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Vol. 76/No. 45      December 10, 2012

On the Picket Line

S. Africa: farmworkers back at
work, gov’t reviews wage rate

Thousands of farmworkers in South Africa’s Western Cape are back at work, following a call by some union and government officials to suspend their strike for two weeks while the Labour Ministry reviews demands to double the minimum wage. Meanwhile, capitalist farmers are preparing for the possibility of a renewed battle.

The strike began in De Doorns Nov. 5 and rapidly spread to grape vineyards and peach and other orchards across the province. Farmworkers say the minimum wage of 69 rand a day ($7.80) must be raised to at least 150 rand.

Police fired rubber bullets at striking farmworkers, killing Michael Daniels, in Wolseley Nov. 14. Farmworker Bongile Ndeni was killed in Ceres by private security guards hired by the farm owners, who charge that strikers burned down some vineyards.

As part of convincing farmworkers to suspend the strike, officials of the African National Congress-led government promised to negotiate with union officials and farm owners for revisions to the minimum wage by Dec. 4. But according to the Post, a Western Cape daily, “officials deny ever having committed to such a date and Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s office has distanced itself from the two-week deadline.”

Capitalist farmers “are gearing up” for “labour unrest, forking out money for heavily-armed private security guards, who use helicopters and wear bullet-proof vests, and buying fire engines,” the Post reported.

Farm owners are trying to foster tensions between immigrant and native-born farmworkers and revive divisions from the apartheid era between blacks and those of mixed race by selectively refusing to allow one or another group to return to work on their land, according to statements from People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty, a group that works with immigrant workers and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

Workers are resisting attempts at divide and rule. At the Royal Mushrooms farm, the group reports, when police arrested immigrants who were part of a recent strike “a large crowd gathered to protest against their arrest and the crowd was comprised mostly of South African workers.”

“If nothing happens with the review of wages by Dec. 4, I must say the workers are going back on strike,” Sandile Keni, an organizer for the Food and Allied Workers Union in the Western Cape, told the Militant Nov. 26.

According to Business Day Live, some union officials and representatives of farmers are open to a deal raising wages at the more profitable farms while keeping them lower on less profitable ones.

—Seth Galinsky

Coal miners in South Africa
end four-week strike

Some 900 workers at Forbes and Manhattan Coal Corp. mining operations in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province went back to work Nov. 19 after more than four weeks on strike for higher wages and benefits.

The strike included members of two different unions—the government-allied National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union—as well as miners who did not belong to either. The coal miners demanded a doubling of their wages, which ranged from 3,400 to 4,200 rand a month ($400 to $480).

“Workers accepted a 1,000 rand a month wage increase,” National Union of Mineworkers regional coordinator Bhekani Ngcobo said in a phone interview.

While workers did not win the six-month maternity leave they had demanded, “the company agreed to pay 25 percent of the wage of women workers for four months,” Warton Mdaduli, organizer of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, told the Militant. Women will receive 75 percent of their wages from the government labor department during that time, he said.

Two workers were killed during the strike by a private security guard contracted by Forbes.

“The guard who assaulted our members has been suspended pending the police investigation,” Mdaduli said.

The end of the strike at Forbes follows the settlement of a wave of strikes by more than 100,000 platinum, gold and chrome miners that shook South Africa from August to November. Some 28,000 miners returned to work at Anglo American Platinum Nov. 15 after a two-month strike. Most striking gold miners were back on the job by the end of October. Some 2,500 miners are still on strike at Atlatsa Resources Corp.’s Bokoni Platinum mine in Limpopo province.

—Seth Galinsky

Anti-Walmart ‘Black Friday’
protests take place across U.S.

PARAMOUNT, Calif.—Hundreds protested outside the Walmart store here Nov. 23, Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Some 65 Walmart workers took part from half a dozen stores in the region. The action was part of others across the country pressing for higher wages and better health care coverage for hourly Walmart employees.

The campaign is supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers. Representatives of the UFCW, several other labor unions, religious groups and other organizations took part in the protest.

Accounts from the two sides on the size and scope of the actions across the country vary widely. Walmart said protests took place outside 26 stores nationwide and that “less than 50 associates participated.” OUR Walmart, a group backed by the UFCW, said protests were organized at stores throughout 46 states. Dan Schlademan, director of Making Change at Walmart, told Reuters Nov. 23 that hundreds of Walmart workers participated.

According to Reuters, Walmart said five of the 250 workers at the store here took off work to protest. OUR Walmart said the figure was 18.

María, a worker from the store in La Quinta in the Coachella Valley two hours east of Los Angeles, said 12 workers drove from the store that morning to take part in the action here. She did not want to give her last name. “I heard of this action 22 days ago when people first started talking to us about organizing,” she said. “The supervisor discriminates against Latinos, we don’t get promoted. He times people when we go to the bathroom. He said there would be consequences if anyone came.”

Nine people, including three Walmart employees and a number of clergy, were arrested for blocking the street outside the store.

In a statement posted on its website, Walmart said its stores processed 10 million register transactions on “its best ever Black Friday events” with larger crowds than last year.

—Ellie García

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