CLOVER STRIKE | Build Workers Unity in Struggle to Defeat Clover

Support Workers’ Demand for Nationalisation

As well as the entire dairy and broader agriculture industry dominated by big business

The MWP salutes the combativity, courage and determination of the Clover workers as their strike, enters its third month, against plant closures, retrenchments, salary cuts and degraded working conditions. The destructive effect of these callous acts of class war aggression will not be limited to the over 2,000 retrenched workers and their families thrown onto the scrap heap of unemployment and poverty. It will have a ripple effect on jobs and living standards across the entire supply chain particularly of farm workers, tens of thousands of whom have lost their jobs under the ANC’s neo-liberal “restructuring”, i.e. the handing over to big agri-business of the agricultural industry over the past 26 years under the neo-liberal Growth, Empowerment and Redistribution (Gear) policy imposed on the country in 1996.

The predatory actions of Clover’s new owner, Israeli-based Milco, will cut a swathe of destruction in jobs and living standards across all the towns and cities where Clover has been operating. Milco has treated the Competition Commission’s 2019 conditional approval of the “merger” – no retrenchments for three years, no downward variation in conditions of service, and the creation of 550 jobs – with insolent contempt.

Within a year, in 2020 already, two plants were closed in the Western Cape. Milco plans to shut down four more in Gauteng, Free State and in the North West. In 2021, 1,600 workers were retrenched; a further 822 will be sacked by the end of February this year.

The first of these plant closures, in Lichtenburg in the North West province, the biggest in the country, was cheered on by a capitalist media aiding and abetting Milco’s propaganda about the Lichtenburg municipality’s poor service delivery. Emboldened by this distraction of attention from its rapacious aims, Milco has this past week closed the second biggest Clover plant in the country, Frankfort in the Free State, throwing 80 workers onto the streets. The survivors of this class war are being blackmailed: take a 20% wage cut and inferior conditions of service or face retrenchment.

Milco Uses Competition Commission to Plunder

A predator does not “merge” with its prey in the wild. What the Competition Commission has authorised is not a “merger” of Clover with Milco but a takeover. Clover is one of three companies that have come to dominate the dairy industry after twenty years of its “consolidation” that the ANC government’s neo-liberal policies have facilitated in SA’s capitalist jungle since 1996. With its deep multinational pockets, Milco is in a position to possibly become the dominant player “competing” smaller ones out of business. Further job losses and food price increases will follow. 

That it was possible for the Competition Commission to approve a takeover by a company headed by an Israeli-based company, exposes yet again the abhorrence of the capitalist ANC government’s foreign policy hypocrisy. CBC Israel, which owns factories in countries with oppressive regimes in Turkey, Uzbekistan and Romania, has donated to the Israeli far right group Im Tirtzu which witch hunts Palestinians and Israeli left activists.

The entire saga shows that Ramaphosa’s version of the ANC’s long standing foreign investment drive is really a policy to open the economy to plunder by multinationals which will drive down wages and conditions and send their profits abroad. These vampires’ appetite for profits is not satisfied by flight of profits through the open borders of relaxed exchange controls regulations they are legally permitted. Just 10% of the 2,000 multinationals operating account for the R400 billion in illicit capital flight according to Judge Dennis Davies who was appointed to investigate this looting.

ANC’s Hypocrisy on Israel/Palestine

Despite its claimed identification with the struggle of the Palestinians against their subjugation by the Israeli regime that it denounces as equivalent to apartheid, with which it maintains strong trade relations worth billions annually, effectively condoning the dispossession of Palestinian land and occupation of Palestinian territories. It is also engaged in the exploitation of the Israeli working class in one of the OECD’s most unequal societies. In the same way that Thatcher and Reagan rejected ANC-led anti-apartheid movement calls to cut ties with apartheid SA arguing for “constructive engagement” instead, the ANC government has resisted calls to break diplomatic relations with Israel. The ANC has even failed to implement the cowardly 2017 Nasrec conference resolution merely to downgrade its embassy in Israel it was shamed into adopting.

The ANC government’s policy towards Israel is, however, no foreign policy aberration any worse than that towards the working class in its major trading partners in the imperialist west and east and Africa itself.

The ANC government’s betrayal of the Palestinian people matches that of e.g., the Zimbabwean masses. It was forced by court action to release the Mbeki-appointed Judge Sisi Kampempe Commission’s report that found Mugabe’s 2000 re-election as president was fraudulent, after suppressing it for more than twelve years. Mugabe’s 2008 Chinese arms import shipments would have passed through SA to Zimbabwe but for the solidarity actions of the SA Transport Workers Union’s dockworkers.  The ANC government is now planning xenophobic mass deportation of over a hundred thousand Zimbabweans by the end of 2022. 

Foreign policy is a continuation of domestic policy. Instead of the growth, employment and redistribution, promised by Gear, SA capitalism has ‘achieved’ several recessions, 43% mass unemployment, the highest ever, and a level of redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich that has earned SA the World Bank’s title of the most unequal society on the planet. The betrayals of the oppressed abroad is merely a continuation of the betrayals of the working class in SA itself.

Milco Plans to Grow Profits Not Jobs

Milco/Clover has launched this attack at a time when SA’s economy is undergoing its deepest crisis since apartheid ended – a crisis that has in fact entered its second decade after more than ten years of stagnation. Under the whip of the capitalist class, the ANC’s Ramaphosa administration is determined to make the working class pay even more for the crisis.

The savage cuts in social spending in new Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s budget – continued from Mboweni and his predecessors’ – coincided with a further 1% corporate tax cut to 27%. Billions have been handed to the capitalist class since the ANC came to power when corporate tax was at 52%. The chronic budget deficit the government’s fiscal policy is claimed to address is entirely self-created by a government in power to serve the interests of the capitalist economic dictatorship hidden behind the mask of parliamentary democracy.

Milco’s insolence towards the ANC government is that of the master towards its loyal servants. But if its aggression towards the Clover workers is emboldened by this capitalist government’s craven collaboration with capitalism and imperialism, it is unfortunately also encouraged by the capitulation of the public sector unions’ failure to resist the government’s attacks. The unions capitulated to its arrogant refusal to pay the third leg of the 3-year 2018 collective agreement and accepted the insulting R1,000 2021 offer.

The near-three months the Clover workers have struggled without any practical solidarity from the rest of organised labour, have been three months too long. It will further embolden the capitalist class to further escalate the offensive being waged against the working class as a whole – organised and unorganised, employed and unemployed as shown by the savage social spending cuts in Godongwana’s budget, as well as plans to further reduce the public sector wage bill through wage freezes and even retrenchments.

Working Class Unity Needed to Defeat Milco/Clover

The strike offers an opportunity to mobilise working class communities behind the Clover workers in a consumer boycott of Clover products. Unity between townships and the workplace gave the struggle in the 1980s the power to defeat apartheid. It can defeat Milco/Clover. The working class must be mobilised today to mount a counter-offensive against the bosses and this capitalist government. The Commercial Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (Csaawu) must be commended for showing the way. It has thwarted attempts by their companies to show capitalist solidarity with Clover. Its members have refused to handle Clover products and rejected their bosses attempt to impose additional shifts for Clover’s benefit.

The no-longer-so-new federation Saftu, has yet to resuscitate those traditions it was expected to when it was launched in 2017. Only Csaawu has taken action to support its two fellow affiliates directly affected, the General Industries Workers Union of SA and the (Giwusa and the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu). The National Union of Metal Workers of SA (Numsa) has issued a statement of solidarity but so far there are no indications of concrete solidarity action from Saftu’s biggest affiliate.

Convene Working Class Summit Urgently to Organise United Mass Action

The potentially historic step forward taken by the convening of a Working Class Summit uniting trade unions, working class communities and youth in 2018 must be utilised. The WCS should have been the banner under which the recent War Council was convened.  

Instead, the WCS process has been suspended as if the unity in working class struggle it was established to forge is unrelated to the Clover workers’ struggle. It is not clear what, in concrete terms, beyond verbal expressions of support by the Cosatu leadership, has been achieved by the War Council.

The WCS process was established precisely to forge unity in this type of struggle. The WCS Steering Committee must urgently convene. There is nothing wrong with convening another War Council. In fact, it is imperative. Clover support committees in working class communities should be established. A programme of action to boycott Clover products should be undertaken which could quickly spread throughout the country crippling Clover and forcing it into granting the workers’ demands.

These ad hoc support committees, could assist in bringing to life the long delayed Saftu locals, attracting workers irrespective of trade union federation, youth and communities. They will form the scaffolding for the WCS provincial structures, the building of which is also currently in abeyance, in a living struggle around a concrete programme of action. This can and must be done.

It is an urgent matter. The Clover workers have demonstrated heroic stamina and determination for nearly three months. It is not, however, realistic to expect this to continue indefinitely without the support of the entire working class. That both management and government are still in negotiations with Giwusa and Fawu shows the strike is still having an impact, particularly as a result of the international solidarity and the government’s embarrassment over Palestine.

But they will be watching to see if words of solidarity by other unions and federations are turned into deeds. The treacherous strike-breaking by certain Giwusa leaders should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. They should be driven out of the labour movement. They should take full responsibility for the fact that both Lichtenberg and Frankfort workers did not join the strike. The bosses and the government will be encouraged by these traitors who behave like their paid agents. It is not an accident that the attitude of management has hardened, and the government is putting the unions under pressure to settle.

Ramaphosa rose to the presidency funded by big business to the tune of an estimated R500,000 – R1 billion with the mandate to break the power of the unions with LRA amendments. These are aimed at crippling the right to strike and even to declare strikes illegal under whatever pretext such as ‘damage to the economy’ or violence. The longer the strike continues without significant support in SA, he will, at a certain stage, invoke the powers he now has, given to him by the Nedlac federations led by Cosatu in one of the worst examples of the utter degeneracy of its leadership. Nor can it be excluded that they will collaborate with the bosses to send in agent provocateurs to provide them with the pretext to claim the strike is violent as the media has already done in once incident and argue the draconian utilisation of those provisions in the LRA is necessary to restore public order.

Working Class Summit Must Set a Date to Launch a Mass Workers Party on a Socialist Programme

A victory by the Clover workers would give confidence to the rest of the working class. Should that victory be achieved through the action of a working class united in communities, the workplace and youth, its effect would reverberate onto the political plane.

Whether the ANC’s factional civil war tears it apart by its elective conference in December or not, its prospects of forming a government on its own even as a single entity in the 2024 elections is significantly diminished especially after the watershed November 2021 local government elections. A victory for Clover workers carried on the shoulders of a united working class would provide the best background for the reconvening of the Working Class Summit due in March. This summit must set a date for the launch of a mass workers party on a socialist programme by May Day 2023. A date would provide struggle in all three of the main theatres of struggle – the workplace, working class communities and students and youth, with a single unifying point of reference for their ongoing existing struggles. It will give these struggle the confidence that whatever their outcome at their own level, the whole working class will prepare for a showdown on the political plane in 2024.

The SA economy is in an even worse condition today than the disastrous one with which it entered the pandemic. To “solve” the crisis, the ANC government and the bosses are poised for an even more brutal intensification of the class offensive against the organised workers, to set the scene for a wider assault on the working class as a whole. The government and the bosses are using the Clover strike as a testing ground. The public sector workers, whose wage negotiations are about to begin, will provide the next front in the class war. Workers unity in both battles would place victory in our grasp and provide the momentum for the creation of a mass workers part on a socialist programme.

A challenge on the political plane would prepare the ground for the entry of the genuine voice of the working class into parliament and its use as platform to popularise the need for the overthrow of capitalism, the dismantling of all its rotten institutions, and the establishment of a workers democracy to commence the socialist transformation of society.