The strike in the Plastic Convertors’ Industry has entered its 9th week. This is one of the most violent strikes ever to take place in South Africa:
• one employee was murdered;
• many non-striking employees were assaulted at their place of work;
• one employee received 203 stitches to her head after being hit with a piece of wood with nails in it;
• one employee is still on life-support;
• three CEO’s were extremely seriously assaulted (the fact that they did not succumb to their injuries is a miracle);
• one CEO died as a direct result of the attack on his factory;
• hundreds of non-striking workers were attacked at their residences, houses were burnt down and property damaged;
• one factory was burnt to the ground;
• 17 factories were either petrol bombed, vandalised or looted;
• 12 trucks (interlinks) were set alight and completely destroyed;
• hundreds of personal motor vehicles were either set alight or severely damaged; and
• the property of companies not in any way linked to this strike were not spared.
Thus far the striking workers have gained nothing out of the strike, and they probably won’t either. This is so because constructive engagement under these circumstances is impossible. It is also the case because the attitude of employers will automatically harden under these circumstances. In any event, employers have already made their best offer; this Industry cannot afford further concessions.
It does not matter where your loyalties lie in this strike: it is utterly counter-productive.
This is not necessarily a turning point in industrial action in South Africa. It simply shows how trade unions, fighting for relevance, will behave in future. Trade unions with the ability to serve their members’ interest, executed within the realities of sustainable business, will continue to function within the legal framework. They will continue to attract their members from the ranks of better skilled and more responsible workers.
Trade unions who rely on the membership of employees who, due to their unwillingness to be upskilled, elect to rely on negotiations to improve their circumstances, will resort more and more to this kind of behavior in order to retain relevance. These trade unions are competing for membership and external support from the ranks of thugs, where the only negotiating tool is to strike and demonstrate, and where that fails, escalate it to intimidation through violence, where nothing, not even lives, are spared.
The right of the responsible individual worker is not at all respected within the ranks of thug trade union leaders, their thug members and thug supporters. It is on record that, during the Plastics strike, NUMSA leaders called on their members to stop the ‘rats’, a reference to workers who opt to work and care for their families, instead of striking and destroying.
Employers already find themselves, in almost all respects, at the forefront of the assault by counter-productive labour – and transformation policies. As resources increasingly come under pressure, with heightened desperation, the pressure on employers will increase in years to come. Apart from preparation in many areas, employers will have to mentally prepare for a prolonged struggle.
“We have not journeyed all this way because we are made of sugar candy.”
Privileged and challenged to be South African.
We are all in this together.