A profile of the Citrusdal Farm Workers Forum
By Petrus Brink
The Citrusdal Farm Workers Forum
Who we are
We bring together the workers on all the farms around Citrusdal. We started with mainly permanent workers and it took us three years to get a core group of about 70 and a membership base of about 300 altogether. Now after the strike our members and supporters include seasonal workers from migrant and immigrant communities and they number in their thousands. We started the forum because workers needed a platform to speak out about their problems and mobilise for their demands. We felt the trade unions were not playing that role for farm workers. We are also affiliated to the Food Sovereignty Campaign because we want to build a movement of the rural poor that includes emerging farmers and the unemployed youth. Through them we are part of La Via Campesina, a global movement of small farmers and landless, rural workers.
Key issues we take up
Our main issue over time has been evictions. Farmers continue to evict farm workers on a mass scale and the laws like the Extension of Security of Tenure Act do not protect the workers; all it does is set out the procedure that farmers must follow to evict, which they ignore in any case whenever it suits them. We have also been involved in lots of fights for better housing for farm workers and for access to services such as electricity, transport and water. When there were cases of violence against women and children we have organised protests to stop it. Before the strike it was difficult to get involved in wage struggles because farmers refuse to negotiate with us as we are not a trade union. We have fought for access to land for farm workers and in this we have been quite successful.
Our role during the farm worker strike
It was unexpected that the farm workers would go on strike on 28 August 2012. The strike started in De Doorns by workers who were not members of a union.
The Food Sovereignty Campaign (FSC), The United Democratic Front (UDF), Mawubuye Land Rights Forum and the trade unions CSAAWU, Sikhula Sonke, COSATU, FAWU, BAWUSA and NGOs like Surplus People Project, Women on Farms, and TCOE formed the Coalition for a Living Wage and Decent Living Conditions for Farm Workers to co-ordinate support for the strike. Years ago we realized that there is a need for more farm worker/dweller decision making power so that struggles can be controlled, run and manoeuvred by the farm workers themselves. The Food Sovereignty Campaign, to which we are affiliated, was represented by its secretary Petrus Brink who made it very clear at a meeting in Stellenbosch, “We cannot allow COSATU to play a leading role in the strike, because there’s no certainty that COSATU will drive through the mandate of the farm workers”.
Since early December, towns across the Western Cape like Grabouw, Wolseley, Ceres, Villiersdorp, Porterville, Piketberg, Clanwilliam and Citrusdal joined the strike. We were the main organisers of the strike in the Citrusdal and surrounds where we organised mass meetings, pickets and marches during which our supporters got shot and arrested by the police. During December, the farm worker strike spread beyond borders to Ladismith and even isolated farms where no union or any NGO were working. Some workers on the Heimat farm in Piketberg, the majority female, met with us at the Citrusdal SPP office because they decided to strike, demanding R150/day. They went on strike for 2 days but the farm owner refused to listen to their demands. Then he offered R110 per day, but they said no, they wanted R150 per day. On the farm Helderview in Piketberg workers went on strike for days, playing games at the entrance of the farm. We tried to bring out more workers but the police and farmers blocked us with guns.
Our opinion on the unions was factualized as Tony Ehrenreich of COSATU decided to suspend the strike till the 4th December 2012. The Coalition was disappointed; FSC and the farm workers felt that they were not consulted. On the other hand, Tony Ehrenreich felt that the strike was driven on emotions in the street and that workers and their families could not maintain them in these conditions without an offer on the table for months. The strike was constantly called on or off by Tony Ehrenreich of COSATU without consultation. FSC organized as the Citrusdal Farm Workers/dwellers Forum decided strategically to focus on mobilising in areas such as Citrusdal farms, Citrusdal squatter camp (Stofpad), Piketberg farms (Heimat and Helderview), Porterville, Saron and Clanwilliam rather than focusing on central activities. We also decided not to emphasize signing up of members, but rather to assist, support and to strengthen our relationship with farm worker committees and similar groups. Our fundamental argument is that we are a social food movement.
The unions have captured the strike and what we did not want is them controlling it. When it became a union mandate worker control fainted.
The position of FSC is very clear, throughout our actions, as well as at the mass rally in Worcester (16 December 2012) – the strike must be controlled by the workers, not the unions. The demand of R150/day is only a conditional demand but we must demand to get our land back that was stolen by imperialists and capitalists. We want land, water and food sovereignty… it should be the next step…
Even if we did not win everything we wanted, one thing is absolutely sure, our farm workers, migrants and minors have lost a certain degree of fear against the bosses, and we will capitalize on that, building our structures and movements on this faith!