Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Labour War in Western Cape

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. However the around 500,000 mainly black agricultural workers remain working in dreadful conditions and for very low pay. The mimum wage is the equivalent of just under £5 a day and most workers do not get much more then that and many less.

The workers often are poorly housed on the farms themseves as tenants. 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 farmers 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. 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 and in a latest move hundreds of stikers have been sacked and evicted from their tenancies on the big estates.

Nosey Pieterse an activist with the BAWUSA union 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 figting the estate owners, they are fighting the ANC led governement that has refused to raise the minimum wage or even properly enforce existing minimum wage and tencancy rights. This should once again show those on the left in Briatin who belive South African governement is in someway progressive that the leadership of the ANC and the South African Communist Party have become brutal agents of capital.

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.    

BAWUSA and several other unions are involved in these strikes and 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. Nosey Pieterse says "The government should be forcing the farmers to the table but it is not," said Nosey Pieterse, secretary general of the Black Workers' Agricultural Sector Union, (Bawusa). "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.