Unions affiliated to the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) have given notice that they will hold secondary strikes in solidarity with members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) unless employers meet Numsa’s demands by Wednesday 20 October.
Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Wednesday 13 October that the federation, of which Numsa is an affiliate, was building towards a general strike.
“We reiterate that the Numsa-led engineering strike is a response by workers to the attempts of the government to resolve the worsening capitalist crisis on the backs of the working class. As a result, all Saftu unions across the economy … will be submitting the secondary notices … to give seven days’ notice that unless the strike is solved in favour of worker[s], they will join Numsa members’ strike,” he said.
The strike, which entered its eight day on Thursday 14 October, has seen one worker killed and dozens injured.
Tens of thousands of workers in the engineering sector have been on strike since 6 October around the country. According to Numsa, an unnamed member of the union was killed on the first day of the strike while waiting with other members at a bus stop in Wadeville, Johannesburg, when an angry motorist drove into the group.
On the day the strike began, a private security guard and allegedly a company executive from KK Engineering in Steeledale, Johannesburg, opened fire on striking Numsa members with live ammunition, critically injuring two people.
Another worker was hit in the eye with a rubber bullet when the police shot at a group of strikers outside Diesel Electric in Johannesburg. Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said the union had opened a case of police brutality with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
“This was an unprovoked attack … Workers were peacefully picketing, not posing any threat when they opened fire,” she said.
Numsa Ekurhuleni secretary Nelson Kiyane released photos on Tuesday 12 October of his thigh wounds from rubber bullets, as well as wounds on other workers’ backs and legs.
Brenda Muridili, the Gauteng spokesperson for the South African Police Service, referred all queries to national police spokesperson Vish Naidoo.
Naidoo said the “police will never be given a blanket decision to use rubber bullets. Every situation is treated on its own merits and the approach to every situation depends on how the situation presents itself.”
“As Numsa workers were picketing at the Wireforce company in Germiston, we peacefully negotiated with management to release workers who were working. At first, the employer agreed, but later changed his mind and called the police to disperse us,” said Kiyane.
He added that when the police arrived, they gave the Numsa strikers just 10 seconds to disperse and then fired rubber bullets at them as they were leaving.
Saftu condemned the violent attacks by police officers and private security guards on striking workers.
“In any class-divided society, the rich tend towards heavy securitisation to protect their possessions from any possible appropriation by the working class, who are marginalised from the economy through unemployment or alienated from enjoying fruits of their own produce because of meagre remuneration. Particularly in our country, police and security violence against protesters has become a common course,” said Vavi.
Saftu has rejected as an “insult” the 4.4% that employers in the engineering sector have offered Numsa members. However, one of the three employer associations in the engineering sector, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa) has upped its offer since the strike began.
The initial offer was 4.4% this year, the rate of inflation plus 0.5% in 2022 and the rate of inflation plus 1% in 2023. But neither Seifsa nor Numsa will say what the new offer is, with the Daily Maverick online publication citing employer sources who said they were offering the lowest paid engineering workers a 6% increase.
Numsa members in the provinces are debating whether to accept the new offer or not.