Solidarity with South African agricultural workers!

Author: 
Damien Chapel

For the last few months, thousands of farm workers in South Africa's Western Cape region have been on strike.

Western Cape is one of the most profitable agricultural regions in the world with its wines, grapes, and apples filling supermarket shelves in Britain and around the world as part of £850 million export industry.

The around 500,000, mainly black, agricultural workers work in dreadful conditions and for very low pay. The minimum wage is the equivalent of under £5 a day. Workers often are poorly housed as tenants on the farms themselves. Human Rights Watch listed serious problems such as exposure to pesticides and lack of access to clean water. Sick pay is often not paid, and farm managers have moved against union organisation.

Since November, a rolling wave of strikes has spread demanding a minimum wage of the equivalent of £10.65 a day. The strikers are also fighting the multinational retailers that have benefited massively from the poor wages in Western Cape to maximise profits on wine and fruit.

During the course of the strikes, roads have been blocked, hundreds of strikers have been arrested, and three strikers have died. So far most of the farms have refused to meet this demand and refuse to collectively bargain. In the latest move hundreds of strikers have been sacked and evicted from their tenancies on the big estates.

Nosey Pieterse, an activist with the Black Workers' Agricultural Sector Union (Bawusa), said: "I do not know how many have been sacked but in one instance, truckloads of workers were dismissed. In Wolseley, trucks drove into townships and dumped the clothes of farmworkers that had been left behind on the farm,"

The strikers are not only fighting the estate owners, they are fighting the African National Congress (ANC)-led government that has refused to raise the minimum wage or even properly enforce existing minimum wage and tenancy rights. This should once again show those on the left in Britain, who believe South African government is in some way progressive, that the leadership of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) are brutal agents of capital.

Bawusa and several other unions are involved in these strikes. They have put out a general call for a boycott of South African wine and fruit to put pressure on this largely export-led industry.

Pieterse says: "The government should be forcing the farmers to the table but it is not. Our only weapon left is for the foreign retailers to pledge that unless the conditions are addressed, they will no longer import South African products."

To support the striking South African workers we can and should picket the big supermarkets in solidarity with South African workers and to help ensure strikers demands are met and sacked strikers re-instated.