South African workers show how to fight poverty

Submitted by AWL on 21 July, 2005 - 8:31

Two million South African workers showed how to fight poverty at the end of June with the biggest strike since the days of apartheid.

On 27 June tens of thousands of workers marched in the major cities, with the biggest demonstrations in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Most mines, car makers, engineering and clothing factories were completely or partially closed as a result of the strike. Car firms including Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, and Toyota were shut. Clothing companies, the Telkom phone company, Highveld Steel and almost all the platinum and gold mines were closed.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which called the protests, claimed an overwhelming response to the strike, with more than two million workers taking part. Even the South African Chamber of Business, the country's biggest business organisation, estimated that 700,000 workers took part.

The SACTWU textile workers union said approximately 86% of workers in the clothing, textile and leather industries nationally — 159,000 out of a total of 185,000 workers employed in the industry — supported the protest action against job losses.

The public sector — especially the health and security sectors — were not legally allowed to strike. Most other public servants work in education, but schools were on holiday so it was impossible to assess their level of support. According to the NEHAWU education and health union, many workers in the rest of the public sector supported the strike.

The reasons for the strike are not difficult to see. Official figures estimate that a quarter of all South Africans are unemployed, but unions and some academics put the figure at 40%.

COSATU estimates that about 40,000 jobs have been lost in the clothing and textile industries in the past two years. For example Harmony Gold Mining, the country's third-largest gold producer, has cut 11,000 jobs in the past year and plans to cut as many as 12,000 more.

COSATU said it would hold a second national strike on 29 August to protest against unemployment and poverty.