Sunday, January 27, 2013

South Africa: DLF statement on Farm Workers' Struggles




29 January 2013

The Democratic Left Front (DLF) salutes farm workers for their historic stand against exploitation and calls on progressive forces to intensify efforts to organise, mobilise and advance the struggle for R150 per day.

The struggle of the Western Cape farm workers is not only against starvation wages but the system of baasskap oppression that has remained since Apartheid.

This has been more than a strike, it has been a popular rebellion and the demand for R150 per day is symbolic of a greater struggle to transform the rural countryside and for radical agrarian transformation including redistribution of land.

The strike represents a huge step forward in the morale, confidence, organisation and spirit of farm workers and farm dwellers.

The strike on the farms, like the mines before, reflects a growing preparedness of the working class of South Africa to challenge the system of profit, low wages and economic apartheid.

Organising amongst farm workers is a herculean task. Farms are separated by great distances and owners prevent unionists from gaining access to workers. They threaten those that take a stand with physical violence, eviction and legal harassment. There is total disregard for labour regulations and the constitutional right to organise. Famers use labour brokers and casualisation to weaken the power of workers. The police have colluded in this - arresting and brutalising worker leaders and closing roads to prevent the free movement of organisers.

Despite these obstacles farm workers have mobilised, blocked national roads and shut down production in a number of areas - in defiance of the police who have responded with excessive brutality. Three workers have now been killed. The responsibility for the violence lies at the police's feet. Some of our activists have been denied the due process of the law and remain in jail. Several activists, local leaders from Mawubuye and CSAAWU have been detained since 9th January.

Throughout these three months of protests and strikes, commercial farmers have remained intransigent and arrogant refusing to engage with the unions and farm workers committees. This is an indication of the complete lack of transformation in the countryside. It is clear that apartheid is alive and well in many parts of South Africa.

The strike over the last three months is all the more remarkable because of this.  But the struggle is not over. The farmers claim they cannot afford R150 per day. In fact, most can and must pay now. The desire for high profits cannot be used to deny decent wages. If farms cannot pay they must be expropriated and placed under workers control.

The government has failed outright to deliver on land reform. They have made no effort to assist workers and have provided cover for the farmer's intransigence. A government that served the poor and exploited would institute immediate radical agrarian transformation. It would redistribute land and provide assistance to farm workers and small farmers to create an agricultural system based on human need, food security and ecological sustainability instead of profit maximisation.

It would end disastrous liberalisation and deregulation policies, provide subsidies to small farmers and curtail the monopoly power of retailers that are appropriating most of value in the sector.

The DLF demands, at the very least, that the government institute a minimum wage of R150 at its sectoral determination in March and take measures to enforce the labour law on farms!

The DLF demands an investigation into all acts of police brutality; we demand the demilitarisation of the police! We demand the immediate, unconditional release of all workers and the dropping of charges! Legitimate struggles are being criminalised.

Finally, the DLF also demands the right of farm workers to mobilise themselves, join unions and political organisations of their choice without victimisation. We commit to continuing the struggle for radical agrarian transformation that prioritises food sovereignty over profits.

For comments, contact:

KAREL SWARTZ  (072) 991 3371

BRIAN ASHLEY  (082) 085 7088

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