Pretoria - A strike by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) in the metal and engineering sector is an attempt by South Africa’s largest union to show its political muscle.
And the success of the platinum mine strike may have inspired some workers in the metal and steel industry to embark on a strike of their own.
Numsa, which is facing expulsion from Cosatu, hopes that the industrial action will prove that its effectiveness will not be adversely affected outside the federation.
The union is on an indefinite strike to put pressure on employers at about 10 000 companies to pay workers a living wage.
It believes this cannot translate into less than a double digit increase.
Its demands include a 15 percent pay hike and a ban on labour brokers.
The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA is offering 8 percent.
A total of 220 000 Numsa members took to the streets across the country yesterday to make their demands heard.
They represent about half of the workforce in the industry, which Numsa leaders have threatened to bring to a standstill.
“If workers in the platinum mines can do it, we can also do it,” said Mariam Sefora, who was among the thousands of Numsa members who protested.
“They (Amcu members) got what they wanted. It’s not like they got nothing. They stuck together right to the end even though there was death and violence,” the mother of two from Soweto said.
Her sentiments were backed by another Numsa member, Simon Shomolekae.
He has been working in the metal and steel manufacturing industry for 19 years and earns R6 240 a month.
He said this was not enough to support his family and that of his late brother, who died three years ago.
In all, Shomolekae, 44, supports 10 children.
A sea of red and blue marched through various parts of the country as thousands of Numsa members arrived for their first day of the strike.
Wearing red and blue T-shirts and wielding sticks and sjamboks, the workers presented a united show of force as they toyi-toyed and marched through the streets.
If the mass action is short, painless and successful, Numsa will send a signal that it can operate outside Cosatu as well as the tripartite alliance.
As they marched, the Numsa members also chanted slogans expressing their determination to emulate their counterparts in the platinum mine sector.
A successful strike will also help Numsa increase its membership numbers.
The union is currently sitting on 348 000 members.
It believes it will reach the 400 000 mark by November, a target that was initially set for its national congress in 2016.
A victorious strike may also not bode well for Africa’s largest electricity utility, Eskom.
While Numsa is planning on picketing at the parastatal’s headquarters in Joburg today which will not turn off the lights, the union does eventually want to go on strike over wage increases.
Eskom is labelled an essential service, so it would be illegal for workers to embark on a strike.
But Numsa’s leadership is gunning for the utility, saying that they are “quite willing” to risk unprotected action.
In the build-up to the metal and engineering strike, employers tried to label the action as political and, therefore, not in the best interests of Numsa’s members nor the economy.
But this assertion has backfired, with Numsa’s adversaries in Cosatu, such as the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union issuing statements in solidarity with the strike. - Pretoria News