Numsa strike turns ugly

2014-07-25 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG industries came under attack as the Numsa strike intensified yesterday.

The mostly peaceful month-long industrial action was marred by violence as angry workers changed their tactics. The Public Order Police (POP) unit was putting out fires in the industrial areas of Willowton and Pentrich Road that were under siege from strikers.

It started yesterday morning when workers from Pfisterer blockaded Willowton Road, blocking the path of trucks and motorists.

A delivery truck from Triton was struck with a stick, cracking the windscreen.

The driver of a white unmarked police car with a police registration seemed about to get out of his vehicle with a gun in his hand, but then, apparently realising the danger, drove on.

“Get out and kill us because you are so used to killing our people, but we will show you who we are,” the crowd shouted after him.

In Pentrich Road, Numsa members trashed the road, blockading it with huge rocks, burning tyres and rubbish.

The road was impassable up to the Bakewell Road off-ramp, sealing off motorists trying to reach Imbali township from the Grange.

Strikers carried sticks and knobkierries and chanted slogans.

They forcibly took bags of sawdust off one vehicle, spilling the load on the road, and also threatened motorists attempting to pass.

John Buyers, managing director of Preformed Line Products in Willowton, said between 50 to 60 strikers had stoned the building, breaking 15 to 20 windows and damaging two staff cars parked in the forecourt.

He said he had no idea why the strike had turned violent. “We have had a good relationship with our staff and we treat them with respect so this reaction is a surprise. I find it quite incomprehensible and unforgivable.”

Buyers said the company has a workforce of 175 and about 20 staff were working inside the building when the incident happened at about 2 pm yesterday.

He said it was impossible to tell whether the company’s own workers were among the crowd. “They were most definitely members of the union as many of them wore union T-shirts,” he said.

Buyers said the crowd initially congregated opposite the premises, started singing and dancing and then began throwing stones.

“We called the police but by the time they got here the crowd had walked down the road,” he said.

A manager for Pressure Die Casting, Lance Deysel, said the strikers stoned about six vehicles on the premises. “The problem is that the negotiations were not properly communicated to workers,” he said. He said they did not know if the unrest had stopped as strikers were still out there.

Police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said about 80 protesters illegally marched down Pentrich Road throwing rocks and burning the grass and rubbish.

“On the arrival of the police, the illegal behaviour had already stopped, but they were gathered in a group and were still singing and chanting and waving their sticks around,” he said. “After a while the group then dispersed quietly.”

Naicker said police were unaware of damage.

Union wary of offer: page 12

• thobani.ngqulunga@witness.co.za

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said organised business respects the rights of workers to strike and labour needs to respect the right of management to work.

“The behaviour of the metal workers currently on strike in Pietermaritzburg is atrocious,” she said.

Veness said Numsa must take responsibility for the damage caused to property, and must call its members to order.

To stone vehicles and buildings and threaten the safety of factory staff was “utterly unacceptable”.

Numsa’s national spokesperson, Castro Ngobese said the executive committee was due to meet yesterday afternoon.

He however defended members who had a history of peaceful strikes. “People love our union and we can’t be held accountable for people breaking the law wearing our red Numsa t-shirts,” he said.

Ngobese said if there was any concrete evidence proving that their members were committing violence then Numsa will act against them.

The strike centres around wage demands and other grievances.

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