Friday, January 25, 2013

The United States of Sweden

Not only Sweden, but indeed the entire European Union has issues with immigrant treatment. This is something I am normally use to hearing by the media who attributes this problem as something unique to the United States, and yes there are issues there. But this is a truly global problem of most all wealthier industrial nations, despite the promotion by some ideologues on the superiority of one type of government system over another. Forestry companies SCA and Holen, both Västernorrland, were forced into examining the relationship they had with so-called Public Relations Marketing Companies which have conned and cheating migrant workers from Africa into almost slave labor jobs that the average Swede will never do. Sounds like I'm describing something normally attributed to the United States, doesn't it ? Think the tough luck hardship stories are only found in the USA. You need to think again. Even the poster child Socialist country lauded for their supposedly moral high ground have their own issues.

Criminal Prosecution To Be Open On Company That Exploited Cameroonian Guest Workers In Sweden

The Face Of Ethical Swedish Companies: Guest Workers From Cameroon Exploited In Sweden By "Ethical" Companies
For me it hits pretty close to home because I have two close African friends who came here to Sweden a couple of years ago to work in and for this very tree plantation industry. A couple of years ago, they told me about the miserable work conditions and living cramped hpusing quarters where both men and women are forced to live in single room buildings out in the middle of nowhere. And while I love the idea of planting trees and creating forests, the conditions under which they both worked were unbearable. Heat & humidity of Swedish summers and constant bombardment of blood sucking Boreal Forest Mosquitos even out in the open. Keep in mind, these areas are wilderness areas up near or just below the Arctic Circle on the globe known for it's intense Mosquito swarms that you see in those nature documentaries pestering massive herds of Raindeer or Caribou. Until I read this article and the news that has followed, I had no idea the amount of expense incurred by these folks in Cameroon & Nigeria where a fee for permit that is required by these workers to pay for the right to work, plus the huge expense of flight over to Sweden. The wages they are promised never pan out. Here is a quick English translation of a paragraph from the story that sparked outrage this week in the Swedish News in online paper called
"In order to get the job they put into $6000 dollars on the contractor's private account so that he could help them with the management of the Migration Board. A sum that really should be $2 000. Then they borrowed up $25 000 on average to get a visa and the trip arranged.

Once in Sweden, it was found after a while that the agreement they had, and that both unions and Migration Board approval would no longer apply. Now they got instead a chord of 22.8 cents per flat, which meant that even if they worked twelve hours a day six days a week did not even come up in a fraction of the promised income.
Want Employment ? You need to know a Godfather
"When they want to be elected they promise heaven on earth, but once they are in power, they forget to look after ordinary people. The lawmakers there are some of the highest paid in the world, and I am sure they will be the ones who will benefit from the economic growth, not us. If you don't know a Godfather or are not related to someone of influence, you will not get a job."  
Image - News18
(Source: Aljazeera)
We've all heard of the movie classic the "The Godfather" where an Italian immigrant patriarch, Vito Corleone, helps his people for a price. People need something and the Godfather provides, but you are forever indebted to him. In Africa, the term godfather is as common as an African cup of tea, as people without qualification can often only get jobs in places like Nigeria and Cameroon because it is tough to find a job because it depends on who you know. If you know a godfather, then he will find you a job, but at a price. That price is a percentage of your wages for the life of that job in order to keep it. This is similar in many of the poorer countries around the world, though most citizens of industrialized developed nations born with a socialist silver spoon in their mouth generally have no clue that such circumstances exist outside their protective plastic bubble environment. Yet surpisingly enough, these circumstances do actually exist in the rich countries among many of the immigrant communities, but it's very hush hush. The media rarely picks up on this. Here in Sweden it is common among the non-legal African immigrant community. A very public glaring example are most of the newspaper delivery guys and Reklam (advertisement publications) passed out on the streets for free. Most of those of African origin are in Sweden without permission, they cannot get a social number for tax and hence work underground. But they must pay a percentage of their meager wage to a godfather who resides legally here for his services. 
This is a sad story which I now realize I was only told the half of by my friends here, is eerily similar to what I have heard over the years with migrant workers coming up from Mexico and other Latin counties of Central and South America. Many go into debt by borrowing from family members who will pool their own money together, friends and/or Loan Sharks or conventional banks to make the journey for the prospect of a better life doing the work deemed unfit by the indigenous natives of the country they are traveling to. This forestry scandal is also the mirror image of another common Swedish scandal which plays out every year involving cheated migrant workers from Thailand and some other poor Asian countries where the promise of making it rich by picking berries in the Swedish woods attracts many victims. This same scenario plays out every year here in Sweden. Swedes love and want their flavourite fruit, Lingonberry or any other indigenous berry for jams and other preserves, but are unwilling like Americans to do what is considered menial low paying work. Hence these migrants are necessary. But Swedes will also turn a blind eye as many Americans to the problem by viewing News Reports as trivial. This apathy is what keeps the problem alive and well. Below is another example of the Thailand Berry Picking Scandal which seem to afflict here every year.

Photo Credit: Radio Sweden
Not only Sweden, but indeed the entire European Union has issues with immigrant treatment. This is something normally attributed in the media as unique mostly to the United States, and yes there are issues there. But this is a truly global problem of all industrial richer countries, despite the pimping by some ideologues on the specific superiority of one type of government over another."
"After two months of the hard work in the Swedish forests, the berry-pickers received less than 900 dollars each in pay. The rest of their wages disappeared when the head of the Lomsjö company emptied the company’s bank accounts and vanished."
"Most of the berry-pickers have now begun their journey home, with almost nothing for their work. Thirty-eight of the Thais are remaining in Sweden, hoping to somehow recover their lost wages."
Bert-Rune Dahlberg of the Åsele Municipal Council tells Swedish Radio News there won’t be a berry-picking season there next year if the system isn't changed.
"According to reports, prospective berry-pickers are painted a glowing story of how easy it is to earn vast sums in Sweden, only to face a reality of harsh working conditions and sometimes expenses that outweigh their slim wages."
(Source -
Credit: Jim Wilson, New York Times
News Source:
 New York Times: "Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions"  
"Since crossing the Mexican Border into the United States six years ago, Angel Martinez has done backbreaking work, harvesting asparagus, pruning grape vines and picking the ripe fruit. More recently, he has also washed trucks, often working as much as 70 hours a week, earning $8.50 to $12.75 an hour."  
"Not surprisingly, Mr Martinez, has not given much thought to Social Securit's long-term financial problems. But Mr Martinez, (who comes from the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico and hiked for two days in the desert to enter the United States near Tecate, some 20 miles east of Tijuana), contributes more than most Americans to the solvency of the nation's public retirement system.Last year, Mr. Martínez paid about $2,000 toward Social Security and $450 for Medicare through payroll taxes withheld from his wages. Yet unlike most Americans, who will receive some form of a public pension in retirement and will be eligible for Medicare as soon as they turn 65, Mr. Martínez is not entitled to benefits.He belongs to a big club. As the debate over Social Security heats up, the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year."
Photo by Lange
Most present day younger generation American citizens have no clue or memory as to the misery there ancestors went through during the Great Depression of the 1930s. They know very little of the  westward movement of dirt poor American refugees leaving the troubled regions of the dust bowl area looking for any kind of work just to survive and take care of their families. They know nothing of the Agricultural Land Barons with amoral consciences preying on these dirt poor victims as a source of cheap labor. The 1936 iconic photo on the left here is of a desperate 32 year old mother who was a pea picker in California and raising seven children. 

There is an old time classic movie that drove it all home for me about the challenges faced by the 1930s migrant workers. The last time I watched the film, it made a huge impression on me in a way that it never had before. I think it was somewhere in the late 1980s when I watched the movie made from a classic John Steinbeck novel called "The Grapes of Wrath". The story is about the Great Depression of the 1930s, where 10s of 1000s of native born European Americans were out of any work and suddenly found themselves dirt poor. Those bogus employment flyers by con artist hucksters appeared everywhere back east, suckering people to move from the Central part of the United States out west to California where work was plentiful and life was easier. Sounds almost identical to the tactics used by these Swedish Jobs marketing schemers who have conned the unfortunate desperately poor people in a 3rd world nations for a better life that awaits them if they only travel to the land of Socialist opportunity. Only they soon find what awaits them is more of a prison-like environment reminiscent of the old Communist Dystopia,  where living conditions are more like an old Soviet era Gulag located in some lost sub-arctic Boreal Forest. What amazes me is that there are many today who still think the world has come along way in improving quality of life for all in the industrial countries. In some respects it has for many, but such improved lifestyles are still founded on the backs of poor labor. But not everyone on the planet can be allowed to have it so good. Someone has to pay by doing those menial jobs no one else wants to consider doing. So yes, the old problems and issues still exist, but the criminal element behind many of these schemes are very talented at sugar coating things. The disgusting thing here in Sweden when it comes to corporate accountability is that they dismiss the problem as merely a subcontractor issue and they were totally ignorant of the affair. Reeaally ???  Unfortunately, big business being what it is and always will be, they are given a Free Pass.

Image - Roar Magazine

The rest of the E.U. also has problems, but I imagine the U.S. media white washes that down as well. The economic problems here in the E.U. have created a rise in a form of Neo Nazism by some of the indigenous natives peoples wanting their country to be once again more homogeneous. For example the photo here at right of Greek Neo-Nazi groups. This isn't a right-wingers only issue either. The left-wingers are as equally bad here in Europe, although you won't hear that from those doing the finger pointing. Socialism is a blurred thing here in Europe now. The  is all types of Socialism from old time Communism to National Socialism and every kind in between. Europe has a love affair with all kinds of socialism under the cloak of democracy.  Everyone (irrelevant of which rich industrial country you reside) should go out and rent the movie "The Grapes of Wrath" and appreciate just how similar life was for poor whites back then in the 1930s because it mirrors the present day for many of the 3rd world immigrants who are taken advantage of not only by their own corrupt Nation, but also by their own countrymen in positions of power & leadership who have allow an environment under which others can be manipulated. The reality is, while there are ideological and cultural differences being championed and promoted as superior, there is ultimately no underlying differences which motivate human government no matter who's country you may live in. 
References: Swedish forestry firms in migrant labour scandal


  1. Many of the parents of my students are farmworkers and believe me, they do NOT wish their children to do that kind of work! They want them to succeed and go to college and get a decent job! It is low-paying, back-breaking, dangerous work (snakes, pesticides)! In fact, many of us teachers are beginning to realize that the pesticides which their parent inhale while out in the fields and bring inside their houses on their shoes and clothes are affecting their children, who can't sit still, can't focus, and can't pay attention in class. Excellent article and this is an issue WE need to address here in the U.S.!!!
    Cheryl Ann

  2. I appreciate your refreshing look at this issue - and of course, I hear nothing of this in the US, even on NPR. There seems to be an agenda under this type of thing in both our continents. Like everything in the US, right down to the coffee one drinks, you have to be R or D, instead of being identified with your ideals and individuality...including how to treat other people and what laws are. So blurred anymore!

    What a terrible thing to take advantage of people like that, to then nickel and dime them, so they gained nothing out of it.

    The iron boot of the uber controllers!

    1. Yeah and this is only the half of it. The entire European Union has issues against immigrants, but you'll never hear of about this from U.S. Media trying to stick a racial biggot America label on a specific political group they disagree with. Either way the immigrant gets the shaft from both sides. Down in Greece where the economy and indeed the entire country is collapsing, there was a large Neo-Nazi Group protesting immigrants and wanting them out of Greece. Thousands of protesters in the streets listening were all in unison giving the Heil Hitler Salute, but I'll bet it never made news in the USA.


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