COSATU Intervenes: Western Cape winelands – The strike’s over, nothing’s solved …

Western Cape winelands: The strike’s over, nothing’s solved
  • 5 DECEMBER 2012 02:35 (SOUTH AFRICA)

December the 4th marked the short-lived resumption of the Western Cape farmworkers’ uprising, after a 10-day break for negotiations which have seemingly come to nothing. Workers across the Boland went back on strike, but only for day, as it appears the strike has been called off by all “stakeholders”.

Yet it is clear that it was COSATU’s Western Cape branch, chaired by Tony Ehrenreich, that called off the strike without receiving a mandate from most stakeholders or the workers themselves.


The second round of the strike has been a disaster – a major display of weakness that could potentially set back the farmworkers’ struggle for years.

Disempowering the emergent political agency that has resulted from the unified action of farmworkers, wage negotiations are now to be conducted by unions on a farm-by-farm basis, while also including the unrealistic temptation of a profit-sharing scheme.

If the power and agency of the strikers arose from the actions of the most brutalised and exploited segment of South Africa’s working class, the end of the strike marks a continuation of the same backroom union politics that brought about the wildcat strikes on the mines of the North West.

Speaking with farmworkers across the Boland on Tuesday, both those who participated in the strike and others who returned to work made it clear that there was no consensus on the direction the strike should take or a understanding between those appointed to negotiate in the name of the workers and the workers themselves.

In the Robertson area, the majority of non-union workers returned to their jobs, while members of unions such as CSAAWU (Commercial Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allies Workers Union) continued the strike at the Vink Rivier, Voorspoed, Wonderfontein and the La Collione farms.

We found a group of strikers hunkering down opposite the gas station near the entrance to Robertson from the Worcester side.

These workers had apparently been driven from their picket line at the La Collione farm by the police; they claimed that the farmer only pays them R65 a day.

Three workers claimed to have been hit by police rubber bullets.

When questioned, police redirected our questions to a superior, who, clutching his weapon, avoided giving us any answers to our queries about the strike.

Photo: Some of the strikers were displaying rubber bullet wounds from 15 November violent unrests.

Wesley Booison, a CSAAWU shop steward interviewed at the Voorspoed farm told us that the workers had been organised at the farm for three years now, despite the hostility of the farm-owner and the meager R69 per day wage they received.

A week ago, this same farmer had charges laid against him at the Robertson police station for allegedly threatening to shoot his workers if they damaged his property.

Workers picketing at the farm clutched signs demanding R150 per day and claiming that “R150 was only a start” – something we heard on Sunday at a rally in Ashton.

It is interesting that the most determined and politically aware workers we encountered in the region were affiliated to the small independent CSAAWU union.

An hour’s drive away, De Doorns once again appeared to be both the core of the strike and the key political battle for whatever capital can be extracted from the farmworkers strike.

As local politicians and newly discovered community leaders struggle for legitimacy, national politicians, perennial camp followers of the struggle and union leaders seeking to rapidly recruit new members.

The strike’s energy seemed to have dwindled somewhat by noon as workers, fearing the loss of money needed for Christmas, returned to their farms.

Still, according to locals, around 6,000 workers remain on strike. Those who did return to work were permanent workers rather than those employed seasonally.

As in the Roberston-Ashton area, in De Doorns it was clear that the majority of workers on strike were not ready to settle for anything less than R150 per day, and that there was no clear process of accountability between workers and their “representatives” at the negotiating table.

Assembled at the De Doorns stadium were over a thousand workers. Most were waiting in the December heat for something to happen while their compatriots had the good sense to stay at home.

A small group entertained themselves through an impromptu toyi-toyi and song session, while carrying flags provided by Mario Wanza and a few of his new UDF comrades.

Yet the most shocking occurrence witnessed at the De Doorns rally was a call made by one Sandile Kenny in full view of union leaders, for PASSOP director Braam Hanekom to be killed on his return to the community.

This call was made after Sandile led the crowd in a decidedly weak rendition of Kill the Boer, and at a podium shared with the controversial former unionist, Nosey Pieterson, who now heads the Black Association of Wine and Spirit Industry as well as BAWUSA.

Tony Ehrenreich of COSATU in the Western Cape arrived a bit later; his speech, delivered at about noon, did not explicitly call for an end to the strike or even engage with that possibility.

Rather, it contained two key themes:

a) a call for the workers to embrace’s COSATU’s particular brand of unionism as the only way to protect their interests and 

b) a call for workers to place their trust in the power and wisdom of their representatives at the negotiating table who had the political connections necessary to call in the appropriate cabinet ministers and to meet with the farmer’s representatives. 

Both of these themes have emerged prominently in today’s deal, which may put an end to the strike and looks set to empower COSATU affiliated unions in future negotiations at the expense of independent unions like CSAAWU.

While it is clear that division among workers on the strike has been growing and many thought it was more prudent to return to work than take the risk of going back on an indefinite strike, the deal was imposed on the farmworkers after an unaccountable process conducted in the name of democracy.

It further hampers the growth of a new democratic and active political culture among workers in South Africa.

Instead of attempting to build a democratic trade union movement, COSATU affiliates have been more concerned with politicking and increasing their clout in rural areas.

In the end the deal – unlike in Marikana – removed actual farmworkers from the negotiating table or any other public platform. This risks further perpetuation of the system of degradation and exploitation that is endemic in the agricultural industry. In the area where real problems exist and sobering differences are there for all to see, it solved pretty much nothing. DM

Main photo: Tony Ehrenreich of COSATU delivers the usual speech to a somewhat disinterested audience, 4 December 2012, De Doorns. (Benjamin Fogel)

Secondary photos: Elizabeth Beekman and Daman Phillips 


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About selcoolie

see: briefly: Born in Cape Town, South Africa; moved to Sweden in1969 and completed studies in 1983, then moved to Norway and then to S.A. in 1993 - back to Norway in 2005, and been there ever since! E-mail: Web Page: zcommunications/zspace/selcool In My Own Words: ¨ South African born ex-academic now retired, exiled and beyond redemption? Interests South African political economy and history; International Socialism and Marxist/Anarchist thought; anti-militarism and ecological questions My draft autobiography (ALL the "closet secrets" in the open! @ Aslo view:

2 responses to “COSATU Intervenes: Western Cape winelands – The strike’s over, nothing’s solved …”

  1. selcoolie says :

    Day of truth for Cosatu and Cape farmworkers

    December 4 2012 at 08:00am

    Today will determine whether Cosatu in the Western Cape can carry along the farmworkers in the province who are set to resume their wage strike which was suspended almost a month ago.

    As we all know, they want their minimum wage of R70 a day raised to R150 a day.

    Whether this is feasible for all the farmers in the region remains debatable.

    It is understood that some of the farmers have raised comparisons with the government-run and supported Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), where the minimum wage is R65 a day.

    So, if the sauce is good for the goose, why is it not good for the gander?

    Well, it is not exactly so.

    Workers on the farms are workers, although vulnerable.

    This is why a sectoral determination for them is needed, and for the domestic workers, otherwise they would be left at the mercy of their employers.

    Compare these workers to the people employed in the EPWP.

    The programme addresses the skills development challenge in the country and aims to equip the unemployed youth with skills while they earn an income, albeit little.

    The target is to create 4.5 million work opportunities between 2009 and 2014, with 2 million of these created since 2009.

    Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, faced with the farmworker strike, panicked and decided it was better to fast-track the farming sectoral determination.

    She raised hopes, only to dash them when she later said the next determination was not due for a year from last March.

    This has angered Cosatu in the Western Cape, which was trying to organise and represent the otherwise disorganised labour sector.

    Tony Ehrenreich, the Cosatu leader, now says farmers, who were previously committed to finding an agreement through good faith negotiations, changed their attitude after Oliphant’s statement.

    Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Wiseman Khuzwayo, Asha Speckman and Donwald Pressly


  2. selcoolie says :

    Farm workers strike over! – COSATU WCape
    Tony Ehrenreich
    05 December 2012

    Tony Ehrenreich says agreement put forward by Agri SA contains basis for accord

    Farm workers’ strike over!

    The strike by farm-workers across the Western Cape and nationally has come to an end!

    An agreement put forward by Agri-SA contains the basis of the accord that ends this strike. Agri-SA essentially commits themselves to:

    Negotiations to be held at plant level; (Farm by Farm);

    Negotiations will deal with the demand for a R150per day minimum wage;

    Negotiations will also include a profit-sharing scheme, this given the huge amount of money made by farmers as a result of Exchange rate variations.

    This agreement means that workers will return to work and join any union of their choice.

    These unions will negotiate with the farmers on the different farms. If no agreement is reached by 9 January 2013, workers on those farms will revert to taking action again by this date.

    This action will be in compliance with the Labour Relations Act, (LRA).

    This agreement represents a huge victory for farm-workers as it sets the basis for new relations between farm-workers and farmers to build a more fair and just agricultural environment.

    Until the processes at various farms are finalized, which includes the specific agreements to cover all workers, the farm-workers are under the protection of COSATU.

    Farmers are strongly urged not to discipline workers for their actions during the strike. Any unfair action will see a definite response from COSATU.

    A Press Conference will be held tomorrow, 5 December 2012, where representatives from Agri-SA, the Department of Agriculture and the unions will make a joint statement.


    Statement issued by COSATU Western Cape Provincial Secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, December 5 2012


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