As of November 22, 5,000 workers from several Clover plants and distribution centers were involved in a powerful strike that could have been just another strike for economic reasons, but it goes beyond that.
These particular strikes have many unique characteristics, such as: it is a strike by a denationalized company, acquired by a company that bottles Coca-Cola in the Israeli-occupied territories; it is against the reduction of rights that put workers in slave-like conditions; the union leaders have moved from the wage struggle to the political struggle for the nationalization of the company under workers’ control; the Ramaphosa government – an ANC-COSATO-Communist Party coalition – is against the nationalization; a huge campaign of solidarity is underway.
Let’s dig into this story in more detail.
Clover: origin and current owners
Clover was founded in South Africa in 1898, exports to 10 countries and has subsidiaries in 3 other countries. In 2019, within the denationalization process of the South African economy, it was sold to the Israeli company CBC (Central Bottling Company).
CBC, bottler of Coca-Cola, has among its largest shareholders the brothers David and Drorit Wertheim. According to Forbes magazine, they are among the world’s largest billionaires. David is among the thousand richest people in the world, while his sister Drorit is among the two thousand richest. Besides the Central Bottling Company, they are majority shareholders of the Mizrachi Bank, the third largest Israeli bank in occupied Palestine.
CBC produces Coca-Cola in the occupied Palestinian territories
The Coca-Cola bottling company CBC may be one of the largest in the world, but that does not matter much when CBC runs a factory in the illegal settlement of Atarot – that is, production occurs on Palestinian land, occupied under violence, murder, rape, expulsion, and destruction of villages. In addition to producing Coca-Cola on land taken from the Palestinians, CBC has a subsidiary, the Tabor Winery, which also uses land occupied in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory.
At the time the sale and denationalization of Clover took place in 2019, the Giwusa (General Industries Workers Union of South Africa) union filed a representation with the Competition Tribunal (an independent defense tribunal established in 1998 that also deals with economic competition), objecting to the denationalization of the company and more specifically the fact that CBC is operating within the occupied Palestinian territories, which constitutes Apartheid against the Palestinian people.
“Unfortunately, [the Court] rejected the request and stated that it was a matter outside its jurisdiction. “We condemn the court’s blatant indifference on a moral issue,” said the Palestinian Solidarity Alliance.
“International economic measures were imperative to end Apartheid in South Africa. If our legislators acted with moral firmness, such measures would be instrumental in ending Apartheid in Palestine as well,” it added.
Strike against semi-slavery
When Clover was sold, the buyers took out a loan of $6.61 million. Two years later, to pay off this debt, the company sought to reduce spending on wages and saved $18.53 million. To do so, CBC tried to impose huge reductions in rights, among them wage increases below inflation, increases in the workday by 2 hours, six days of the work week, reduction in the number of helpers in the delivery trucks, from two to only one, and the dismissal of 350 workers.
CBC’s strategy of importing dairy products and transforming production sites into warehouses
The deindustrialization process in South Africa has been deepening for years. The most emblematic case in the food area is the production of chicken and corn, which are in total decline with the imports facilitated by neoliberal policies and, even more, with the free trade agreements, especially the BRICS.
For the unions representing Clover workers, there are serious indications that the company intends to close the factories and import dairy products produced in the occupied Palestinian areas.
Israeli style repression
When in the second week of the strike the Zionist owners of Clover realized that they were losing control of the situation, they did what they do best: they imposed their will with weapons and repression.
A large contingent of private security guards was deployed at the entrance to Clover’s headquarters in Constantia Kloof, Roodepoort, a suburb of Johannesburg, on Thursday, December 2. Dressed in riot gear, the armed guards positioned themselves to stop the protesting employees. Two black armored vehicles were parked near each other, one at the entrance and the other a meter away, overlooking the local.
“The weapons are for protection in case something goes wrong, but we have no intention of using them,” said a security officer who was not wearing a uniform and was holding a rifle.
The day began with intimidation, but as buses began to arrive, with workers wearing the red shirts of the two unions that represent them, with men and women dancing and singing songs of struggle, as is the South African tradition, the Zionists backed down.
Solidarity and BDS: public act
No struggle can be victorious if we fight alone. We need allies. Clover workers are learning this valuable lesson very quickly. On January 8, hundreds of workers gathered in Johannesburg and Cape Town for an act of solidarity with Clover workers.
Among those present were GIWUSA (General Industries Workers Union of South Africa) and FAWU (Food and Allied Workers Union) and a very special ally, the Palestine Solidarity Alliance and BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). In addition to other organizations such as WASP, Media Review Network, One Voice Of All Hawkers Association, etc.
Nationalization under workers’ control
The general secretary of Giwusa (General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa), John Appolis, says that CBC is “using the South African market only to extract quick, short-term profits and import its own products into South Africa. The current inter-African Free Trade Agreements and the building of infrastructure for movement of goods on the continent, turn South Africa into an important trading post for CBC and it would no longer be worthwhile – economically speaking – to produce locally.
According to Giwusa president Mametlwe Sebei, “since the sale and denationalization of Clover in 2019, production capacity is being destroyed to secure the South African dairy market for imported products from Israel.”
In Clover’s denationalization agreement signed with South African state regulators, there would be a three-year moratorium, ending in October 2022, where there could be no mass layoffs, instead a project to generate new jobs would be developed. Even with this imposition, more than 800 workers were forced to accept the voluntary dismissal pacts.
But Sebei states that “there was nothing voluntary about it. Because the changes in the employment conditions included moving the workplaces hundreds of kilometers from their homes in the interior regions to the coastal cities, where they would not be able to live on the wages they earn,” and concludes: “The company is closing its inland branches and moving to coastal areas, like Durban, a megacity. Inland workers live on communally owned tribal land, which costs them no rent. In Durban, even a shack cannot be rented for less than R$1000 (US $61), which they cannot afford. So these workers were forced to accept the so-called VSPs”.
The workers through the two unions that represent them have concluded that the government must nationalize the giant Clover to prevent it from potentially becoming a distribution agency for dairy products imported from Israel. But, according to the union leaders, nationalization is not enough. The company needs to be nationalized and democratically controlled by its workers.
Sebei shows the many cases of looting of state-owned companies and proposes that the “control and management of the company after its nationalization should be assigned to workers who are prepared to run it like a cooperative, and not left in the hands of government bureaucrats.”
CNA and PC on the other side
Upon learning that the CBC lives in occupied Palestinian territories and promotes Israeli Apartheid in Palestine, any minimally informed person would expect that Cyril Ramaphosa, who stood by Nelson Mandela in the struggle against South African Apartheid, would be unconditionally on the side of South African workers and against the Zionists. Looking at the resume of the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, a former union leader of the textile workers, one would also expect support.
But the workers, day by day, are discovering the real role of the ANC government. In a letter asking for support and solidarity, the strikers state: “The ANC government welcomed the takeover of Clover by Milco SA and turned a blind eye to the violation of international law by the CBC (Central Bottling Company ) with its operation in the occupied Palestinian territories. This does not surprise us, as the ANC government has been the active agent for both domestic and international capital. With its neoliberal policies, the ANC government has put the interests of capital at the center of the country’s development. Instead of development and advancement of the lives of the masses, we have seen and experienced the strengthening of the positions and wealth of the old apartheid ruling class. Cheap black labor is still the basis of South African capitalism and the ANC government is the facilitator of the supply of cheap black labor.“
The coalition that has controlled South Africa for years, consisting of the ANC, Cosatu and the Communist Party, as a government has made every effort not to intervene in conflict. But this is not just any conflict as it is between Zionist foreigners, advocates of Apartheid against the Palestinians and who are attacking South African workers.
Since the strike began, the strikers have sought contacts with the ANC-COSATU-Communist Party government and have been unsuccessful. On January 14, almost two months after the strike began, Giwusa’s provincial secretary in the Western Cape, Abeedah Adams, said that they are trying to contact the Minister of Trade and Industry, but without success. “The EP [Ebrahim Patel] has been missing since December and has been avoiding meeting with us. Our demands are clear that we want Clover to be nationalized under the control of the workers and the community. We call for the unconditional reinstatement of all fired workers. We do not want to work under austerity measures of a 20% wage cut. Workers are already earning slave wages. We also know that Milco/CBC has been supporting the Israel Defense Force.”
FULL SOLIDARITY TO THE STRUGGLE OF CLOVER WORKERS
The alliance between the unions GIWUSA, FAWU, the labor union SAFTU and the Palestinian struggle organizations BDS and Palestine Solidarity Alliance have already organized two important acts in Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as a demonstration in front of the Israeli Embassy.
For January 25, these organizations will hold activities in solidarity with South African workers and also in support of the Palestinian struggle against the occupation of their territory, especially at this time by the Coca-Cola bottler in Israel, and owner of Clover.
Let’s participate, let’s support.
By César Neto