On 22 November 2021, thousands of Clover workers went on strike. Their main demands include a just wage, fair working hours, and the divestment of MILCO SA; an Israeli company which merged with Clover in 2019. Since then, workers have been on strike and have said that they will continue to strike until their demands are met.
Clover, a South African dairy company, is yet to meet the demands of its workers after a strike which has lasted for over two months and is likely to continue. Over the course of the strike, workers have carried out pickets and protests, called mass meetings, and attempted to negotiate with Clover management through arbiters and union leaders.
The plight of Clover workers
In 2019, Clover merged with MILCO SA, a consortium of the Israeli Central Bottling Company (CBC). Workers opposed this collaboration in solidarity with the occupied and oppressed people of Palestine but were unsuccessful in their endeavours, and the merger went ahead. In the aftermath of the merger, approximately 2 000 jobs were lost, despite Clover and MILCO SA claiming that they would create jobs. Thus, instead of maintaining their current worker base and proceeding to create more jobs, Clover has done the opposite.
Since the merger, Clover workers have been subjected to wide-scale retrenchments as a result of the closure of certain branches. In South Africa, a country with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, people could not afford to lose jobs which were incredibly scarce to begin with. Now, thousands of individuals who once had secure jobs at Clover have found themselves unemployed as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, decimating the South African economy.
The workers who have managed to remain at Clover in spite of the layoffs are now facing increasingly difficult working conditions. Some are required to work seven days a week without an increase in pay, some have had their salaries reduced, and others still have the threat of retrenchment hanging over their heads.
A way forward
Over the course of the duration of the strike, workers have arranged meetings and carried out strike actions in the hopes of finding a way forward. Several mass meetings have taken place in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, facilitated by workers themselves. In addition, the General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA), the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) are all in support of the strike.
Over and above receiving support from unions, Clover workers are also supported by the SA BDS Coalition and the Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA), organisations which were opposed to the merger and are now in solidarity with the workers and aim to ensure that MILCO SA divests from Clover. These organisations reiterated the fact that Israel is an apartheid state for which there is no room in South Africa. No one would want struggling South African workers to face a plight similar to that of the Palestinians, who are consistently and brutally dehumanised by Israel.
Left-leaning organisations, too, are in support of the Clover strike. These include the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), the Socialist Youth Movement (SYM), and the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP).
Although support from a multitude of organisations is imperative to working toward a way forward, it is ultimately the responsibility of Clover management to reach an agreement with the striking workers.
Clover management and negotiations
Although the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have severely impacted businesses and the South African economy and large, Clover was still able to report a profit of R10.8 billion at the end of 2020; a significant increase from their profit of R7.4 billion at the end of 2019. Thus, Clover became more profitable while workers suffered severe losses.
More times than one, workers attempted to discuss their conditions with Clover management and work toward finding a solution. These attempted negotiations, however, have not proven to be particularly fruitful and have, effectively, panned out to nothing. Members of Clover management have undoubtedly placed profits above the best interests of their workers and this has inevitably resulted in the occurrence of a strike of such a magnitude.
In all likelihood, workers will continue striking even though they have not received their salaries for two entire months. Workers have called for the divestment of MILCO SA from the company and the nationalisation of Clover, which will certainly provide them with better working conditions. Workers also demand an end to austerity measures such as retrenchments and salary cuts; austerity measures which Clover has been inflicting upon its workforce since 2019.
About the author:
Humairaa Mayet is incredibly passionate about issues of social justice and strives to make a difference in the world through as many avenues as possible. She spends her days listening to music, cooking and baking, attending protests, and raising her plants.