here has giving me a more neutral, distanced, perspective about the ethnic
conflict in El Ejido. In another way, the fact that I am from El Ejido has made it easier for me
to meet local Spaniards. I also profit from a familiarity with the social and economic
background of the area. Local Spaniards do not trust strangers such as journalists or social
scientists, and would be reluctant to deal with them. They think that these strangers are
destroying the reputation of El Ejido, calling its inhabitants racists. But to be a local can be a
problem too. During my fieldwork I was warned many times about associating myself with
Moroccans, or believing anything they told me. I also was told to treat El Ejido well in my
thesis. In some sense I felt that I was caught in a cross-fire – either to be scorned as an enemy
of my own kin (like Mercedes) or to face the accusation of being intellectually partial,
subjective or, even, ethnocentric. Of the two charges, I consider the second to be the worst.
Intellectual honesty is far more important if we want to contribute to humankind with some
valid and enduring knowledge, because, I believe, truth and not personal loyalties will make
a better world. And for the kin, the pursuit of objective knowledge, rather than group interest,
is far more important in the long run. This is valid for Spaniards as well as for Moroccans.

A brief literature review of the Anthropology undertaken in El Ejido

The most striking fact about the ethnographic work carried out recently in El Ejido is that
there was little done before 2000, and nothing published, except some articles in specialised
publications38. After the ethnic clashes of Feb. 2000 three books were published in the year
2001. They were: (1) ‘El Ejido: la ciudad-cortijo’ edited by Francisco Checa, head of the
Department of Anthropology of the University of Almería; (2) ‘El Ejido. Discriminación,
exclusión social y racismo’ by Martínez Veiga, lecturer of Social Anthropology in the
‘Universidad Autónoma de Madrid’; and (3) ‘Estampas de El Ejido’ by Mikel Azurmendi,
lecturer of Social Anthropology in ‘La Universidad del País Vasco’. This thesis substantially
draws on the first two books. In relation to the third book, it is interesting to mention it
because it has been seen as a defence of the point of view of the local Spaniards in El Ejido.
The work of Azurmendi has been even accused, in a document signed by a number of
Spanish Anthropologists, of committing an offence against the ethics of anthropology39.
The work of Checa is a collection of essays written by lecturers of the Departments of
Anthropology, Economics, and Social Psychology, of the University of Almería, among
other contributors. The book starts from the tenet that social and economic structures, and not

See footnote number 5.
For instance: Roquero, A.‘Asalariados africanos trabajando bajo plástico’ in ‘Sociología del Trabajo’
(1996); Martínez Veiga, U. ‘Alojamiento y segregación. El caso Almería’ in ‘Demófilo’ (1999a); Checa, F.
‘Inmigrantes Africanos en la provincia de Almería’ in ‘Demófilo’ (1996).
This document came out from the fax of MPA when I was working there. It was signed by a number
of Spanish Anthropologists. They saw Azurmendi’s book as an attack on the Moroccan group in El Ejido.

the racist nature of certain people, are responsible for phenomena of ethnic exclusion and
racial violence. Therefore, the aim of this interdisciplinary approach is to look for a holistic
as possible an explanation of the causes that sparked off the ethnic riots of El Ejido. The
analysis of the exogenous and endogenous circumstances of the conflict, as it has been
explained above, are central to this book which proposes that if the same structural
circumstances that provoked the clashes, such as those that create the social exclusion of
Moroccans, are not modified we will face the risk of another, and perhaps more serious,
wave of violence.
Martínez’s book deals with agriculture, labour, and the social and spatial segregation of
foreign immigrants in El Ejido from the point of view of Economic Anthropology. Its author
states, from the beginning, that his work is not neutral, but it has been written from the point
of view of the immigrant labourers. In chapter one he describes the agricultural economy of
El Ejido. For him this agriculture is a “sociocultural formation, economically completely
capitalist”. Martínez defines El Ejido as an agro-industrial district. In chapter II he analyses
the labour market in El Ejido; in chapter III he deals with the accommodation patterns of the
immigrants and the spatial exclusion that they suffer; finally, in chapter IV, there is an
analysis of February 2000 and the general process of exclusion of the immigrants. This work
is based on the fieldwork carried out by its author in two different periods. During 1994 and
1995 Martínez undertook some intermittent fieldwork in Poniente, but he did not publish it.
It was after Feb. 2000 that he decided to use the data collected earlier. Between February and
May 2000 he carried out further fieldwork, at the weekend, Easter holidays, and for a longer
period in May.
Mikel Azurmendi, instead, spent five full months of fieldwork in Poniente, between
January and June 2001. In his book, Azurmendi depicts the psychological “nature” of
farmers, immigrants, and other characters of El Ejido, and, therefore, it is mainly a collection
of estampas (portraits; lit. prints). Mercedes, the president of MPA, is one of those estampas.
She appears in the chapter titled ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’, where she is the bad.
Among other things Azurmendi accuses Mercedes of just being politically correct (2001:
263), of defending only the immigrants, of living off the misery of other (2001: 264), and of
having an obsession with racism (2001:267). These judgements are identical to those made
by local Spaniards, and there is no need to be an anthropologist to make them. This book has
been widely sold in El Ejido. The municipal authority organised an official presentation of
the book at Christmas 2001, and this fact was widely covered by the local media. And,
although I do not draw on this book, it is interesting to note that the competition of folk
discourses, about what happened, and still is happening in El Ejido, has now reached
academic levels.


The social exclusion of Moroccans in El Ejido is framed in the wider context of economic,
class, ethnic, and historical processes. But fundamentally, as I will develop in the course of
this thesis, this social exclusion is grounded in the capitalist mode of production and the new
international division of labour that underlines and set the frames in which human groups
negotiate, and invent, their always changing boundaries. In order to familiarise the reader
with this perspective, I have described, briefly, the economic and the social context of El
Ejido, and how the fieldwork for this thesis has been done. We have also seen what relevant
ethnographic work has taken place recently in El Ejido. In the next chapter I examine the
agricultural mode of production in El Ejido.

Chapter II

The Agricultural Mode of Production


The economic process that underlines and frames the social exclusion of Moroccans in
El Ejido is the main theme of this chapter. I describe, first, the ecological environment
of El Ejido and its recent economic history. Then, I move to the analysis of the family
farm, the basic unit of production in the area, in the context of the local and the global
economy. The focus of this analysis will be the organisation of labour.

Poniente: ecological and historical background

Poniente is a very dry area due to scarce and irregular rain, 200 mm per year, and a high
level of sunshine, averaging about 3,060 hours per year (Martínez 2001: 15). These factors
make the area one of the most suitable candidates for tourist development of the “Costa del
Sol” type, although it has the inconvenience of an average of 100 days per year of strong
winds of up to100 km/h. In fact, at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s,
there were several attempts to create tourist resorts on the coasts of Roquetas and El Ejido
similar to the major holiday destinations such as Benalmádena, Torremolinos, or
Fuengirola. But they did not develop into big holiday places because, as the Spanish
sociologist Mario Gaviria (2002: 26) has pointed out, tourist and agricultural developments
in Almería are mutually exclusive since they compete for the same land and water supply.
In the following paragraphs we will see how the high productivity of farming activity in
Poniente overcame tourism development.
In such a dry, windy, and seemingly barren land it is difficult, at first, to grasp how it
has become such a gigantic oasis for the production of vegetables. One of the reasons that
explain the agricultural success of Poniente lies in its rich phreatic deposits40, although they
have a high level of salinity. The Eastern side of Almería province (‘Levante’ lit. the east:
where the sun rises) has the same climate and landscape, but it does not have these deposits,
and this is probably why that area has not adopted the greenhouses until recently. At the
moment the region of Níjar41 (Levante) has about 3,000 hectares of greenhouses, and a new
plant to desalinate seawater will be soon inaugurated. This plant is due to start to work on
the 30th of March 2003, and it will irrigate 5,000 hectares of land (El Mundo 3/1/2003).
However, the existence of underground water, important as it is, does not explain by
itself the birth and rise of the highly competitive “Almería model” of agricultural
production. Other regions of the Mediterranean basin have similar or better conditions than
Almería, such as Costa del Sol, Murcia, Valencia, or Catalonia, apart from countless regions
in other Mediterranean countries. But these other regions did not develop the greenhouses,
which are largely a local innovation, and the product of an endogenous evolution (in the last

“Relating to or denoting underground water in the zone below the water table” (The Concise Oxford
Dictionary, tenth edition)
See map.

decade Morocco and Turkey have introduced the greenhouses on a big scale. In Israel they
have been in production for a long time).
To understand how Poniente has become a rich agricultural area with a high level of
demographic growth we should, firstly, briefly summarise the recent economic history of
the region. I consider it essential to spend a certain amount of time in the description of the
material framework in which the ethnic process of exclusion of Moroccans has come about.
Later, we will describe the specificities of the local agricultural mode of production
(Chapter II), organisation of labour and labour market (Chapter II-IV), and migrations to the
area (Chapter III).

Economic History

Until the 1920s the cultivation of cereals, such as barley, and the husbandry of goats and
sheep was the main economic activity in Poniente. It maintained a scarce population living
in dispersed cottages (see table 1 for a demographic growth of the area). At the end of the
nineteenth century an irrigation ditch (‘Fuente Nueva’ [New Fountain]) brought water from
the mountains to Campo de Dalías, allowing the cultivation of oranges and, above all, table
grapes. The opening of wells, from 1920 onwards, and the construction of the San Fernando
Canal, in 1934, further developed the farming of grapes, and introduced cotton and sugar
beet. In 1950 the production of grapes in Campo de Dalías reached 40,000 metric tonnes
(Martínez 2001: 17-8).
The structure used for the vineyards was later the base for the construction of
greenhouses42. It consisted of a dense fence made of long stems, around the plot of land, to
protect the grapes from the wind; a net of wire supported by wooden sticks to hold the
branches of the grapevine; and a dense network of irrigation ditches to bring water from a
well. In Campo de Dalías there were about 800 hectares dedicated to the production of
grapes in 1950 (Martínez 2001: 24). The harvest was around September and it required a
large workforce. This was supplied by hundreds of temporary workers who used to come
down from the Alpujarras – the mountainous area between the provinces of Almería and
Granada, which was also the origin of the first wave of immigrants arriving to El Ejido.
These temporary workers were accommodated in special barns attached to the cottages. The
arrivals of labourers to work temporarily in farms is not, as we see, a new phenomenon to
the area.
But the greenhouses also gained from the practice of covering the soil with a layer of
sand, which made them more productive. The discovery of the agricultural properties of
sand is not clear. According to Palomar Oviedo (in Martínez 2001: 19) it has been in use
since the end of the nineteenth century in some villages of the littoral of Granada but,
wherever it was first used, Martínez Veiga notes that it was in use in the local village of
Balerma, El Ejido, in 1945 (Martínez 2001: 20). The use of sand has a number of
advantages: it reduces the loss of humidity from the plant and the effect of the salinity of the
water43; it makes plants ripen earlier; it prevents weeds; and it multiplies the productivity of
the land by a factor of five. The greenhouse structure multiplies this productivity again by a

This structure is known as the “Almería model” of greenhouse. The difference between the cost of the
structure and its productivity makes this model of greenhouse more advantageous than the Dutch one (Gaviria
2002: 42).
Sand soil was used, first, for the production of vegetables in plots of land near the sea. Balerma is, in
fact, a village by the sea. The soil of the fields near the sea normally has high salinity levels, so sand soil
proved to be the best for farming near the coast.

factor of five (Martínez 2001: 25). Basically, it can be said that vineyards were sanded and
covered with plastic.
On the other hand, State initiative, through the National Institute of Colonisation
(INC)44, played an important role in the birth of the agricultural model based on
greenhouses. In 1953, a decade before the construction of the first greenhouses, the INC
offered houses, plots of land, advice, and credit facilities for new settlers in Poniente45. Two
new villages were built in El Ejido: the New Las Norias and San Agustín. The INC
expanded the use of sand soil and promoted the testing of new agricultural techniques that
created an atmosphere of experimentation among farmers (Martínez 2001: 25). The first
greenhouse, built in Roquetas in 1963, arose out of this context of experimentation, local
farming practices, and credit facilities.
The development of the area attracted an increasing number of settlers who came
mainly from the Alpujarras, where, at that time, there was a large layer of young population
hoping to migrate to urban centres in order to improve their living standards. The
destination of migrants from the Alpujarras changed from Madrid and Catalonia46 to
Poniente in the 1960s and 1970s, where they could cheaply buy a plot of land (Aznar &
Sánchez 2001:82). Moreover, the relation of capital to labour was very low, so they could
quickly pay the debts (in two campaigns before 1984 - Martínez 2001: 27). When the
greenhouses appeared in 1963, these settlers could also easily adapt to working in them,
since traditionally they grew vegetables in small terraces in the Alpujarras.
Initially, many of these rural migrants went to El Ejido to work as temporary labourers
in greenhouses, as they had been doing before for the grape harvest. Later, they could get a
lease for a year or two, and finally, after saving some money, they could start their own
businesses (Martínez 2001: 29). The productivity of the greenhouses also led to the rapid
conversion to greenhouses of the 800 hectares of vineyards47. By 1984 the expansion of this
agricultural model was so successful that the government of Andalucía had to introduce a
prohibition on the construction of more greenhouses due to an over-exploitation of the
underground deposits of water (Junta de Andalucía decree 117/1984). The low-interest
loans for the building of greenhouses were, accordingly, frozen. But the construction of new
green houses continued – between 1984 and 2001 the number of hectares in production was
doubled. In El Ejido, for instance, the number of hectares has gone from 5,700 in 1984 to
about 12,500 today (Martínez 2001:23). The increase in the number of hectares in Almería
as a whole was impressive. In 1971 there were about 1,114 hectares. This figure rose to
8,250 hectares in 1981; to 13,200 hectares in 1985; to 19,000 hectares in 1990 (Gaviria
2002: 36); and to 28,500 hectares in 2002 (La Voz de Almería 25/7/2002).

The unit of production: the family farm

The new farming system, then, was to be based, largely, on the small property run by the
family unit or household. As we have seen in chapter I, the average of land per farmer in

The INC was a public enterprise established during Franco’s dictatorship to develop underdeveloped
rural areas in Spain.
These first settlers produced mainly outdoor grapes, cereals and vegetables. The INC at that time was
opening new wells in the area, expanding the irrigated lands.
Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Madrid were the areas of greatest industrial development in Spain
at that time, and the destination of many Southern Spanish migrants.
There was also another reason. The United Kingdom was the main buyer of grapes from Almería, but
when it joined the European Community, in 1973, the introduction of higher taxes for the importation of
grapes from Almería made this crop less cost-effective.

Almería is 1.1 hectares48. In 1982, according to Palomar Oviedo (cited in Martínez 2001: 32),
90% of the farms were family farms. He defines family farms as those that mainly use the
labour of the members of a nuclear family, and maintains that this type of organisation is the
best for the agricultural model that has developed in El Ejido. However, Martínez puts
forward the criticism that the foundations of this argument are ideological49 (2001: 32); that
is, the family farm model of production and organisation of labour is the one that suit farmers
best in the social and economic context of Poniente. Let us examine, then, the nature of the
family farms, since it will shed light on the social relations of production that are the
framework for the social exclusion of Moroccans in El Ejido.
Palomar’s definition of family farms coincides with Barlett’s one (1989: 269-70) within
the context of the industrial agriculture. Industrial agriculture is characterised by the use of
“the products of industry in its own production process”, and by being “capital-intensive,
substituting machinery and purchased inputs such as processed fertilizers for human or
animal labour” (Barlett 1989: 253) 50. And family farms “are enterprises that are owned and
operated by family units that combine their own labor with management of the farms”.
Although she admits that it is a frequent practice for them to hire labour, given that “owner-
operators” normally perform most of the work, we can still consider them as family farms.
The other kind of farm would be the “corporate” one. In that type of farm “labor, capital, and
management are linked to separate groups of people: owners, managers and workers”. In
America, the latter type predominates mainly in fruit and vegetable production. There is not,
of course, a clear-cut division between the two organisational types of industrial agriculture,
and Barlett acknowledges that they are ideal categories that have to be assessed in the course
of the fieldwork. In El Ejido they sometimes overlap, but, as we are going to see, the average
farm is the family one. So, let us assess the type of agriculture practised in Poniente.
The production of vegetables in a farm, unlike the manufacture of commodities in a
factory, is characterised by a production time during which there is little or no need for
labour. The growth of plants is a natural phenomenon and requires no human labour.
Production time and working time, then, do not always coincide in farming (Martínez 2001:
42-3). For our purposes, the main implication of this disparity is that the demand for labour
will be at its height during harvesting and, to a lesser extend, at sowing time, and will be at its
lowest in between. On the other hand, the amount of labour needed will also depend on the
kind of crop. Peppers, for example, do not demand much work at off-peak times, and only
one person can look after of a farm of one hectare. On the other hand, cucumbers have to be
tied to sticks with twine while they are growing. This work is tedious and slow, and requires
between four and five workers per hectare. Moreover, at peak times, farmers can postpone or
speed up the harvest, according to the prices in the market. Other than this, the agricultural
season normally extends from September to June, although every year more farmers are
planting a crop in summer. So, the labour needed is at its lowest during the summer, when the
work mainly consists in maintenance and preparation activities for the next season. The
number of crops produced, then, will vary between two and three a year.
The consequence of the seasonal character of agricultural activity, and the difference
between production time and working time is that farmers tend to demand a very flexible
Martínez (2001: 33, 81-2) estimates for El Ejido the figure of between 12,500 to 14,000 hectares of
greenhouses divided between 9,000 farmers, with an average per farm of between 1.38 and 1.55 hectares.
If we accept that ideology is ‘a system of ideas and ideals [which forms] the basis of an economic or
political theory (Oxford Concise Dictionary, tenth edition; italics are mine). Any argument in this way would
be ideological. But the point that I think Martínez is making, as we are going to see, is that the family farm has
been the ‘ideal’ unit of production because of the a scarcity of cheap labour, and not just the best model in any
In this section we will see that the agriculture practised in Poniente is fully industrial.

labour force that is available when necessary and can be laid off when no longer required.
The following table gives an idea of the level of labour flexibility demanded by farmers in
the past few years. It is based on the estimations of Martinez Veiga and Juan Colomina,
vice-president of the Mesa Hortofrutícola of Almería51 (Martínez 2001: 88, 117), and it
describes the level of labour activity in greenhouses.

TABLE 2 Martinez (%) Colomina (%)

July-August 30 10-15

September-October 80-90 80

November-January 100 100

February-March 40-80 40

April-June 100 100

From November to January and from April to June harvesting take place, and the demand
for labour reaches its heights (100% in the table). Between September and October, and
February and March sowing and maintenance work, such as watering, fertilising,
fumigation, among others, takes place. Finally, between July and August farmers just
prepare the farm for the next season, although, as I have said earlier on, an increasing
number of farmers are starting to introduce a third crop, which, if it is adopted by the
majority, will change the common labour cycle described above.
In spite of this labour flexibility, most farmers agree that the average number of
workers (which may be the owner) needed per hectare of land is two52. José and Manuela53,
together with José’s parents, work two hectares. During the 2001-2002 season they had to
hire one labourer for a few months due to José’s father having an illness. Luciano works one
hectare on his own, and when he needs help he asks his brother and his father, who work a
hectare each beside Luciano’s farm. Luciano will return this help when any of them needs it.
If they are busy when Luciano needs them, he has to hire one labourer. Carlos also works
one hectare on his own. Between September and December, last year, he planted peppers
and needed a labourer for 36 days, which was a little less than a third of the total length of
time that Carlos himself worked. It has to be said that he decided to go for a crop that does
not need much labour. Had Carlos, for instance, gone for cucumbers instead of peppers, and
then the amount of labour required would have increased substantially. His choice indicates
that his priority was to save labour costs. The main reason that he gave me was the low
prices of vegetables in the markets in the last few years. Previously he had two hectares and,
according to him, decided to sell half of his farm because he could not afford to pay the

The Mesa Hortofrutícola is an institution that brings together all the social groups involved in Almería
in the production and distribution of vegetables. Its task is to defend the interest of producers and distributors
of vegetables in the province, and to represent them outside it, in Spain and Europe.
All the farmers I asked agreed with this figure. Pumares also gives the same number (2001: 106)
These and the following persons were described in Chapter I (see informants).

In the 1970s and early 1980s the members of the nuclear family could provide enough
labour to perform most of the tasks needed to operate a farm. Those farms rarely exceeded
one hectare and farmers used the labour of wives and children, according to their needs.
When I was in secondary school, in the mid-1980s, the students who came from farms
worked on the farms in the evenings on weekdays, and for the whole weekend. At peak
times the need of extra labour was addressed through the traditional tornapeón or
tornajornal system employed traditionally in Alpujarras. In this system, neighbours and
other relatives with farms would work for you without payment, in return for your work
when it was needed. The slogan was “today for me, tomorrow for you”, as Carlos puts it.
The tornapeón system is similar to the ideology of cooperation and family farm partnerships
founded in some family farms in America in order to avoid wages: “One for all and all for
one” (Barlett 1989: 271, 281). As we have seen above, it still survives in some of the
smaller farms in El Ejido: José and Manuela have established that partnership with José’s
parents, and Luciano, to a lesser extent, with his brother and father. But by the end of the
eighties these methods turned out to be insufficient. There are two main reasons for this. On
the one hand, there was an increasing demand for workers in the auxiliary industry that was
developing alongside the agriculture (Aznar & Sánchez 2001: 82). On the other hand, there
was a growth in the number of greenhouses and in their size. Therefore, labour became
scarce during the 1980s.

Scarcity of labour and the development of the auxiliary industry

The development of the auxiliary industry in the area, which offered more attractive jobs to
Spaniards, was a direct consequence of the industrial nature of the agricultural production in
Poniente. Barlett (1989: 255) indicates six general characteristics of industrial agriculture. I
will mention three of them that are particularly relevant for this discussion. Firstly, the
increasing use of complex technology and the technology treadmill; secondly, a tendency
toward competition, specialisation, and overproduction (we well see these two
characteristics later on); and, thirdly, the increasing interdependence between farms and
agribusiness that controls inputs, machinery, product sales, processing, and transport.
In Barlett’s formulation (1989: 267), the term agribusiness refers to “food and fiber-
related enterprises not engaged in actual production”. In Almería there were 433 enterprises
that responded to that definition in 2001. Among them, there were 77 seedbed companies,
36 for installation and maintenance of irrigation systems, 28 for building greenhouses, 24
for agricultural machinery, 18 multinational seed companies established in Almería, and 12
plastic factories. And these figure do not take into account another 122 companies for the
marketing of vegetables54 (62 auctioneer centres, and 60 cooperatives in the hands of the
farmers) (Gaviria 2002: 47, 64).
Agriculture in Poniente is highly industrialised, and farmers do not control most of the
productive process as is the case in tribal or peasant economies (Barlett 1989: 268). For
instance: farmers depend on the hybrid seeds55 produced by a handful of multinational
companies; seeds grow in seedbeds, not in the farms; fertilisers bought from specialised
companies represent between 10% and 12% of the current costs; 810 agricultural engineers
and 18 consultancy companies advise farmers, and so on (Gaviria 2002: 49, 51).

This data is from 1998. Gaviria estimates 215 companies to market vegetables in 2002 (Gaviria 2002:
Plants that grow from these seeds do not produce fertile seeds, so farmers have to buy new seeds for
the next crop.

Barlett (1989: 268) also points out a tendency in industrial agriculture toward the
concentration of agribusinesses and farms, which leads to the “vertical integration” of “two
or more successive steps of production and distribution”. In Poniente this process is far from
being accomplished, partly because the productive process is largely based on the family
farm rather on the corporate one, but it shows some signs of happening. Martínez speaks,
for instance, of a vertical disintegration of production and of integration through the market
(Martínez 2001: 72-3). He defines the dense productive fabric of El Ejido as an agro-
industrial district56. This term can be, of course, be rightly applied to Poniente as a whole,
since greenhouses and agribusiness are evenly spread throughout the whole region.
The development of an agro-industrial district has also modified the job preferences of
the Spaniards, who now reject work as labourers in farms due to the short-term nature and
hardship of this job. They prefer the more stable and better-paid jobs of the developing
auxiliary industry. Consequently, Moroccans, when they arrive, take the jobs in the farms
left by Spaniards with the follow-on segmentation of the labour market along ethnic lines, in
which Moroccans are at the bottom of the labour and social scale. But we will explain this
issue in more detail in the next chapter.

Scarcity of labour and the tendency of farms to expand

The increase in the size of the farms could be explained by the general tendency of benefits
to drop in the market economy. For instance, the average price per kilo of vegetables that
farmers get in Almería has gone from € 0.63 in 1965 to € 0.43 in 1999.

TABLE 3. Change in the price per kilo of vegetables paid to the farmers57.

Years Production Value. M Average Average

(tonnes) euros (base 1999) price Kg / Euro price (base 1999)

1965 12,000 7.6 0.04 0.63

1975 669,000 425.8 0.08 0.64

1981 938,000 550.2 0.20 0.58

1990 1,258,310 649.4 0.37 0.51

1996 2,173,431 1095.2 0.49 0.50

1999 2,583,912 1114.2 0.43 0.43

Barlett (1989: 253, 257) attributes this tendency to the increasing capitalisation of industrial
agriculture. Farms exchange technology for labour in order to cut down wages, increasing
An industrial district would be a space for the production of goods and the organisation of labour, but
also a place where people live and work. It is chiefly characterised by the “agglomeration of small and
medium specialised enterprises”; a homogeneous and strong social and cultural basis; and a horizontal
exchange of services, information and people in between all these of small and medium businesses [farms in
our case]. (Martinez 2002: 71-73)
My own interpretation. Data taken from Gaviria (2002: 37-8). Prices in third and fifth columns are
adjusted to 1999 values to take account of inflation.

their productivity, selling cheaper and, therefore, becoming more competitive. But then,
prices drop even further and the same circle repeats again.
An innovation that increases production or lowers costs gives early adopters a competitive
advantage and a period of higher profits… Once the innovation is widely adopted, its benefits
are reduced by increased production and lowered prices. Farmers who resist a change in its
early stages are often hurt by these lowered prices and may be forced to adopt the innovation
just to survive (Barlett 1989: 257).

Greenhouses were an innovation that allowed farmers to multiply their production of

vegetables by 25. So, they could sell them in Europe, in winter, at a much cheaper price than
any other competitors and, consequently, prices lowered. Then, in order to survive, the rest
of farmers in Poniente were faced with the dilemma – either adopt the greenhouse model, or
giving up farming. We have seen that the vineyards were quickly converted into
greenhouses at the beginning of the 1970s, but, most importantly, any other outdoor farming
of vegetables, which was initially promoted by the INC in the fifties, became obsolete. Once
on the path of the greenhouse model, they had to follow any other technological innovation
such as hybrid seeds, hydroponics floors, and computerised irrigation and fertilising systems
in order to increase further the productivity of the land and to combat the subsequent drop of
On the other hand, the introduction of new technology also made the bigger farms more
cost-efficient. In the case of dairy farmers in the United States, Barlett (1989: 257) shows
that “new technology created major pressures for farm-size expansion” because small farms
could not afford the investments that the new technology required. In the case of El Ejido,
however, we are going to see how the expansion of the farms is limited by the costs of
labour, and how this has been a fundamental factor in the arrival of the Moroccans and in
their social status.
Basically, we can observe that the introduction of new technology increases the cost of
inputs, while, at the same time, there is a tendency for outputs to drop. Farmers, then, tend
to react to this “trap” by further increasing production by augmenting the size of the farm.
But they also have another alternative, that is, the restriction of the cost of the inputs that are
under their direct control. As I have said earlier on, the only input that the farmer can
directly control58 is labour, which represents between 45% and 50% of the total current
costs59. Therefore, farmers will tend to cut down wages. Paradoxically, the strategy of
reducing wages can also lead to the reduction of the size of the farm, in order to not hire
labour. As we have seen, Carlos decided to sell half of his farm for that reason60. This is
probably the reason why Palomar Oviedo maintains that the family farm is the ideal
organisational model of agricultural production in Poniente. According to Harriet Friedman
(cited in Martínez 2001: 33), family farms save costs since they use the “free” labour of
wives and children, and are, in this respect, more resistant to the tendency of prices to drop
than corporate farms.
But, so far we have seen that corporate farms are more cost-efficient in industrial
agriculture, and, therefore, the tendency in an industrial society is towards the disappearance

There are other actions that would allow farmers to control inputs such as control of distribution, seed
production, and so on. Farmers, (see pp. 36-41), complain through COAG, their farmers’ association, about
competition from Morocco, and the control of distribution by the big international companies. Carlos, page 18,
has been campaigning for the last two years to have distribution fully controlled by the farmers.
These current costs, of course, do not include paying off the price of the land.
But that is more a sign of crisis and a serious risk of collapse, as Luciano pointed out (Chapter I,
informants). I will go back to this question later.

of the “small-scale or family-based unit”. Therefore, the resistance to the disappearance of
small-scale businesses has to be linked to the level of availability of cheap labour: a scarcity
of it will tend to make small farms more profitable, and an abundance of it will favour the
development of corporate farms, or, as Barlett puts it:

Reliable, skilled labor at a price that does not threaten profits is the requirement for successful
corporate farming… The challenge of these growers [she refers to lemon growers in Arizona]
is to find large numbers of workers willing to accept some of the lowest paid jobs in the
country. Migrant labor moves through fruit and vegetable areas of the country, providing
harvest labor for a wide range of farm types (Barlett 1989: 284-5).

Martínez shows how the presence of a large and steady supply of vulnerable workers in
California, in the nineteenth century, enabled farms to develop into big properties based on
salaried work, while in the Mid-West of America they developed into family units due to
the scarcity of labour. The construction of the railway in California attracted many Chinese
people who, after being left with no jobs at the end of the railway work, moved to work in
the farms. In 1859 there were 10,000 of them in that situation. The next waves of immigrant
workers to arrive were the Japanese from 1900, the Filipinos from 1923, and Mexicans from
1942 (Martínez 2001: 36, 56). Barlett (1989: 285) also details how the government of the
United States has historically guaranteed big farms a steady supply of manpower: firstly,
with the African slaves, and later, with the labourers of the foregoing countries.
Going back to El Ejido, the unavailability of cheap labour was one of the reasons that
made family farms “ideal” in Poniente, but it also became a limiting factor to the tendency,
explained above, to expand farms. Therefore, the aforementioned scarcity of labour in the
1980s can be understood as a scarcity of cheap labour, as the auxiliary industry successfully
competed for this labour. The arrival of the Moroccan in the 1980s, which constituted the
second big wave of immigration to Poniente, has to be understood in this context: it filled
the vacuum left by the native workers who joined the developing auxiliary industry; and it
allowed farmers to expand their farms and, therefore, to increase their production, because
Moroccans were cheap labour.

Exogenous factors: the pressure from above

However, the cost of labour is not a constant but a relative magnitude. Wolf (1997: 334) –
based on Marx’s theories – shows that the selling and buying of labour is not a symmetrical
relation between the employer and the worker, rather, it works to the advantage of the
employer, who only pays a portion of the product of the labour he bought. That is, he
obtains a surplus value from the labour of each and every worker. Therefore, labour will be
profitable only if the employer can gain more than he pays. But this surplus value, or
personal gain, does not depend only on its relation to the overall input-output outcome of
the farm: it will also be affected by the fluctuation of the prices in the market and the
proportion of the added value taken by the brokers, as we will see.
We have seen that there is a general tendency in the prices of commodities to drop due
to the increasing accumulation of capital of the capitalist mode of production. This tendency
creates, in turn, a drift toward the reduction of the cost of labour, partly solved by the
substitution of machinery by labour. But the ebbs and flows of the economy also affect the
profitability of labour, and the control of the markets exerted by big companies.

In chapter I we have seen that the production of the 2001-2 season reached a value of
1,940 million euros, but farmers only received 1,357 millions. The remaining 583 millions
went to the international distribution companies, which also exert a strong control on supply
and demand that affects production costs. José and Manuela, the young farming couple, are
quite aware of this reality, and find it difficult to make ends to meet every month:

‘We cannot afford paying wages to anyone because we have too many debts to pay’ [the
mortgages of the house and the farm]. Manuela points at their car, an old Peugeot 306 they
bought second hand in Madrid years ago, ‘I’d like to get a new car and go on holidays in
summer, but we don’t have the money. People say that farmers are rich, I don’t know how
some farmers can afford expensive houses and cars, we can’t’. José looks suddenly
embarrassed and shifts the conversation to the ‘unfair’ control of the market of fruit and
vegetables that a few brokers have, ‘a man with a phone in Holland can blackmail the
cooperatives; if he can’t get a cheap price in one cooperative, another one will offer him
cheaper vegetables. The problem is that they monopolise the market of distribution and we
have more than two hundred companies to sell the vegetable at place of supply. And in a few
years it’s going to get worse because the European Union is allowing Morocco to sell its
vegetables freely in Europe. If third countries can sell their vegetable freely I don’t know what
the fuck we need the Union for. In Morocco they get people to work in farms for two or three
euros a day; there is no way we can compete with that.’ (My diary; Sunday, 9/1/2003.)

José is pointing very clearly to two exogenous problems that, for him, cause major financial
difficulties for farmers: the monopoly of markets of distribution by a few brokers, and the
competition from Morocco61. José is not alone in this – most of the farmers in El Ejido
widely share his point of view. On the 8th of January 2003, hundreds of farmers organised a
protest in Poniente, stopping the traffic on the motorway and burning tyres in order to
complain against the low prices that farmers have been getting for their vegetables in the
2002-3 season. COAG, the farmers’ association, organised the protest. A huge banner held
by farmers said “Low prices, Morocco and the ‘distribution giants’62 leave us as thin as a
rake” (“Los bajos precios, Marruecos y la gran distribución nos dejan a secas” –El Mundo,

‘The Distribution Giants’

The Spanish sociologist Mario Gaviria (2002: 121-135) has written about the control over
production and prices by a few big European supermarkets chains. According to Gaviria, the
number of companies controlling the distribution of staples in the EU during the 1990s has
been reduced to a dozen of French, British and German companies. Each one of these
companies has a centralised purchasing system to buy directly from producers, and sells
through their own supermarkets throughout the EU. The six biggest French companies63, for
instance, employ 436,000 people and have 15,727 centres to sell directly to consumers. In

Barlett (1989: 286-7) refers to a very similar case. Vegetable growers in Arizona also complain about
the pressure from buyers, and they deem low labour cost as essential to their survival: “We don’t get the big
bite. The big larceny is at the chain store level –whether one dollar or two dollar a carton, they sell $0.29 a
head… A guy that buys 100 [railroad] cars a day has more power and control than a guy who buys two”.
The term ‘Distribution Giants’ refers to ‘Big Supermarkets Chains’ which buy directly to farmers and
sell to consumers. Spanish farmers in Poniente refer to them as la gran distribucion. Therefore, I will use both
terms indistinctively.
They are Auchan, Carrefour, Casino, ITM, LeCrerc, Promodes, and Sisteme U. It is also interesting to
point out at the fact that of the ten biggest fortunes in Frances, six belong to the families that control these six
big distribution companies (Gaviria 2002: 124, 126).

France, according to Gaviria, they have caused the disappearance of almost 500,000 small
and medium shops in the last two decades, and now own in Spain former Spanish
supermarkets such as Alcampo, Pryca or Continente. Since they purchase at a huge scale,
they can offer better prices than small shops, but they also get lower prices from producers
by jumping across different national markets.

When the price is too high among French farmers, the purchasing centres acquire products in
Spain or in Morocco, where they are less expensive due to the lower cost of labour, and the
better weather... In that situation, the French prices sank. And when they are low, the Big
Distribution [sic] buys again in France, which brings a further lowering of Spanish prices…
Mass consumption has contributed widely to the destruction of traditional and family
agriculture… The French agriculture has gone industrial. (Marianne, 30/8/99; in Gaviria 2002:
131-2; my translation)

Therefore, prices also drop due to the control of the markets by big multinationals. The
problem for the farmers of Poniente is that they sell their products to these few companies
through over two hundred local auctioneer centres and cooperatives in which they are
brought together. As José said “a man with a phone in Holland can blackmail the
cooperatives – if he can’t get a cheap price in one cooperative, another one will offer him
cheaper vegetables”. The repercussion on the producers is that only highly productive
industrial agriculture can resist the lowering of prices. The next example will illustrate this
In order to fight back the drop of prices COAG decided in January 2002 to organise the
massive destruction of produce of secondary quality in Almería in order to increase the
prices in the market (demand) by reducing the supply. But the farmers who do not have the
resources and technology to produce first quality vegetables (that is, the smaller and less
“industrialised” farms) complained because they were going to lose everything: “We have
to throw away what we produce, but the most important producers are going to keep
producing [and selling]” (El Mundo, 8/1/03). In the end, the farmers went ahead with the
destruction of the vegetables. But the crisis of prices has had the consequence that 30% of
farmers in the province of Granada, Andalucía, who are much less industrialised than the
farmers of Almería, have given up farming during the year 2002 (El Mundo, 8/1/03).
According to COAG the percentage would be 20% in Almería, since the costs of production
are higher that the prices in the market (El Mundo, 31/12/02). Luciano’s comment
mentioned earlier on, hence, was made within this context: “in two or three years all farmers
are going to be fucked up, and we all are going to swim in shit again”. In this context it is
not strange that the farmers’ demand for cheap labour has increased, since it is the only
input they can control directly. As we have seen, Carlos opted for selling half of his farm in
order to reduce costs by hiring a minimum amount of labour. So, production can also be
reduced in order to cut down on costs. This flexibility of the family farm in El Ejido, and the
fact that it still can have an industrial character can account for its survival up to present,
although the future looks uncertain.


The cost of labour is relative, as we have seen, to the final price of the production. And,
technology and climate conditions being equal, prices would be more competitive where
labour is cheaper. Ricardo Lorenzo, a farmer from El Ejido, reflects the widespread feeling
that farmers have of being attacked: “each season we have more enemies. In the case of the
tomato, we have to fear Morocco. They sell the product at a lower price because labour is

much cheaper [there]” (La Voz de Almería, 8/9/02). Juan Colomina also refers to the same
problem, “it is impossible to compete with producers who pay wages of five euros a day”
(La Voz, 5/7/02). Colomina refers here to Morocco.
The EU has a special commercial treaty with Morocco, which is renewed periodically.
Last July (2002), the EU held discussions with Morocco in order to renew the commercial
agreement and to increase, as a non-European country, the amount of vegetables, especially
tomatoes, that this country can sell in the EU without paying importation taxes. In exchange,
Morocco would open up to the importation of European products in which Northern Europe
has surplus, such as milk, meat, and industrial and technological products (La Voz,
12/7/02). So, farmers in Almería feel that their interests have been neglected, and they
demand that if Morocco intends to freely sell its products in Europe, then it should have the
same labour conditions as Almería, in order for there to be equal treatment. The minimum
wage for agricultural labourers in Almería is 30 euros a day and in the African country it is
about 5 euros a day.
However, farmers’ income is not constant, rather, it fluctuates every year. Good years
follow bad ones. In the 2001-2 season, for instance, production reached a record of almost
2,000 million euros. But, then again, the reason was the lack of competition: “neither
Morocco, with serious [plant diseases] and drought, neither national competitors such as
Canaries, also with crop diseases, [were] able to present combat to the Almerian tomato”
(La Voz, 4/7/2002).


We have seen in this chapter, focussing on the study of the family farm, that the different
factors that make up and characterise the agricultural activity in Poniente –difference
between time of production and time of work, seasonality, small farms’ sizes, tendency of
prices to drop, tendency of farms to expand, internal competition for labour with the
auxiliary industry, external competition in the international market of vegetables, and the
control of that market by the ‘distribution giants’ – determine the way in which labour is
organised. Farmers tend to demand a very flexible and cheap labour force –the only input
that they directly control. And Moroccans happen to be that kind of labour force.
Producers’ decisions and behaviour towards their labourers will be affected by all the
foregoing factors. They also will use those factors to justify the over-exploitation of their
labourers. The conclusion is that the mode of production determines the organisation of
labour. In the rest of the thesis we will see how this organisation of labour determines, in
turn, social relationships.

Chapter III

Labour migrations and Immigration controls


We have seen, so far, that the tendency of prices to drop creates a pressure to invest in
technology, a drift towards expansion, and a need for cheap labour. It is the need for cheap
labour that causes labour markets to emerge and brings about labour migration. The
questions we can ask now are: How have Moroccans arrived to El Ejido? Why they are such
cheap labour? And, why do they work mainly illegally? The analysis of these three factors
will lead, eventually, to an explanation of why Moroccans are socially excluded. These
questions are also deeply interwoven with the mode of production and the subsequent
organisation of the relations of production – questions that have been dealt with in the
previous chapter64 – and with the process of labour migrations and the organisation of the
labour market, which will be examined in this and the next chapters. To start with, an
explanatory answer should consider a two-way relationship: what El Ejido offers to migrants
and what are their needs. This relationship is also framed in the wider context of the
globalisation of the capitalist mode of production, global labour markets, and global labour
I have divided this chapter in two sections. In the first section, I briefly define the
concepts of labour market and labour migration65; then, I put labour migration in the global
context; and, finally, I move to the causes and circumstances of the migration of Moroccans
to Poniente. In the second section I deal with the measures with which governments obstruct
the free circulation of labour. I will propose that this control of the mobility of the labour
force works to the economic advantage of the capitalist class, and contributes to the
segmentation of the working class along ethnic, racial, and national lines.

Labour migrations

We can define a labour market as the place where “buyers of labor power offer wages,
which sellers accept in return for a commodity, their own labor” (Wolf 1997: 354). With
regard to labour migration66, it can be seen as the circulation of the sellers of labour power
between the places where the carriers of labour have been physically produced and the place

The relations of production and, specifically, the organisation of labour and its effect on social
relations, are not dealt with in a specific chapter, but they pervade chapter II, III, and IV since they are the
focus of the thesis. However, it is in Chapter IV where they are brought to a conclusion.
I will deal with labour market and labour migration in two different chapters, but I prefer to give both
definitions together because, even if they can be separated for analytical purposes, one cannot be understood
without the other.
Narotzky (1997: 80, 83) distinguishes between ‘migration (movement of people)’ and ‘labour
migration’. Migration, on its own, refers to the movement of people for reasons other than finding a livelihood
within the context of “the spatial organisation of production in capitalist social formations”. Modern refugees
would be an example of these movements of people. In this work the term migration, when used on its own,
will always refer to labour migration.

where their labour is bought and used67. Labour migration can be further divided into
external, or international migration, and internal migration (within the borders of a national
state) (Narotzky1997: 83; Wolf 1997: 361). The common factors in both types of migration
are that they happen between rural and urban areas at national and international levels (Wolf
1997: 360); that is, between developing and developed areas. For instance, we have seen
already that the first wave of migrations to El Ejido came from a neighbouring rural area,
and the second from other countries, mainly Morocco, and later Ecuador, Eastern Europe,
and other African countries.
However, the two types of migration have different consequences for the categories of
migrants involved in them: categories such as alien (non national), illegal, national, and
lately, within the EU, EU national migrant workers. As we will see in this chapter these
categories give a structure to the local labour markets from the beginning, and contribute to
the segmentation and hierarchisation of the working class; or, as Wolf (1997: 362) has put
it: “[what] is significant for the migrant is the position he is placed in, in relation to other
groups, on arrival… The migrant’s position is determined not so much by the migrant or his
culture as by the structure of the situation in which he finds himself”. I will build my
argument upon this premise in this and the next chapter.
The Spanish anthropologist Susana Narotzky (1997: 80) remarks upon two aspects of
migration that are relevant to this work: firstly, “the construction of a segmented labour
force, and as a corollary the creation of race and ethnic minorities as an ideological barrier
to the formation of class”; and secondly, “the use of mobility [by the migrants] as a means
towards obtaining a livelihood in the context of multiple, interconnected, individual and
household strategies”. She is alluding, in the second aspect, to the two-way relationship
formulated in the abstract, at the beginning of this chapter: what a labour market (El Ejido)
offers to migrants and what are their needs.
The main guiding tenet of my argument, in this chapter, will be that, as Narotzky
(1997: 80) has put it, labour migration “must be viewed within the wider framework of
circulation of capital and labour in the context of the uneven development of a world
capitalist economy”. The migrations I will be talking about are a relatively recent world
phenomenon68, since they have their origin, cause and reason in the development, growth
and expansion of the capitalist mode of production. Therefore, before examining the
specifics of the labour migration of Moroccans to El Ejido, let us firstly look at the global
phenomenon of labour migration.

Global labour migrations

As Eric Wolf (1997: 361) has mentioned, the growth and expansion of capitalism have
created in modern times a circulation of labour across the globe, from areas in which labour
is out of work or obsolete “toward regions of heightened industrial or agricultural activity”,
in which labour has become scarce, in order to meet an increasing demand for labour. Harris
(1995: ix), a British sociologist specialising in development, also regards the “demand in the
labour markets… at the destination, not… the supply of labour or the troubles of
governments” as the main cause of labour migration. The sociologist Piore (1984; cited in
Cachón 2001: 314) highlights the same argument:

M. Burawoy (cited in Narotzky 1997: 81) defines migrant labour “as a system where maintenance and
renewal of the labour force are differentiated and physically separated”.
This point will become clearer below.

[It is false to say] that poverty and the pressure of the existing population in underdeveloped
areas are the main causes of the emigration on a big scale… the real determinant cause of
migration flows is the process of economic development of the industrial region[s], especially
the quantity and characteristics of the jobs available (my translation).

Harris’ and Piore’s arguments underline the argument that the demand for labour at the
destination points of migration is the main reason that labour is on the move. But this strong
emphasis on the demand for labour at destination can hide the fact that the existence of an
underemployed mass of population in underdeveloped areas is the other side of the coin and,
therefore, a necessary factor for labour migrations to happen69. To be more concrete, it is the
imbalance between the place of destination and the place of origin of labour, between areas
where labour is underemployed or obsolete to areas where it is demanded, that motivates
and accounts for labour migration; or, as Narotzky (1997: 80) has put it: “the uneven
development of [the] world capitalist economy”. Therefore, the places of origin and
destination of labour carriers have to be necessarily linked to the same capitalist economy
for this labour circulation to happen. We are going to see now how underemployed masses
in developing areas are created by the very same economic process that creates labour
scarcity in developed areas.
Wolf (1997: 362-3) identifies three historical waves of migration. The first, within
national borders, started in England at about the time of the initial period of European
industrialisation (eighteenth century), and continued in the nineteenth century in Belgium
and Germany. These were migrations between the countryside and the city. The second
wave took about 50 million Europeans overseas between 1800 and 1914, mainly to the
United States. A third wave moved contract labourers from different countries to mines and
plantations in the tropics and South Africa, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If
we focus on labour migration to the United States, we can observe that the direction of these
migration flows to USA had their origin in a scarcity of labour in the North-American
economy (Wolf 1997: 366). But this was not the only reason. At the same time large
numbers of people in Europe were left underemployed, or their jobs became obsolete, by the
very same process of accumulation of capital and industrialisation that created demand of
labour in other areas:

The main factors pushing these people out of Europe were the spread of industrial capitalism
and the commercialization of agriculture. As industrial capitalism spread, it displaced artisans
and destroyed the domestic putting-out system. Transformation in agriculture burdened Irish
and southwestern German cultivators with increased rents, mortgages, and indebtedness, and
drove Scottish, English, and Scandinavian cultivators off the land to make away for sheep or
cattle. In the period between 1820 and 1860, therefore, the main contingents of immigrants
came from Ireland (2 million), southwestern Germany (1.5 million), and the British Isles
(750,000) (Wolf 1997: 364).

Similar reasons drove Eastern and Southern Europeans to the United Stated from 1890
onwards (Wolf 1997: 364). The point of this argument is to prove that labour migration is
largely the result of ‘uneven development’ in the context of a ‘globalised’ capitalist mode of
production. Peasants become displaced, and transformed into agricultural labourers or
industrial workers, due to the drift towards the industrialisation of the agriculture and
manufacturing industry that forced them to give up their less productive agriculture or
Wolf (1997: 361) also speaks of movement of people that sometimes precedes the demand for labour
at destination, although he does not illustrate it. However, this would not have been a main stream

artisan production and, therefore, to try their fortune as labourers or industrial workers. In
Poniente we have seen that this tendency put farmers in the dilemma of industrialising or
giving up farming and, therefore, joining the industrial army of workers (see pp 31-36).

Migration systems

The enduring migration relationship established in the nineteenth century between Europe
and the United States can be defined as a ‘migration system’ (Cachón 2001: 301). At
present, there are four migration systems in the world. They are organised around the United
States, Europe, Persian Gulf, and Pacific-Asia (Cachón 2001: 302). The European migration
system was configured after the Second War World. Between the 1950s and the 1970s, the
industrialisation and development of Northern Europe attracted migrants from Southern
Europe, Turkey, and Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. For instance, 2 million Spaniards and 2
million North Africans migrated to Northern Europe in this period (Cachón 2001: 302). But,
by the end of the 1980s, the Southern European countries (Spain included) became receivers
of migration. The migrant population living in Spain has gone from 200,000 in 1981 to
1,301,342 in 2002 (El Mundo, 4/1/2003); and while only 10% were from Africa or Asia in
1981, they constitute the majority of migrants in the year 200270. The reasons for this
migration in the last twenty years lie in the demand for labour in Spain, and the redundancy
of labour in the countries of origin. In fact, Moroccans did not migrate to Spain until there
was a demand for labour in that country. Chacón, for instance, mentions the uneven
economic development and demography between Spain and Morocco, apart from the
proximity of the two countries, as the reasons for the migration waves of Moroccans to
Spain from the 1980s onwards (Cachón 2001: 308-9, 314).

Labour migrations between Morocco and Poniente

As we have seen, Moroccans started to arrive in Poniente at the same time as in the rest of
Spain. This was at a time when, due to the process of capitalist accumulation, the demand
for labour could not be fulfilled with internal migrations71. But Moroccans, in turn, were
leaving their own country because of a situation of underemployment and redundancy of the
labour force. At first, they went to Northern Europe but, from the 1980s onwards, Spain also
became an attractive labour market for them. The following document, by José Criado (a
local Spanish writer from El Ejido, who has worked for MPA), gives an idea of the reasons
why Moroccans migrate. Criado travelled last year (2002) to Northern Morocco in order to
find out the circumstances in which people live there.

Riduán has just returned from Spain after spending ten months there as an undocumented
worker [he does not mention where this description takes place]. He is aged twenty four and is
euphoric, he does not stop talking about the convenience of living in Europe, even if it is in
Almería, and he never stops talking about the inconvenience of living in Morocco, mainly in
the little agricultural village in which they live, without electricity, without meeting points,
without roads, and with the street full of rubbish… “In the area of the interior where I live
everyone wants to go to Europe, the rich people as well as the poor one. All want cars, cloths,
and European money… no one has doubts about emigrating because here work is underpaid
and there is nothing to do, only to be in your house and go out for a stroll… To leave your
village, to live in Europe and to arrive back with a European car gives you prestige, even if

Moroccans, for instance, account for 20.22% (263,131) of all non-nationals residing legally in Spain.
But many Moroccans living illegally in Spain are not included in this figure (El Mundo 4/1/2003).
I have described at length the reasons for the demand for labour in Chapter II.

you live there in a shack… It means to achieve a better social status…” (Source: Criado: 116,
131-2; my translation).

My own data collected in El Ejido match the foregoing description. Nasim is a Moroccan
migrant from Nador (see map) whom I met in El Ejido, during my fieldwork. He arrived in
Spain four years ago, and works legally, with his father, in a greenhouse in El Ejido.

Everyone in Morocco knows that there is work for them in the greenhouses in Almería. But
they are not aware that in Almería or in Europe there is also unemployment, because when the
Moroccan migrants return to Morocco, for holidays, they only tell how easy it is to earn
money or get a car and a house in Europe; but not how difficult it is to get legal residence. But
all they want to do is to leave Morocco because all they can get there is a €5 wage per day, if
they are lucky (My diary; 18/8/2002).

Omar (see informants) points out at the improvement of the living standards for the families
left behind, in Morocco, as one of the main reasons to migrate. According to him, many
men leave wives and children at home and come to Europe, because with the money that
they send home their families can live quite comfortably. With that money, many families in
Morocco have been able to expand their houses, get electricity connections, and so on. The
manager of a Spanish transport company, which transports goods between Spain and
Morocco, confirmed this to a reporter of El País (25/8/2002): “Do you know what is the
biggest source of income in the country [Morocco]? It is neither fishing, nor agriculture, nor
drugs. It is the money that migrants send. For Morocco, the more people leave the better”.
Many men, then, try to increase the standard of living of their own families by
migrating to Europe. Hamid (see informants) was a fisherman in Sale, near Rabat. Although
his family is not well off, they own three fishing boats, and so he was not under pressure to
migrate. But he could see how other families in his town with relatives working in Europe
where better off than his own family, so he decided to migrate as a way to contribute to
increasing the living standards of his family.

Hamid’s narrative is quite symbolic. He raises his hands and face towards the sky and says
loudly that people in Morocco think that money in Europe falls like rain, “people return in
summer with big cars loaded with gifts, and they tell their relatives and friends that they can
get that and more if they go to Europe”. Then, he speaks of countless migrants arriving from
‘all Africa’ to Morocco, who are waiting there to try to get over to Spain and then spread
throughout Europe: “they are very poor; they come on their bare feet; they have to wait up to
four years in Morocco. They don’t have anything to eat; they have to steal. Years ago a black
man kidnapped a young boy in Rabat. But people saw him taking the child and called the
police. When the police arrived to his house, he and his family were eating the child. But the
King of Morocco loves immigrants and doesn’t send them back to their own countries. In
Morocco there is no racism, people are hospitable”. When he finishes he invites me to stay in
his house in Sale at any time, to stay as long as I want. I guess that Hamid is really comparing
Morocco to El Ejido, and, therefore, speaking of the type of society he would like there to be
in El Ejido (My diary; 14/8/2002).

Morocco does not only generate migration, it is also a sort of transit station for many
Africans who try to migrate to Europe. Migrants from Nigeria and other countries of central
Africa travel through Niger, Mali and Algeria to Morocco. Once there, they cross the sea in

a patera to the Canaries, and take a flight to Spain, where they can stay72, although their
traditional destination is Great Britain (El Mundo, 8/1/2003). The stories of Moroccans in El
Ejido made me view Morocco as a giant shuttle to Europe, and this view probably exists in
the minds of a majority of Moroccans. We have seen that Pepe Criado got the same
impression: “everyone wants to go to Europe, the rich people as well as the poor ones. All
want cars, cloths, and European money”.
However, during my fieldwork, I did not know how to account for the descriptions
given by Moroccans of their standard of living in Morocco. We have seen that Hamid said
that his family owned three fishing boats, but also three houses of three stories each.
Mustapha, 43, a cousin of Hamid from Kenitra, assured me that he owns 6 hectares of land
in his town. Yasim, a Berber from a village near Marrakech, who could speak French and
English but very little Spanish, told me that his family has money and houses, but he wanted
to get a life of his own and see the world. I heard many other similar stories. Some
Spaniards in El Ejido laugh at these comments. They say that all Moroccans say they have
three or four houses in Morocco, and that their living conditions were much better in
Morocco than in El Ejido. So, these Spaniards joke about it wondering why they do not stay
there then, instead of coming to Spain ‘to complain but not to work’.
An accurate answer to this question demands fieldwork in Morocco in order to know
the actual circumstances that trigger and facilitate migration to Europe, and, above all,
which segments of the population are more likely to migrate. Narotzky (1997: 84) makes an
interesting point about this issue, which might open a line of research about Moroccan
migrations. Drawing from studies of rural-urban migrations in Latin America, she points at
‘rural differentiation’ as a factor that can facilitate this movement of labour: “Peasants who
are able to accumulate some capital and to expand their network of contacts are those more
likely to migrate”. Therefore, it would not be the case that the poorest Moroccans are those
who are more likely to migrate, but the segments above them; that is, those who have ‘three
or four houses’73, and those who already have relatives in Europe. In regard to Hamid’s
references to Black African migrants waiting to migrate in Morocco, we can agree with him
that their living standards are lower than those of the Moroccans, but they themselves
probably do not belong to the worst off segments in their own countries.
Migration to Europe, in fact, is expensive. A majority of migrants enter Spain illegally
by crossing the sea in a patera. To do so, they have to go to the northern shores of Morocco
and look for a jefe74 who will take them to Spain. A place in these small boats costs around
1,000 euros75, which is a lot of money in Morocco. Some Moroccans told me that the
alternative is to get a visa to go to Spain, but the same sources say that it costs around 6,000
euros, paid to an organisation that obtains the visa by means of bribes76. The family in
Morocco normally pays for this crossing and the money will be returned with the wages
earned in Europe. But relatives living in Spain can also send the money to pay for the

The numbers of Nigerian living in Spain has increased in the last few years. In 2002 1,400 Nigerians
residing illegally in the country where deported to Nigeria (El Mundo 8/1/2003).
The fact of having three or four houses does not mean to be rich. In rural areas, for instance, it can
relatively cheap to build one. And these houses may or may not have electricity connection, water supply, and
so on.
Boss, master of a boat.
I have heard a wide range of prices, from 500 to 2,000 euros. So, I am give an average of the figures I
have heard. Since wages are about 5 euros per day, we can imagine how expensive is migration to Europe.
I have been told by Moroccans and some Spaniards that Spanish (ie. Embassy) and Moroccan
authorities are taking advantage of this demand for visas, but, of course, there is no official confirmation of

crossing. For instance, Naima, a Moroccan woman living in Málaga said that she paid for
the travel of seven out of her ten brothers (El País, 19/8/2002).
The crossing itself is a difficult experience that leaves a deep personal imprint on the
migrants. The Spanish newspapers contain frequent reports on shipwrecks and the recovery
of bodies of migrants who have drowned, especially in summer when due to the good
weather migrants try to cross to Spain in larger numbers. A Moroccan man told me one day
that he died the day he crossed to Spain. It is indeed a symbolic death since they arrive with
nothing, not even a legal identity. Elena, a social worker in El Ejido, said in an interview to
a national TV channel that Moroccans do not exist since they do not have legal residence in
Spain. Omar told me the story of his crossing in October 2001. This story is unique in a
sense, as is the story of any individual, but in another sense it forms part of the collective
narrative of the migration of most Moroccans to Spain, and it is thus representative.

It is raining and we go into a café shop… I play the innocent and I ask him if he got to Spain
by buying a ticket for the ferry. He smiles, “I crossed in a patera like everybody else. I didn’t
have to pay anything because I was travelling with a group of friends. We all used to work
together fishing; that’s how we got the patera. We left at eleven at night and navigated north,
following the 60 degrees mark in the mariner’s compass”. Omar draws a map of North Africa
and the South of the Iberian Peninsula with cups and sugar packets on the table, and with the
fingers he marks the course of the boat for Spain: “60 degrees and we go to Cadiz; 80 degrees
and we arrive to Portugal… We travelled for the whole night and the whole following day. At
eleven at night, twenty four hours after we left Kenitra, we passed Tangier, and we could see,
in front of us, the lights of the coast of Cadiz [Spain]”.
The final stage in their journey, the crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar, was the most difficult
and dangerous one. The strong current and the wind are responsible for the many shipwrecks
that cause hundreds of deaths every year among immigrants. In normal conditions the distance
between Tangier and Cadiz can be covered in three hours, but it took them six hours and a
half. “The boat was going against the current and against the wind, with the waves of water
breaking over the prow and flooding the boat. We had to spend the rest of the journey baling
out water”. Omar knits his brow and makes a movement with the arms pretending to be baling
out water. He repeats “lots of water, lots of water”.
At 5.30 in the morning they landed on the Spanish coast. Then, they split up in small units to
make it more difficult for the police, who are normally around, to catch them up. “I was with
two other guys and then we were discovered. The police were on the beach and shone their
torches at us, and the two guys raised their hands up. But I jumped out onto the ground and
the police didn’t see me. I was lucky because I was dressed in black clothes. Then, I ran as
quickly as I could with the policemen on my heels, and they didn’t catch me”. Omar spent the
next two days lost, coming out only at night, hiding himself from the police during the
daylight, hungry, and with no sleep. “I said to myself many times ‘why did I cross; this is not
life; I have to go back home; I could’ve died’. But, thank God, glorified be him many times,
I’m alive”. Eventually he arrived in a town and a local man told him that he was in Barbate.
Then, he looked for a phone box and rang a Spanish friend, who lives in Barbate and for
whom he used to work in Morocco, in order to meet in a coffee shop near there (My diary

Many undocumented immigrants, or harragas77, are caught by the Spanish police and sent
back to Morocco. 23,381 Moroccans were repatriated in 2002; 16,504 of them were arrested
just after landing in Spain (1,392 in Almería alone between January-October 2001 – La
Voz, 17/7/2002) (El Mundo, 4/1/2003). Karim, another cousin of Hamid from Kenitra, was
arrested by the Police in Madrid in October 2001 for illegal residence in Spain and sent back

Illegal migrant in Moroccan jargon.

to Morocco. Ten months later he crossed the Straits of Gibraltar again, this time to
Algeciras, after hiding himself in a truck in the port of Tangier. He did not want to tell me
whether he had to pay the truck driver. From Algeciras, he took a bus to El Ejido. Hamid
introduced him to me four days after his arrival. As we can see, many migrants have to cross
several times before definitively settling in Europe, making the crossing even more
The fact that there is a need for labour in Spain, and in Poniente in particular, poses the
questions of why Moroccan migrants have to cross illegally between Morocco and Spain;
what are the consequences of these circumstances for their social status in the society that
receives them; and what kind of jobs are available for undocumented immigrants. To
understand these issues let us examine the nature of the controls on the free mobility of

Immigration controls and control of labour mobility

As we have seen, it is a fact that workers cannot move freely between different labour
markets, because of the physical existence of borders between countries. Narotzky (1997:
81) points out that control of mobility is what a migration system is about. Nigel Harris
(1995: 2, 5) sees this restriction as a result of a contradiction between the globalised
economy and labour market, and the “segregated national spaces”, which have their origins
in the construction of a national capitalism. So, the restriction on the free mobility of labour
in the world economy can be seen as resulting from differing ways in which production has
been organised by capitalist entrepreneurs in different spaces (countries). Therefore, I will
explain, first, the grounds of the argument that Harris (1995: 4-6) makes about the apparent
contradiction between the drive to control the mobility of labour and the need for labour in
the markets. His argument is based on the ‘creation of a new polity’ parallel to the birth and
growth of the national state.
According to Harris, until the independence of the United States and the French
Revolution, the populations of the different European states were not considered ‘part of the
nation’: they were subjects; only the aristocracy and the rulers were the ‘foundation of
society’. The transformation from subjects to citizens did not happen at the same pace
everywhere in Europe. It was a process linked to ‘the rise of new business classes’ created
by the accumulation of capital and the extension of the markets; the appearance of ‘populist
nationalism’, which demanded the participation of a mass of the population; and the
creation of a universal educational system in order to fulfil the demand for an educated
labour force. The integration of the populace in the state also gave birth to the question of
social welfare, the extension of a national identity to the whole population within the
borders of the state and, finally, the appearance of passports, visas, work permits, and other
restrictions to the free movement of people between countries.
In this regard, Steve Fenton (1999: 23) directs attention to the fact that in the process of
the formation of states there are ‘virtually always’ myths about ‘who are the people… who
are… the proper members of the national identity’. So, he argues, the function of
immigration controls is to have power over the access to that membership and the rights that
it gives entitlement to. This point is interesting in the way that it shows that labour markets
are embedded in society. The logic of capitalist entrepreneurs, as Wolf (1997: 356) has put
it, is to ‘hire and fire labourers or vary their wages in response to changing circumstances’.
But this logic is limited by the fact that the working class, organised in trade unions,

pursues, for instance, permanent contracts while the capitalist class demands a maximum
labour flexibility.
In the next paragraphs, I will try to show that the restriction on labour mobility –based
on the ‘national organisation of production’– is the product of a dialectic relationship
between different social groups. What is in question is which groups have access to which
resources and rights, in the context of the historical construction of the state. For example,
this shows up as bargaining about the price of labour when the conflict is between the
capitalist and working classes. Alternatively, it shows up in the form of competition for the
better paid and higher status jobs when the conflict is between different segments of the
working class.
Narotzky (1997: 81) observes that the main characteristic of a migration system is that
it tends to keep the “maintenance and renewal of the labour force… differentiated and
physically separated” by controlling the mobility of workers. Workers are born and raised in
one country but sell their labour in another one, so the labour force reproduction costs
(“renewal”) are reduced for the destination country in respect of these workers. Besides, if
these workers are sent back to their countries of origin when their work period has ended,
then unemployment costs are also eliminated in the country of destination – that is,
unemployment is externalised. The result is that immigrant labour is cheaper than home-
produced labour. As we will see later, this differential of cost channels migrants to lower
wage unskilled jobs and native workers to higher wage skilled jobs, no matter what ‘skills’
the migrants bring with them78.
Both, Wolf (1997: 368-71) and Narotzky (1997: 81-83) illustrate this point with a
description of the system of labour migration organised for the work in the mines of South
Africa, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), between 1880
and 1926, when gold and diamond were discovered. White workers took skilled jobs in the
mines, while the demand for unskilled labour was met by the recruitment of African migrant
workers, from as far as Mozambique, on temporary contracts79. In the second half of the
twentieth century most of the African workers were from the Native reserves and British
protectorates in South Africa. Their wages were ten times less than the wages paid to the
whites, and they also were confined to single-sex living quarters for the duration of the work
(Wolf). Wages could be kept below normal subsistence levels because the areas that
provided the labour force were also expected to maintain the families of the migrants80. In
these ‘reserves’ and protectorates there was an agriculture of subsistence, which generated
redundant labour, pushing natives to migrate in order to make a living.

Through colonial taxation, discriminatory policies favouring European farmers’ produce in

the market, land expropriation and forced or coerced wage labour, Africans were driven to
depend on a capitalist economy. On the other hand, ‘traditional’ relations were actively
‘preserved’, by government policies within specially delimited areas with the aim of providing
subsistence to those not directly engaged in wage work (Narotzky 1997: 82).

Narotzky (1997: 24) defines skill as ‘socially recognised knowledge incorporated in labour’. For
example, a degree in Engineering obtained in Morocco will not be recognised in Ireland as a skill until a long
process of validation has taken place. Qualifications from other countries may never be recognised. Therefore,
skill is independent of ‘specific knowledge’ and it is a political term that reflects a power relationship between
different groups.
The segmentation of the labour market will be dealt with in the next chapter.
As Marx showed wages cannot go lower than the level of subsistence of the working class; that is, not
lower than the minimum amount of money needed to keep them alive, and allow them to reproduce themselves
(Marx 1975: 81). Otherwise the working class would disappear within a generation.

We can observe that these people were driven to migration by the same economic process
that created demand for labour in the mines and whites’ farms, as in the case of the labour
migration between Europe and North America. On the other hand, when the contract
finished the migrants were expected to go back to their place of origin, thus externalizing
unemployment (Narotzky). At the same time, permanent residence in cities and towns was
denied to these workers, thwarting the creation and organisation of an urban working class
which might have fought for better wages and living conditions. On top of that, by the Land
Act of 1913, those who lived on White-owned land had to pay back with labour on White-
owned farms in order to obtain permission to stay there, thus also supplying cheap labour
(free, in fact) to these commercial farms (Wolf), and further confining agriculture in
reserves and protectorates to subsistence purposes, unable to compete with White-owned
farms, and further forcing Black people into emigration.
Narotzky (1997: 82-3) finds a very similar of control of mobility, in post-Second World
War labour migrations to Northern Europe, with the ‘system of guest workers’: “(a)
separation of maintenance and renewal of the labour force; (b) externalization of renewal
costs; (c) regulation of workers’ movements through official recruiting agencies and strict
limitation of residence permits; (d) restriction of job mobility; and (e) the denial of political
and civil rights to immigrants”.
It is also interesting to point out that this differential of reproduction cost, between
these newly arrived migrants and the native working class, persisted after the ban on non-
EEC immigration after 1973, when the remaining immigrants settled. In the following quote
we will see how the were still cheaper labour, because their subsistence level was lower
than the subsistence level of the national working class, making it possible for them to
survive on (and to accept) cheaper wages.

They are often on the fringes of legality and socially segregated through access to low-quality
housing, education and health, mostly living thanks to cheap goods and services which their
peers provide in the ‘informal sector’ economy. Their vulnerability situates them at the bottom
of a segmented labour market. The discriminatory measures of Western democracies defining
certain workers as different –illegal, alien– with added implicit or explicit reference to racial
or ethnic criteria result in the creation of a highly competitive segment of the labour force for
unskilled or semiskilled jobs (Narotzky 1997: 83).

In this regard, Nigel Harris (1995: 10) notices that the migration waves to Germany between
1961 and 1968 allowed 1.1 million Germans to leave manual occupations for white-collar
jobs. Half a million foreign workers replaced them in sectors such as mining, agriculture,
and construction. These jobs are the hardest, most risky and, normally, lowest paid in an
industrialised economy. There is then a material basis for these white-collar workers to tend
to support legal measures, and ideologies, in order to restrict the labour and social mobility
of the segments of migrant labourers below them.

Three cases of immigration control: Spain, Italy, and Ireland

The control of undocumented migration from Morocco to Spain is one of the major
concerns of the Spanish government, and one the main points of friction between the
governments of the two countries. The Spanish government has repetitively accused the
Moroccan authorities of not stopping this illegal traffic (El País, 31/8/2002), which, after all,
it is an important source of income for the Moroccan economy.
On the one hand, it is clear that the migration of Moroccans is linked to the demand of
labour in the Spanish economy. But, on the other hand, it is also one the strategies that
families and individuals have in Morocco as a way of getting a livelihood. These two factors
seem to account for the continuous movement of labour from Morocco to Spain. In fact, the
Spanish authorities have never denied the need for labour of the Spanish economy, in spite
of the fact that most of this migration is illegal. For instance, Manuel Chavez, the president
of the Junta de Andalucía, declared to La Voz de Almería (30/6/2002).

“In the next twenty-five years the Andalusian economy and the economy of the countries of
the EU are going to need the workforce of third countries [others than EU countries]. Hence,
the need to organise this immigration in a rational way, through agreed immigration flows
with the countries of origin [of this workforce]… Andalucía has to have the doors open to
immigration, but from the point of view of [the economy and the production] we can have
them open only to the immigrants that we need (my translation).

The question that underlines the declarations of Manuel Chavez is the control of the
migration movements; or, in other words, the restriction of the mobility of the workforce
‘through agreed immigration flows with the countries of origin’. In Almería, Juan
Colomina, manager of COEXPAL (producers and exporters of vegetables of Almería), also
links the control of mobility to the amount of labour needed according to the needs of
production. However, he explicitly points out what he thinks is the ‘social cost’ of an excess
of labour – criminality.

We have to attend to the need for a number of immigrants that can be absorbed by the
economy of Almería, and the rest… we have to say no… because there is no way to maintain
great masses of immigrants, with no documents at all, wandering about, in a rural area very
difficult to control, and where there is a huge cultural medium for criminality (Martínez 2001:
84; my translation).

Colomina assumes that the number of migrants in Almería exceeds the demand of the local
labour market. So, the option he offers is to repatriate the excess. His message is that
employers and the authorities are not going to assume the cost of maintaining the labour
force when they are not working. So, they have to go back to their own countries, and, in
this way, unemployment is externalised. Colomina blatantly believes that employers do not
have to assume social costs when workers are from other countries. Ideally, workers (their
labour force) are completely commoditised and can be used when they are needed and
thrown out when they are not needed. In the next chapter we will see whether there is an
excess of migrant workers in Poniente.
This tendency to control the migration flow seems to be increasing, rather than
decreasing, in the European migration system, in spite of the predictions of Nigel Harris.
For instance, in Italy in July 2002 the Senate approved a law to limit the entry of migrants to
only those with a previous contract to work, and only for the time this lasts. The law, known
as the Fini-Bossi law, also contemplates imprisonment for migrants who have been caught
again after being sent back to their countries of origin for illegal residence (El Mundo, p. 41,
In Ireland the recent debate on the Employment Permits Bill 2003 has been linked to
the fear among sectors of Irish society about the opening up of the Irish labour market to the
nationals of EU accession countries from May 2004. Until now workers from any of these
countries81 had get work permits that allowed them to work only for the employer who

Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, and Cyprus.

obtained the permit, and only in the job they got the permit for. So if these workers want to
move to another job they have to get another work permit. The new Bill proposes to exempt
workers from the countries concerned from the above restrictive system and allow them to
work and live in Ireland without needing a permit.
The restrictions, then, are very strict and increase the vulnerability of the workers. This
system works to the advantage of the employer, who can threaten the worker with
deportation if he complains. The Labour TD Tommy Broughan has criticised this work
permit system in very precise terms. “In modern Ireland there should not be some form of
indentured labour or bonded serfdom, which is a medieval concept” (Irish Times, p. 8,
4/4/03). This medieval concept is nonetheless a modern reality, and, as we can see in the
declarations of Mr Terry Leyden, Fianna Fáil spokesman on Entreprise, Trade and
Employment, on the debate about the Bill, this politician expresses the fear of losing control
of the mobility of this workforce.

We don’t know how many people will actually come in. Will the floodgates be opened? … I
welcome people coming from abroad, but I only welcome them on the basis that there are
opportunities here for them, and not at the cost of Irish workers who will be looking to go and
join the emigrant train again if we deprive them of employment (Irish Times, p. 8, 28/3/03).

Control on the mobility of migrants from other countries seems also to be related to
competition among the working class itself. This is not to say that Mr. Terry Leyden
represents the interest of the Irish working class, but that he plays with the divisions among
workers. These divisions can be illustrated with an example that we have already examined.
In the mines of South Africa the Whites controlled the best and most skilful jobs. They had
full civil rights from the beginning, as a result of belonging to the dominant ethnic group,
and were able to create a trade union in order defend their higher status as workers. In 1906
there were 18,000 Whites, 51,000 Chinese, and 94,000 Africans working in the mines. In
1907 the Whites organised a strike because the management tried to replace them with
cheaper Chinese and African labour: they obtained the repatriation of the Chinese workers
(Wolf 1997: 367).
In Spain, the CCOO82 demanded from the government last year that Spanish workers
be given preference before non-national workers. The trade union issued a press release in
which they expressed the fear of national workers in the agricultural sector that employers
prefer to use labourers from Eastern Europe and South America, simply because they are a
cheaper and meeker labour force, with no power to negotiate good working conditions.
According to the Union, the labour conditions are deteriorating in the sector, and that is why
Spanish labourers prefer to leaver for other better paid jobs. So, CCOO also demanded more
control over the level of immigration (El País, 20/8/2002).
The employers who, on the other hand, have a different worldview, normally argue that
they have to hire migrants because Spaniards do not want to work as labourers as “they are
looking for other jobs… or simply they do not like working [as labourers] at the moment”
(La Voz, p. 2, 13/8/2002)83.

Comisiones Obreras, the largest trade union in Spain.
This issue is further analysed in chapter IV.


The jobs available for migrants and the way in which they enter the market are going to
determine their social status. This situation is further institutionalised with legal terms such
as illegal or alien, which reduce their physical, labour and social mobility. Racial or ethnic
categorisation grows out of this material frame and contributes to validate the labour and
social status of the newcomers by making their jobs ‘natural’ to their ‘nature’: race, ethnic
group, etc.
The control of mobility can be said to be related to the need to organise the flow of
workers in ‘a rational way’ and ‘through agreed immigration flows’, as Manuel Chavez has
put it; it can be related to the fear of national workers to enter into competition with a
cheaper segment of the labour force, as Mr Terry Leyden has declared and the example of
the South Africa mines shows; but it works, nonetheless, to the economic advantage of the
employer, who can keep wages down and the working class divided. However, the
foundations of today’s control of the mobility of labour still remain in the spatial
organisation of the relations of production, of which the basic unit is the national state84.
The control of mobility by the concession of work and resident permits, without doubt,
allows the capitalist class to separate the cost of maintenance and renewal of the labour
force. It also lowers down reproduction costs, because it forces migrants to lower their
subsistence level which, in turn, allows for lower wages. It also groups workers under the
headings of nationals, alien, and illegal, which leads to a different rate of exploitation.
However, this is not to say that this is a conscious and a premeditated process: the
capitalist class simply uses the institutional frame that is available at any given historical
time - currently the institutional frame is the national state. The point that I am making is
that the control of mobility, as we have seen, works to the advantage of the capitalist
entrepreneurs, who use it as a tool to keep wages down; and it is linked to contradictions
among different segments of the working class.
This is so because the economy, in market as in non-market dominated societies, ‘is
embedded in the organisation of society’ (Narotzky 1997: 86). Therefore, the labour
markets are affected by factors other than the logic of the maximum profit. As we have
seen, terms such alien, illegal, or national alter the way in which capital can make use of the
working class. Alien workers can be repatriated but nationals cannot.
As Narotzky has pointed out, the immediate consequence of the migration systems
described above is that they place external migrants in a more vulnerable position and lower
them to ‘the bottom of a segmented labour market’. This segmentation is the foundation for
the ‘social construction’ of ‘race and ethnic minorities’. This issue is sketched in the next
chapter. Firstly, I explore the concept of the segmented labour market, which has arisen on a
number of occasions during this dissertation. Secondly, I try to explain how the way in
which labour is organised and the social ‘construction’ of exclusion could be related.

Nigel Harris (1995: viii) has predicted that in the near future the process of economic integration of the
world economy will lead to the suppression of the national restriction to the free movement of labour, as the
process of European integration indicates. However, this process is far from accomplished, and we will have to
wait to see its final outcome.

Chapter IV

Labour relations and social exclusion


In this chapter I examine the concept of the segmented labour market and, later, I apply the
theoretical framework developed in Chapters II and III to the analysis of labour relations in
Poniente. We will see how the hierarchical segmentation of the working class results from
(1) variations in the relationship of capital to labour in the units of production, and (2) the
difference in the reproduction cost between different groups of workers when they enter the
labour market. This different cost is maintained by legal categories such as alien, illegal, etc.
We will also see how this segmentation – which is the shape that the organisation of labour
takes – is, in turn, the premise for the construction of ethnic stereotypes, and the foundation
of any attempt to explain exclusion – be it ethnic, racial, etc.

The segmented labour market

All labour markets in advanced capitalism [are] segmented markets; that is, ‘market[s]’ that
[are] divided into a limited series of spheres or segments that do not compete with each
other… The position of the workers in this structure depends, on the one hand, on the
opportunities of employment available to them and, on the other hand, on the level of
acceptance on their part of the working conditions, that is, their social power of negotiation”
(Cachón 2001: 321-2; my translation).

In the South Africans mines, for instance, Blacks and Whites did not compete for the same
jobs; well paid and high-skilled jobs were reserved for Whites, while low-paid and low-
skilled jobs were kept for Blacks. The South African migration system made sure that
Blacks could only work as labourers in mines and in White-owned farms. Their residence in
cities was banned, so they had to live in compounds, and when their contracts were over
they had to go back to their places of origin. Therefore, the jobs available for Blacks were
fewer; their power of negotiation was limited since they could not organise trade unions;
and they had to accept the bad working conditions and low wages due to lower reproduction
costs. The Whites, on their part, could create unions and fight successfully against the
introduction of cheap Chinese labour, which threatened to lower wages in skilled jobs. The
South African labour market in the mines was clearly segmented.
On the other hand, we have also seen in chapter III that the contemporary control of
mobility in Europe is not qualitatively different. In Ireland today, for instance, when foreign
migrants get a work permit, they are tied to the employer and cannot move to other jobs
without first renewing their permits. In Italy, a new migration law allows migrants to stay in
the country only as long as their work contracts last, thus externalising unemployment. And
in Spain, Colomina regards the lack of immigration controls as a recipe for criminality. In
all these cases, categories such as alien, illegal, or national are ideological constructions that
lay down which groups have access to which resources or rights, while in the South African
case study the racial categories Black and White have the same function.

The labour market is the arena in which different group of workers compete. And
immigration controls are the mechanisms that help to preserve and encapsulate from
competition the niches of more powerful groups of workers, at the same time as they
contribute to organising the flow of unskilled and cheap migrant labour. The different
segments of workers are created by the process of capitalist accumulation; or, in other
words, the capitalist mode of production determines the social relations of production,
which, in turn, segments the labour force.
Eric Wolf (1997: 356-7, 380) has explained in a convincing manner how this is so.
According to him, the capitalist mode of production, ‘in its continuous drive for
accumulation’, tends to increase the relationship of capital to labour in its units of
production, be they factories or farms. In this way, in order to reduce the total cost of labour
per unit produced, production is mechanised, as I have already examined in chapter II. Since
more mechanised units of production require a more specialised, and hence, better paid
labour force, we can say that, in general, highly capitalised (mechanised) factories will use a
smaller but more skilled and better paid labour force, while factories with a lesser rate of
capitalisation will require a less skilled and worse paid labour force. So, it is these variations
in the relationship of capital to labour that account for the segmentation of the labour
However, this relationship is not as straight forward as it seems to be. Capitalist
entrepreneurs can use different strategies in order to reduce (labour) costs and compete more
successfully. This can be done either by mechanising the units of production, which
demands a high capitalisation, or by getting access to cheaper labour – moving the units of
production to cheaper labour markets or encouraging labour migration – or even a mixture
of both patterns85. Although, in the long run, we can expect that the mechanisation of
production will prevail since sooner or later the labour markets will become saturated, and
mechanisation will be the only strategy available in order to increase production and get
more competitive prices. But to develop this argument further would be outside the scope of
this thesis. There are also sectors of production, according to Wolf (1997: 383), that are
more labour-dependent than others.

[The] growth of consumer-orientated industries and services has been accompanied by a

concomitant demand of labor, especially low-wage labor, which has been met largely by new
working populations. Large-scale industrial food processing, in turn, has given rise to renewed
capital investment in agriculture, the resulting “agribusiness” enterprises combining high-cost
machinery and scientific inputs with intensive manual operations by low-cost migratory labor.

California and Arizona

Strawberry production in California is a case of the agribusiness enterprises referred above

(Barlett 1989: 286-7). The high capitalisation of strawberry production – through the use of
chemical, fertilizers, plant varieties, etc – increased the production of strawberry from 2.9
tons per acre in 1941 to over 20 tons in 1978-81, and some growers have even achieved 52
tons per acre. However, the type of commodity produced (strawberries) does not allow for
complete mechanisation, and labour is ‘the largest single cost’. The need for cheap labour

Wolf (1997: 382) describes how a production process (software industry, for instance) can be
fragmented into different units of production in different countries; using highly mechanised plants
and high skilled labour force in one country, and displacing unskilled production processes to
countries in which there is access to a unskilled cheaper labour force.

was met through the ‘bracero program’ which supplied farmers with Mexican temporary
workers. When this programme ended, larger farmers shifted to a ‘sharecropping system’,
offered mainly to Mexicans, in order to thwart the influence of ‘United Farm Workers
Union’ among stable workers.
The point of this argument is to show that different combinations of mechanisation
(level of capitalisation), competition among capitalists (profits), and the specific
characteristics of the commodities produced (feasibility of the mechanisation of the whole,
or a part of, the productive process) will result in variations in the quality or quantity of the
labour force. These variations, in turn, will affect the characteristics of the labour markets
and, therefore, will provoke changes in the relationship between different segments of the
working class. Barlett (1989: 286) illustrates this issue with an example taken from
agricultural production in Arizona.

As field labor in Arizona cotton production was replaced by machines, Indians, blacks, and
Mexican Americans were squeezed out, and Anglos dominated skilled machine operator
jobs… In lettuce production, however, the introduction of vacuum-cooled packing displaced
an elite, unionized group of Anglo and Mexican-American workers. The newer, less-skilled
jobs then went primarily to Mexicans.

El Ejido

El Ejido is not a case of corporate industrial agriculture but it is another example of

increasing capitalisation (see chapter II) and abundant use of unskilled low-waged labour.
Normally, there is a division of labour – although there is a degree of variation – between
the farmer and/or manager86 and the labourers. Carlos, for instance, supervises the watering
system and is in constant contact with the computer programme that controls it87. A
breakdown of the system, or a sudden change of temperature, can dry out all the plants, so
Carlos gets a signal to his mobile phone if there are changes of temperature, humidity, etc,
in his greenhouse. He also supervises plant diseases, measures the amount of fungicides to
use, and organises other work activities. But sowing, harvest, and most of the maintenance
work cannot be mechanised, and, as we have seen in chapter II, different crops need
different kind of work, which is normally tedious, slow, and unskilled. Before the 1980s
these tedious jobs where performed by the farmers, the wives and the children, and, when
there was a greater need for labour at harvest time, which is normally the hardest work,
farmers made use of the tornajornal system (see Chapter II).
Moroccan immigrants replaced the family members that moved to jobs in the
developing auxiliary industry, replaced the tornajornal system, and satisfied the greater
need for labour provoked by the expansion of the sizes of the farms. Therefore, they are the
segment of workers who perform the tedious, low skilled and low paid jobs. What concerns
us now are the social implications of the segmentation of the labour markets.

Depending on the size of the farm. Units of production bigger than 4 hectares have, normally, a
permanent manager, who is a Spaniard.
Plants in modern greenhouses do not use soil; they get water and nutrients through the watering
system, which administers fluid drop by drop, twenty four hours a day.

Social implications of segmented labour markets

Cachón proposes that a segmented labour market leads to a development of different ‘world
views’ among workers of different segments, which implies different levels of acceptance of
working conditions. These ‘world views’ include different ideas in relation to what is a
dignified job, a sense of achievement, or a social failure (Cachón 2001: 322). Cachón points
out that from the 1970s onwards an increase in the wealth of Spanish society, and an
increase in the education levels of the population have raised the level of what are
considered socially acceptable working conditions.
As a consequence if this, activities such as agriculture labour, domestic service or
construction are the least valued jobs, occasioning a scarcity of labour in these sectors
(Cachón 2001: 323-4). External labour migrants, therefore, are concentrated in these sectors.
68.8% of all legal immigrants in Spain work in these areas: 30.8% in domestic service;
18.4% in agriculture; 11.5% in hotels and catering; and 8.1% in construction. These sectors
in comparison only employ 1.5% of the Spanish labour force. Other than this, Moroccans
(75%) and the rest of the Africans cover more than 95% of all agricultural jobs in Spain,
while Dominican and Filipino women monopolised jobs in the domestic service area
(Cachón 2001: 316-7).
CCOO (SIGES-CITE 2001) gives different figures. According to this trade union, in an
study based on data collected from 14,648 enquiries in 2001, 38.8% work in agriculture,
20.2% in domestic service, 11.8% in construction, and 10.9% in hotels and catering; that is,
a total of 81.7% of all enquiries were in these sectors. The fact that CCOO surveyed legal as
well as undocumented migrant labourers can account for the difference between figures.
These figures are, nonetheless, consistent with the international tendency to organise
the division of labour among the non-national migrants according to national, ethnic, or
religious differences. For instance, in France Malians tend to work in the car industry,
Senegalese in cleaning; and in New York people from South Asia dominate the taxi jobs.
This segmentation of the labour market allows nationals, as we have seen, to leave ‘manual
occupations for white-collar jobs’. The ethnic distribution of jobs is also followed by an
ethnic segmentation of residential patterns (Harris 1995: viii-ix, 10, 137-8). In El Ejido there
is no competition between Spaniards and non-national immigrants for the same jobs. For
instance, Moroccans are almost exclusively agricultural labourers, and 80% of women who
work as prostitutes in Almería are from Eastern European and South American countries
(La Voz, p4, 9/7/02).

Dirty, Dangerous and Demanding

This labour segmentation is reinforced by what Cachón (2001: 318-9) calls an ‘institutional
framework of discrimination’. The 1995 quotas, for instance, designated agriculture,
construction, hotels and catering and domestic services as the areas of activity for which
immigrants could apply. These jobs do not require academic education, are normally
temporary, with a higher level of labour accidents, and with wages below average. They
have been defined as the three Ds jobs: dirty, dangerous, demanding (Cachón 2001: 319-
20). I will attempt to show in the course of this chapter that people who perform these jobs
tend also to be seen as dirty, dangerous, and demanding. But firstly, in the following
paragraph, I will look at one aspect of the segmentation of the labour market which Cachón
does not deal with, and which is fundamental to the approach I am taking in order to give an
explanatory framework of exclusion.

It is a fact that the Spanish labour force has become more educated, and that its welfare
has risen. As a consequence Spanish workers, in general, tend to look for better paid jobs,
and better working conditions; and, because these jobs are available, they can get them.
However, this is not to say that Spanish workers have become more delicate, and that that is
why they do not want to work in the field, for instance. We do not need to go to the level of
‘education’ to explain the segmentation of the labour market but, rather, to the different
reproduction costs of the different segments of the working class, which are reinforced by
‘institutional frameworks’ such as immigration controls, as the grounds of this
segmentation. A practical example of what I have said is that I have met in El Ejido many
‘educated’ Moroccans, with third level education, working and living in the same conditions
that their ‘uneducated’ countrymen. The fact that individuals from Morocco, because of the
way in which they enter the labour market, have similar reproduction costs accounts for this
‘egalitarian’ situation. Therefore, in order to illustrate this point, I will briefly describe some
of the living conditions, how they look for a job, and the borderline position, between
legality and illegality, of Moroccans in El Ejido88.


Only a small part of the population of El Ejido, 12.66%, including legal non-EU labour
migrants, live outside urban centres (Checa 2001: 140-1). But if we turn to the legal non-EU
labour migrants we will discover that as much as 48.06% of them (3,326 out of 6,920) live
outside urban centres. However, if we add to this the figure for those who live illegally in El
Ejido, the proportion would go up to 70.16%89 (8,424 out 12,000), because, as a norm,
undocumented migrants avoid urban centres. This is not a coincidence but an indication that
the segmentary structure of the labour market determines the housing patterns and the
distribution of space among the different segments of workers. Therefore, space is another
arena where struggles for power take place.
In 1998 Almería Acoge, CCOO and UGT (another trade union) published a report with
the results of an investigation in which they surveyed 260 immigrant dwellings in El Ejido,
Berja, and Vicar: 33% were in urban centres, 10% were cottages with ‘decent conditions’,
and 57% were barns; 55% of the dwellings did not have water connection, 31% did not have
electricity, 57% lacked toilets, and 56% lacked kitchens (Martínez 2001: 157). This survey
did not take into account that many migrants live in shanty towns, where living conditions
are far worse. The survey included migrants living in urban centres – who also tend to live
in areas with worse infrastructure – but, the following description is focussed in the living
conditions of migrants outside the urban centres.
The rural dwellings where immigrants live can be divided into cortijos (cottages),
almacenillos (barns), and chabolas (shacks). Cortijos are the type of houses that farmers
built beside their greenhouses when they first moved to Poniente in the 1950s and 1960s,
and which they turned into barns when they moved to the urban centres from the 1970s
onwards. They can be rented or handed over to the workers. It they are handed over, the
farmer can either reduce the wages or make the workers pay with overtime, although many
farmers are just content with having the farm looked after at night. Other migrants live in
the barns that farmers have built specially to store machinery and chemical products. These
immigrants usually bring, or obtain from the farmer, a mattress to sleep and a camping gas

The state in which most Moroccans live could, actually, be described as liminal. Liminality, within the
field of economic Anthropology, could in fact be an interesting topic for research. (See also p. 51, second
See Chapter I.

for cooking. A third type of accommodation is the shanty towns. They started to appear in
1997, when the number of immigrants was larger than could be accomodated in the cortijos
and barns available (Martínez 2001: 154). Some are built around the remains of old cortijos;
others under a bridge or beside an old ditch, for instance.
During my fieldwork in August 2002 I visited six of those rural dwellings inhabited by
Moroccan immigrants: two were cortijos beside the farms where the tenants worked, with
electricity and water connection; two were small barns, only one with electricity, but both
without water connection; and two were groups of shacks. I will describe my visit to one of
the group of shacks as I recorded it in my fieldwork diary.

I have a quick breakfast with Rashid in his flat [a postgraduate chemistry student from
Casablanca who came to El Ejido for a month to visit a relative. He was trying to do a PhD in
Spain, but was not lucky and had to go back to Morocco. We used to speak in English, and
sometimes in French, because Rashid did not know Spanish]; it’s nearly nine, and in a few
hours the sun won’t have mercy with us. He has promised to show me the ‘disgraceful’
conditions in which his countrymen live. We left La Aldeilla behind us, crossed the dry
riverbed [in Southern Spain dry riverbeds are called ramblas. Water only runs when there are
torrential rains], and walk through a landscape where there are no roads or paths, not even for
goats. I get bitten three times by a group of wasps. With the heat they become very aggressive.
After fifteen minutes we spot a shack made of plastic and wooden sticks. Rashid opens the
door, but there’s no one in there. A few meters apart Rashid directs my attention to a hammam
(bathroom). It seems like a conic Indian tent, although made of plastic. The main group of
shacks is a few metres distant from there, built in a kind of wide, tall, abandoned irrigation
ditch, big as a canal. I can see, outside the shacks, lots of the big blue containers that
Moroccans use to bring water [to drink, to cook, and to wash themselves]. The guys, six of
them, are outside, talking. Rashid explains that I’d like to speak to them. After a brief
conversation in Arabic he turns to me and says that I can ask what I like, but he warns me not
to take notes or pictures. No one speaks Spanish, except Ahmed…
Ahmed [a man from Kenitra, like his shack-mates, who says he has a degree in Chemistry]
guides the tour. The ditch has been covered with plastic and divided into four compartments:
three ‘bedrooms’ for seven people, and one little ‘living room’ where they can cook, have tea,
and listen to a small radio with batteries… The chabola is poorly dressed and very small
inside –we have to talk squatting– but they have it tidy and scrubbed. I look around and
Ahmed seems to guess my thoughts. He says, “It’s not a good place, but we clean it, because
we are not animals; we have a God”… They are all illegally in Spain and, except one them,
they are not working at the moment (My diary; 31/8/2002).

Looking for a job

The way in which migrants look for jobs is as casual and irregular as the way in which they
live. Nasim90 told me that the best way to find a job in a greenhouse is through friends. “The
jefes, when they need someone else, ask one of their workers whom they trust. They prefer
this way because they don’t like getting troublesome people”. This system works better in
big farms in which farmers have one or two stable workers. This is the case with Nasim91.
Omar and Hamid, instead, spoke to me of two other ways, which are more frequent
according to them. Some migrants go directly to the greenhouses and ask the farmers if they
need someone until, eventually, they find work. The other way consists in groups of

Informant mentioned in chapter III.
He works in a five hectare farm with the farmers, a manager, his father and another labourer. They all
have permanent jobs, but during the season this farmer normally gets another four or five temporary labourers.

migrants waiting at an informal meeting point, beside the road, where farmers go to pick up
workers. The first days of September, at the beginning of the 2002-2003 season, Omar
started to look for a job after more than two months without working. He got up at half six
in the morning and by seven he had joined one of those groups. Because it was the
beginning of the season, only a few vans arrived each day, and picked up half dozen of
workers or so. When I left El Ejido to come back to Ireland, on the 11th of September, Omar
was still looking for a job.

Between legality and illegality

I have heard lots of times, from local Spaniards, that Moroccans live in conditions like those
described above because ‘that’s how they live in Morocco’, or because ‘that’s their culture’,
or because ‘they can’t live like us’. But I think it is neither of the foregoing reasons; rather,
it is chiefly because they are illegal. The evidence I can offer to support this estimation is
the fact that when Moroccans get the work permit they go away – they vote with their feet –
leaving room for other undocumented migrants, who have just come across on the patera92.
This fact is also interesting because it is a hint that the agricultural jobs in Almería are at the
bottom of all agricultural jobs in Spain. Martínez (2001: 105), for instance, says that the
wages paid to labourers in Almería are the lowest in Spain (Euro 30 a day). But the value of
the wages is not as important as the seasonality of the jobs in greenhouses. According to
Colomina, only 5% of immigrants get to work a maximum of ten full months, in a year93.
The point I am trying to make is that only illegal Moroccans, with such low
reproduction costs, can afford to live as labourers in Almería. This and the fact that there are
jobs for undocumented migrants also explain why Almería has become a ‘transit station’ for
the African migrants who are waiting for a work permit before jumping into Europe. Omar,
for instance, told me, “in Morocco everyone knows that there is work in Almería for
undocumented migrants. That’s why they come here. And then, when they get the permit,
they go. That’s why they stay [until then]”94.
Moroccans are at the very bottom of the labour market because they do not have other
opportunities of employment. And this is so because they are undocumented migrants. This
situation, and their low reproduction costs, contribute to keeping wages lower than in the
rest of Spain, and to keeping these jobs highly seasonal. Their position in the segmented
labour market, which stem from their material living conditions, will determine, then, their
social status and the way in which Spaniards categorise them.

Labour relations and social categorisation

As we have seen before, the jobs available for immigrants in Almería are low-paid, low-
skill, and unstable compared to other jobs in the area, and Spaniards avoid them, if they can.
Lorenzo Belmonte – one of the wealthiest businessmen in the agricultural industry in
Almería and the president of the association of users of the water system for agricultural

During my fieldwork, I met mostly illegal immigrants. The most common comment I heard of them
was that they wanted to leave El Ejido when they got they work permits, because the people were racists and
jobs were very bad.
I think this figure does not correspond with reality, but it gives an idea of the seasonality of these jobs.
It would be interesting to analyse the reasons why the authorities allow this irregular situation in
Almería, but I have to leave this question out for lack of space. For more information (Chapter I)

purposes of Campo de Níjar – describes in plain words, from an employer’s point of view,
the reasons why Spaniards place the job of an agricultural labourer at the bottom the labour

… The Spaniards don’t want to work any more in the field… We continue employing
Spaniards, but they prefer working in hotels [a flourishing industry in the East of Almería]…
We’ve got to keep employing foreigners taking into account the drop of the birth rate [in
Spain] and the fact that Spaniards don’t want to go to the field…. I don’t know if [this job] is
well or badly paid. In the Almanzora95 [valley] there is big demand [for labour] in the
construction sector. A scaffolder earns more than a field worker. When this big urban
development finishes people will come back to the field, because it is the cushion of a country
that has been created after several social sieves (El mundo, 1/9/2002).

Belmonte recognises, in spite of some uneasiness, that a worker earns more in the
construction sector than in the field, and also that agricultural jobs are harder than in the
hotel and catering sector. But it is also interesting to notice that he also reveals, implicitly,
that, in general, the people of Almería are just leaving the bottom segment of the Spanish
labour market: “when this big urban development finishes people will come back to the
field, because it is the cushion of a country that has been created after several social sieves”.
His last words seem enigmatic and, for that reason, deserve an explanation. Although
Belmonte is a rich man, he comes from a generation of people that has experienced hardship
in their youth96. Looking at his picture, and at the way he speaks, in the interview given to
El Mundo, he sees himself as a self-made man, and what a person from a middle-class urban
background would consider to be a rough rural peasant man. It seems that he perceives the
land as a primordial economic activity that will always remain, and to where sooner or later
we will come back because economic development and wealth are ephemeras: “[land] is the
cushion of a country”. His words also reveal that agricultural jobs are for tough people
living in a harsh environment: “[they have] been created after several social sieves”. These
perceptions are important because the generation of farmers to which he belongs has
achieved, based on their own hard work, the colossal economic development of Almería
during the second half of the nineteenth century.
The following declarations of Juan, a farmer who arrived in El Ejido from the Alpujarras
in 1960s, made during the ethnic riots of February 2000, speak for themselves of the role
that farmers attribute to themselves and to recent migrants, especially Moroccans. They also
give us a clue as to what farmers expect from their labourers.

Are they going to tell me those [the Media] that I owe what I have to the Moors? Come on
man! This is the last thing I expected to hear! I remember that my child, the eldest, was the
whole day in one of those boxes, covered with a shawl that his mother prepared for him,
because we were, the two of us, the whole day inside the greenhouse ‘arre que es tarde’!
[(saying) quick it’s late!]. Where were the Moors then? Come on man! And the majority [of
farmers] were like us, (Checa 2001: 16).

At the time that these declarations were made, the Media was attributing the merit of the
economic development in Almería to the labour of Moroccan migrants and, according to
Checa (2001: 15), this idea was, for the farmers, harder to admit than the accusations of

Almanzora is the river of Almería; normally a dry river bed except when there is rain.
The table of demographic change in chapter I and the economic change described in chapter II give us
an idea of sudden demographic and economic change that Almería has undergone in only one generation.

racism with which the Media was also accusing them. An explanation of these comments
takes us back to the organisation of the relations of production, and how the labour market is
We have seen that until the 1980s (chapter II) the ratio of capital to labour in family
farms in Almería was very low, and that the nuclear family could perform most of the work.
This meant that hard work was enough for success. However, the scarcity of labour from the
1980s onwards made the role of the labourers essential in order to continue the economic
development of the area. The arrival of the Moroccans, on the other hand, did not make
family work disappear but changed its character, according to Martínez (2001: 48-9): wives
and children did not give up working completely, but their work focussed on the days, and
the tasks, in which little and easier work was needed –maintenance work; while immigrants
concentrated their work in the few critical days, and in the hardest jobs, such as harvesting
or sowing, which last less than a month, as an average97.
The need for extra labour, before the 1980s, at peak times such as harvesting, was met
through the old tornajonal system of work exchange, which, as we have seen, relied on
personal networks of relatives and neighbours. The tornajornal system was also a verbal
deal between the farmer and the casual labourer outside the labour market. This exchange of
work is typical of the small farming and peasant agriculture, and though this labour
relationship does not enter the market, the product of its work normally does (Narotzky
1997: 37-8). Therefore, this exchange of work, even if it is an essential factor in the
achievement of the final product, still remains in the context of the informal economy. The
point I am trying to make is that the farmer will tend to consider this work (friends,
relatives, wives, and children) informal or casual, while he will tend to consider his own
work, which is clearly part of the formal economy since it is taxed, fully formal or essential.
The work of the Moroccans in the greenhouses, from the 1980s onwards, takes the same
position occupied previously by the friends, relatives, wives, and children of the farmers;
and, to the farmer’s way of thinking, this means it is considered to be casual, informal and,
therefore, not essential98.

‘World views’

This organisation of the relation of production pervades the relationship between farmers
and labourers, and shapes their mutual expectations. The following quotes, made by
academics working and living in Almería, which reflect the point of view of the farmers,
summarise these expectations.

We have to take into consideration that the employer, due to his historical experience and his
peasant education, has experienced the hard work of the whole domestic unit in the early days
of the agricultural development; and because of that, for having experienced much the same
working routines as the immigrants, he tries to make the same demands of his labourers as he
has demanded from his own family (Aznar&Sánchez 2001: 85; my translation).

In this way, there is a tendency towards a demand for high productivity at work, and there is
no understanding of complaints about the hardship or the prolongation of the working day.
They do not see a difference between a member of the family who will keep the added value
of his work and an external person who only gets a part of it, the part agreed in the contract or
the verbal deal. The condition of being a foreigner [Moroccan], from a less developed

For more information see the section the unit of production: the family farm (Chapter II).
Martínez (2001: 129) estimates that 80% of hiring is still verbal.

country, makes it worse considering any complaint… There is a progressive stigmatisation of
the Moroccan workers as troublesome and, after February [2000], [there is] a promotion of an
open substitution for workers of other nationalities, mainly Eastern Europeans and
Ecuadorians (Pumares&Fernández&Rojas&Asensio 2001: 110; my translation).

The characteristics of the mode of production determine the social relations of production;
and they, in turn, the shape of what it a ‘good’ labourer. The urgent need for labour in
certain times such as harvesting is going to make farmers demand availability; the
experience of the tornajornal exchange of work system tends to make farmers expect
loyalty from the labourers; the high cost of labour in relation to other current inputs and the
focus of the work of labourers in the ‘critical days’, and in the hardest jobs, is going to
demand effectiveness and enthusiasm.
Carlos told me the case of a Moroccans whom he fired within the first day of work. “I
told him how to harvest water melons, it’s very easy, but he kept doing it wrong, breaking
the plants, and so I asked him to leave”. Then he described the favours he did for another
worker, who then left him in the lurch.

I gave him accommodation; I repaired the cortijillo beside the farm so he could live there; I
made a little kitchen so he could cook. Then, after a few months, he asked me for an offer of a
contract, so he could get a permit to work legally. I went with him to the consultancy
company and I helped him to get all he needed [information and documents], spending my
time and my money. And, when he finally got the permit to work, he left me in the lurch
without any previous notice, at a time when I was desperate for people [to work]. Then, a few
months later, he came back to me, I think after being working in Murcia, crying to me,
begging for the same job he left. I had to tell him to fuck off.

Carlos epitomises the kind of relationship that farmers expect to have with labourers. They
do not expect a contractual relationship; they offer accommodation, ‘favours’, etc, and
expect, in return, hard work, loyalty, availability, and enthusiasm. Carlos was devastated
and felt betrayed when he ‘realised’ that his labourer was just ‘using’ him in order to get the
work permit, while at the same time ‘pretending to accept’ the kind of labour and personal
relationship that Carlos expected.
Other informants, José and Luciano, remark on the troublesome aspect of Moroccans.
They told me that when farmers refuse to employ the Moroccans, who frequently go to
greenhouses asking for jobs, they run the risk of getting the plastic of the greenhouse
wrecked during the night. As we have seen in chapter I, Luciano refuses to employ
Moroccans because he thinks that they are quarrelsome. Belmonte, mentioned above, also
shares this point of view in his plain and descriptive words.

When you go to the market to buy lettuce, you choose the one that looks best. The employer
has to look for people; he looks for the less troublesome. The persons that I have under my
command to select workers decide [which ones are going to be to be hired]. Truth is that
Moroccans aren’t integrated like South Americans, and don’t share anything with the others
[workers]… Moroccans are the most troublesome of all workers… It has nothing to do with
racism, but with the condition of the person. If a person goes to work but the only thing he
does is to create problems, it is better not to take that person into consideration [to work] (El
Mundo, 1/9/2002).

In Chapter III we have seen that the trade union CCOO protested that employers prefer to
use labourers from Eastern Europe and South America because they are cheaper and less

troublesome workers, with less power to negotiate good working conditions. This situation
has provoked the deterioration, according to CCOO, of the labour conditions in the
agricultural sector. In this case, Spaniards are potentially troublesome because they can fight
back more effectively through trade unions99. Basically, Spaniards can complain, while
Eastern Europeans and South Americans cannot do so without risking their work permit, if
they have it. Therefore, if we contrast the demanding and seasonal working conditions in the
greenhouse, with which Moroccans get out of it (see section on housing, for instance),
conflicts between farmers and their labourers are going to arise.
Moroccans represent 75% of all immigrants in El Ejido, and they have been in El Ejido
since the 1980s, before any other foreign ethnic group of labourers. The arrival of other
groups of foreign workers in the 1990s brought competition between them within the same
segment of the labour market. The farmers will prefer those groups of workers that respond
better to the expectations that we have described above. The following declarations of two
Romanian workers to Ideal (12/2/2000, in Martínez 2001: 59) reflect this competition
among different ethnic group of labourers.

‘We come with a restricted visa… once it finishes we have to go back to Romania’, and
another Romanian worker adds ‘one cannot come here to live permanently and later to end up
working to stay. When it [the visa] finishes we leave. We are [also] in better conditions in
rented accommodation, not in cortijos like these here nearby.’

These workers accommodate themselves, then, to the expectation of the farmers and are, for
that reason, less troublesome. They also leave Spain when their work period has finished, so
they do not add extra social costs. It is also interesting to notice that these workers appeal to
the immigration controls in order to make their labour more attractive than the Moroccans’
to the farmers. However, this is not the case. Romanians are, after Moroccans, the second
largest national group of repatriated workers, with 18,865 sent back in 2002 (El Mundo,
4/1/2003), for working and living illegally in Spain.
According to Martínez (2001: 180), the fundamental factor that contributed to view the
Moroccan workers as troublesome was the one week strike that followed the ethnic riots of
February 2000. The following press release from two farmer associations, which appeared
in the La Voz de Almería (4/9/2000, in Martínez 2001: 180), seems to confirm this idea.

For the organisations COAG and ASAJA of Almería it is evident that the distrust of the
farmers is directly related to the strike initiated by the immigrants after the events of El Ejido
last month (February). The same sources point out that the attitude of the most radical leaders
of maghrebi origin, and their refusal to abandon the strike will be something difficult to forget
for the majority of the owners of rural farms.

It is clear that there exist a shared belief among farmers that Moroccans, as a group, are the
most troublesome workers, although farmers would not admit that they discriminate against
the group but only the individuals. As Belmonte has said: “When you go to the market to
buy lettuce, you choose the one that looks best. The employer has to look for people; he
looks for the less troublesome… It has nothing to do with racism, but with the condition of
the person”.

However, the fact that the economic development from the 1980s onwards, as we have seen, have
displaced Spaniards to other segments of the labour markets has allowed other group of workers to occupy this
labour niche without entering in conflict with Spanish workers.

Belmonte is claiming that it is the ‘condition of the person’ – that is, if he is an
enthusiastic and friendly worker or a troublesome one – that is the factor that an employer
considers when hiring a worker, while, at the same time, he admits that employers do not
look at Moroccans individually but as a group: “Moroccans are the most troublesome of all
workers”. Therefore, what Belmonte really seems to mean is that the employer looks at the
‘condition’ of the ethnic group, to which the worker that he is hiring belongs, as the factor
that he is going to consider. The practical consequence of this train of thought is that
Moroccans are going to be discriminated against with respect to workers belonging to other
ethnic groups. It also places them at the bottom of the labour market: they will get jobs only
when there are no other workers available, and they will get the most demanding, dirty and
dangerous jobs. This situation also contributes to keeping wages down.

Statistical Discrimination

Martínez Veiga (2001: 175-9) points out that when workers of certain ethnic groups tend to
have (statistically) more difficulties in getting jobs in a certain segment of the labour
market, as compared to workers of other ethnic groups, then, we have a case of ‘statistical
discrimination’100. He explains that this discrimination happens at the moment of the
selection of the workers, and that it is based on ethnic stereotypes.

The process of determining the productivity of a potential worker is costly and quite
complicated. For that reason, companies that try to determine the productivity of workers base
it on characteristics that are easy to observe such as membership of a potential worker of a
specific group (from the point of view of gender or race) as a substitute of productivity... “If
employers have the experience of, or perceive a, higher productivity of a specific
demographic group, the employer is going to choose employees within that group. In the same
way, employers that have had a bad experience with members of a specific group will tend to
not employ them” (Bluestone and Stevenson 2000) (Martínez 2001: 178).

However, Martínez (2001: 182) also mentions that direct productivity does not need to be
the only criterion to select workers: easier social relationships and fewer tendencies to
labour conflicts can be more relevant features when hiring a worker. According to Martínez,
farmers in El Ejido value more the attitudes of the workers, because the skills needed to
work in farm are very basic and easy to get. Belmonte, as we have seen, also draws attention
to these features: “The truth is that Moroccans aren’t integrated like the South Americans,
and they don’t share anything with the others [workers]”.
The labour discrimination that Moroccans experience in El Ejido is not less than the social
discrimination they experience101. The fact is that they reinforce each other: the worse their
estimation as workers is, the more social rejection Moroccans are going to experience; and
the worse social rejection and exclusion, the less estimation as workers they are going to
have. This essay, however, defends the point of view that the organisation of the relations of
production accounts for the construction of the stereotypes of ethnic groups. In fact,
Moroccans had neither the same labour nor social reputation when they arrived first as
compared to today. Gabriel Barranco, a big business man from El Ejido (already mentioned

The term ‘statistical discrimination’ is used to differentiate it from pure discrimination. An example
of the latter type would be the South African case study. However, both kinds of discrimination have similar
Social exclusion it not the proper focus of this essay, which is mainly concerned with the way in
which this exclusion arise out of labour relations.

in chapter I), made some comments to El Mundo (13/2/2000; in Martínez 2001: 38) during
the one-week strike of Moroccan workers that shed light on this question.

There was time when there were lots of gypsies working, and the Moroccans displaced them
because they were better workers. Now they may put their jobs at risk. People from Eastern
Europe and South America are starting to arrive already.

Apart from his intention of threatening Moroccan workers, Barranco recognises that, once,
Moroccans were deemed good workers. Not only that, but they were also more socially
accepted than now. Hamid, who arrived to El Ejido in 1996, has lived a fair amount of time
in the area and still remembers how the relationships between Spaniards and Moroccans
used to be.

After the language classes in the office we head to Manolo Escobar St. [a meeting point for
Moroccans in El Ejido city centre]. On the way I ask Hamid whether Spaniards and
Moroccans had a better relationship when he arrived to El Ejido. He starts talking slowly,
looking down. I look down as well to see if there’s anything on the ground. Hamid always
picks up pieces of food and put them on the side of the pavement because he doesn’t like
people walking on them. ‘God does not like that’, he always says. But I don’t see any food,
only his bony toes coming out of his small and dirty second hand pair of sandals, smaller than
his feet, that he got in the Red Cross [since Feb. 2000, when he was injured during the riots he
has been living on charity]. “When I arrived in El Ejido I got a job in a greenhouse in San
Agustín [a rural neighbourhood of El Ejido]. I stayed there for a year, and I lived with them in
their house, as if I was a member of the family. They were very good, very good to me (…)
People trusted Moroccans then, but all changed after February 2000. People are bad now,
they’re racists, don’t like Moroccans”. I ask him if Spaniards behave towards Moroccans in
the same way in others parts of Spain [between 1996 and 2000 Hamid has worked and lived in
different parts of Spain]. “People aren’t that bad in other places. They’re like in El Ejido
before Feb. 2000”. (My diary, 21/8/2002).

Hamid had, probably, a good experience when he arrived to El Ejido, although it does not
mean that relationship between the two groups were, in general, as good as he experienced
then. It would be interesting to investigate the social status of Moroccans elsewhere in order
to see to what extent Hamid’s comments can be generalised. Nasim also has noticed the
status change of Moroccans since he arrived in El Ejido in 1998 with his mother, brother
and sister, to join his father, who had arrived in 1992. He told me that until 1998 Moroccans
could rent houses, although it was not easy, but ‘now it’s impossible’. According to him,
Moroccan families can buy houses and apartments, but ‘no one want to rent them a house or
a flat in town, only cortijos besides the greenhouses’. When I asked him why the situation
changed from 1998 onwards, all he could tell me is that there were, ‘perhaps, too many
Moroccans in El Ejido’.
These comments are, nonetheless, a hint which indicates that the negative stereotype of
Moroccans has developed as a result of their incorporation into the labour market, and out
of the labour relations between Moroccans and Spaniards. Any attempt to explain social
exclusion in El Ejido has to start in the greenhouse, the only place where interaction
between Moroccans and Spaniards cannot be avoided102.

The fact that the fieldwork for this thesis was carried out in summer months, when the agricultural
activity halts, did not allow me to observe directly this interaction. Any future research, in the line of this
essay, should take place in, and around, the greenhouse.

Nasim’s comment that there are, “perhaps, too many Moroccans in El Ejido” is related
to Jose’s ‘[Moroccans] don’t come to work” (see preface), and Colomina’s “We have to
attend to the need for a number of immigrants that can be absorbed by the economy of
Almería, and the rest… we have to say no… because there is no way to maintain great
masses of immigrants… wandering about”. These comments, which have direct social
consequences (people feel ‘invaded by troublesome Moroccans’), have their origin in the
characteristics of the local mode of production and in the way in which labour is organised.
I have said, in chapters II and IV, that the short-term nature and vulnerability of the
labourers’ work results from the characteristics of the mode of production. Table 2 gives an
outline of the level of labour activity throughout the year in greenhouses. Let us suppose,
then, that when the labour activity in greenhouses is at 100% all labourers are working. This
would happen between April and June, and November and January; that is, six months a
year. In February, March, September and October the level of employment would fall to
40%-80%; and in July and August even further, to 10%-30%. The Department of
Anthropology of the University of Almería estimates that 60% of all immigrants work less
than four months a year (Martínez 2001: 89), which is a lower figure. Colomina considers
that only 5% of immigrants work continuously, and only for a maximum of ten months
(Martínez 2001: 130-1). This gives us, in any case, an idea of the short-term nature of these
jobs. In any case, it is an ideological construction to say that this work is short term
(Martínez 2001: 90). This suits the farmers and the state since it keeps wages down,
avoiding permanent work contracts and reproductive costs such as unemployment benefits.
At local political levels, labourers are called ‘temporeros’ (lit. temporary workers),
underlining the kind of labour that farmers want to use. In other occupations people have
permanent contracts, and the rights and conditions that go with them, even though there are
slack times during the year. This is the case of, for example, permanent teachers.
Now, as I have said in chapter II, if the average of workers needed per hectare is two
and there are 12,500 hectares in El Ejido, then, the average number of workers needed is
25,000. Therefore, since there are 9,000 farmers –without taking into accounts their
families– then, this leaves a need for 16,000 labourers. That is, an average of 1.7 per farm.
The number of immigrants in El Ejido is about 12,000, half of them legal and the other half
illegal (see chapter I), which together with the work of the farmers’ families would be just
about the right number of labourers needed when the season is at its height (Martínez 2001:
Therefore, as Martínez indicates (2001: 95), if farmers are going to find labourers when
they need them, at peak times, then, they have to be available and unemployed at off-peak
times. The consequences of this organisation of labour are the daily images of large
numbers of Moroccans ‘wandering about’, who ‘don’t want to work’.


In this chapter we have seen how variations in the relationship between capital and labour,
in units of production, provoke alterations in the quantity and quality of labour. These
alterations, in turn, segment the labour force into different groups with differences of skill
levels, ‘opportunities of employment’, and ‘levels of acceptance of working conditions’. But
the differences between diverse segments are not only based on dissimilar ‘skills’ but, on
different reproduction costs. As we have seen above these reproduction costs of non-
nationals are legally maintained by the creation of categories such as alien or illegal.

Therefore, the basic opposition capitalist-working classes is further complicated by the
oppositions between different segments of workers. The result of the segmentation of the
labour market on which I have focussed is that non-nationals, who very often are of
different ethnic groups, are placed at the bottom of the segmented labour market, with lesser
reproduction costs, lesser skill-levels, lesser ‘opportunities of employment’, and a higher
‘level of acceptance’ of any working conditions. That is what it means to be at the bottom
segment of the labour market, and that is where Moroccans in El Ejido are.
The rest of the chapter has been dedicated to examine how different ‘worldviews’, and
social categorisations, can develop out of the material reality of the conditions of life in
which different groups live, and how this explanatory model could be applied in order to
explain social exclusion along ethnic lines in El Ejido. The characterisation of Moroccans as
troublesome and culturally maladjusted cannot be understood, and less explained, then, if
we do not ground it on the mode of production and the organisation of labour.


At the beginning of the thesis I set out to offer an explanatory framework of social exclusion
along ethnic lines, which could be applied to El Ejido, and to examine whether this
framework holds true for El Ejido. The starting point, and questions to answer, were José’s
three slogans: Moroccans “don’t come to work”, “always create problems”, and “don’t
adapt to our culture” (see preface). We have seen, throughout the thesis, that these three
slogans are very common among farmers and that they are used in order to justify the social
exclusion and discrimination of Moroccans. They are also of considerable significance since
they tell us about how Spaniards categorise Moroccans (troublesome, disloyal, etc) and the
kind of relationship they have with them –rejection, distrust, etc. Local Spaniards, then, tend
to think that if Moroccans ‘always create problems’ or ‘don’t adapt’ it is because that is
their ‘nature’; or in other words, it has nothing to do with their social and labour status, but
with their culture. It is, therefore, a cultural problem.
This categorisation of Moroccans is what José referred to as ‘real knowledge’ (see
preface). And it is considered ‘real’ because it comes from the daily ‘real’ experience that
farmers have with their Moroccan labourers, in the greenhouses but also outside them. Even
if they do not directly interact outside the greenhouse, they can see each other in the streets,
shopping centres, etc. I cannot deny that farmers experience Moroccans in the way they say
that they do; that is, I cannot deny that they perceive their social world in the way in which
they say that they perceive it. Farmers, like good phenomenologists, “try to produce
convincing descriptions of what they experience rather than provide explanations and
causes” using the words of Russell Bernard (1995: 15). Indeed, it has been one of the aims
of this thesis to understand the farmers point of view, but it is not enough. My interest is to
go beyond the description or interpretation of their point of view and provide an explanation
of their ‘worldview’, and the negative categorisation and exclusion of Moroccans.
However, as I stated in the preface, any explanatory attempt needs solid theoretical
foundations, and solid theoretical foundations need a clear epistemological stand. I started
by assuming that the mode of production and reproduction, or infrastructure (Harris 2001:
51-4), can account for the different way in which social life is organised. Therefore, I started
examining first, in Chapter II, the agricultural mode of production in Almería. I gave a brief
review of the ecological setting and the recent economic history of the area in order to
understand how the industrial agriculture that exists today came into being. Then, I moved
to the analysis of the family farm –the basic unit of production. The small size of the farms,
the seasonal character of the production, and the difference between the time of production
and time of work that we have seen compel farmers to apply a very flexible use of labour in
his farm. Until the 1980s the work of the family and the use of the tornajornal system at
peak times provided the labour needed, but the scarcity of labour created by the expansion
of the farms and the development of the auxiliary industry, which offered better jobs to
Spaniards, brought the first Moroccan migrants to Almería. The former flexible use of the
family labour was replaced by the precarious and temporary work of the Moroccans. They
were placed, though, from the beginning at the bottom of the segmented labour market.
But other factors tend to increase the exploitation of agricultural labourers in El Ejido.
On the one hand, the tendency of prices to drop – which is a constant magnitude in the
capitalist mode of production – and, on the other hand, competition with other countries,
such as Morocco, and the control of the market by international supermarket chains – which
are variable magnitudes – undermine the profits of the vegetable growers of Almería. In this
situation farmers tend to reduce the cost of labour, which is the only input that they directly

control, by over-exploiting their workers. At a general level, the capitalist mode of
production and the labour exploitation described above are directly related.
Another conclusion of chapter II is that Almería is fully connected to the world
economy, and that the workings of the local mode of production cannot be understood
without placing it in the global context of the capitalist mode of production. Chapter III
develops this perspective further in order to account for the arrival of Moroccans to
Almería. In this chapter, I explain labour migrations as a movement of workers from areas
in which labour is underemployed or obsolete to areas in which there is a scarcity of it, in
the context of the world economy; that is, between areas connected by the same economic
system. I show that this is the kind of migration that exists between Morocco and Almería.
But the crucial question in chapter III is how the migration systems and the
mechanisms used to control the mobility of foreign migrants, which have their origin in the
national organisation of production, contribute to the segmentation of the labour market
along ethnic lines, producing a cleavage between national workers (upper level) and non-
national ones (lower level). National workers have rights (they are full citizens) that non-
national workers do not have. This cleavage is legally reinforced with concepts such as alien
or illegal migrants, and it channels foreign migrants to low-skilled and low-paid jobs. At a
practical level these concepts can have racial or ethnic connotations. In this regard, the term
‘Moor’ in El Ejido plays a similar role to the terms ‘Negro’ or ‘Indian’ in America (Wolf
1997: 380-1), relegating the people included in the category to the bottom of the labour
Narotzky’s concept of ‘reproduction cost’ has been central in the approach taken to
account for the segmentation of the working class, and it has been introduced in Chapter III
and developed further in Chapter IV. Moroccan migrants in El Ejido live in cheap and
precarious accommodation; they do not receive unemployment benefits when they are not
working since most of them are illegally in Spain; they do not have to maintain a family
since they migrate on their own, etc. Therefore, they can survive on lower wages than
Spanish workers. Moroccans are the workers with the lowest reproduction costs in the
Spanish labour market and, for that reason, they have the worst working conditions.
As I stated at the very beginning of this thesis, the material conditions of life determine
people’s worldviews. The jobs that Moroccans do have been defined with the “three Ds”:
Dirty, Dangerous, and Demanding. Their conditions of life, and their social status, can also
be characterised by with the three Ds; or, in other words, we are what we do. And, in the
same way that farmers express their own worldviews and describe their social reality,
Moroccans also do. The real experience of everyday exclusion, poor living conditions, and
years of waiting for the document that will allow them to go one step on the social ladder
have given them also a ‘real knowledge’ of what life is about; a knowledge that most of the
Moroccan that I met believe to be true in Spain and in Morocco. Of the nearly two months
that I spent with Hamid the words that I remember most from him are these:
Do you know Paco [that is I]? all I want is to do is to find my own livelihood. I don’t want
problems. But, you know, the rich are never going to allow the poor to do it.


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