Interview: The Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on agricultural workers in Morocco

The following interview is a conversation with Atiqa Fizazi, a fired trade union worker, displays a preliminary picture of the conditions experienced by workers in the agricultural field in Chtouka Aït Baha Province located in Souss region of Morocco, amidst the repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It shows how investors in Morocco have exploited this global tension to increase their profits at the expense of agricultural workers. The worsening of the living conditions of all agricultural workers is not born of wartime, but is deeply rooted in the capitalist system based on the toil of millions of women, men and even children. A reality that will only be changed by building a social balance of power that opposes imperialist wars and seeks a society based on equality and democracy.

Below is the conversation content:

1- Are agricultural workers aware of the gravity of what is happening in Ukraine? Are there discussions among workers and within the union about this war and its effects?

Workers in agricultural farms were very afraid of the Russian-Ukrainian war. At the beginning of the war, the agricultural workers saw that things could get worse for them due to the impact of the war on the productive situation, and this fear was enhanced by employers who started to spread rumors such as:

  • There is no demand for products which are not even accepted in the foreign market.
  • We are currently bearing the losses and paying the gap out of our own pocket so that we don’t lay off.
  • It is necessary to work more to increase productivity.
  • We are not making profits
  • We don’t make profits.

This situation has been so well exploited by employers and pressure has been put on workers that they have become fearful of the future.

Employers are transferring the costs of their crisis to the workers, since the work pace has been increased and the wages of informal workers have been reduced to 70 dirhams (about $7), which is less than the minimum wage in the agricultural sector. All of this is for the same reasons: the crisis and its impact, which employers have exploited to attack the working class, especially those who are not union members.

The local office (Democratic Agricultural Union – regional section of Chtouka Ait Baha) organized a discussion on the war and agreed to distribute a leaflet, but circumstances prevented this action. We also agreed to discuss the impact of the war among workers and agricultural workers in order to be aware of the real risks it can inflict on us, and to know its limits in order to understand this war and how employers are exploiting it to their advantage. This discussion has indeed taken place but within a limited minority, due to the difficulty of communicating with the workers given their large numbers, and we tried through the debate to reach out to those who are union affiliates.

2- How has the war and the rise in prices impact female agricultural workers?

Female workers have been greatly and directly hit by this war, because the workforce is predominantly female, representing almost 70%; what has had a greater impact is the low wages that have not been increased, on the other hand, prices have dramatically increased, with women bearing a large part of the family responsibility, though not denying the role of men, because female agricultural workers are the ones responsible for making purchases and are at the same time housewives and agricultural workers.

In fact, today female workers’ wages have been adversely impacted, despite the husband’s contribution, seeing that daily expenses are rather the woman’s responsibility, which puts more pressure on the latter, which in turn has psychological and material impacts. In fact, women feel pressure, which has become quite noticeable through what they are expressing: “We don’t have the time nor the money to get ourselves clothes”. This is because prices have increased and women are the ones who have to do their own shopping and keep busy with these life hassles, under the strain of a dire economic situation, whose cost is significantly borne by female agricultural workers.

3- Is the war affecting agricultural production inputs, including fertilizers and pesticides? Have the prices of these commodities increased?

As for pesticides and fertilizers, I have no idea, but one of the technical colleagues told me that the price of fertilizers during the war increased by 100%, and that the prices of chemicals used in agriculture have also plummeted, that is what I tried to find out.

4- The war has brought about the phenomenon of inflation and high food prices. What are the consequences of this phenomenon on the workers’ purchasing power?

Indeed, workers have been impacted by rising prices, especially given that the increased prices have affected some of the basic food items that workers depend on in their daily lives with an increase of 50% in some cases. Some of them have given up buying some of these items because they could not longer afford them. Prices are very excessive and wages are not increasing, especially that the State is not implementing the wage escalation, and that the minimum wage in the agricultural sector is not being applied, which means that most of the female workers are receiving wages much lower than the legally recognized ones. It should also be remembered that agricultural workers who work without formal papers are exploited in the most despicable ways, and do not even receive the minimum wage as they are more vulnerable to exploitation. All these factors are adding to an already low purchasing power. These have been expressed by employees during workplace discussions among male and female workers.

5- Do workers link the deterioration of their purchasing power with this war, or with other factors? What are these factors?

There are certainly other factors behind the deterioration of workers’ purchasing power, mainly the distinction made by the State between industrial and agricultural wages. Knowing that agricultural workers have longer hours and lower wages, with deplorable conditions due to pesticides that have serious effects on their health, resulting in fatigue and extra effort and the appearance of many diseases that require additional expenses that absorb part of their already meager wages. Overall, work in agriculture is not enough for them to live in dignity with their current wages.

These segments are being marginalized by the State, which is indifferent to their conditions and supportive of employers who are reducing wages and intensifying working hours, as perpetuated by the pretext of the impact of war in Ukraine.

Actually, the purchasing power of female and male agricultural workers as citizens is already low and has been exacerbated using the pretext of the war in Ukraine.

The meager wage increase agreed upon (5%) as part of the government-union agreement in April 2022 will not change anything, in the face of the astronomical rise in all food prices.

These soaring prices and low wages may cause people to stop providing basic necessities.

Any final comments?

To conclude, I may say that with the Corona pandemic, the economic and social cost has been borne by the working class and working women are the ones that have been most impacted, with employers and the State taking advantage of any crisis to perpetuate their monopoly over the working class. For example, in light of the Corona pandemic, agricultural production increased in the first year, according to government officials, but so did the hours of work with no increase in wages.

Cooperation between authorities and employers through regulations is exploited in any crisis for the benefit of employers and the State by accumulating profits at the expense of agricultural workers’ workloads. This has become evident both in light of the coronavirus and the current war.

They take advantage of crises to promote austerity policies at the expense of workers’ pockets, and are more interested in increasing profits, without pointing the finger at big corporations and the capitalist system. They target the vulnerable worker by increasing profitability and working hours, while keeping wages unchanged. In short, the working class bears the cost of any global calamity.