South Africa Labor News

(Number 3)
by Free South Africa Labor Committee
Oakland, California, United States
March - April, 1989
4 pages
Type: Newsletter
Coverage in Africa: South Africa
Coverage outside Africa: United States
Language: English
Contents: South Africa's Black Unions Fight On, Despite Facing Prison and Repression • United Public Employees Local 790 Reaches out to Soweto’s City Workers • Fighting for Union Divestment Rights • ANC Statement Regarding Winnie Mandela • The newsletter says the activity of South Africa's Black trade union movement is continuing to rise, despite an increase in government actions to repress it; last year almost one million workdays were lost in strikes, especially by four major unions; fourteen strikes by the National Union of Metal workers of South Africa cost 246,000 lost days; seven strikes by the South African Railway and Harbor Workers Union cost 107,000 lost days, and 1,500 workers were fired. The newsletter says four strikes by the South African Municipal Workers Union cost 126,000 lost days, and 4,000 workers were fired; over 10,000 members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union struck the Natal Provincial Administration, and over 3,000 were fired, and hundreds arrested; all these unions are affiliates of the Congress of South African Trade Unions. The newsletter says South Africa's apartheid government has moved against COSATU and the rising labor struggle, with detentions, treason trials and executions; government representatives have declared that COSATU's Living Wage Campaign is "a communist plot." The newsletter says employers are continuing to apply the amended Labor Relations Act, which makes many kinds of union activity, especially political and solidarity actions, illegal. The newsletter says a particular objective if government repression is the National Union of Mineworkers, which has successfully organized workers and mounted national strikes in South Africa's most economically important industry - gold, coal and diamond mining. Anglo-American Corp., South Africa's largest mining company, has withdrawn 38% of its recognition agreements at NUM mines, and closed four union offices on mine property. The newsletter says one NUM member reported that "workers are paraded by mine security. They are questioned about whether it was them who signed up for the union. They are forced to sign and their signatures are compared with their membership forms. Workers are severely intimidated." The newsletter says in one mine the company converted its public address system into an anti-union radio network called Radio Reef; companies now demand that the union ask permission to hold meetings in the company-owned hostels where the miners live, and then deny permission; where permission is granted, no one may criticize the company, no outside speakers are permitted, and no political issues can be discussed; workers are punished for asking for stewards, and cannot visit workers living in other hostels. The newsletter says the NUM is demanding that the compounds be abolished, and family housing created, that wages be increased, that all workers be treated equally, the dismantling of mine police, and punishment for whites who assault Black workers. The newsletter says at least seven union members are now on death row in South Africa. Four are transport workers, on death row for eight months; the Supreme Court in Durban found Stanford Ngubo, Johannes Buthelezi, Bethuel Sabelo and William Khuzwayo guilty of killing Retford Shezi during a 1986 bus strike; Ngubo, Buthelezi and Sabelo are bus drivers and members of the Transport and General Workers Union; they were accused of hiring Khuzwayo, an unemployed TGWU member, to kill Shezi, who was shot while driving a bus during the strike; despite major inconsistencies in the evidence, the court denied the four their request to appeal; their only remaining hope is clemency from South African president P.W. Botha; the International Transport Workers Federation, to which TGWU is affiliated, has launched an international campaign to reprieve the four men. The newsletter says others on death row include William Ntombela of the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union of SA, and Tyelevuyo Mgedezi and Lucky Nomganga of the NUM; sixteen SARWHU members are charged with murdering strikebreakers during a 1987 railway strike; twenty-five members of the Print, Paper, Wood and Allied Workers Union are also charged in an incident in which strikebreakers were killed in 1988; no scabs, strikebreakers, guards, police or management personnel are known to be even charged with crimes in any of these incidents. The newsletter says union members have also been hit especially hard by apartheid's emergency regulations, which include detention without trial; over 50,000 people have been detained since 1985, including 15,000 children under 17; over 2,000 people are currently in detention. The newsletter says this policy provoked a wave of hunger strikes by detainees early this year, which forced authorities to release some prisoners; one prisoner who remains detained, however, is Donsie Khumalo, who in March was still in critical condition in solitary confinement in Die Moord Prison in Pretoria; Khumalo is the elected representative of about 75,000 workers in the Northern Transvaal, and a member of COSATU's central executive committee. The newsletter says it has happened before to U.S. workers: one day you are working under union protection in a union shop; the next day the plant is sold and the new owner refused to recognize the union contract. The newsletter says the same thing is happening today in South Africa as transnational corporations use sham divestments as covers to break the unions. The newsletter says but one South African union, the Chemical Industrial Workers Union (CWIU) has developed a strategy to fight back; and anti-apartheid U.S. trade unionists are learning to use sanctions legislation to help South African workers protect their unions. The newsletter says the CIWU says that most divestments have been "corporate shams" that "ensure that profits are repatriated to the former owners by less direct and more devious means" such as technology, licensing, and franchising agreements. The newsletter says the Sterling Drug Company divestment story is typical of the situation in South Africa; this American drug company was under pressure to divest its South African subsidiary; in July, 1987, the CIWU wrote Sterling and 40 other companies that were divestment targets employing CWIU members; the letters asked the companies plans and demanded good faith negotiations over the continuation of union protections. The newsletter says Sterling denied any plans to divest; yet within a few weeks, Kodak had purchased Sterling Drug and sold the South African affiliate to a South African drug company, Adcock-Ingram; this was a sham divestment because the new company would continue to produce and market the same product, for the price of a licensing fee to Sterling-Kodak. The newsletter says The actions of U.S. unions can help these CIWU negotiations succeed; the New York Labor Committee Against Apartheid has taken the lead in strengthening sanctions legislation by supporting an amendment to the existing law. The newsletter says disturbing news concerning Winnie Mandela have recently appeared in the press; unfortunately, the crippling censorship from the South African government leads to one-sided "opinion" and "information" concerning what is really happening with Winnie Mandela. The newsletter includes a photograph of Tebogo Mafole, the new head of the Mission of the African National Congress to the United Nations. The newsletter discusses union members on death row, detention without trial, Jay Naidoo, Shell, Mobil, British Petroleum, the ANC (African National Congress), the Mandela Football Club, banishment, imprisonment, torture, sustained harassment, SACTU (South African Congress of Trade Unions), and resistance to racist tyranny. [Note: Karen Pfodresser is Kate Pfodresser.]
Used by permission of David Bacon, a former member of the Free South Africa Labor Committee.
Collection: Kathleen M. Devine papers