WSF (1999): “Strikewave! South African Labour Flexes its Muscles”

WSF (1999): “Strikewave! South African Labour Flexes its Muscles”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here

1998 was a record-breaking year for strike activity in South Africa, and this year looks set to be even more active on the militant labour front.More than 3-million persondays – the highest figure since the 1994 elections – were lost to capitalist exploitation last year as a wave of industrial unrest swept the country. The year was characterised by long, intense and often violent strikes, despite calls by COSATU to settle the issues at stake as soon as possible so as not to scare off foreign investment. But as can be seen with the looming shutdown of a factory in Mooi River, with the loss of 1 000 jobs, most foreign investors are only here to screw the workers and make piles of money for themselves. They contribute virtually nothing to the people. In 1994, the number of mandays lost to strikes was 2,5-million (including two important wildcat strikes in the road transport and health sectors, which were condemned by government, business and labour leaders),

in 1995 it was 1,6-million, in 1996 it was 1,7-million and in 1997, it was only 0,6-million. A report compiled by government and the International Labour Organisation showed that although most of the strikes last year were for purely bread-and-butter reasons, with demands for inflation-beating pay rises, there was a significant element of political opposition to the ANC’s anti-worker GEAR economic policy. Tony Kobe, negotiator for NUMSA, pointed to the the belief that little had changed on the shop-floor since 1994. “The inequalities are still there,” he said. “In previous years you could say there was a call, which was not made public, for patience. People sat back and waited to see if things would change. “But now they are prepared to heed any call to strike.”


The basic reason that we, the workers, resort to strike action is that cutting the bloodsucking bosses off from their source of profits – our sweat – is the best way in which the oppressed can fight back. Striking is the most basic working class right. Under our new constitution, this right is guaranteed, so because the bosses can’t openly deny the right to strike, they try to make it legally very difficult through the endless hot air sessions of workplace forums, the CCMA and the Labour Court. But this doesn’t always work. Already this year, several hundred NUMSA members have embarked on a wildcat strike in defiance of their union. Are wildcats a result of ill-discipline? NO! They result when the unions fail to serve their workers’ best interests.


Last year, 14 people died during strike action, and non-strikers and members of the public were assaulted. Obviously, the WSF cannot support the murder of non-strikers. But workers who cross picket lines as scab labour must expect to face the wrath of the strikers. And the same goes for shoppers who try to enter shops where the employees are on strike. A picket line is a frontline in the class war. Cross it and betray the working class at your peril! Strikes have the potential to win workers control.