Striking workers brave the cold to march

2011-07-04 11:03

Striking engineering workers started marching in a cold Johannesburg today to demand better wages.

National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) members, some wrapped in blankets, started marching from the Workers’ Library in Newtown just before noon, to press for a 13% salary increase as opposed to the 7% offered by their employers.

Workers, most of them wearing red Numsa T-shirts over bulky winter clothes, filled the square outside the library.
Some carried sticks and others, placards.

Police kept an eye on the crowd as it was entertained with music played over a loud-speaker on the back of a bakkie.
The SA Communist Party said its leaders would participate in the march in solidarity with the engineering workers.

“It is time now that we decisively put capital on the back foot and undermine its growing arrogance and hold on the lives of ordinary South Africans,” the SACP said in a statement.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) also issued a statement of support.

“We appeal to the employer bodies in the steel, engineering, paper, print and chemicals to accede to these reasonable demands,” said NUM general secretary Frans Baleni.

“There should be no going back in our fight for a living wage. It is not negotiable to earn a decent wage, it is a ‘must deliver’.”
Several trade unions, representing about 170?000 workers, took part in the strike today.

“Workers are striking in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, East London and Cape Town,” said Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese.
Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal workers would hold demonstrations today, while workers in the Free State and Northern Cape would start their work stoppage tomorrow.

Numsa, which represents about 120?000 workers, would be joined by five other trade unions representing at least another 50?000 workers.

According to the Steel Engineering Industries Federation of SA’s (Seifsa) website, it had received strike notifications from the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Ceppwawu), and the Metal and Electrical Workers Union (Mewusa).

United Association of SA (Uasa) senior manager Johan van Niekerk said Uasa, Solidarity and the SA Equity Workers Association (Saewa), would also participate.

He said Uasa members were preparing to march in Johannesburg this morning.

“The employers’ salary offer did not meet our demands,” said Van Niekerk.

Ceppwawu plastics sector co-ordinator Clement Chitja said the six unions were working together.

“We all have the same common demands,” he said.

The Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) today said that while wage negotiations were reaching the “power play stage”, it was confident an agreement would be reached.

“The council has urged all employers to follow the industry-accepted principle of ‘no work, no pay, no discipline’ in the event of protected industrial action.”

The MEIBC said it had received notices of intended lock-out action from Seifsa.

The strike started today after the Labour Court’s weekend dismissal of an application for an interdict to stop the strike, brought by the Plastic Converters’ Association.

“The Labour Court decision effectively upholds the right of all employees and employers in the industry to engage in protected industrial action today in the metal and engineering industry,” the MEIBC said.

Seifsa represents 28 employer-organisations. In a notice posted on its website in May, it said the metal industry’s four-year wage and conditions of employment agreement would expire on June 30.

The agreement covered 9?000 companies and about 348?000 workers.

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