The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 43      November 26, 2012

(front page)
South Africa: Farmworkers strike,
inspired by ongoing fights of miners
Photo by Denzil Maregele/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Farmworkers in De Doorns, South Africa, march Nov. 12 demanding wages be doubled.

More than 12,000 farmworkers, inspired by a wave of mine strikes, have gone on strike demanding higher wages and better working conditions. Meanwhile, some 26,000 platinum miners on strike since Sept. 12 in South Africa are refusing to accept demands by Anglo American Platinum Limited (Amplats) that they return to work in exchange for a one-time bonus and a promise to negotiate wages in the future.

A walkout in the Western Cape that began at the beginning of November now involves more than 12,000 farmworkers, mostly at vineyards near the town of De Doorns, where table grapes for export and wine are produced. There are some 8,000 permanent and 8,000 seasonal workers in the vineyards.

Many farmworkers make 70 rand ($8) a day. Strikers are demanding a minimum wage of 150 rand a day. The capitalist farmers offered 80 rand.

Some 8,000 farmworkers and their supporters marched in support of their demands Nov. 6.

Agri Wes-Cape, an association of farm owners, said in a Nov. 10 statement that “the list of demands from worker representatives included higher wages, improved living conditions, free electricity, an end to illegal evictions, [an end to hiring] illegal immigrant workers and a ban on labour [contractors].”

“The irony of this specific case,” the association complained, “is that the farmers in De Doorns and the rest of the Hex River Valley pay workers above the prescribed minimum wage.”

“The foreign workers and South African workers are pulling well together,” Tony Ehrenreich, provincial secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions in the Western Cape, told the Militant Nov. 12, in answer to the company’s reference to immigrant workers in its statement. Attempts to divide the workers, many of whom are from Mozambique and Lesotho, will not succeed, he said.

In a call for a Nov. 13 demonstration, COSATU said that “Marikana has come to farms!!!” a reference to the successful strike by platinum workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in the North West province. The platinum miners won a 22 percent increase Sept. 18 after a five-week strike in which cops killed 34 miners. COSATU is the country’s main trade union federation, which the NUM is part of.

“The farmworker fight is like the mine strikes in that the strike was started by workers on their own. Only 20 percent of the workers are unionized,” Ehrenreich said. “It is different than in the mines because in the mines there was a vacuum of leadership. Here the officials of COSATU unions have a lot of legitimacy among the workers. At least this time we are supporting and helping to lead the strike.”

Ongoing miners’ battles

“We are going to start the third month of our strike tomorrow,” underground mineworker Gaddafi Mdoda, a representative of striking miners at Amplats in South Africa’s North West province, said in a phone interview Nov. 12. “It is quite difficult but we will survive because this strike is to promote a better life.”

A strike wave among miners in the country peaked in October, with more than 100,000 workers at gold, platinum, chrome, and other mines demanding substantial pay increases. Most of the strikes were organized by committees selected by the workers outside the structures of the National Union of Mineworkers, frequently described by strikers as too close to the bosses and government. The walkouts were “unprotected,” conducted outside of the regulations and red tape of South African labor law.

While the strikes at AngloGold, Harmony Gold, and Gold Fields, the three largest gold companies in the country, ended after the companies agreed to increase wages by moving workers to the next pay grade, Amplats has dug in its heels, claiming that a raise would bankrupt the company.

In a Nov. 9 statement, Amplats said if workers ended the strike it would pay a 2,000 rand “hardship allowance” and a 2,500 rand “safe start-up allowance” to be paid two weeks after the return to work—a total of just over $500. Eleven days earlier strikers rejected a similar 2,500 rand package.

Amplats, the largest platinum mining company in the world, said that as part of a back-to-work agreement it would open new wage negotiations ahead of schedule but that there could be no wage increases until after July 1, 2013.

“What they are talking about is a one-off payment,” Mdoda said. “But that is not a wage offer.” Strikers are demanding a doubling of their wages from less than $1,000 a month to about $1,800.

The strikers continue to face police intimidation, he added, with some 20 strikers in jail on frame-up charges of incitement to violence and intimidation.

The struggles are ongoing at mines where strikers have returned to work.

“The situation is not normal exactly,” Gold Fields rock driller Jonathan Monere told the Militant in a phone interview. “The company is victimizing, dismissing, or suspending some workers because of the strike action. Some problems could cause us to go on strike again.”  
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Spain: Nationwide strike protests govít austerity
On the Picket Line
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