Clover Workers Escalate Strike Action!

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Clover strikers show their support for the Palestinian struggle and support the boycott of Israel

THE STRIKE at South African dairy giant Clover, that started on 22 November last year, has brought together unions, political parties, civic organisations and activists in a united struggle against factory closures and job losses.

The 2019 hostile take-over by Milco SA, an Israeli-owned consortium that profits off the occupation of the Palestinian people, has brought with it a neoliberal jobs bloodbath through restructuring and unbearable conditions for Clover workers.

Now in its twelfth week, the strike sits at a critical make-or-break moment. It is important to assess this current situation and what will take the strike forward.

The Workers’ and Socialist Party (WASP) has issued a statement assessment of the situation.

‘Where is the strike now?

‘WASP fully supported the decision to escalate the strike action in January and, alongside other progressive formations, actively organised to build the broadest solidarity possible for the strike.

These efforts resulted in one of the most far-reaching solidarity campaigns seen in South Africa and internationally since the end of Apartheid. In addition to the support shown through the endorsement of the strike campaign’s solidarity statement by international working class activists, union members and organisations, January saw mass mobilisations and rolling actions locally and abroad.

Mass meetings and rallies culminated in the International Day of Action on 27 January which illustrated the immense support the striking Clover workers have. SAFTU (South African Confederation of Trades Unions) has also come out in full support and has called on its affiliates to stand with the strikers.

Solidarity actions were undertaken at South African and Israeli embassies and consulates, and at Coca Cola headquarters and factories, in Austria, Brazil, Belgium, England, Israel, Nigeria, Sweden, USA and Canada.

Moreover, many working class activists and trade unionists also showed support through taking solidarity selfies and discussing the strike in their union branches and community organisations. Palestinian New Unions and the Palestinian Farmers Union have also pledged their support.

In South Africa, actions took place across the country – in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban and Polokwane. Workers at Ladismith Cheese, organised by the union CSAAWU, also staged a solidarity picket in support of the strike action and have blocked Clover using their factory to manufacture Clover products there during the strike.

This sets a great example for other unions and workplaces in what actions can follow their solidarity statements.

The programme of rolling and escalating mass action in January resulted in Clover management retreating on their plans to retrench (lay off) 800 workers from the City Deep factory in Johannesburg. This is a clear victory won on the basis of a principled and disciplined fighting programme that was adopted in January.

The unprecedented show of international working class unity against imperialist and neoliberal attacks on workers has forced this concession from the Clover bosses. In addition, the campaign has forced the ANC government, along with its allies COSATU and the SACP, to intervene in what had become a complete breakdown in negotiations.

However, meetings facilitated by government officials have proven fruitless. Rather than working towards a fair and constructive settlement to end the strike, the government officials have simply acted as a mediator for Clover management to continue insisting on cutting jobs, slashing wages and closing factories.

The workers represented by GIWUSA (General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa) and FAWU (Farmers and Agricultural Workers Union) remain determined to save jobs, in the face of this brutal neoliberal offensive from the bosses.

The pressure that Clover/Milco SA is under is also illustrated through the more unsavoury tactics that have been employed in attempts to break the strike. Clover has abused the legal system in its unsuccessful attempts to have the strike declared illegal and the boycott campaign stopped. These are typical methods used by bosses to waste the resources and time of unions and communities in their struggles against exploitation, instead of coming to the negotiating table.

Several acts of intimidation have also been reported by workers, including petrol bombings, assault and private Clover security shooting picketing workers with rubber bullets.

The most recent incident shows that Clover is increasingly resorting to methods of violence and terror to break the strike. According to John Appolis, General Secretary of GIWUSA, on 7th February three vehicles without number plates came out of the Clayville factory with thugs that beat one striker very badly, while taking two other strikers into the factory where they were also assaulted. All workers were seriously injured, and one is still in hospital at the time of writing.

We condemn these strike-breaking tactics and maintain that the right to strike is fundamental.

In spite of video evidence of the beatings, there has been no action taken by the state to discipline Clover bosses for their role in these criminal acts.

This emphasises and exposes yet again the role of the state as a mere middleman trying to keep the elite happy while mediating class tensions; democracy under capitalism is a woven illusion to keep society under control when class tension arises.

When pushed into a corner by the majority, the bosses will attempt to impose their decisions through violence and then use the state apparatus to their benefit in order to maintain a system of minority rule. This is even more reason to overthrow this system which is a de facto dictatorship of the ruling class and hand over power to the working class!

What is the way forward?

Clover and its supporters are relying on methods of intimidation, scab labour and wasting union resources in order to scare and exhaust striking workers into a retreat.

It should be clearly stated that these are desperate actions from the bosses that have felt the pressure of the programme of mass action during January and want to break the momentum the strike and boycott campaign have created.

The best way to respond to these tactics is the further escalation of disciplined, rolling mass actions by workers, communities and working class activists across the country.

The most decisive element in maintaining momentum will be urgent escalation with militancy and organisation on the part of the Clover workforce. Winning the battle against the restructurings will require participation from workers in factories across the country.

It is vital for workers to remain at the centre of mobilisations, and the task of convincing fearful Clover workers across all factories to join the strike cannot be avoided. Militant actions led and organised by workers form the bedrock for the strike’s momentum.

Secondary actions such as escalation of the #BoycottClover campaign gained impetus from actions from the factory floor and all supporting organisations should help escalate it. A worker-elected strike committee should also be supported to lead this strike – workers need to leave this strike richer in organising experience, lessons, and with a fighting spirit and confidence for future struggle.

As Marxists, we know that working class power rests upon our ability to withdraw labour. This world does not move without workers.

Sustaining a well organised withdrawal of labour that can guarantee a significant drop in production will be essential going forward. Strategic secondary strikes directed at Clover’s distribution networks can further prove an effective tactic to prevent any products produced by scab labour or otherwise from reaching shelves in the shops.

Factory occupations, with support from the surrounding communities, must also become a seriously considered tactic to prevent the use of scab labour that can undermine the gains Clover workers are making.

The bosses will try everything in their power to discourage the strike because they know that each victory will give confidence to workers across all factories and the entire working class.

How long this strike will continue is directly dependent on the pressure the working class can exert on Clover and the ANC government and there is no time to waste.

As WASP, we propose that the GIWUSA and FAWU (Food and Allied Workers Union) joint shop steward committee work with the various strike support teams, locally and nationally, to organise visits at Clover and related workplaces during lunchtimes and shift changes to discuss urgent strike solidarity actions and to fundraise for the strike fund.

The issue of mass youth unemployment is firmly linked with the shedding of jobs in Clover and other industries. This crisis disproportionately impacts the very same poor and working class communities that Clover workers come from.

Clover workers must mobilise their communities, especially the youth, in support of the strike and boycott action by building local strike support committees that democratically organise mass actions and solidarity with the striking workers.

Working class forces must work together to increase pressure on the ANC government which has allowed Milco’s hostile takeover to happen.

Not only will their proposed restructuring have a negative impact on local dairy production, communities and workers, but allowing Milco to operate in South Africa is a betrayal of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

SAFTU and its affiliates must lead in this effort through secondary strike action where possible – unions organising in sectors related to Clover, such as NUMSA at NAMPAK, must urgently issue the 7-day notice to take on secondary strike action.

This tactic can be used to mobilise for a massive day of action around the Budget Speech on 23 February. In addition, rolling action in the form of lunchtime or other pickets at workplaces, ANC offices, Clover headquarters, and other strategic locations must be continuously discussed and organised.

Every single action must be used as an opportunity to also raise money for the strike fund – a war chest that must be built for and by the working class.

The strike is taking place in a context of growing unemployment and increasing economic difficulties for the working class.

As February is marked with the political pomp and circumstance of the State of the Nation Address and the Budget Speech, lip service is given to the false promises of “job creation”, while there is no end in sight for the austerity measures enforced on the poor and working class.

Almost three decades of neoliberal policies and austerity measures have meant extreme inequality and poverty have persisted and worsened across the country.

The working class cannot afford to accept the false logic of the capitalist system and imperialism – that takeovers like that of Clover and expansions into the neocolonial world for the sake of profit are “inevitable” and that there is nothing that can be done.

We cannot buy into the anti-worker propaganda that if labour is more “flexible” (meaning it’s easy to retrench, instill zero hour contracts – rolling back decades of hard-won gains), the economy will “recover”.

These notions constitute a direct assault on workers rights and working conditions. The only “recovery” in these conditions will be in terms of increasing profits at the expense of working class livelihoods.

Organised labour can wield revolutionary might. It is up to the working class to lead the way since the ruling class has failed to improve society. Demands such as nationalising Clover under democratic workers’ control provide a viable alternative not only for Clover but for other industries at risk of dismantling.

The Clover Strike Campaign holds the potential to become the basis for a much broader campaign that can unite the working class against austerity and around the demand to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy under democratic worker and community control.

Nationalisation under these terms is a sharp alternative to the deepening capitalist crisis and corruption of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs).

The bourgeois parties have no response to the crises of poverty, unemployment and growing inequality. Allowing Clover’s decision to close factories, retrench workers en masse and cut workers wages whilst giving its CEO R40 million a year in salary and R107 million in interest free loans amply demonstrates the ANC’s impotence and complicity in job losses.

To unite the working class on a programme for nationalisation, we must link the struggle in Clover with the campaign for a creation of a mass workers’ party to mobilise support for the Clover strike, and to link workers active in important struggles in PetroSA, SA Breweries, the University of Pretoria, the University of South Africa (UNISA), and RUA Construction amongst others.

While the parties of the ruling class, including the EFF, are stoking the flames of xenophobia in order to scapegoat their failures and play a game of divide-and-rule, the working class has no political party of its own.

The 2021 elections saw the advent of many small political parties, many of which evolved from sections of the petty bourgeoisie claiming to be alternatives to the ANC, DA (Democratic Alliance) and the stagnant EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters).

Without working class politics grounded in a clear revolutionary socialist programme, many of them failed to convince the working class and broader society. The record low voter turnout shows that many people simply revolted with absenteeism.

The political vacuum on the left is evident in this strike campaign. More than ever we need to build a mass workers party under which the working class can democratically discuss and organise the struggle against capitalist exploitation.

This party can then take forward a revolutionary programme that will end wealth inequality.

Instead of being hoarded by a small minority, the wealth created by workers in sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, mining and retail must be democratically controlled by working class communities.

This wealth can be used to create quality jobs for all, improve healthcare and education, build a world-class affordable public transport system, and to develop all industry and energy production in a sustainable way to reverse the current disastrous consequences of climate change.

Ultimately, nationalisation of big business is a vital transitional demand in arming the working class for a complete socialist transformation of the economy. Only a democratically controlled economy can meet the needs of society instead of being exploited by the wealthy few as we continue to see today.

Super-exploitation, job losses and austerity are the result of the capitalist system but another world is possible. Join us in the fight against capitalism and let us build a socialist future together now!’