South African vineyard workers erupt

For the second time in the last few months vineyard workers in the Western Cape Province, South Africa have clashed with bosses, scabs, private security goons, and the Police. They are demanding that their paltry wages are doubled, and an improvement in their working conditions. Countless injuries have been reported and at least 50 people have been arrested.

Submitted by working class … on January 9, 2013

Wildcat strikes have been reported across the Cape region, which is of huge financial importance to the South African state – both in terms of wine production, and the tourist industry….. The government are worried about “business confidence”..

The town of Grabouw has been a focal point for the latest unrest, where protesters have armed themselves with clubs and have been fighting running battles with the cops. Several barricades have been built across key highways in an attempt to cause maximum disruption and to prevent scabs from getting to work.

A local supermarket has been looted by workers, which only stopped when the police arrived and opened fire with rubber bullets. Protesters have set fire to bushes, caravans, a bulldozer, and police cars.

Since similar events late last year – in which 271 people were arrested, 2 killed, and R100million was lost in production - negotiations have been on-going but have recently collapsed as no agreement could be reached. Despite making huge profits, the farmers involved in the wine industry pay disgraceful wages.

The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (State QUANGO) has said that the current rate of R65 could be described as “Starvation wages”, and even if increased to R150 would not be enough to support a family. They also claim that the industry cannot afford to pay above R104. This is despite the wine industry in South Africa generating R26 billion annually.

The workers are demanding R150 per day as opposed to the current wage of R65. One of the workers claimed that when he started working in the wine industry in the 1970’s, he earned R45 – which highlights how little real terms and actual wages have risen in nearly 40 years. He went on to say that:

“We want R150. Farmers would rather employ security guards and buy new cars than pay us.”

A spokesperson for the bosses wine association, ‘Agri Wes-Cape’ said that:

“80% of permanently employed farmworkers in the fruit growing area turned up for work on Wednesday. Most of those who failed to did not live on the farms. Those that didn’t had been coerced into staying away from work. They said they had been threatened that their houses would be burnt down if they went to work so it was not worth the risk for them. This strike has come at the worst time for fruit growers. It is peak season and we cannot really afford it, so I hope it is resolved soon”

There is no evidence that 80% of workers attended work - and what about the coercion that workers face from the bosses, especially those who do actually live on the farms, whose homes depend on them working?

Solidarity with the South African vineyard workers