Striking Howick rubber workers face off with cops

2012-08-24 00:00

HOWICK witnessed a second strike in as many days yesterday and a stand-off between police and striking workers from the town’s Rema Tip Top-Dunlop rubber factory.

A handful of workers said late last night they planned to stay at the site — on the road leading to the factory, along a bank of the Mgeni River just above Howick Falls — overnight and that the strike would continue this morning.

About 60 striking workers waved sticks, mock rifles made from pipe and tape and knobkerries. They sang about being willing to die for their demands.

The police were prepared to shoot rubber bullets to enforce a court order to prevent the strikers from blocking traffic heading for the plant and to keep their distance from it, but no clash took place.

The only weapon put to use was a chainsaw — to chop up a tree that had been felled on an adjacent property across the road to create a roadblock. uMngeni Municipality brought it to the scene in a fire engine.

The chainsaw operator sliced up the tree and cleared the road. Hanging on its winter-dry branches was a cardboard placard stating the workers’s demands: “Numsa proposal across the board, 4 week; Bonus; 10% wages.”

The strikers, who are a mixture of labourers brought to Rema Tip Top-Dunlop by labour brokers and permanent employees, said their demands were based on the company’s offer of five percent when inflation was 6,5%.

Some had been there all night. They had also been on strike the day before.

Named in one of their chants was Rema Tip Top-Dunlop logistics director Don Poole who was at the scene.

He told The Witness that 100 unionised members of the 500-strong workforce had intimidated the entire workforce.

“So it’s a case of major intimidation by a minority, causing trouble for everybody.”

The factory’s site security manager, Matthew Hyland, said the strikers had damaged at least two vehicles the day before.

Only security and key staff were at the plant, he said.

The strikers, who refused to give their names, said bonuses had been promised at the end of last year, but that management had not granted them, claiming that the factory had not performed well enough.

“There’s corruption here,” said one striker.

Another said the company was trying to sell off Rema Tip Top-Dunlop to a company in Germany, “with our blood as cheap labour and without consultation”.

“We’re forced to strike. There is no alternative and the company likes us to strike … they want us to do something wrong to get the better of us.”

He added: “It’s because we’ve been quiet that they took advantage of us.”

Later in the afternoon, police spokesman Captain Lolly Moodley said officials from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) came to address the strikers.

Throughout the day, people walked between Howick and the Shiyabazali informal settlement, behind the falls. Passers-by exchanged greetings with individuals on both sides of the stand-off as they went to work in Howick or headed for Shiyabazali loaded with wares apparently destined for sale at spaza shops.

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