Reading the Western Cape farm workers’ strike as part of a series of developing intergroup interactions
This presentation is an attempt to think through intergroup interaction and social change in the Hex Valley – the grape farming region that was the centre of the Western Cape farm workers’ strike – using the work of Drury and Reicher (2000). They argue that social identity is a model of one’s location in a set of social relations as well as the actions that are proper and possible given that location. However, rather than assuming that people in crowd events only act in ways that are determined by their social identity, Drury and Reicher ask how one’s model of social relations can become modified by acting in terms of that model. This is possible because crowd events are unfolding, dynamic intergroup interactions in which one group’s actions are interpreted by the other in sometimes unanticipated ways and form the context for its response. The relationship between identity, intention and consequence is therefore not a straightforward one. Of crucial importance in the development of the intergroup relationship, then, are groups’ constructions of one another’s actions, as these render certain responses legitimate and justifiable (Stott, Drury & Reicher, 2013). This presentation is an attempt to apply these ideas to events in the Hex Valley. In this view, the strike was but one moment in a longer history of developing intergroup interactions. Beginning rather arbitrarily with the strike itself, striking workers levelled a challenge at farmers which farmers were able to evade because of their construction of themselves as blameless, the strike as politically motivated and its instigators as evil-intentioned. This non-engagement led to greater frustration on the part of workers, leading to further violence and eventually to the government’s intervention with the R105 minimum wage. In response, farmers have retrenched more workers and reduced hours – which further angers workers who interpret this as a racist ‘punishment’ of strikers rather than as economic necessity. Thus, it is only possible to understand the development of events and changes in the social fabric by understanding groups’ (often incompatible) interpretations of one other’s actions. This analysis implies that history is contingent rather than predestined and that while history in this area is heading in a particular direction, something is needed to break the cycle of morally justified protests leading to further misery and poverty.