What is the International Farm Workers Forum about?On September 6, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
The International Farm Workers Forum will be a crucial gathering that recognises that farm workers across the world face very similar challenges and battles for their livelihoods. We will be able to build international farm workers solidarity while also learning from each others struggles to share ideas, share experiences and indeed, build a powerful, united global farm worker voice. The forum I think is very well set here in South Africa. Although the Apartheid regime is gone, little has changed on the farms from those times. I think it is very useful to have that context be a reminder of what we need to do around improving working conditions and the wider discussions around farm workers access to land and housing. Collectivism is a very key important tool in the working class. There are quite a number of companies that are of a transinternational nature in the sense of, you may find them here you may also find them in other parts of the world. This solidarity helps to curb discrimination amongst transnational companies that are found here, and also abroad. They play us off against each other saying if you ask for too much here we’re going to get cheaper products from this other country. We faced that in the tomato fight with Campbell Soup Company. They threatened us with buying cheaper tomatoes from Mexico. So what we did is, we went to Mexico and organised the collaboration with the Mexican Unions and demanded that Campbell Soup pay them more. In seven short years we have increased the wages by almost 100% with the workers in these agreements. And we ended child labour and got them out of the fields and into the schools. We compelled the corporations, not the farmers, who are our employers to pay for these costs. And our motto always was: Look, we don’t want charity we thank you for your good heart But we want a fair day’s pay for a fair day of work. And we’ll pay for our own needs. Trade Unions in the tea sector have traditionally been led by men. And the men who have led these unions they’re not really workers themselves. On the other hand, the work force is 70% women and there are very few of them in the Union leadership. Our attempt is to build new unions, where more and more women can take up leadership positions. Maybe consumers don’t realise it but things like all the packed salads, all of these pre-packed vegetables those are often prepared by women in pack houses around the world. And the statistics I think are quite clear that women now make up about 40% of the agricultural workforce. And they face many many issues. The pay gap is huge. And I think very topical today is the amount of sexual harassment that women in agriculture are subject to. We as women in the forum have sent a very clear message that equality has to be central to our thinking. We’re trying to get the transnational companies to react and to build pressure on the companies. And one of the ways is to organise along the supply chain and put pressure on the company to respect human rights of workers who are especially down the supply chain on the farms. And they asked a question: Where is our salvation? Then the union said: The salvation lies in your hands when you organise together. You are able to fight together. And you are able to win together.