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videos & South Africa-The Farm Workers' Strike: It's Far From Over

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  • Cort Greene
    Housing as a Human Right - South Africa to the USA (2010 - for the archive) *video:* *http://abahlali.org/node/9337* Lindela Figlan Speaks with Ceasefire-Video
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 16, 2012
      Housing as a Human Right - South Africa to the USA (2010 - for the archive)


      Lindela Figlan Speaks with Ceasefire-Video
      Abahlali baseMjondolo South African Shack Dwellers' Movement:

      Cape winelands: Why the farmworkers defied Cosatu



      The Farm Workers' Strike: It's Far From Over
      By Anna Majavu <http://sacsis.org.za/s/stories.php?iUser=130> � 15 Nov 2012
      20 <http://sacsis.org.za/site/article/1491#>
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      The mines and the farms are two enduring symbols of old white colonial
      theft, of the minerals and land. Because of the monopoly of the National
      Union of Mineworkers, whose leaders and officials have long preferred
      compromise and co-determination over worker control, it has been difficult
      for mineworkers to strike � until the Marikana massacre.

      It has possibly been even harder for farm workers to strike.

      Human Rights Watch estimated recently that less than 3% of South African
      farm workers are organized. Most farm workers earn the minimum wage or well
      below, with many in the Western Cape still paid partly in alcohol even
      though white farmers claim that the �dop system� was done away with years
      ago. Striking farm workers often face losing their homes on farms, where
      they have buried family members and where their children go to school.

      Yet this week, farm workers went on strike in their thousands in rural
      towns in the province, with the added promise by Groot Constantia workers
      in the city of Cape Town of an imminent strike there.

      Yesterday, COSATU and acting Labour minister Angie Motshekga declared the
      strike suspended for two weeks. This is not the case. Much like Marikana,
      COSATU and the ANC have no influence over this strike, which the farm
      workers have vowed to continue.

      When the farm workers strike began in De Doorns last week, it took the ANC,
      DA and Cosatu by surprise. The farm workers in this small town 140
      kilometres east of Cape Town blocked the N1 highway, set fire to the
      vineyards, and demanded a wage of R12 500 per month. This was a clear
      reference to the Marikana workers� demand for the same monthly wage, which
      has since spread throughout the mines.

      The Zimbabwean refugee rights group, PASSOP, rushed to the scene because
      the De Doorns farm workers had also allegedly looted Somali-owned *spaza* shops
      in the town. PASSOP officials who lived in the town for a year after the
      2009 xenophobic attacks there, pointed out that the strike appeared to be
      spontaneous and not organized by any union.

      In the Western Cape, farm workers tend to belong to non-COSATU unions,
      namely Sikhula Sonke � a women led farm workers union, and the independent
      and more leftist Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers
      Union (CSAAWU).

      The press is now reporting the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit
      Industry (BAWSI) as saying farm workers have suspended their strike. BAWSI
      is not a farm workers union, but a pro-ANC lobbying association with
      workers and businesspeople in it ranks, which aims to increase the levels
      of Black ownership in the wine and spirit industry. BAWSI has no authority
      to speak for 15 000 farm workers in the region.

      The COSATU farm workers union, the South African Agricultural, Plantation
      and Allied Worker's Union, collapsed more than ten years ago. The Food and
      Allied Workers Union, another COSATU affiliate, was then designated to
      organize the farm workers but never did.

      However, the De Doorns strike presented an ideal opportunity for COSATU to
      strike a blow against the DA, and COSATU quickly positioned itself as the
      voice of the strike, downgrading the farm workers demands to a modest R150
      a day, or just R3300 per month.

      COSATU claimed credit when workers on other farms as far as 70 kilometres
      away quickly took up the call for a R150 minimum wage. And after a general
      meeting in Franschoek, hundreds of workers affiliated to Sikhula Sonke
      downed tools on 13 November in solidarity with the De Doorns strikers,
      spreading the strike further.

      However, these solidarity strikes were not of Cosatu�s making. By November
      13, thousands of farm workers in Prince Alfred Hamlet in Ceres, in Wolseley
      and in Robertson had set up burning barricades, were setting fire to farm
      equipment and were being attacked by police. The workers were also calling
      for an end to labour broking on farms.

      COSATU and ANC leaders had by then changed tactics and insisted that farm
      workers suspend their strike for two weeks while the government gazettes
      the new minimum of R80 per day on offer from the white farmers association.

      The Cape Town-based Workers International Vanguard League has had activists
      on the ground in the area for the past week and reported that after the
      farm workers refused and vowed to continue the strike, police and militias
      made up of farmers then invaded De Doorns on the night of 14th November,
      opening fire on workers.

      According to the activists, farm workers have agreed to be paid R150 per
      day and say they will strike until president Jacob Zuma gazettes this

      COSATU and the ANC have clearly not learnt any lessons from the
      mineworkers� strike where their bid to crush workers who attempt to
      self-organise and take militant action, has been a flop.

      In the farm workers strike, the DA at first openly sided with the farmers
      after arrogantly assuming that the disorganized farm workers� strike would
      not last more than a few days. Once the strike spread, as the mine workers�
      strike did, Helen Zille blamed COSATU for inciting violence, declared that
      only president Jacob Zuma could end the farm workers strike by increasing
      the minimum wage on the farms and repeatedly implored Zuma via Twitter to
      send in the army to crush the strike.

      There is no reason why the white Western Cape farmers could not raise the
      wages of farm workers immediately - if they wanted to. In fact, Zille has
      known for a long time that the white farmers in the province are reluctant
      to pay even the existing minimum wage of R1500 per month. She is also aware
      of other abuses against farm workers � they are regularly transported like
      cattle on the backs of open trucks, and die in well-publicised accidents.

      The DA, COSATU and ANC are all aware that Sikhula Sonke camped outside
      parliament three years ago in protest against a white farmer who forced
      workers to live in pigsties, and that CSAAWU is campaigning publicly
      against farmer Willie Dreyer from Leeuwenkuil farm in Agter-Paarl.

      Dreyer allegedly evicted farm worker Patrick Philander, his wife and four
      children and laid false charges of attempted murder against him and another
      CSAAWU activist, Amos White, after they recruited other farm workers into
      the union.

      And the internationally-publicised Human Rights Watch report into South
      Africa�s fruit and wine industries last year found farms to be �ripe with
      abuse� � with farm workers having their water and electricity disconnected,
      being harassed in the middle of the night by farmers� guards and their
      dogs, being exposed to pesticides and being prevented from joining unions.

      The ANC has previously fostered disunity between workers in De Doorns
      instead of trying to improve the workers� lot. Three years ago, ANC ward
      councillor Mpumelelo �Poyi� Lubisi was named in affidavits supplied to the
      Legal Resources Centre as being a mastermind behind a xenophobic attack,
      which displaced 3000 Zimbabwean farm workers.

      At that time, PASSOP spokesperson Braam Hanekom described De Doorns then as
      a �cut-throat environment that is a recipe for tension� with farmers hiring
      workers through �a thousand labour brokers� who took the lump sums and paid
      farm workers whatever lesser amount they were desperate enough to accept on
      any given day.

      The farm workers can expect no help from the party, which rules the
      province � the DA, because the DA supports labour broking and white farm
      ownership monopolies specifically and the free market in general. The ANC
      and COSATU are only using the workers to score temporary political points
      against the DA and now seem as eager to end the strike, as they were to end
      the Marikana miners strike. As in Marikana, De Doorns represents the worst
      of South African party politics. Like the mineworkers, South Africa�s farm
      workers have long lived in slavery-like conditions and deserve the support
      of all to continue their strike and keep blocking the highways.
      *Majavu* is a writer concentrating on the rights of workers, oppressed
      people, the environment, anti-militarism and what makes a better world. She
      is currently studying for a Masters Degree in New Zealand.

      Read more articles by Anna Majavu<http://sacsis.org.za/s/stories.php?iUser=130>

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