A Seventh Man
By John Berger
Why this book?
Berger published this in 1975 at a time when Turkish, Greek, and Portuguese guest workers were arriving in Western Europe, having been recruited by employers to fill vacancies in factories during the years of sustained economic growth. Berger succeeds in humanising these workers, helped by photos taken by his long-term collaborator, the Swiss photographer Jean Mohr. Berger could not anticipate that these young men would later be joined by their families and put down roots. His book speaks of adventure and opportunity, but also of exploitation and humiliation. Numerous memorable vignettes stick in my mind, including his observation about migrant workers from Portugal, governed by the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar:
Before leaving they had their photographs taken. They tore the photograph in half, giving one half to their ‘guide’ and keeping the other themselves. When they reached France, they sent their half of the photograph back to their family in Portugal to show that they had been safely escorted across the frontier; the ‘guide’ came to the family to prove that it was he who had escorted them, and it was only then that the family paid the $350.
This is a vivid illustration of the tactics adopted by workers who relied upon smugglers to help them to evade Salazar’s police and border guards.
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