COSATU Trade unions shut down South African farm workers strike!
Trade unions shut down South African farm workers strike
By Iqra Qalam and Jashua Lumet
8 December 2012
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) called off the strike of farm workers in the Western Cape Province on Tuesday, even though none of the demands of the farm workers has been met.
COSATU’s provincial secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, made the announcement following a one-day action December 4, the deadline given by farm workers for the government to respond to demands for an increase in the minimum wage to R150 a day.
Before Tuesday’s action, the African National Congress government made clear that it would do nothing in response to the farm workers’ demands, instead relying on the services of COSATU and a network of pseudo-left organizations to suppress the strike and get them back to work for the remainder of the grape harvesting season.
Ehrenreich declared, “An agreement put forward by Agri SA contains the basis of the accord that temporarily ends this strike,” He said Agri SA, which represented farm owners, “essentially commits” itself to negotiations to be held farm-by-farm. Talks would be about the wage demand of a R150 per day and a profit-sharing scheme.
By trying to contain any discussion over the conditions of workers to a farm-by-farm process, COSATU is seeking to prevent a unified struggle. ANC Agricultural Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said Wednesday that the farm-by-farm negotiations would be followed by government discussions on an overall minimum wage later next year.
Grateful for the intervention of the government and the union, Gerhard de Kock, chairman of the Cape Orchard Alliance which owns 12 farms in the valley, said labour relations on Normandy farm had improved in the wake of recent strikes. “All change is painful, but to resist change can be more painful. I have tried to see the unrest as an opportunity for better relations rather than a tragedy,” he said.
There is widespread scepticism among the workers. Commenting on the demobilization of collective action, Moos Arries, who works on the Mooigesig farm in De Doorns, told the World Socialist Web Site, “It looks like we will now be negotiating on every farm for a better living and we don’t know when this process will be finished.”
Willem Koopman from the Morgenson farm noted that while Agri SA and the government have shown a willingness to negotiate, nothing has effectively changed in their lives “because we have not seen any increase in our living conditions and therefore it looks like we are in for the long haul.”
The ruling class was shocked by the eruption of the farm workers’ strike, which began independently of the unions. The initial eruption of working class opposition, inspired by the struggles of mine workers, quickly spread to dozens of towns. As with the miners, farm workers have been regularly attacked by the South African Police Service, with two workers killed in confrontations.
The ANC, together with the Democratic Alliance (DA), which governs in the Western Cape province, responded by calling on the services of COSATU. This was combined with the threat of force, with DA Premier Helen Zille urging the intervention of the military.
On November 19, the strike was temporarily suspended after a series of meetings involving farm workers, COSATU, the ANC and the DA. This served to remove all initiative from the workers, paving the way for this week’s agreement.
On November 20, representatives of the farm workers told the ANC and the DA they had until December 4 to institute the minimum daily wage of R150 or face renewed protest. It was on this basis that COSATU, in order to head off the development of an insurrectionary movement, moved to present itself in a more radical guise and supportive of the strike’s extension, the better to keep it under control. To this end COSATU sanctioned a single day of action in the agricultural sector for December 4.
Speaking about the decision, Ehrenreich said COSATU had done all they could to avert further stoppages and threatened, “This strike … can set back labour relations on farms by decades and could see a reversal to the low-level civil war we all witnessed on farms a few weeks ago.”
Ehrenreich is a time-served bureaucrat and member of the ruling ANC that sanctioned the brutal massacre of striking platinum miners at Lonmin, Marikana in August. Last week the DA charged him with inciting violence. This was due to his image being used on the poster of a COSATU-affiliated trade union, under which was written the slogan, “FEEL IT!!! Western Cape Marikana is here!!” This was a reference to comments Ehrenreich had reportedly made earlier in the dispute: “The ill treatment and underpayment of workers by some farmers must stop, otherwise we will see a Marikana in De Doorns.”
In response to the DA’s charges, Ehrenreich spoke candidly about his and COSATU’s role in the dispute, aimed at strangling a movement of workers outside of the control of the trade unions and in opposition in the ANC. He stated, “I used Marikana as a parallel to what’s happening at the farms because workers went ahead without the guidance of unions and the danger for things getting out of hand is greater, without unions.”
The unions now hope to utilize the prospect of an Agri-SA deal to try and establish their control over an increasingly restive section of the working class. Union membership in the agricultural sector is currently estimated at less than 3 percent. “This agreement means that workers will return to work and join any union of their choice,” said Ehrenreich. “These unions will negotiate with the farmers on the different farms.”
In addition to COSATU and the ANC, a crucial role in sabotaging the strike was played by a network of organizations, including the United Democratic Front, recently relaunched by Mario Wanza, a former leading ANC activist. Wanza and the UDF have postured as a more militant opposition, while seeking to pressure COSATU and the ANC and prevent any struggle against the capitalist system. Wanza’s attempt to revive the UDF is part of an effort to establish a new organization to contain and channel growing mass hostility to the establishment parties in South Africa.
At the height of the anti-Apartheid struggle, the UDF had around 3 million members. Seeking to unite conflicting class forces, its slogan was the “UDF Unites, Apartheid Divides.” This political perspective subordinated the working class to a pro-capitalist perspective and a movement dominated by the ANC and a leadership whose aim was to secure their own advancement into the ranks of the bourgeoisie that proved instrumental in the survival of capitalism in South Africa.
Another organization involved in the strike is the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO). It is the umbrella group for many social sector non-government organizations. They are beholden to the capitalist class for donations and grants to finance their activities and are obliged to protect the interests of large farming corporations. SANGOCO has been actively promoting the idea that the farm workers must simply try to “influence national development policy.”
The interests of farm workers and other sections of the working class in South Africa cannot be realized within the framework of these organizations. The basic rights of workers—including for a decent wage and quality housing—can be realized only through their independent organisation in a political struggle for socialism against the ANC, COSATU and the capitalist profit system that they defend.
Even billionaires pay farmworkers badly
December 8 2012
By HENRIËTTE GELDENHUYS
photo: Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale.
- Farmworker strike ‘is far from over’
- Farmworker strike not over: Coalition
- Farm wage talks are a ‘stopgap measure’
- Deadline for farm-by-farm pay deals
South Africa’s billionaire wine farm owners Tokyo Sexwale and Johann Rupert pay their workers the same as farmers across the board – described as “slave wages” by Cosatu.
The Saturday Star established from interviews this week with farmworkers at Sexwale’s wine estate Bloemendal in Durbanville and Rupert’s L’Ormirans in Franschhoek that seasonal workers earn a minimum of R80 a day, or an average R1 733 a month.
Rupert, the second-richest person in South Africa and third-richest in Africa, is reportedly worth R44.26bn.
He made his money from Richemont, the Swiss luxury group that owns Cartier, Dunhill, Chloe bags and MontBlanc pens.
Sexwale, South Africa’s human settlements minister, is reportedly worth R16.7bn.
The wages their workers said they earned are the same as those earned by the lowest-skilled and seasonal farmworkers in towns such as De Doorns, where farmworkers burnt down vineyards, and in Ceres, where they burnt down storage facilities and machinery during recent violent strikes over their demand for a R150 a day minimum wage.
The majority of farmers pay R80 a day for seasonal workers, about R11 more than the minimum wage set down by the government of R69 a day (about R1 481 a month).
Permanent farmworkers on all the farms, including on those belonging to Sexwale and Rupert, earn slightly more.
A discussion with a group of tractor drivers at Bloemendal revealed they earn R560 a week (R112 a day, or about R2 420 a month).
Bloemendal tractor driver Roger September said workers used to receive all the wood pieces cut from trees on the farm, which they sold to help pay school fees and buy uniforms. They were upset this privilege was taken away six months ago, he said.
Peter Presence, national treasurer of CSAAWU, the commercial stevedoring, agricultural and allied workers’ union, which represents Bloemendal farmworkers, said permanent workers were paid from R110 to R140 a day, a 13th cheque and long service bonus.
At L’Ormirans, irrigation assistants said they earned R2 898 a month (R133 a day or R667 a week).
On the neighbouring Antonij Rupert wine estate, also owned by Johann Rupert, a worker at a bottling plant said he earned R3 500 a month.
The Saturday Star understands from interviews with farmworkers and CSAAWU that farmworkers at Sexwale and Rupert’s farms protested peacefully at the beginning of the strike, but not again this week.
They were also not involved in any violence during the strike.
Strike action started early in November and spread to 15 towns in the Western Cape.
It has been put on hold over the holiday season, with plans to see it resumed on January 9.
The highest-paid workers on Sexwale and Rupert’s farms said they would be astonished, but very happy, if the strikers’ demand for a R150 a day minimum was granted as it would push up their earnings considerably.
Like most farmworkers in the Western Cape, those on the billionaires’ farms get free accommodation, water and electricity.
Transport and crèche facilities are also provided.
Rupert’s accommodation for farmworkers, Dennegeur, looks like an upmarket security estate.
L’Ormirans farmworkers own their own piece of land inside the Dennegeur complex, where they grow mealies, beans, pumpkins, sweet melons and watermelons.
Rupert said he paid each worker R2 000 as an end-of-year bonus.
At Sexwale’s Bloemendal, workers receive two free chickens a week, and transport to doctors and hospitals.
Saturday Star @ http://www.iol.co.za/business/business-news/even-billionaires-pay-farmworkers-badly-1.1437629#.UMS1fuMSVlQ
BUSINESS DAY EDITORIAL: Anarchy in the workplace
The truths offered by Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll that anarchy in the workplace benefits no one ring especially true with regard to the recent farm sector unrest
ALTHOUGH directed at the mining industry, the truths offered by departing Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll in a speech at the Gordon Institute of Business Science last week ring especially true with regard to the recent unrest in the Western Cape farm sector.
In an inspirational speech on the future of the mining industry after the violent strike and deaths at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, Ms Carroll said anarchy in the workplace benefits no one and that there is no future for any society without law and order.
This week, most striking Western Cape farm workers and Agri-SA reached agreement to cease strike action and start farm-level wage talks, a welcome move that follows several weeks of protests that have resulted in two deaths and R15m in damages.
Sector-wide minimum wages and an attempt to extend these to annual wage agreements in the farm sector have been criticised for not taking into consideration differences in profitability between different types of farms.
Minimum wages cannot be set in an arbitrary manner — pay must be at a level that ensures industry profitability or there will be job losses.
This is best done farm by farm.
Yesterday’s agreement comes just days after Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies punted collective bargaining as the solution to the conflict.
But one only has to look at the domestic clothing and textile industry to see the damage sector-wide wage agreements that are imposed on firms can do.
The downside of the deal is that, in the course of negotiations, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich promised that unions, together with the Department of Social Development, would distribute food parcels to the families of workers who had been on strike.
If the strike resumed next year, workers would be able to use their food parcels to sustain themselves, he said.
Mr Ehrenreich said the food parcels were part of a “public-private partnership”, yet it seems they are to be supplied by the South African Social Services Agency under the banner of the national Department of Social Development.
These temporary social relief or distress grants take the form of a food parcel or voucher and are usually made available to individuals who are unable to meet their families’ most basic needs, and then only until permanent social assistance is made available.
There is no question that families in acute social distress should be given state assistance.
However, it is not acceptable for a union to encourage workers to strike in the first instance and then appropriate the resources of a national government department to mitigate the consequences of this action.
When those food parcels are handed out, Mr Ehrenreich will no doubt do his utmost to ensure that Cosatu gets the credit.
The Department of Social Development already provides for families and individuals in need through a wide range of social grants and services.
Extensive means testing ensures that these grants target the most needy in society.
For Cosatu to step in and attempt to supplant the role of a national department is cheeky at best, and undermines the law and order that Ms Carroll rightly asserts is so necessary.
There may be an argument that, on a pragmatic level, offering food parcels as a bargaining chip to negotiate a suspension of the strike prevented further upheaval in the industry.
It is highly likely that, if an agreement had not been reached on Tuesday, the strike would have continued and there would have been destruction of property and further loss of life.
That said, offering state support to striking workers sets a very dangerous precedent and creates a perverse incentive that undermines law and order and promotes anarchic labour relations.