The famous wine-producing town of Pauillac has been the site of violent confrontations between French Moroccans and Spanish vineyard workers of African origin.
Around 100 farm laborers have come from Spain to Bordeaux in search of work during the grape harvest. But disputes between them and locals of Moroccan orign have turned the normally sleepy Pauillac community into a battleground.
The Spanish nationals are of Sahrawi descent – an ethnic group of Western Sahara, which was a colony of Spain until 1976. There is a long-standing conflict between the Sahrawi people and Morocco over ownership of the territory.
Tensions broke out last week outside a local Muslim prayer room used by both groups, sparked by a Sahrawi grape picker wearing a “Free Western Sahara” T-shirt, the regional newspaper Sud Ouest said.
There were fights, damage to vehicles and five people were injured. Fighting continued on the following evening, but Sahrawi workers were then given free accommodation in a local seaside town to avoid a third night of conflict in Pauillac.
Many of these workers have employment contracts, but are unsure whether they will be able to return to work at the château today at the start of a new week. They have no hot water at their temporary lodgings and do not know how long they can remain in the accommodation.
Maryline Gardner, a local government representative, said the only issue that currently concerned authorities was the safety of the workers.
Some have blamed the eruption of violence on the continued battle over Western Sahara. "It is political, it is purely political. They shouted 'You belong to us (Morocco)!", said a Sahrawi seasonal worker, Mohamed el-Bachir.
But the local mayor, Sébastien Hournau, claimed that locals were angry about Sahrawis taking their jobs. "Certain wine service providers are less scrupulous than others," he said, claiming that they paid seasonal workers as little as 25–30 euros ($32.50–$39) per day. Hournau insisted that "with the tacit agreement of some châteaux," the service providers were undercutting local workers.
But the head of a local employment agency rebutted these claims, saying the Sahrawis were all legal workers, earning 10 euros ($13) an hour, which is higher than the minimum wage. “When we look for agricultural workers, we advertise the jobs and it’s Sahrawis that respond first, not locals,” he said.
Pauillac is the home of many classed growths, including Château Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Lynch-Bages. Politically, the ultra right-wing party the National Front has a strong following in the area.