Howick comes to a halt as striking Dunlop marchers blocks?main road

2011-08-11 00:00

RESIDENTS of Howick yesterday recalled one of South Africa’s longest and bloodiest strikes, the BTR Sarmcol action of 1985, when the tranquil midlands town ground to a halt for two hours yesterday as hundreds of Dunlop workers on a work stoppage blocked the town’s main road during a march to present a memorandum to their employers.

Between 10 am and noon yesterday Main Street, which is used by motorists to enter and to exit the town, was blocked on the Umgeni River bridge as members of the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) marched to the Dunlop plant across the bridge.

Vehicles formed long queues and drivers of minibus taxis were forced to drop their passengers to walk about three kilometres into town. Among them were pregnant women and mothers carrying their children on their backs, on their way to a local hospital.

The situation became tense at about 11.30 am when the gridlocked queue stretched more than a kilometre down the road.

Police officials addressed the leaders of the march and gave them 15 minute to disperse. After intensive negotiations the marchers agreed to open one lane for traffic to be able to move in and out of the town.

The Numsa members’ protected strike at Dunlop started on July 26, after the workers and the employers became deadlocked during annual wage negotiations.

Workers are demanding a 10% pay increase; the company’s offer stands at five percent.

As the march progressed to the Dunlop plant a frightened woman who tried to drive past the march was rescued by the police after marchers had surrounded her car and started shouting at her.

Howick police spokesperson Captain Lolly Moodley confirmed that the police gave the marchers 15 minutes to disperse after they had closed the bridge for two hours.

“Although their march was legal as they had obtained permission from the municipality, they were wrong to disrupt traffic and cause disorder; hence we gave them an ultimatum to disperse,” Moodley said.

In a memorandum that Numsa’s senior shop steward, Zibuse Madlala, handed to a Dunlop management representative at the company’s gate, the workers demanded, among other things, to be paid 20% night shift allowance and four-week bonuses.

They also demanded that the company do away with labour brokers, permanently employ the current temporary staff and promote workers in line with the Employment Equity Act Section 20.

THE last big strike at the Dunlop factory, described by historians as the longest and one of the bloodiest labour battles in South Africa, was in 1985 when it was owned by BTR Sarmcol. Thirty-nine people were killed in battles related to the dismissal, and 970 workers were initially dismissed. About 400 strikers stuck it out to the end, pursuing their case through the courts. The legal battles took 13 years to resolve. The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein finally ruled that the workers had been unfairly dismissed.

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