It is urgent to respond to the article in the Mail & Guardian June 20-26 2014, entitled’ Barbs fly in the battle of the unions’, which dealt with the Numsa Transnet strike.
We have long said that the M&G is indeed the voice of Anglo American. Their article confirms it once again. What is a strike against harsh working conditions on the ports, is put under the banner of ‘Platinum strike’. This misrepresentation is no accident. This anti-worker article draws comparisons with the bourgeois lie that the strikes in the mining sector and in the current Platinum strike, as if this strike is about inter-union rivalry and not a fight of workers against exploitative conditions at the workplace. The article talks about a war between Satawu and Numsa. Again this is no idle mistake.
It is a common tactic of imperialism and US imperialism in particular to deliberately foster worker on worker violence to divert the masses from fighting them. In the Middle East, Muslim is put against Jew, in Iraq chaos is deliberately sown among the masses under the guise of a Sunni-Shia ethnic conflict, on the mines the fight is portrayed by the capitalist media as NUM against AMCU and in the wake of this, both NUM and AMCU members were mysteriously killed. The City Press even let slip of a hitlist, namely of an outside force deliberately fanning the flames of worker-on-worker violence.
Thus what the M&G article, wittingly/unwittingly does, is prepare the ground for killings of both Satawu and Numsa members, in a desperate attempt by imperialism to divert the growing resistance by the working class against the state. This is why the M&G article must be immediately and clearly condemned and rebutted.
What is so strange is that they did not even bother to interview the workers. If they had done that, the real issues of the strike would have emerged. Clearly, the M&G was not interested in the truth but wanted to create mischief between Satawu and Numsa members and their aim appears to be to discredit whoever stands up against the system.
The Spark spoke to the striking workers and this is what we uncovered:
The issue of casualization and labour broking on the docks is an international issue that transport unions have been fighting for many years. We think of the famous Liverpool dockworkers who went on strike for a number of months against casualization before eventually their strike was defeated.
Workers on the docks work under harsh conditions. These workers’ job is to drive the vehicles that remove the containers from ships, drive them to the yard where they are offloaded. Then they return to the docks for the next container. When riding the container from the ship, workers sit on top of the container. The suspension of these vehicles are so poorly designed that the vehicle shakes considerably on the trip from ship to yard.
The old system was such that 3 vehicles has 4 workers. For the first hour of work, one worker rests, then relieves the first worker; then after second hour, a second worker is relieved, then after the 3rd hour the third worker is relieved and so the cycle continues. In other words, the maximum period that any worker can work without a break is 3 hours. Management has unilaterally (or with the agreement of Satawu leaders, we do not know), moved to 5 vehicles with 6 workers. Thus the maximum that workers work without a break has been raised from 3 hours to 5. This is the first issue that Numsa members are striking about- they are concerned about the unilateral increase in the intensity of work and the harmful effect on their health.
Secondly, while the bosses ensure that workers are picked up from home and dropped off afterwards, this is not a favour to the workers, as the bosses benefit from reduced interruptions that would have occurred due to a poor public transport system. Workers discovered that workers at the old PE harbour have R100 deducted from their wages per month for the transport while workers in the Nqqura harbour have R470 deducted per month. This is the second issue that workers have, namely that this discrimination be ended.
Thirdly, workers have, in line with Cosatu campaign decisions, demanded an end to labour broking. It was only after workers went on strike that Transnet (we don’t know if it is only for Ngqura harbour or more generally) announced that they were taking measures to end labour broking. Some of the workers who went on strike, were working for labour brokers. What Transnet did was to employ other workers from outside on a permanent basis. This means that in effect, the striking workers, who were working for labour brokers, have been dismissed. Now workers have discovered that Transnet have not ended labour broking but have in effect blacklisted workers on strike from being employed- Transnet have secured the services of labour broker Thembakunye, to employ new workers- they have the brief to only employ workers who have never worked for Transnet before. This is not banning of labour brokers but banning of the militant striking workers.
Workers have heard, over a local radio station, that the shift issue has been resolved, that all workers will now have only R100 per month deducted for transport and that labour broking has been ended. All they are waiting for now is that Transnet produce a document to that effect. This is where the matter has now stuck. Transnet has not done that, and this is the only matter that keeps the workers out on strike and which prevents them from returning to work.
Why does the M&G portray these Numsa workers as ‘an early preparation for the violent overthrow of the government in 2019’, when they know that the workers have only focussed on fighting exploitative conditions at their workplace? It is clear that the M&G has an agenda to discredit both militant workers in general and Numsa in particular.
Why did Satawu and the other unions not respond to the workers’ legitimate demands? Is it because Satawu leaders are in alliance with the Transnet bosses (the ANC govt) that they did not want to upset the drive for an ANC election victory, that they deliberately ignored the plight of their own members? We think so. Was it not a logical consequence of the failure of Satawu to defend its own members, that they sought out another home to take up their demands? We think so.
This is not a clash between unions but a political break of workers from an alliance that has shown and that shows every day, that there is nothing for workers within it. Numsa is already over-stretched and would not have actively sought out port workers to deliberately split Satawu. If they had such a campaign then thousands more would have broken from Satawu. Numsa accepting the port workers, who were in any case breaking from Satawu, has at least kept militant workers within Cosatu. This is a step forward rather than to have allowed a weakening of Cosatu as a federation.
If it is true that Transnet has now taken steps to abolish labour brokers, this is a victory for the working class as would be the equalization of transport deductions and a reversal of the anti-worker shift scheme.
Workers in the ANC and in Cosatu need to ask yourselves the question about the ANC election manifesto: has the ANC really taken steps to limit the exploitative conditions of labour brokers? Workers should be challenging the Satawu, Cosatu and ANC leaders about conditions of labour brokers at the Ngqura port and indeed all the ports. Transnet is a state entity, surely the ANC can abolish labour brokers there overnight. If it does not do so, what does that say about the class character of the ANC? Surely the striking Numsa port workers are closer allies to us than the labour broker leaders of the ANC? Surely we should be intensifying the discussion for a special Congress in Satawu and in Cosatu, to decisively break from the ANC and SACP and yes, why not, be discussing the basis for a new revolutionary working class party that can lead the way to end this system of wage slavery.