The South African labour war spread to agriculture last week as farm workers struck against low wages and poor living conditions.
Like the Marikana miners’ strike, the farm workers’ actions have met with severe state repression. A worker was shot dead on 14 November when police opened fire on a protest in Wolseley, 70 miles northeast of Cape Town.
While the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was quick to claim leadership of the strike wave, and attempt to moderate its demands, independent unions not affiliated to COSATU have been integral to the actions. These include Sikhula Sonke, a largely women-worker-led union, and the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU). In 2009, Sikhula Sonke organised a protest camp outside the South African parliament to highlight the case of a white farm boss who forced workers to live in pigsties.
Anna Majavu, of the South African Civil Society Information Service, writes: “CSAAWU is campaigning publicly against farmer Willie Dreyer from Leeuwenkuil farm in Agter-Paarl.
“Dreyer allegedly evicted farm worker Patrick Philander, his wife and four children and laid false charges of attempted murder against him and another CSAAWU activist, Amos White, after they recruited other farm workers into the union.
“And the internationally-publicised Human Rights Watch report into South Africa’s fruit and wine industries last year found farms to be ‘ripe with abuse’ — with farm workers having their water and electricity disconnected, being harassed in the middle of the night by farmers’ guards and their dogs, being exposed to pesticides and being prevented from joining unions.”
In the mining sector, workers employed in Anglo-American Platinum (Amplat) mines have accepted a deal from bosses that will see workers receive a one-off payment of 4,500 rand, and a monthly salary increase of 400 rand (around £28). Amplat bosses said the strikes would hit annual profits by a fifth.
More on the farm workers’ strikes here.