As summer comes around it’s time for Britain’s annual “farmers whinging about labour shortages” article harvest. And this year it could be curtains for Wimbledon strawberries (cue gasp of middle class outrage).
Just for a change of pace our latest cash crop crisis is being partially blamed on Brexit, with impacts from falling pound purchasing power, people feeling unwelcome on rainy fascist island and rising employment levels in Eastern Europe meaning people aren’t bothering to make the trip — ungrateful swine. Farmers are even being forced to hire people from Moldova, which is apparently some sort of new low for the industry.
But don’t worry, lazy British workers get our usual bracing agriculturalist sideswipe, with recruitment firms complaining that:
There is no appetite. We ring a bell in the office when a UK worker applies. We put jobs on Jobcentre Plus. Absolutely nothing happens. We’ve had two applications this year in five months.
Oh you workshy cumberworlds, have ten years of austerity not beaten you down enough yet to accept a bit of good old fashioned hard work? Is your patriotic heart not aflame at the idea of losing those precious BRITISH strawberries? You mollycoddled sons and daughters of the Millennium, shame of your forefathers, unwilling to roll up those sleeves! And did those feet in ancient time. Walk upon England’s mountains green …
How could it possibly be the case that an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay is not more popular?
Wait what? Does that say £7.85 an hour? And hang on… aren’t farms quite a long way out from where we live, necessitating either moving out to an isolated caravan for months at a time away from friends and family or doing a ludicrous commute?
Unaccountably, these minimum wage deals are not mentioned in any of the promotional fluff the farmers are putting out complaining about labour shortages. Possibly because the “lazy” English worker might start asking questions about what long-term gain there would be in uprooting for a few months a year to goodness’ knows where for “I’d pay you less if it weren’t illegal” amounts of money in a job with zero career prospects. And then getting dumped home again, largely no better off than you were before you started such backbreaking labours.
It’s not all farmers though
The thing is there’s really, really good arguments that farmers could be making right now about the way in which the industry is being mashed into the sod. But it’s going to have to start with focusing on the true villain of the piece, rather than demanding that working class people do all the hard work for the lowest of pay packets.
That villain is, of course, capitalism.
On the one hand, farmers are being squeezed by supermarkets, which often use their products as loss leaders but refuse to take the financial hit themselves and indeed use their retail muscle to gouge the greatest possible amount of money from their role as monopolistic middlemen. That’s capitalism folks, leverage=profit.
On the other, British growers are competing in a globalised market, meaning that vast global industrial agribusinesses are simply out-producing them. Again, that’s capitalism and without tariffs, there’s literally nothing they can do to stop massive dumping from undercutting their prices, in the same way as steel.
But farmers aren’t going to do that. Because ultimately, even though they are being crushed under the wheel of more powerful capitalists, they are themselves bourgeoisie, at least for the moment. They identify with the social form, with the core of property control that empowered their exploitative ancestors, underpinning their continued ownership of field and orchard.
And so we go through this annual tradition, watching a man crumple under the blows of his larger friends while decrying the refusal of his previous victims to take that beating for him.
Pic: Roger Davies