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Nature’s Garden security shoots at striking workers

On Wednesday, 9 September, WASP received reports from workers that the private armed security employed by Nature’s Garden, without any provocation, chose to raise their guns and fire indiscriminately at nearly 100 picketing workers. Ten workers required medical attention for the wounds inflicted by rubber bullets and another type of ammunition that remains unidentified. 300 workers, who are members of GIWUSA, have been on a protected strike action since 9 August. 

Workers have complained of ongoing harassment by the police and Piquant Security ever since the strike commenced. In another example of this, workers explained that on Tuesday a worker walking towards the picketing area was also randomly shot at by security. On Wednesday two workers were also arrested on alleged charges of violence. Both of these workers were supposed to testify at the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for another unfair dismissal matter currently in arbitration. In addition to the arrests, the police and security have been circling the pickets, intimidating workers with large armoured vehicles and carrying what looks like semi-automatic weapons, as well as chasing the picketers away from their designated picketing area with dogs. Striking workers have also faced verbal harassment and racism, reporting to us that a white security guard referred to them as “monkeys”. 

Left: Piquant Security’s Facebook post proudly documenting their assault on striking Nature’s Garden workers
Right: wounded striking worker

Furthermore, the wounded workers described being sent from pillar to post by the police before being able to get the help they needed and to open a criminal case, after which they received no case number. No arrests have been made and workers have to face the same trigger-happy security every day on the picket line. This is in stark contrast to the immediate arrests of the two workers as soon as the company opened a case. The actions of both police and private security serve as a clear example that these entities do not primarily exist to protect lives, but are employed by capitalists and the bourgeois state in order to protect private property (capital) first and foremost. 

These attacks come after attempts by Nature’s Garden to interdict and silence WASP and SAFTU for our calls for solidarity, and GIWUSA for predicting that the bosses would employ Marikana tactics. It is clear the bosses are becoming more impatient and that they are willing to rely on this kind of violence to protect their profits. Nature’s Garden, which has an estimated revenue of R800 million in 2020 ($55 million) and supplies the biggest chain supermarkets and fast food companies in South Africa with frozen vegetables and potatoes, is using every tool in the book to break the strike and avoid negotiation with their employees. 

While the bosses go to extreme lengths to protect their “reputation” and claim it is defamatory to call them “callous” or “heartless”, their hired help at Piquant Security proudly display their “counter strike” services on their Facebook page, including their vast array of militarized vehicles, use of dogs, ‘military trained’ mercenaries, and multiple photos of them brandishing semi automatic weapons. In the field they are even worse, putting those guns and dogs to use against peaceful picketing workers while shouting racist slurs. If this is not the type of reputation Nature’s Garden’s bosses want, then it is up to them to immediately disassociate with a company employing these tactics, instead of hiding behind their violent methods to avoid addressing workers’ legitimate grievances .

In spite of receiving no pay for a month and the extreme intimidation from the hired militia and SAPS, the brave striking workers continue to hold the line, determined to fight for better working conditions. The strike is led by many militant women workers, some of whom are paid as little as R4000 ($240) a month. We salute these workers for standing strong against the heartless bosses; they are an inspiration to the entire working class movement. 

We appeal to working class communities, civil society and trade unions to support workers with:

  • Food
  • Transport
  • Sanitation
  • Support in terms of bail money for the arrested workers

Please contact Tino from GIWUSA on 064 988 2681 for more info on how you can assist.

WASP will continue to campaign in various ways for the continuation and escalation of the boycott against Nature’s Garden products. We call on all working class organisations, especially trade unionists, to protest attempts by Nature’s Garden to break the strike through brutal force, as well as expose their refusal to negotiate with the union in good faith. In addition to spreading the call for the boycott, we urge everyone to: 

Warning stickers on Nature’s Garden products
  1. Intensify the boycott by continuing to not buy these products and letting others know not to buy them. Many activists have placed stickers on these products to indicate to shoppers that there is an ongoing boycott. Nature’s Garden products include Nature’s Garden, Greens, Golden Harvest, Pick n Pay, Pick n Pay No Name, Makro M Brand and Spar; and in the fast food and restaurant trade, Nature’s Garden supplies KFC, Spur, Captain DoRegos, Nando’s, King Pie, Bidfood and Barcelos.
  2. Post negative reviews on Nature’s Garden Facebook page explaining the callous treatment of workers:
  3. Post negative reviews on Piquant Security’s FB page exposing their Marikana like tactics towards strike breaking:
  4. Send letters of protest to Nature’s Garden CEO:
  5. Call Nature’s Garden on (+27) 011 864 5000 and complain that we have received reports that they’re intimidating workers on strike and spending money on frivolous lawsuits and armed mercenaries when they could be meeting workers at the negotiation table.
  6. Join the picketing workers in solidarity at 24 Beryllium Street, Alberton. 

#HeartlessBosses #BoycottNaturesGarden

For more information on the strike and legal battles, check out WASP’s previous statements:

BOYCOTT Nature’s Garden

WASP Supports Boycott of company’s Products in Solidarity with Striking Workers

On Wednesday, 12 August more than 300 members of the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) employed at frozen vegetables manufacturer Nature’s Garden in Alberton embarked on strike action to demand a living wage.

Despite the fact that the company has been reaping the rewards of increased food prices and demand during the lockdown period, it has made the conscious decision to ignore the issues and demands of the workers on whose shoulders their profits are made. This wealth is going to waste, to a few individuals who hoard it in banks for future investment, instead of improving the lives of its producers. In addition, Nature’s Garden has embarked on a ruthless campaign of retrenchments, throwing workers into the ever-growing pool of the unemployed and hungry with no lifeline. While workers have been striking peacefully, the company bosses employed their own private armed militia as well as calling on the police to intimidate and harass the picketers. 

Workers demand the following:

  • 18% wage increase
  • R10 000 minimum wage for all employees
  • Immediate insourcing of all labour broker workers 
  • 15% increase in day shift allowance
  • 25% increase in night shift allowance
  • 4 weeks severance pay for each year of service for retrenched workers (including those outsourced to Phakisa)
  • Retrenched workers be given first priority upon new vacancies opening up

WASP is calling for all trade unions and trade union federations to support and amplify the call for a boycott of Nature’s Garden products. Furthermore we call for lunchtime pickets at workplaces, and for members of the public to take pictures of themselves in solidarity with banners in solidarity with the campaign and post them on Facebook and Twitter under the hashtag #BoycottNaturesGarden .

A solidarity action like this, in addition to the militant strike action, will hit the heartless bosses where it hurts – their pockets – and force them to the negotiation table. We also call on supporters to leave 1 star reviews on Google Reviews as well a comments on their Facebook page exposing Nature’s Garden for their callous treatment of workers and encouraging all to #BoycottNaturesGarden. The reality faced by these workers is not unique to them. We can expect many more workers to face the same or worse conditions due to the coronavirus crisis on top of an economic recession. Now is the time to stand in solidarity and ensure the working class fights back against the ruling class’s opportunistic  attacks. Nature’s Garden workers must prepare to occupy the factory if bosses refuse to come to the negotiation table. Under democratic workers control, workplaces will be transformed to give workers dignity. The food products manufactured could be utilized to feed the starving and the poor, instead of fueling the profits of the elite. The bosses will do everything they can to refuse the demands. The fight must continue

Aluta continua!

The following is the original statement from GIWUSA:

Over 300 GIWUSA members have embarked on a protected strike action at Natures Garden. The food company which was in operation throughout the lockdown period now wants to shift the whole burden of the pandemic on to the shoulders of the workers. This is indicative of a disdainful and arrogant attitude towards workers, that is harbored by Natures Garden’s heartless bosses. Despite the company’s soaring profits as result of the sharp rise in food prices as well as the increase in demand arising from the pandemic, the management continues to stubbornly persist with unreasonable refusal to address the workers issues and demands. GIWUSA is therefore calling for members of the public to boycott all Natures’ Garden’s products, this is a plea for solidarity and is the only language that can understood by Natures’ Garden’s management.

Despite the deepening inflation which has ravaged workers’ wages, widespread starvation and entrenchment of poverty Natures’ Garden’s bosses continue to insist of a zero % wage increase for years to come. GIWUSA will not allow this to happen. In response GIWUSA has served two strike notices to the company. The first strike notice concerns with GIWUSA’s demands for wage increases. We demand 18% wage increases across the board, with a minimum wage of R10 000 for all employees and we demand all labour broker workers under Phakisa to be made permanent with immediate effect and to enjoy the same conditions of work and as permanent employees. We demand 15% increase in the day shift allowance as well as 25% increase for night shift allowance. We further demand a service allowance R100 for each year worked and for it to be adjusted 8% annually.

The second strike notice relates to Natures’ Garden’s rampant and vicious retrenchment of workers. This is becoming a trend as this year alone the greedy company has already carried out sinister retrenchments affecting a quarter of its employees at its Alrode plant. Instead of manufacturing food for the starving population, Natures’ Garden is converting workers into paupers. Even when it continues to wreck havoc and devastation on workers livelihoods, Natures Garden continues to give workers crumbs as retrenchment packages as they ruthlessly discard workers who have spent a great part of their lives toiling and sweating for the company.

We will not allow this atrocity to take place. We are demanding 4 weeks’ severance pay for each and every completed year of service and part thereof. We demand all the deemed employees, currently under Phakisa to form part of those affected by the retrenchment so that they may also be given severance pay. We demand that the period of employment prior to being ‘deemed’, be factored in when counting the years of service as well as any period in respect of fixed term contract. We further demand all the retrenched workers to be given first preference in the event of vacancies arising in the next 4 years after retrenchments.

As workers embark peacefully on a protected strike and picket, management has employed the services of a heavily armed militia that is busy intimidating and harassing the picketers. We therefore send a third notice to Natures’ Garden’s bosses, that their Marikana fetish will not materialize. This flagrant violation of binding picketing rules by the company will not be tolerated and invite the consequence of the law. The strike and picketing continues at Natures’ Garden plant located at number 24 Beryllium Street, in Alrode/ Alberton.