Behind Our Strike

Union rejects allegations that its members have indulged in violence and intimidation at the Ngqura Container Terminal, Port Elizabeth

By Mphumzi Maqungo, National Treasurer of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa

We have decided to call this Media Briefing to respond to a number of flimsy accusations that have been made by Transnet management against the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). 

Our members have been on a strike action since April 25, 2014, as a last organizational resort to pressure Transnet management to respond to our genuine demands. The strike is already entering its second month without any form of final settlement or engagements between the two parties—the Transnet management and NUMSA. It has never been our intention to embark on an indefinite strike, but the strike was imposed on us by Transnet for their blatant refusal to negotiate with us.

The decision to embark on a strike was not an easy decision, but a painful decision taken as we are acutely aware that the employer will implement the principle of No Work No Pay.  The employer is now using this principle of No Work No Pay to blackmail workers to return to work. Fortunately, our members remain united in the picketing lines and they are vigorously prepared to forge ahead with the strike until their demands have been met. This buries the false insinuations spread by the employer as the worst form of Nazi-style propaganda by Transnet Bosses, that our members have pleaded with them to return to work, since they will be abandoning the strike.

Our strike in Ngqura Container Terminal should be located and understood within the context of a heavy socio-economic burden imposed onto the workers, since they have a massive responsibility to subsidize and feed the mass army of the unemployed, mainly the working class youth, that is languishing in squalor and ravaged by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in our country’s impoverished Townships and apartheid-created stinking slums.

Already we are confronted with the ugly reality for being the most unequal society in the world, including being the leading country in the world in terms of the highest number of daily violent service delivery protests. All these are clear signs of worker’s anger and their willingness and preparedness to fight for the improvement of their socio-economic conditions and standards of living. Hence, this dreadful reality buries this false script of a good story to tell, that has been spread recently by the politicians.

One painful reality that is not being told is that most of our striking workers are living in shacks and informal settlements, coupled with reliance on the democratic State for survival, since their wages are insufficient to meet their basic needs and demands. Most of these striking worker’s disposable income is liquidated by the cost of transport, because of the persisting legacy of apartheid social engineering, and its settlement patterns which has ensured that Africans in particular and Blacks in general live far away from centers where economic activities are concentrated.

A number of allegations of violence and intimidation have been made against our striking members. Regrettably, not a single shred of evidence exists or shows that our members are responsible for acts of violence or intimidation, including the so-called house bombings of properties and torching of cars belonging to non-striking workers. We view such allegations as engineered by Transnet as part of their strategy to de-legitimize our strike.

If truth be told, since the strike began, our members have demonstrated high levels of discipline, amidst serious provocation from the Security Company that has been hired by Transnet under the guise of managing the so-called violent striking NUMSA members. Our members have adhered to the picketing rules as determined by the parties. Above all, our members fully understand the Code of Conduct of NUMSA, since any worker or member seen acting outside of the law will face serious consequences internally in the union. Therefore, we are pleased with the manner our members have conducted themselves thus far.

We find it very strange that Transnet’s Group Chief Mr. Brian Molefe, instead of responding to the demands of workers which have necessitated the strike by our members, he decides to use our demands to launch a political offensive on NUMSA’s political posture. This clearly shows that a political agenda exists, in collaboration with his political masters or handlers to undermine NUMSA. We want to warn Mr. Molefe, the biggest beneficiary of political patronage and a factory fault of note, to desist from playing politics with us. Instead, he should genuinely respond to our demands and open doors of engagement to resolve the strike.

We note with extreme concern how workers have disunited around genuine demands.  Here we refer to the leadership of the other unions, particularly South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), Solidarity-Union and United Transport and Allied Trade Union (UTATU) who have consistently condemned the strike and provided the employer with scab labor.  We wonder how these unions justify to their members why they are unable to support genuine working class demands.  We remain consistent in our demands for working class unity and solidarity outside of sectarian and factional positions driven by leaders.  We call on the non-striking workers to unite, irrespective of their union t-shirts or logos, with the workers on strike.  This call is in line with our battle cry slogan: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Our demands remain unchanged as stated below:

The newly introduced working hours system should be changed, and the previous working hours system should be re-instated;

Equalization of Transport subsidy; AND

Banning of Labor Brokers; and all workers employed through Labor Brokering should be absorbed or employed permanently by Transnet.

Until these demands are met by Transnet, we shall escalate the strike and shut down its operations. Lastly, we remain committed to finding a lasting solution and an immediate end of the strike. The Transnet management has a responsibility to return to the boardroom to engage faithfully.

Statement issued by Mphumzi Maqungo, NUMSA National Treasurer, June 12 2014, June 12, 2014