About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

4. Workers organise against apartheid

1. At its founding congress COSATU brought together 33 affiliated and unaffiliated unions. This launch represented a renewal of trade unionism along the lines of earlier progressive trade union organisations and federations that had been in existence prior to the foundation of COSATU . Significant among these were the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU), Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU), General and Allied Workers Union (GAWU), African Mineworkers Union, CNETU and South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). These organisations suffered a similar fate to COSATU in the sense that they were targeted by the state, refused recognition and their leadership was arrested, harassed and killed. While we are not making any submissions with regard to the ICU, we will hand over a summary of some of the experiences of SACTU at the hands of employers and the state, who at certain times were indistinguishable.

2. The 1980s will go down in history as the watershed in our momentous struggle against apartheid. A core feature of that heroic resistance was the tireless struggle by the working people of our land.

3. COSATU represented all the strains and traditions of our rich history of struggle. It drew on decades of mass struggles, of the ICU of the 1920's, the bitter struggles of mineworkers in the 1940's and the militant resistance of SACTU in the 1950's. It was a movement born in the midst of a state of emergency and of the challenge against apartheid. It continued a relentless struggle for the basic rights of workers to be regarded as human beings both on the factory floor as well as in the land of their birth. Any attempt to divorce the link between the struggle for basic trade union rights on the factory floor from the broader struggle for human rights in society was not only undesirable but impossible in the South African context.

4. However the progressive trade union movement gathered momentum with unions being established in all major centers. The continued organization of black workers created relentless pressure on employers to recognize black trade unions. Managements responded by forcing toothless liaison committees on their workers. By 1978 there were over 2000 liaison committees and over 300 worker committees nationally.

5. The period of recognition battles over basic trade union rights was a bitter battle. The overwhelming majority of employers sought to block democratic trade unions every step of the way. More than one attempt was made to promote sweetheart unions such as UWUSA. Victimization of shopsteward leaders was a daily occurence. Unions in the Bantustans suffered the worst repression. The South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU) was banned by the Ciskei government. Employers reveled in the protection offered them by these anti-union bantustan governments.

6. The 1986 state of emergency saw systematic detention and arrests of key leadership. Thousands were detained. In January 1986, at Impala Platinum, 30 000 workers went on strike demanding better wages and the recognition of their union. The company refused to talk to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and dismissed 23 000 workers. Many mining companies maintained heavily armed private security forces and had little hesitation in calling in police and army units to assist them.

7. The year 1987 saw the growth of a new spirit of defiance. There was a surge of militancy. Thousands of commercial workers went on strike. Downtown Johannesburg around the COSATU headquarters resembled a liberated area. Workers marched, demonstrated and rallied against exploitation and the continued absence of political rights for the majority. Twenty thousand railway workers went on strike for the recognition of their trade union and the demand for permanent status. The response of the state employer was predictable - mass arrests, dismissals and the refusal to speak to us. Police vans were permanently stationed outside COSATU House. On one occasion, an AWB emblem had been drawn on the bonnet of one of these police vans, obviously to intimidate us.

8. Also in that year, 350 000 mineworkers embarked on strike action, sparked by the highly exploitative conditions they faced. The strike was organised by the NUM and was a legal strike. But this did not prevent mine-owners from dismissing thousands of workers. This winter of discontent shook the very foundations of the apartheid state and their supporters. In retaliation, a climate was created to unleash a massive onslaught against the progressive trade union movement. Thousands of trade unionists were detained, offices were raided, members intimated and the running of trade unions disrupted. Parallel to this strategy of brutal repression, employers continued to promote sweetheart or yellow unions in order to undermine genuine trade unionism.

9. Unions were targeted by the national security management system created by the generals and police chiefs which served to co-ordinate all the components of the "total strategy" to ensure the maintenance of apartheid rule. Input and representation on the secretive security structures extended beyond state security organs to include members of the business community, town councils and local industry.

10. Changes were made to the Labour Relations Act that sought to increase controls over the unions. Firstly, they restricted the already limited right to strike. Secondly, they attempted to reverse the many gains the union movement had made on issues related to job security. Thirdly, they aimed to cower the union movement into submission through the threat of punitive damages claims for strike action taken against the bosses. Some companies used such legislation to victimize legitimate trade unions.

11. While the campaign against the labour bill was gathering momentum, the state again took action. On 24 February 1988, the government effectively banned 17 organizations. The state also promulgated far-reaching restrictions against COSATU , in effect declaring its political activity illegal.

12. The campaign against the labour bill produced the first steps by employers to reach agreement with the unions on national legislation. Following negotiations, an accord was reached by COSATU , NACTU and SACCOLA (a co-ordinating employer body) on amendments to the Labour Relations Act which served as a basis for negotiations with the government.

The price of freedom

13. As the TRC began its work, TRC Chairperson Archbishop Tutu told a press conference: "There are millions of people whose tears have not always been recorded. We hope that you will do in-depth accounts of those in the shadows so people know the price of freedom in South Africa."

14. To document the daily experience of ordinary workers in South Africa (as elsewhere) is to record a chronicle of tears. Often these tears are seen simply as reflections of the pain of apartheid and workers seen simply as its victims. Of course, there is truth in that; but the tears are more numerous in that the pain of daily life does not come and go with apartheid, nor follow the definitional boundaries of human rights lawyers; they are more complex in that they are tears also of anger, hatred, and opposition from actors involved in the defiance and resistance of making history, not just victims; and the people who shed the tears already had a great deal of knowledge embodied in popular consciousness about the price of freedom because it was millions of ordinary people - cast by others into the shadows - who were paying that price and constituting the core of the struggle for that freedom.

15. Histories of struggle in South Africa often point to two formally organised Defiance Campaigns. In fact, it is the history of an ongoing defiance campaign. Throughout much of the apartheid era, millions of workers were involved every day in successfully defying the pass laws, even when there was no apparent, open, organised mass mobilisation. As the mass struggle developed, it became perhaps the best and most vivid announcement of what workers regarded as intolerable, abusive and a violation of their rights.

16. In the demands, manifestos and actions of millions of people over a long period of sustained mass struggle, lies a living charter of what workers experience as a violation of their rights, and a vision of a future in which their rights are respected. In the action of millions of workers risking their jobs, their safety and their lives to march under the banner of banned organisations is the announcement that the right to organise is fundamental to an acceptable future; similarly in the action of millions of workers who have been on strike to demand a living wage, and other such examples.

17. The TRC has been directed along a different route in defining gross violations of human rights. It is bound by definitions, in line with much international human rights law and expert opinion, which defines gross violations as "killing, abduction, torture, or severe ill-treatment with a political objective". Clearly there are some crimes which are "worse" than others. Equally clear, there are many ordinary workers who have been physically, emotionally and psychologically devastated by the ordinary abuses of everyday life. Some incontestable examples of the ordinary suffering of everyday life imposed on workers, which are excluded by the two parts of the TRC definition, include:

. Incidents of (workplace) sexual harassment and rape by management and employers;

. Implementation of pass laws through the active policing and collaboration of management and employers as a means of labour control and cheapening labour (or side-stepped by them as a mechanism to exploit even more vulnerable "illegal" labour);

. Preventable industrial accidents and preventable industrial diseases in which workers were killed or maimed because not enough money was spent on safety and health;

. An infant mortality rate which reflects the cheapness of black life, not the absence of technology or resources to protect it;

. Starvation and poverty wages which translate into preventable malnutrition, other disease and death; or lack of access to medical care because it is made unaffordable;

. Denial of essential welfare and social services with funds wasted instead on servicing and repaying the odious debt liable to big business for its collaboration in financing apartheid;

. Victimisation and deployment, through the action of employers, of apartheid state and private security to assault and imprison trade unionists, strikers and workplace activists;

. The creation of unemployment to protect profits.

18. Popular consciousness will always have elements of unevenness and contradiction. Where the experience of struggle is as rich as in South Africa during the last years of apartheid in particular, this experience will also always generate basic insight and clarity. During the height of the struggle it was an established part of knowledge in popular consciousness that:

. The struggle was against a system;

. The system had functionaries who served real beneficiaries;

. It was a system which protected capital behind apartheid;

. It imposed the crime of poverty on millions of people;

. The working class would have to lead the struggle for real change; and

. Real change had to be change in the daily life of "the poorest of the poor".

19. People increasingly called that real change the struggle for national democratic revolution and socialism. They used to say, with whatever lack of theoretical finesse but with far greater theoretical clarity and sophistication, that political and economic factors could not be separated. It was known that action and inaction in defence of profits or privilege based on structured social inequality involved both economic and political dimensions.

The myth of the anti-apartheid convergence

20. There is an increasingly powerful view that "progressive" or "enlightened" capital led capital in general into an anti-apartheid convergence with the liberation movement. In this view, apartheid was ideologically irrational and has long been an impediment to normal capitalist economic development, and that capital has always been committed to basic human rights.

21. The conventional wisdom of convergence is normally traced back analytically to the 1970's. In the context of a developing economy, with large foreign investment and one of the highest growth rates in the world, it is argued that the further development of that economy faced an apartheid-imposed shortage of skilled labour. The picture created out of this is that "normal" capitalist development was in conflict with apartheid. Capital is currently emphasising the need for training in order to increase productivity. It seems this represents continuity with the historical position of championing the lifting of the industrial colour bar so that black workers could be trained. Ideologically, an ex post facto straight line is constructed between the need for more skilled labour in the 1970's and the need for more skilled labour in the 1990's.

22. But it is not true that the need for skilled labour simply created an anti-apartheid imperative. From the perspective of capital, what was seen as optimum was a combination of the easing of restrictions on the training of black workers, with the maintenance of a racially structured and differentiated labour system which helped secure cheap labour. The maintenance of the apartheid control of labour demanded a state machinery which would impose migrancy through influx control, place severe restraints around working-class collective bargaining and action, and maintain law and order in urban areas which were dramatically socially underserviced. On the basis of that, a select group of blacks in the urban areas would be given residential rights and access to skilled jobs. The government attempted to move in that direction during the 1980s. The outstanding issue in the reform package was the political position of Africans with residence rights in the urban areas. When it was relatively free to choose, capital, continuing to exploit cheap labour, was ready to try to deal with the problem of a shortage of skilled labour by exploiting such apartheid-mainstream measures as subsidised white immigration.

23. On the ground, employers championed a situation in which black workers were effectively trained to do the work of skilled (white) workers - without being given formal certification or being paid for that skill. This reflected inside South Africa precisely what was happening internationally. "Enlightened" employers internationally were making use of the cheap labour which apartheid repression provided in South Africa. Capital was perfectly able to combine the exploitation of free labour in one context with the exploitation of unfree labour in another. It was precisely for this reason that capital, in the period in which it was meant to be beginning its long struggle against apartheid, was systematically seeking to destroy the emerging black trade union movement. Even when it was forced from that objective by the consolidation and the defiance of that movement, "enlightened" capital responded to the miners strike of 1987 with the biggest ever mass dismissal by a private owner and welcomed the LRA of 1988. The continuity involved is a continuity of the maximum possible set of constraints on the collective organisation and action of workers with the maximum possible tightening of belts and increase of productivity of those who were employed.

24. Throughout the 1980s, capital had every opportunity to invest in increasing the level of skills of black workers. Neither apartheid legislation nor the industrial colour bars were actual obstacles. But capital decided not to make such investment. The solution to its economic crisis which capital actually championed included training of a limited number of black workers, coupled with mass retrenchments, pressures for wage restraint, speed-up, and pressure on government to cut taxes and government spending. For capital, a reformed apartheid system of labour control accorded perfectly with that approach. It involves skills training to drive up the productivity of a part of the labour-force, combined with increased control and decreasing social expense on the (expanding) "unemployable surplus".

25. All else being equal, such a solution was consistent both with the needs and interests of capital and with a reformed apartheid. Capital was certainly capable of "living" with such a solution as the history shows. But all else was not equal. Workers were in widespread and systematic defiance against key features of apartheid as it had developed. The simple fact is that the kind of reform initially envisaged when the economy was growing rapidly and then re-packaged in the context of an economic crisis is exactly the kind of reform which the working class defied and made unworkable. Attempts to reform apartheid were not allowed to provide capital with the solution which it sought. The interests of capital and its plans are not uniquely responsible for the course of history. When the state embarked upon the reforms which the economic dictates of capital suggested, (embodied for example in the 1987 LRA), that path was blocked by the improved collective bargaining position of black workers and, more importantly, the political determination to use working-class collectivism in defiance of repressive legislation and measures. Capital was forced to modify its approach in the light of the reality of that resistance, not by a simple reading of economic imperatives.

26. Like all conventional wisdoms, which can begin to capture part of the popular imagination, this developing conventional wisdom of historical anti-apartheid convergence between capital and labour is not unconnected to the actual history. There is obviously a set of agreements between employers, unions and the government (old and new) which are new features of the situation. But continuing turmoil shows that such agreements can not be reduced to genuine convergence between workers in general and employers. The idea of anti-apartheid convergence obscures on the one hand the extent to which the state was forced to modify its position and, on the other, the extent to which capital has been able to use its control of economic wealth to impose its economic programme on the new South Africa. The roles of both mass resistance and the political consequences of private ownership of the economic wealth, and on the other hand the "agreements" are "explained" ex post facto as emerging out of a historical process of opposition which obscures the historical connivance between capital and the apartheid regime. They are presented as having a solid foundation in a history of anti-apartheid opposition, which masks clashing, class interests and positions.

Attitude to the trade unions

Mayday voetsek!

27. Business has always opposed the development of well organised and militant trade union movements. In South Africa this opposition was co-ordinated with and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from state strategy in relation to trade union organisation throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s.

28. The clearest demonstration of this is that although trade union organisations of African workers, and non-racial unions, were never unlawful, they were not prepared to recognise them in any form. At the same time employers continued to have cordial relations with the established trade union movement of that time, which was committed to paternalistic or outright racist policies.

29. It was the mass pressure of millions of ordinary people that forced capital to change its tactics in relation to trade unions. It was through mass defiance and the systematic creation of a set of realities on the ground, that black workers dismantled key features of apartheid:

. Through unlawful organisation, they forced de facto and then legal recognition of organisation.

. Through illegal strikes, they forced de facto and then legal recognition of strikes.

Liaison committees

30. The "golden era of apartheid" between 1963 and 1973 was one in which white workers were effectively tied up in bureaucratic unions increasingly under the political control of Afrikaner nationalism, and there was no systematic open mass trade union organisation of black workers. In this co-incidence lay the specific political features of apartheid as a racist differentiated form of labour control over both black and white workers.

31. The 1973 Durban strikes marked a turning point in the revival of collective worker struggle after the considerable lull made possible through the severe repression of the 1960s. The first 3 months of 1973 saw 61 000 workers on strike, more than the combined total of the previous 8 years.

32. It was this upsurge in worker militancy that laid the foundation for the development of the independent trade union movement. The strikes, which started as a struggle for higher wages, developed into the struggle to build independent trade unions acting for and on the mandate of their membership. Between 1973 and 1974 The National Union of Textile Workers, the Metal and Allied Workers Union, the Furniture and Timber Workers Union, the Chemical Workers Industrial Union and the Transport and General Workers Union were formed. During this year, in response to rising worker militancy, liaison committees were introduced through the Bantu Labour Relations Act, 1973, replacing the 1953 legislation. In the first draft of the Industrial Conciliation Bill of 4 April 1973, emphasis was placed on the Works Commission, where all the members would be elected. In the final version, at the instigation of employers associations, this was reversed. A Durban study of management attitudes towards African unions in the previous year revealed that only 12% were prepared to support the idea of the registration of African trade unions, and 2% the possibility of mixed unions.

33. Liaison committees comprised an equal number of employer and worker representatives, with management appointing the chair and nominating half the worker representatives. The committee could negotiate legally binding agreements. Workers organising outside these structures were to face repression, police intervention in strikes, arrests and dismissals, with contract workers forcibly removed to the bantustans, and union organisers harassed and detained.

34. Research conducted by Eddie Webster in the metal industry illustrates how management responded to the rise of independent black trade unions during this period. At the centre of management's strategy of resistance to the unionisation of black metal workers were three tactics: the central tactic of pre-emption, the tactic of fear, and the tactic of smear. The pre-emptive tactic was to set up liaison committees and from inception SEIFSA used these committees to re-assert control in the factory. By the end of 1974, there were nearly 1 700 liaison and works committees nationally. Facilitating this pre-emptive tactic was the fear of dismissal and the fear of unemployment, together with the fear of being endorsed out of the area if you were a contract worker. Lastly, the unions were smeared.

35. In August 1973 SEIFSA circulated its model constitution for "Bantu" liaison committees to its members, saying that this provides "a means whereby management may explain its policy to the workers". Section 3b goes on to say:

. "The committee shall not by resolution or otherwise, reverse or amend any instruction given by management, nor can it interfere with any disciplinary action undertaken by management".

. Employers are further advised in the memo to:

. "meet any approaches from persons allegedly representing the Bantu workers, employers should not accept stop orders from black unions or allow these organisers into 'the work precincts for recruitment purposes'. In the event of an illegal strike employers should not, under any circumstances attempt to negotiate until work has been resumed."

. And

. "notify the nearest South African police station 'if at any time it appears that law and order are in danger'."

36. Webster goes on to give several examples of this policy in practice. We reproduce aspects of two of them.

37. In March 1974 workers stopped work to force management to recognise MAWU at Leyland, Natal. Management rejected this, saying "the procedure for committee communications between employer and employee as laid down in the Bantu Labour Relations Act will be implemented and used effectively to develop a close liaison between management and the employers". Management consulted the Department of Labour, who advised that all the workers should be fired for striking illegally. Leyland Head Office however agreed to negotiate if all the workers returned to work. In the meanwhile, management hired 20 new workers and, according to the union, "carefully weeded out the strongest unionists to the best of their ability". The dismissed faced unemployment and would be endorsed out of Durban if they did not find work in 30 days.

38. In spreading MAWU's organisation into the Transvaal, MAWU believed that Leyland management invited the security police to pre-empt union organisation and smear the union:

. "It is obvious here that the SB (security branch) were called in at the request of Leyland management in an attempt to block the organisation of workers at the Elandsfontein plant into the Metal and Allied Workers Union. The activity of the security branch in detaining the secretary and in confiscating pamphlets from workers was clearly designed to intimidate workers."

39. At Heinemann in Johannesburg, MAWU members boycotted the liaison committee, refusing to have anything to do with it. When they gathered to force management to recognise their union, they were baton charged by the police, with large numbers badly beaten. The secretary and the organiser were charged with inciting the strike and obstructing the police in their duty. Afterwards they were found guilty only of one charge, that of inciting the employees not to accept re-employment. During the strike, four workers were arrested at Elandsfontein station and charged under the Riotous Assemblies Act, the Bantu Labour Relations Act and the Industrial Conciliation Act. Workers were twice refused bail and only given this after an appeal to the Supreme Court. They were found not guilty. The union eventually won R20 000 after an assault case against the Minister of Justice. Before this final confrontation and strike, a systematic offensive was taken against the union:

. "Shop stewards were moved out of their departments and isolated from other workers. Some foremen attempted to prevent workers speaking to each other in the factory. There was also an attempt to introduce discrimination along racial lines within the workforce. A group of four coloured workers were called into the office and told that management preferred them to the African workers. The coloured workers were urged not to ally with African workers but to join a registered union which by law they were permitted to do. Rumours also spread through the factory that the African workers were going to attack the coloured workers."

40. The tactic of pre-emption was successful and, by the end of 1976, large numbers of MAWU members ceased to pay their subscriptions. Then, in November 1976, four MAWU Transvaal union organisers and two in Natal were banned for five years under the Suppression of Communism Act - a fate that befell another 26 individuals associated with the emergent unions, including the organisational leadership of the National Union of Textile Workers (NUTW), UTP officials and students associated with the WPWAB. This was an attempt to break the emerging unions but, despite this repression, the unions survived and, from 1977, grew.

41. Barlow Rand, Heinemann's parent, said after the 1976 dispute:

. "We feel obliged to negotiate within the framework of the law and cannot opt out of industrial agreements which apply to the whole industry. This does not imply that we are happy with the existing industrial relations legislation. We believe it needs drastic revision."

42. Similar responses by employers occurred in other sections of the economy. For example, the 1974 strike by dock workers at Nautilus Marine in Cape Town collapsed when employers refused to deal with union-affiliated factory committees and the workforce was summarily dismissed.

Wiehahn and union "recognition"

43. Up until 1978, with the exception of Smith and Nephew in Durban, capital only conceded rights of representation to those African unions working in association with or parallel to the existing registered unions. Police intervention in strikes was the norm and the threat of prosecution for illegal strikes was ever present.

44. It was however the struggles of this earlier period, despite their many casualties, that forced changes from both employers and the state. Jan Theron writes that attempts to revitalise the non-racial tradition of the Food and Canning Workers Union, as well as attempts by the union to extend the union beyond its base in the fruit and vegetable canning sector, were vigorously opposed by employers, until the union's landmark victory in the Fattis and Monis strike in 1980. The Fattis and Monis strike coincided with the publication of the Wiehahn reforms and preceded the amendments of the Act, which opened up the so-called registration debate. It resulted in a marked shift in employer attitudes. From 1980 onwards there was an increasingly differentiated response to non-racial unionism, and an increased willingness to recognise the union. This can not simply be ascribed to the Wiehahn reforms. Rather the strike established that organisational rights are won first and foremost through organisation.

45. In 1979 the changes suggested by Wiehahn were legislated, specifically aiming to institutionalise the emergent unions by allowing trade unions with African members to register in terms of the Industrial Conciliation Act and participate in the statutory conciliation system. The report noted that unions were growing. By leaving them outside the official system, they would escape control.

46. Determined to include extensive controls in any proposed legislation providing for recognition, the government proposed that unions would not be allowed to recruit "contract" workers and that "foreign" workers would be excluded from any labour dispensation. Both suggestions would have involved the unions discarding almost half of their members in return for spurious pleasures of registration. "Contract" workers, or migrants, formed the backbone of many unions. They were often migrants simply because the pass laws prevented them from living permanently in the cities and confined them to single-sex hostels. The emerging unions declared that they would not register under such conditions. Under pressure, the government also began to retreat. It could not simply overlook union objections; after all it was trying to co-opt the emerging unions into the system. Union rights were granted to all Africans but, under pressure from the racist unions, other controls - including a bar on racially "mixed" unions - were retained.

47. Despite this official recognition, the emergent unions still had to battle to win effective recognition at plant level, as the range of strikes and struggles over the next few years were to testify. At Colgate Palmolive for example, the company, like many others, said that it would grant recognition only on condition that wages and working conditions were negotiated at the industry's industrial council. This was rejected in favour of plant bargaining. It was only after a potential legal strike and a consumer boycott instigated by the workers that their 18-month battle for company recognition was won and the management conditions rejected. The attitude to the officially sanctioned bargaining system is further shown by the interview with Lou Davis, president of the Building Industries Federation, in which he said, "We don't negotiate anything outside of Industrial Council parameters. Recognition agreements are not acceptable."

48. In 1979 there were only five recognition agreements but by 1983 there were 406. This rapid expansion was not given, it was won through hard and bitter struggles, with companies like Frame holding out and only conceding recognition in 1985 after a 12-year battle. The Frame battle by the NUTW to get recognition at the Pinetown Frametex plant was characterised by repeated stoppages and a major legal injunction in support of recognition. Before this, the company would only deal with TUCSA's affiliate, the TWIU.

49. In 1989, surveys by both management consultants and NUMSA on the Witwatersrand showed that at least 10% of strikes were still over recognition. In more vulnerable sectors (although not restricted to this) employers still resisted recognition of unions right into the 1990s. CAWU, for example, had eight successful recognition strikes during the first three months of 1990.

50. Recognition agreements, whilst uneven and largely dependent on the strength of workers and their struggle, covered issues such as the union's right to organise and represent workers (something that was already, de facto, the case), for regular meetings with management, time-off for shop stewards, training and report back meetings, as well as union rights such as stop orders and access.

51. The initial Wiehahn reforms only recognised registered trade unions. However, the upsurge in worker militancy amongst the unregistered unions (AFCWU, GWU and SAAWU) forced employers and the state to look again and, from September 1980, various employer groups began to soften their attitude on registration. And, with minor variations, FCI, Associated Chambers of Commerce and Barlow Rand took similar refrains: negotiate with unregistered worker groups representative of worker interests as a transitional measure, either conditional or in anticipation of them joining the officially sanctioned industrial relations system (including substantial negotiations through the industrial council system).

52. This "softening" on the part of employers was to receive legal expression when effectively the distinction between unregistered and registered unions was removed in 1981.

BTR Sarmcol

53. The dismissal of workers at BTR Sarmcol is reflective not only of management's hostility to the union, but also illustrates their inhumanity and disregard for the results of their actions on the community of Mpomphomeni, the community from which the dismissed workers came. The community was wholly dependent upon the employment of the dismissed workers at BTR Sarmcol. It goes without saying that the entire community was economically and socially devastated by the dismissals.

54. BTR Sarmcol was a massive rubber based multi-national company that operated in various countries. The Goldfields Group was a significant shareholder of BTR Sarmcol at the time. The company being part of a multi-national company was bound by the European Economic Community Code for Companies which had subsidiaries or representation in South Africa. The code provide that :

. "Companies should ensure that all their employees irrespective of racial or other distinction are allowed to choose freely and without any hindrance the type of organisation to represent them. Secondly, that employers should regularly and unequivocally inform their employees that consultations and collective bargaining with organisations which are freely elected and representative of employees are part of company policy. Thirdly, that should black African employees decide that their representative body should be in the form of a trade union, the company should accept this decision. Trade unions for black Africans are not illegal and companies are free to recognise them and to negotiate and conclude agreements with them. Consequently the company should allow collective bargaining with organisations freely chosen by the workers to develop in accordance with internationally accepted principles. Employers should do everything possible to ensure black African employees are from or join a trade union. Steps should be taken in particular to permit trade union officials to explain to employees the aims of trade unions and the advantages of membership; to distribute trade union documentation and display trade union notices on the company's premises; to have reasonable time off to carry out their union duties without loss of pay and to organise meetings. And finally, where works or liaison committees already operate, trade union officials should have representative status on these bodies if employees so wish. However, the existence of these types of committee should not prejudice the development or status of trade unions or of their representatives"

55. Between mid-1983 and mid-1985, the Metal and Allied Workers' Union (MAWU) unsuccessfully sought recognition with the company. This struggle led to strike action which began on 30 April 1985. The legality of this strike is the subject matter of an appeal in the Appellate Division of the High Court currently.

56. In its dealings with MAWU the company breached virtually the whole European Economic Community Code.

57. MAWU began recruiting employees at the company during 1973. The company's response was to resist such union recruitment by firstly evoking the aid of the South African Police to prevent MAWU from signing up workers outside its gates. Secondly, the company was instrumental in causing the arrest of MAWU organisers by the South African Police. Thirdly, the company stopped subsidised food from being sold to its employees. Fourthly, the company declared to its employees that the union was illegal. Fifthly, it sought to promote an in-house liaison committee in order to frustrate the recognition of the union and finally victimizing its members. A fuller history of the company's response to the union's recruitment efforts is set out in Annexures 4. The nature of industrial relations advice given to the company by its consultant at the time, Andrew Levy and Associates which was, to say the least, anti-union is set out in the judgment of Justice Hoexter. The relevant extracts are set out in Annexure 5.

58. The dismissal of the workers led the United Democratic Front to organise a stayaway and consumer boycott in the surrounding area. This boycott occurred within the context of growing tension in the area since the formation of UWUSA in 1985 which clashed with the United Democratic Front affiliated youth structures in the areas of Imbali and Ashdwan. Growing violence over the following months culminated in December 1986 when a large group of Inkatha members who were based in Mpomphomeni killed three union members. The inquest proceedings in March 1988 found 9 Inkatha Freedom Party members responsible for the murders.

59. As indicated above litigation in this matter continues more than a decade later. The attitude of the company has since been taken over by Dunlop South Africa and is reflected by their insistence that attorneys acting for the dismissed workers obtain 1000 powers of attorneys from the workers in order to continue with proceedings in the Appellate Division of the High Court as recently as in 1995. This happened in spite of the fact that there had been prior agreement between the parties as to the identity of the worker applicants.

60. The inhumanity of the company could not be shown more clearly than their refusal to postpone proceedings in the Industrial Court as a mark of respect for the deaths of the 3 workers who were members of the shopstewards committee. The three shopsteward committee members were abducted and assassinated. An inquest later found that they had nine members of the UFP were responsible.

1986 Impala Platinum strike

61. On New Year's Day 1986, 30 000 workers downed tools at four Impala Platinum mines in Bophuthatswana. The miners' complaints included low wages, enforced overtime on public holidays without extra pay and management's refusal to provide facilities to NUM. The mineworkers also demanded that the white miners travel in the same lifts as their black counterparts and that they have access to married quarters. Management of these Gencor-owned mines were informed in advance of the demands but did nothing. On 6 January, after six days of strike action, Impala dismissed 23 000 strikers. At this time it was the largest mass dismissal of workers in South Africa. "Employee representatives were not prepared to get down to solid discussions," claimed Impala's Gary Maude. "They left us no choice but to dismiss them."

62. The company later admitted to "communication problems". It had refused to talk to NUM about the strike, claiming that Bophuthatswana "homeland" labour legislation prevented this. The homeland's Minister of Manpower, Rowan Cronje, was on record saying that labour law in the territory was specifically designed to prevent legal strikes in strategic industries like mining. Whilst the law prohibited South African based unions from operating in nominally-independent Bophuthatswana, this did not stop Impala from recognising and negotiating with Arrie Paulus' whites-only Mine Workers Union (MWU), which was registered in and operated from South Africa.

63. The dismissals were a massive operation. Bophuthatswana police in riot gear and equipped with teargas combed the compounds. Police with dogs marched through the compounds in a show of force. An armoured vehicle with holes in the back cruised up and down. Miners and their meagre possessions were loaded into buses and sent home.

64. The mining companies maintain heavily-armed private security forces, and have no hesitation in calling police and army units to assist them. The mine strikes of early 1986 saw miners killed. They also showed miners fighting back. At Randfontein, a meeting of 250 miners on 19 January 1986 was dispersed by security forces because it was allegedly an "illegal gathering". Fifteen workers were hospitalised for various injuries sustained as a result of assaults by the security forces deployed to disperse them. The following day a further meeting was called and, when the police tried to disperse the workers, violence erupted. Ten miners and two policemen died. As a result of this incident, 500 workers were dismissed and 112 arrested, some of whom were charged with murder. There are a number of other examples.

65. On February 19 of the same year, two miners were killed during clashes with police at Venterpost mine. This prompted a strike the next day by 10 000 miners. At the same time, four senior black workers - "teamleaders" - were killed at the Vaal Reefs mine and four others were seriously injured when they were attacked by other workers in their rooms. Workers claimed that the team leaders had plotted with management to kill or harm union representatives returning from the NUM congress. Management called this allegation "nonsense". When the police detained about ten workers, 15 000 workers on three Vaal Reef shafts went on strike demanding their release. At one stage the strike threatened to involve all 40 000 workers at this giant mine. The strike ended only after the intervention of NUM and an agreement to bring the detained workers to court. Six workers were later convicted, three of whom were sentenced to death.

66. We also wish to defer to an article prepared by the President of the NUM, Mr James Motlatsi, entitled "The history of violence in the mining industry of South Africa". The article was compiled for a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the NUM held on 25 August 1995, which was prompted by outbreaks of violence on mines in that year. See Annexure 18.

The 1988 amendments to the LRA

67. Analysis of the second half of the 1980's has focused on the call and programme of ungovernability. On the ground, that call coalesced with, rather than created, an already existing and growing widespread reality of mass defiance of key features of apartheid control. The history of black workers under apartheid (and other forms of oppression before it) is one of resistance which was continued, albeit in atomised and individual actions and inactions, by millions of workers, even when there was no mass open political or trade union organisation. Chief amongst these was the daily breaking of the pass laws and the daily programme of industrial sabotage and simply working slowly and badly by millions of workers. What was significant about the second half of the 1980's was that individual acts of defiance coalesced into a movement of defiance systematically eroding key features of apartheid control.

68. Forms of industrial resistance exacerbated a growing economic crisis, which for capital was constituted by "low productivity".

. A massive proportion of the working class was squatting illegally in the urban areas.

. Working-class youth was in rebellion to demand educational rights.

. There was systematic non-payment for services, which the government had been forced to provide.

. Through steps such as the formation of the United Democratic Front, the extensive acceptance of the Freedom Charter and widespread shows of mass support on the ground, the ANC was effectively being unbanned.

. In 1987, an extra dimension was added to that movement of resistance. As the most consciously, tightly and nationally organised component of the mass movement, more than half of the membership of COSATU took illegal strike action.

69. The growing weight of the labour movement, particularly the struggle of COSATU affiliates and their ability to win victories for workers, was too much for the employers. Strike action reached a peak in 1987, with many different sections of the working class taking part in action for higher wage and with both the heavy weights of the labour movement, the miners and metal workers, taking part in national action. Government, under heavy pressure from employers and in the context of an already existing state of emergency, then passed amendments to the LRA in 1988 to strengthen the hand of employers. As Professor Wiehahn noted in an interview:

. "It was a direct result of pressure from the employers... They asserted a lot of pressure to have the law changed."

70. Draft changes to South Africa's basic labour law, the Labour Relations Act (LRA), were first published in September 1987. These proposals were far-reaching and would, inter alia, have made all solidarity and supporting action illegal and made the unions financially liable for any losses incurred as a result of strikes. Secondly, they attempted to reverse many of the union movement's concrete gains on issues such as job security. The initiative to change existing labour law came from employers, who felt that strikes were costing them a lot of money and they wanted to be able to claim damages.

71. This provoked in June 1988 the then biggest stayaway in South African history. In the face of the stayaway, and the general movement of resistance, for the first time in South African history, government was forced to move away from plans to respond to a massive strike wave with legislative attacks. Similarly, employers were forced to step back from their initial support for that plan.

72. COSATU launched the campaign for a Workers' LRA and a Workers' Charter of rights. The systematic demand for the right to strike in law was increasingly a conscious and vocal component of struggle on the ground. The struggle to defy the LRA was developed into an organised struggle for laws which reflected the interests and needs of workers. Through that process, extra impetus was given to the sometimes historically suppressed demand for the unbanning of organisations and the demand for the right to vote was given clearer content as the demand for a government which would make laws which served workers.

73. While the campaign against the labour bill was gathering momentum, the state decided to strike again. On Wednesday 24 February 1988, the government effectively banned 17 organisations. This included the UDF, COSATU 's closest ally, and many of its major affiliates. The state also promulgated far-reaching restrictions against COSATU , in effect declaring its "political" activities illegal.

74. The united struggle against the LRA amendments was to continue into the 1990s, strengthened by several mass stayaways. Employers were forced to enter protracted negotiations, resulting in the agreement that the state then turned into law. This was a compromise agreement and many of the issues that workers wanted and needed to change did not change. Many millions of workers were also excluded from the LRA, notably farm and domestic workers. Both Saccola and Eli Louw, the Minister of Manpower, were in agreement that the granting of rights to farm workers would destroy the agricultural sector.

75. Through mass defiance and the systematic creation of a set of realities on the ground, black workers dismantled key features of apartheid:

. Through unlawful organising, they forced de facto, and then legal, recognition of organisation;

. Through illegal strikes, they forced de facto, and then legal, recognition of the right to strike;

. By illegal squatting, they forced de facto, and then legal, recognition of the right to freely enter the labour market (concretely, the right of African workers to be in the urban areas and work for whoever they chose);

. Through boycotts, they forced the state to pay for social services.

76. Together, these developments affected core features of apartheid as a system of labour control. With the major addition of the denial of formal political rights to Africans, these were precisely the features of the system of labour control which were historically charged with securing adequate supplies of cheap labour with a weak bargaining position at restricted cost in terms of social services.

77. Capital and the government were forced to recognise that the existing systems of control were incapable of securing stability. Exploiting other political factors which created pressure from and on the movement of opposition to enter into negotiations and accept power-sharing, F W de Klerk announced the reforms of 1990 and moved into the negotiating process which led to the elections of 1994.

State clampdown on COSATU - business refuses to intervene

78. In the first quarter of 1988 the apartheid regime imposed heavy restrictions on anti-apartheid organisations, including, amongst others COSATU . The Labour Relations Amendment Bill whose aim was to undermine the union's factory floor organisation was also under discussion. COSATU called upon major employer associations to condemn the clamps on COSATU . In early March, COSATU held a joint meeting with the Federated Chamber of Industries, the Associated Chambers of Commerce, the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut and the German Chamber of Industries to discuss the clamp down and Labour Relations Amendment Bill. In this meeting, some employer groups "indicated acceptance of political unionism, adding that curtailment of freedom of expression should only be imposed by the Courts" but denied that they had the clout to persuade the government to withdraw the clamps.

79. COSATU also called on employers to reveal the names of employers who participated in secretive and unaccountable government structures such as the State Security Council and the Joint Management Centres. Employers refused to do so. We could only conclude that it was either due to their support for the government and all of its policies or because they were party to the clamp down on democratic organisations.

80. In relation to the Labour Relations Amendment Bill, employers disagreed that the Bill was a "devastating attack on the Labour Relation System..." They refused to reject the Bill.

81. The Weekly Mail (March 4 to March 10, 1988, quotes the rhetorical question:

. "The question facing COSATU and its members now is: Can COSATU as an upholder and defender of democracy look to employers for support in this time of crisis".

. The answer is a categoric NO.

Dismissal of strikers

82. Despite the many changes to the law, workers never had the right to strike without the possibility of dismissal. Throughout the last 25 years, this has always been used against workers who chose to unite and fight gross injustices in and beyond their workplaces. It has always been businesses ultimate sanction to curb, undermine and destroy worker organisation - almost always backed up with the armed might of the state and, in the case of migrant workers, the possibility of mass deportation. It is impossible here to begin to try and make a distinction between legal and illegal strikes. At the end of the day, the strike weapon was often the only weapon that workers had to defend themselves against any number of attacks faced in the workplace and beyond - from arbitrary dismissals, poverty wages and racial privilege to pressing for political change, as well as forcing the release of jailed comrades. It was the quickest and most effective tool to force employers to listen and respect the voice and needs of workers. It is, quite frankly, the only language that most employers understand, no matter what their politics. It is a tribute to the growing power and strength of the workers movement that so many stood up and fought the gross injustices that they faced, despite the fact that many would ultimately face the pain, suffering and death that was meted out to them so liberally.

83. There are many and numerous examples of the dismissals that workers faced, and below we outline some of these. These are merely illustrations, because every single dismissal sentenced workers to unemployment, and their families to destitution and poverty.

84. In a paper presented to the Natal Chamber of Industry in April 1982, Coplyn claimed that union leadership was worked out of their jobs in one way or another by employers. "In the National Union of Textile Workers, for example, only three out of eighteen members elected to Executive office at the inaugural meeting of the union remained in the same factories a mere eighteen months later. Of the three that remained, two were employed by a single company which decided to recognise that union in its early stages."

85. It didn't matter if workers chose to take legal strike action. The consequences were often the same. Workers at Armourplate Safety Glass striking over retrenchments, were dismissed this way in the 1970s, as were a thousand BTR Sarmcol workers in 1985, and Aberdare Cables workers in 1990.

86. Two years after their dismissal in 1987, 865 legally striking SASOL and Natref workers were reinstated by the industrial court, whilst the same court supported the dismissal of 87 FBWU workers during a legal strike at Hercules Cold Storage, because their wage demands were "excessive", making the strike unfair.

87. Anglo American, for all its professed liberalism, made the biggest private sector dismissal in the world when it fired some 50 000 miners on strike for decent wages.

Dismissal during stayaways

88. The stayaway became re-established during the 1980s as a powerful collective tool to pressurise for change. Despite a number of employer associations advising their members to adopt a no-work-no-pay response, many workers who participated in stayaways faced dismissals and final warnings. This in their struggle to stand up against, amongst other matters, the poor conditions of students, low wages and repression in their communities, the employer-led amendments to the LRA and the employer-favoured tax system rooted in VAT. As AHI's President, Leon Bartel said in 1984:

. "The responsible employer should seek to divorce politics from labour relations. The stayaway is clearly a political matter and the employers should make it clear that political demonstrations will not be countenanced."

89. For illustrative purposes we provide a number of examples below, the SASOL 1984 case standing out for both its scale and viciousness.

90. Workers at SASOL as members of CWIU and part of FOSATU, knowing that the company would act in the harshest way, were given permission by their organisation to go to work during the Transvaal stayaway called on 5 and 6 November in solidarity with the student demands and boycotts increasingly characteristic of that year. Workers were not prepared to do this, it was their brothers and sisters and children that they acted in solidarity with. At this time, at least 70% of SASOL's share capital was in the hands of institutional investors and the public, but it was directed by an executive dominated by state appointments. Six thousand workers were dismissed following the stayaway, with most of them bussed back to the homelands.

. "This meant 6 000 workers were going straight into unemployment; many face malnutrition in the homelands, where there is no chance of a job."

91. Following intense pressure, the CWIU managed to get some workers their jobs back, under an agreement that stated that SASOL would take back a minimum of 70% of the workers, including at least 16 of the 48 shopstewards.

92. Seventy Karos Wilderness workers were dismissed for their part in the 16 June, 1988 stayaway at the Karos Wilderness, and a further 55 for striking in solidarity with them. This was one of the issues that lead to a 11-week national strike in this group. The second issue was wages and the third the final warnings issued by Karos after the 1988 stayaway of 6-8 June 1988. The Wilderness employees fired after the 16 June action were not reinstated. The Southern Suns hotels also dismissed a number of workers who stayed away on 16 June.

93. Workers dismissed after the June 1988 stayaway had this to say:

. "Whatever happened to us, we knew it might happen. But we are not prepared to be satisfied today if our children will suffer tomorrow .... The struggle is not just for us today. It is also for our children tomorrow. We are ready to fight to the last drop of our tears."

Use of police during strikes

94. Commenting on the role of the police in a number of arrests outside factories and in relation to disputes of various kinds, the SALB says that in the cases they cite for this year (1984), "there are strong indications that management were responsible for calling the police".

95. A National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) survey from May to October 1989 on the Witwatersrand found a noticeable increase in the use of violence during strikes. This involved the South African Police and more frequent use of private security firms, who videotape strikes to identify agitators.

96. The eleven-week national Karos strike in the late eighties was marked by large-scale police intervention, with an estimated 250 workers at one time or another being arrested on charges of attending an illegal gathering, trespassing and intimidation.

97. There was heavy police intervention in the early 1990 strike wave in the Eastern Cape, especially where the strikes were prolonged and where workers met regularly. This took the form of police arriving at meetings and arresting workers on charges ranging from intimidation to assault. An example is the 34 Welfit Oddy workers, and 4 Aberdare Cables workers who were arrested. Bail was set at very high levels - R1 500.

98. And, as the SALB reported, "In some cases police have also approached individual arrested workers and told them they would be released if they signed an agreement to return to work."

National OK Bazaars strike, 1990

99. The OK Bazaars strike was but one example of repression, including police action, against strikers that was typical of the 1980s and even the early 1990s. Over 65 000 workers from 127 stores nationwide participated in the strike. Right-wing thugs were brought in as scab labour, to break up picket lines and physically threaten workers. This became a widespread and consistent phenomenon. Incidents occurred in Pretoria, Eloff Street (Johannesburg), Cresta, Kroonstad, Potgietersrus and in Natal. An SALB article asked at the time, "Why has the OK been unable to prevent this type of action? The SAP was very active in trying to break the strike, including the arrest of over 70 workers during one week. On Tuesday 11 June, the union was given a deadline by John Vorster Square to break up all pickets, otherwise the police would do it."

Homelands - cheap labour and repression

100. In the 1970s and 1980s, several homelands became "independent". These included the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and the Ciskei. Both the Transkei and Venda passed legislation outlawing trade unions. This was only effectively overturned with the mass strikes and worker protests in the Transkei in the early 1990s, that forced the military leadership to make concessions. Bophuthatswana prohibited any trade union which had its head office based in South Africa, and had a conciliation process that made legal strike action virtually impossible. All these homelands had security legislation to further repress the trade unions, something that the Ciskei used in 1984 to ban SAAWU.

101. Employers used this situation to source and maintain cheap labour and, where possible, to repress the activities of the independent trade unions. They built alliances with both the South African Police and the homeland security apparatuses in this attack. As unions grew strong in other parts of the country, some companies relocated their operations to the homelands and to decentralised areas adjoining them in an attempt to shake off the presence of the trade unions. A number of clothing and furniture companies in particular pursued this route, as did multi-national companies like Tidwel and Bata. Sun International used homelands as a base to run its casino operations, something that made organising extremely difficult.

. "What is increasingly apparent is that big capital has begun to involve itself in decentralisation. In the Botha era, the increasing influence within the state of Afrikaner capital and a pro-capitalist military leadership have brought about a convergence of capital and the government. This was expressed by the 1979 Carlton Conference and the 1981 Good Hope Conference. Big capital has accepted the principle of decentralisation, firstly because it has accepted the political argument of the government in favour of strengthening the bantustans. Given that capital does not want one-person-one-vote, it must join the government in the search for political alternatives. Secondly, incentives make decentralised investment painless and profitable. The private sector's commitment to decentralisation is apparent from its involvement in the DBSA, Small Business Development Corporation and the Government's Planning and Advisory Committee and Regional Development Advisory Committees."

102. Below we outline a number of characteristic examples showing the collaboration that employers engaged in with homeland bureaucracies in order to deal with the trade unions.


103. Isithebe was designated an industrial development point in KwaZulu. There were a range of incentives, including the cash reimbursement of 95% of the total annual wage bill up to a maximum of R105 per month, per employee. As one industrialist said, "... the labour is cheap - you can't do the same in Durban". Industrialists in Isithebe held two meetings in 1988 to deal with the growth of trade unions. The first meeting was attended by 5 industrialists representing the Isithebe Clothing Manufacturing Association (ICMA). They met the KwaZulu Financial Corporation (KFC) in Ulundi. At this meeting, the clothing industry threatened to withdraw from the area if the KFC didn't get rid of COSATU . In response to this, the KFC sent COSATU a letter evicting them from premises which the KFC owned. NUMSA organisers say:

. "The second meeting was chaired by Mr Palmer, from KIC (a metal company resisting recognition in the area). At this meeting he explained why he does not want any meeting with NUMSA. He asserted that 'the unions are one of the terrorist organisations who threaten the lives of people'..."

104. The arguments of other employers who felt that this attitude could cause severe problems were ignored, and a group of employers walked out of the meeting. It is alleged that the meeting was attended by an unknown group carrying guns. Later some unions were warned by the employers that had walked out that these were Security Branch.


105. Around 1981, 500 workers from Dunlop flooring were fired for going on strike in a wave of strikes throughout South Africa that raised worker demands against a government plan, backed by financial capital, to preserve pension fund pay outs until retirement age. Management recruited new labour, first turning to the Ciskei Manpower Centre in Mdantsane, and then to the Ciskei Central Intelligence Service (CCIS), which acted as a recruiting agent and screened 150 workers. When management was asked to comment at the time, they would not say whether they had asked the CCIS to recruit the workers or whether they had accepted the recruits.

106. Brigadier Sebe explained that "some industrialists have come to realise the need for screening", that his department was committed to "eliminating this element", and that he relied on "industrialists to co-operate with us in stamping out this evil".

107. In June 1981, 57 former Wilson Rowntree employees were detained by the Ciskei authorities and charged in two groups. In November the charges of violating the Riotous Assemblies Act and the charges of public violence were withdrawn. Repression from the Ciskei security police increased in November 1981, when 205 trade unionists were detained on their return to Mdantsane from a union mass meeting held in East London. Charges were laid against 183 workers.

. Both the South African and Ciskei "states" launched an assault on SAAWU, which threatened their policy of separate development and their ability to supply employers with a cheap and docile labour force. This onslaught took place in co-operation with many regional employers. There were police baton charges, frequent detentions of union members and officials and repeated charges under the Riotous Assemblies Act. Major Charles Sebe and his department, the CCIS, and the South African security police made direct interventions in industrial disputes and the affairs of the union. A document written by an officer of the South African Security Branch, on how to break the power of SAAWU, was circulated to companies in the East London area in the second half of 1980.

108. The document proposed short and long-term solutions to break SAAWU. In the long term, it suggested either forcing black unions to register as industrial unions or encouraging TUCSA to become more active in the recruitment and organising of workers in East London. In the short term, the measures included strike breaking strategies and encouraging firms to keep records of unemployed workers whom they could immediately use to replace striking workers. A labour reserve list, according to the document, helps firms "not to give in to ridiculous demands" and makes it easier "not to give in to pressure from the workers if they demand that SAAWU be recognised as a union". Another short-term plan rested on the claim that the Chairmen of the Chambers of Industry and Commerce and the Afrikaanse Sakekamer were "attending meetings where the aims of SAAWU are being explained to them, as well as the necessity of uniform action by industry in East London against SAAWU". These Chairmen would call meetings of representatives of the different industries where "they would press for uniform action of all industries".

109. The document, circulated to employers, got the seal of approval in parliament when Louis le Grange, Minister of Police, said that the security policeman concerned "acted in good faith towards the maintenance of law and order as provided in section 5 of the Police Act, 1958."

110. Any examination of the 1981 strikes that occurred in the area reveals that in most cases there was a common strategy on the part of the employers to break the unions - this included firing strikers and selectively re-employing them. Examples of this include Berkshire, Modern Engineering, Everite, Model Dairy, TFM Components, Dunlop Flooring and Hodgetts Timber.

111. In October 1980, the Minister of Manpower, Fanie Botha, held a meeting behind closed doors with East London employers urging them to hold out against SAAWU.


112. In a letter, dated 11/10/83 and published in the South African Labour Bulletin, E V McCormack, from Manpower and Co-ordination, Bophuthatswana, makes it clear to the general secretary of CCAWUSA how changes in their law will effect them:

. "This is to inform you that neither the CCAWUSA, or any other trade union or employers organisation, being unions or organisations of another country are permitted to operate in Bophuthatswana."

. And later,

. "I trust you will take note that your Union has no standing in terms of legislation shortly to be published, to carry on activities in this country and that these, if the allegation is correct, must cease forthwith or the consequences faced (sic)."

113. On New Year's Day 1986, 30 000 workers downed tools at four Impala Platinum mines in Bophuthatswana. The miners' complaints included low wages, enforced overtime on public holidays without extra pay and management's refusal to provide facilities to NUM. The mineworkers also demanded that the white miners travel in the same lifts as their black counterparts and that they have access to married quarters. Management of these Gencor-owned mines were informed in advance of the demands but did nothing. On 6 January, after six days of strike action, Impala dismissed 23 000 strikers. At this time it was the largest mass dismissal of workers in South Africa. "Employee representatives were not prepared to get down to solid discussions," claimed Impala's Gary Maude. "They left us no choice but to dismiss them."

114. The company later admitted to "communication problems". It had refused to talk to NUM about the strike, claiming that Bophuthatswana "homeland" labour legislation prevented this. The homeland's Minister of Manpower, Rowan Cronje, was on record saying that labour law in the territory was specifically designed to prevent legal strikes in strategic industries like mining. Whilst the law prohibited South African based unions from operating in nominally-independent Bophuthatswana, this did not stop Impala from recognising and negotiating with Arrie Paulus' whites-only Mine Workers Union (MWU), which was registered in and operated from South Africa.

115. The dismissals were a massive operation. Bophuthatswana police in riot gear and equipped with teargas combed the compounds. Police with dogs marched through the compounds in a show of force. An armoured vehicle with holes in the back cruised up and down. Miners and their meagre possessions were loaded into buses and sent home.

Sweetheart unions

116. Employers used sweetheart unions, characterised by moderation, paternalism and often outright racist policies, to keep the door closed on the independent trade unions, as well as to dilute their actual presence on the ground through an equal and therefore disproportionate allocation of seats on industrial councils. The 1970s and 1980s are filled with examples of employer attempts both to prop up such unions and to hide behind them and their practices to avoid concessions to the more militant independent unions. Leaving such unions and joining the independent unions often meant losing accumulated benefits, which were tied into industrial council agreements. Some examples of how this panned out, are given below.

117. As previously mentioned, the security police advocated the strengthening of TUCSA unions as a barrier to the growth of SAAWU. Even prior to this document, this is exactly the strategy pursued at Wilson Rowntree in East London. The employer made every effort to strengthen the Sweet Workers Union (SWU), a TUCSA affiliate. Workers claimed that stop order forms for the SWU were handed out as new workers were employed. Management and the SWU had also developed a mutual agreement on a liaison committee as the supposed representative of African workers, pushing this in opposition to the SAAWU committees. In the course of this struggle, management refused to allow workers to meet on the company premises in their own lunchtime and was only prepared to recognise their committee as a "Black workers Committee" separating and dividing this committee from the representation of coloured workers. In the context of East London, Wilson Rowntree was effectively acting as a bulwark around which other employers could rally.

118. In an interview on 12 December 1984 about the state of the NUTW in the Western Cape, Virginia Engel outlines some of the problems faced at Table Bay Spinners:

. "We have 95% membership but we don't have some elementary trade union rights at this factory - like stop orders - because of the company being part of the industrial council. The IC says only TWIU is entitled to stop order rights. So we lodged a court case at the industrial court. We lost. The TWIU union opposed us despite the fact that they have only 9 members out of the 426 at the factory. They told the industrial court that it would set a precedent, which would undermine the entire Industrial Court structure. We have now referred the matter to the Supreme Court."

119. Employers made very effective use of both NUFAW and SATU to keep PPWAWU out of the Transvaal and Natal Furniture Industrial Councils and the National Industrial Council for Printing, respectively. PPWAWU took six to seven years to get onto the furniture council in the Transvaal, despite the fact that it was indisputable that it represented a significant number of workers in the sector. In the case of the printing council, SATU endorsed the collapse of this council in order to protect its benefits funds, in alliance with employers, who saw this as the only route to slow down PPWAWU's organising efforts. Extracts from an employer federation document vividly illustrate this as well as other issues.

120. The document circulated by the employer's federation in 1989 gives a clear indication of how they view SATU. Outlining why it is in PPWAWU's strategic interest to join the council, their document states that it would:

. Nullify the closed shop of SATU, and give credibility to attack SATU and employers alike.

. Allow the introduction of demands such as 'alternative public holidays', 'the conversion of the pension fund to a provident fund', and that 'employers demand the release of all political detainees'.

. PPWAWU would gain access to NIC funds and information.

121. One of their options for the benefit funds was to allow SATU to 'take-over' the current funds (pension/provident and medical Aid fund.

122. In motivating the dissolving of the NIC it said that:

. "PPWAWU's progress on organising our industry (particularly the smaller employers) will be slowed down..."

. and that

. "Satu will demand plant level recognition agreements... and this is likely to entrench the 'status quo' in the industry."


123. UWUSA was a far more militaristic option. UWUSA was launched at a rally held at Kings Park Stadium in Durban in 1986. Over 60 000 people attended, bussed in and funded by what were later to be revealed as one of the government dirty tricks operations. UWUSA adopted the slogan of "Jobs not Hunger". Those that attended saw the rally open with a mock funeral, as coffins were carried into the stadium marked "Barayi" and "COSATU ". This was an early indication that COSATU and not employers was UWUSA's main target of attack. Indeed a number of employers shared the stage at UWUSA's launch. Shortly after the launch, COSATU issued a dossier of affidavits listing alleged Inkatha-related attacks on its members and officials.

124. A state of war also developed at factory level. During May, workers at a Ladysmith furniture factory were to vote in a ballot between UWUSA and PPWAWU. Days before the ballot, the anti-COSATU manager hired a number of temporary workers who had been brought to the factory by Inkatha officials. On the day of the ballot, the IFP organised a 100-strong impi to stand outside the factory gate. Remarkably, PPWAWU lost the ballot by only 5 votes.

125. When PPWAWU started to organise at Silver Ray stationery in Natal, the supervisors started "employing UWUSA supporters for the sole purpose of destroying the PPWAWU structures". Management rejected PPWAWU's claim that it had a majority, insisting that UWUSA was the majority. In July 1988, PPWAWU defeated UWUSA in a secret ballot. Employers clearly preferred UWUSA to COSATU : "I don't think that COSATU will be of much use to my workers. It claims to do good but in fact it's just hogwash," said one, while another said it would choose UWUSA because "it is the better of two evils". One company in the same area was organised by UWUSA at management's request.

126. Collaboration between Haggie Rand management and UWUSA to smash democratic union organisation resulted in the killing of NUMSA members in 1989. One Haggie Rand worker tells the story:

. "A gang of UWUSA supporters knocked off early and 20 minutes later Haggie nightshift workers were attacked at the station. One worker died. When the shift left the following morning, workers were attacked again, and one critically injured. Workers believed the attacks were linked to an UWUSA member who was recently shot dead in Katlehong. Workers then threatened to strike unless management solved the problem. A meeting was convened by management of all parties, and it was agreed that peace was necessary. Some days later a shop steward was shot dead.

127. Another worker said:

. "Management says, if you stop the overtime ban you will stop the violence. Supervisors say the same thing. This sounds almost like a threat. We reject this argument - we have never forced anyone to engage in the ban."

128. Workers later found an unsigned letter on the company notice board.

. "The letter accused us (NUMSA) of causing suffering to the company and the workers through the overtime ban. It stated that we must die, or not return to the company in January."

. "Management seems to recognise UWUSA because they are always referring to them. But we have never been notified of their shop stewards."

129. A NUMSA member, Dumisani Mngcongo, was later shot at home and was in a serious condition in hospital. Previously, a carload of Haggie workers had stopped outside his house and looked at it. Another NUMSA member's wife was abducted. Two UWUSA members were also attacked, and burnt to death. (For more on Haggie Rand, see Annexure 10)

Response to organisational rights

130. There are thousands of cases where business has done all in its power to deny workers basic trade union rights. As late as 1990, SACOB excluded the right to strike in its Charter for economic, social and political rights. (WIP, 1990, Aug, 68:36)

131. On 25 October 1982, CCAWUSA members at CNA went on strike. Workers had requested the CNA management to meet union officials and three worker representatives. CNA refused, saying that it would only meet union officials. Six hundred workers went on strike for union recognition, wages and over some dismissals. Apart from the warehouse workers, some 20 CNA retail outlets in Johannesburg and the East Rand were involved. Management approached the union and later the strike was resolved, with workers returning to work on 1 November. At this time, CNA management circulated letters to the warehouse workers stating, amongst other things, that "I can give you my confident assurance that the full co-operation of the South African Police and the Riot Squad is with us. They are assisting us in every way we require and have taken all the precautions they deem necessary." And, referring to the striking workers: "The action they have taken, as undesirable as it may seem, is caused probably by their inexperience in handling matters such as these and by intimidators of their own group who are threatening them with violence." (SALB, vol 8, no 3:1-3)

132. There are many other examples of where supposedly enlightened business denied unions organisational rights.

133. According to the SALB, "Bosses at luxury hotels like the Carlton Hotel refuse to give workers facilities to hold general meetings, they are given a small room in the basement." (Vol 13, 8:61)

134. SAB forcibly evicted strikers from their premises in the 1990 SAB strike, exposing workers to arrests and to right-wing violence. "The SAB conglomerate has once more shown that it is not as liberal as it pretends." (SALB Vol 15, no 2:7)

135. Even if unions were able to prove majority membership, it was by no means automatic that a certain number of benefits would flow from this. The worst companies used the process of negotiating a recognition agreement to delay providing any kinds of rights, including stop orders, access and, of course, preventing the negotiating of wage agreements.

136. SEIFSA instructed its affiliates not to negotiate with strikers and dismiss those who fail to return to work. Scaw Metals did this to 2 800 workers in 1982, after an 11-day strike. (SALB 7,8:19)

137. Bobby Godsell clearly approved of the Scaw Metals dismissals, referring to it as a "symbolic sacking".

138. From July to November 1981, there was a wave of strikes on the East Rand, and in the first three months of 1982, a further 20 strikes. The majority were over "effective trade union recognition and the curbing of management's arbitrary powers of control." (SALB, vol 8, no 4:28-9)

139. Workers at Fattis and Monis in Bellville, walked off the job when five fellow workers who were members of the AFCWU were dismissed for circulating a petition requesting a wage increase, regular lunch and tea breaks and three weeks annual leave. (WIP 12:4 in Kraak: 131) Following a widespread boycott of Fattis and Monis products, the workers were all reinstated after seven months. It was the first time in more than a decade that an unregistered union had been recognised. (WIP 12:15 in Kraak:131)

140. GWU members went on strike at two Cape Town meat factories in May 1980, demanding the recognition of their factory committees affiliated to their union. At one plant there was a refusal to negotiate with an unregistered union and, at the other, management was only prepared to recognise the committee if it was composed of Africans only, excluding the coloured workers. Workers at 20 other abattoirs and meat firms held a one-day solidarity protest and they were locked out. There was overt government intervention. Employers met the Deputy Minister of Co-operation and Development and issued a joint statement saying they had decided on a common line of action to settle the dispute. Shortly after this, two GWU officials were detained, with other unionists and voluntary workers detained later. Pamphlets issued by the union were banned. Strikers were arrested in police raids on the hostels and removed to the Transkei bantustan. The government raised the floor price of red meat by 25% to help the meat conglomerates resist the strike (WIP 13:7-11, in Kraak 138) The meat workers conceded defeat in August 1980.

141. The formation of SAAWU in the Eastern Cape led to a rush of recognition strikes in East London factories between March and September 1980. There was a co-ordinated management-state offensive including repression from the Ciskei bantustan authorities, who banned strike report backs. Over 100 workers were convicted of charges of incitement to strike, meetings were baton charged by riot police and SAAWU officials detained. (Maree: 34 - 7, in Kraak 139)

142. In October, the Minister of Manpower flew into East London urging employers to hold out until new legislation was introduced to deal with unregistered unions. The East London Chamber of Commerce issued a statement saying that employers should not deal with unregistered unions. SA Chloride broke ranks and signed after a ballot of the workers showed that 95% of them supported SAAWU. (Maree: 36)

143. The strike wave that hit the East Rand in 1981, between July and November, involving 25 000 workers in more than 50 different strikes, showed that 10% of these were over recognition, with arbitrary control by management becoming the central demand in the majority of stoppages. (Vol 7, no 8:24-5)

144. In one of the longest run recognition battles, Frame was forced to recognise the NUTW at the Pinetown Frametex plant in early 1985, after a 12-year struggle, repeated stoppages and a major legal injunction in support of recognition. Before this, the company would only deal with TUCSA's TWIU. (Kraak: 141)

Covert operations

S A Police vs COSATU

Dirty tricks

145. In the late 1980's and early 1990's employers embarked on the use of tactics which can be categorised as dirty tricks and industrial espionage. During this period, equipment, which until then had been known to be used by agents of the South African Police Special Branch and the intelligence columns of the Apartheid security forces, began to be used by management against the union movement. Another favourite tactic used by the apartheid security forces, namely that of printing and disseminating disinformation was embraced by the business. This was done over and above the deployment of management spies amongst genuine union members. These actions fell outside the scope of legitimate action in the conflict between management and workers which is inherent in the employer/employee relationship.

146. In support of the above, a summary of incidents is given in which bugging devices were surreptitiously planted in union offices and in which information putting the unions in a bad light was printed and disseminated on false union letter heads.


147. In 1990 this company unlawfully planted listening and recording devices (bugging devices) in a room which the Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (PPWAWU) used for its caucus meetings. This happened in Nampak's Rosslyn Plant. Nampak's management admitted that the listening and recording devices were indeed planted by them. They also admitted that they planted some in their Wadeville plant. The actions of management resulted in industrial action being taken by Nampak workers at about 39 plants countrywide, including work stoppages in at least three plants. The device that was discovered at the Rosslyn plant was linked to the managing director's office (Natal Witness 31 August 1980; DM 31 August 1990). (See Annexure 13)

Harmony Mine

148. At Barlow Rand's Harmony Mine in Welkom, a bugging device was discovered in the National Union of Mineworkers Office (NUM) offices. This followed the uncovering of a similar bug in a previous year.

149. Nampak and Harmony Mines at the time of the bugging were subsidiaries of the same company, Barlow Rand.


150. The South African Commercial Catering Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) alleged in March 1991 that the Woolworths chain store was involved in the planting of bugging devices aimed at listening to and recording its meetings.

Smear pamphlets and false letterheads

151. What follows is a catalogue of events published in the Weekly Mail edition of 23-29 September 1988 pointing to a deliberate and orchestrated campaign of subversion directed against the union movement by its opponents.

152. "Factories, compounds and townships around the country have been inundated in the past few weeks by a spate of smear pamphlets, bogus letters and semi-official bulletins aimed at creating rifts within South Africa's labour movement.

153. False letters, written on official union letterheads, have also been circulated to anti-apartheid organisations and union bodies overseas in an apparent attempt to undermine support for sanctions and block funds for unions inside the country.

154. The smear campaign, which began about a year ago, has reached unprecedented proportions. Common themes and terminology in the pamphlets indicate the drive is being closely co-ordinated and the vast number of copies distributed suggest it has extensive financial backing.

155. Some of the most recent smear pamphlets and letters include:

. A letter to overseas organisations, written on a letter-head of the Food and Allied Workers' Union (FAWU) which claims that the union has taken a top-level and secret decision to oppose sanctions. It urges the groups to "suspend indefinitely your effective support for sanctions and disinvestment" and freeze all financial support for FAWU as a "security measure".

. An "open letter" from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) was sent to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a range of trade unions and newspapers opposing sanctions and urging workers to vote in the forthcoming municipal elections. "In many instances we have called for people's power. This is our opportunity to exercise people's power and vote," it says.

. A recent edition of the now regular SA Trade Union Monthly Titbits claims extensive financial mismanagement within the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU). It attempts to promote hostility between the two major labour federations by claiming that the information was provided by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU ).

. In Natal, factories were flooded with pamphlets, written on a COSATU letterhead, that claim to be written by discontented "workerists" and urge members to "organise lunchtime meetings to discuss the COSATU leadership".

. Pamphlets on COSATU letterheads, distributed in townships around Johannesburg, last month urged workers who are "unemployed" as a result of our victorious stay-away to report to the federation's office for financial assistance.

156. Common topics covered in the campaign include claims that rank-and-file members are opposed to sanctions and disinvestment, a stress on alleged clashes between "workerists" and "populists" (an old debate within COSATU that is now redundant), attempts to promote conflict between NACTU and SACTU and claims of financial mismanagement.

. The pamphlets are also laced with false rumours and gossip about the personal lives of union officials. The latest edition of Labour Titbits claims under the headline "trends of the Revolutionary Glitterati" that top COSATU officials have had affairs with Zinzi Mandela, daughter of the jailed African National Congress leader. The same page shows a picture of Tutu being hugged by Winnie Mandela with a caption saying "Is Tutu now Winnie's new boyfriend?".

. The tactic was not new. After the 1987 NUM strike, anonymous propaganda pamphlets attacking the NUM started appearing on the mines. Many were headed "SA Trade Union Monthly Titbits", and workers returning from underground found them throughout hostels. Its appearance within the hostels indicated management involvement

Other covert action the Harms and Hiemstra Commissions of Inquiry

157. The evidence presented to two commissions of enquiry has revealed widespread infiltration of trade unions and spying on individual trade unionists. The two commissions concerned are the (Harms) Commission of Enquiry into certain alleged murders and the (Hiemstra) Commission of Enquiry into alleged irregularities in the Security Department of the City Council of Johannesburg.

The Hiemstra Commission

158. The evidence adduced at the Hiemstra Commission revealed that the following trade unions had been infiltrated and spied upon by officials of the Security Department in the Johannesburg City Council.

. the Congress of South African Trade Unions;

. the Transport and General Workers Union;

. the Municipal Workers Union of South Africa;

. the Unemployed Workers Co-ordinating Committee;

. the Health Workers Association;

. the Media Workers Association of South Africa;

. the Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union.

159. The Commission recorded its conclusions on the facts as follows:

. "We find the following factual allegations as proved undercover agents of the Security Department infiltrated trade unions and various voluntary associations active in leftist politics. They reported on confidential proceedings as well as on private affairs and movements of individuals. It seems as if there was electronic surveillance of people but it is not beyond doubt. Information obtained was passed on to Military Intelligence and there was close co-operation with the military.

. The gathering of information was done by pretending to be interested in the organisation and by winning the trust and confidence of the office bearers. Information so gained was reported to superior officers and sifted by the processing section. By this deceit they betrayed the trust of those who welcomed them into the organisation."

. Commission Report: Chapter 5, page 75

. The Commission went on to state:

. "In our view the infiltration of and spying on trade unions, other organisations and individuals perpetrated by the information section of the Security Department, constituted such wrongful intrusion upon the privacy of their targets. Covert eavesdropping on the private meetings and confidential conversations of others, is manifestly unlawful. Can it be any different if the intruder were to gain access to those private meetings and became a party to those confidential conversations by dishonest trickery and deceit? Clearly not."

. Commission Report: Chapter 5, Page 80

The Harms Commission

160. It emerged during the hearings of the Harms Commission that the Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB) had shown an interest in COSATU . The CCB was a unit of the South African Defence Force which engaged in a range of covert activities including acts of violence.

. Evidence given by one Christo Brits was to the effect that unions were identified as "internal enemies"; and that a CCB operative concentrated solely on trade unions. COSATU was perceived to be a front for the African National Congress and as such an enemy. Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, the then secretary general of the National Union of Mineworkers was earmarked for purposes of monitoring but this was apparently not done due to lack of personnel.

. Brits testified further that approximately R35 000 was spent over a three-month period obtaining information on trade unions and the establishment of underground networks in order to find people from whom such information could be obtained.

. Mr Joe Verster, the Managing Director of the CCB, however testified that there was no specific project relating to trade unions but that information was always being gathered concerning trade unions.

. After massive press coverage in The Weekly Mail newspaper during July 1991, the Minister of Law and Order, Mr Vlok, disclosed that the state had through the police, funded the United Workers Union of South Africa by paying to it approximately R1,5 million.

. The United Workers Union of South Africa ("UWUSA") is linked to the Inkatha political party.

. The Minister contended that the funding of UWUSA was designed to promote labour stability and combat violence and intimidation.

. On 26 July 1991, The Weekly Mail disclosed that it was in possession of documentation disclosing that UWUSA was a security police operation and revealing that in October 1988 the Minister was so concerned about the enormous debts accumulated by the union and the threat that this might expose the police project that he ordered an investigation into its affairs.

. On 27 September 1991, The Financial Mail disclosed that it had documents in its possession indicating that Major F P R Botha, (the security policeman involved in supplying R1.5 million in secret funds for Inkatha's union (UWUSA) was involved with a prominent Rand Afrikaans University ("RAU") academic in a project aimed at influencing labour relations to the detriment of COSATU and the ANC.

. The article disclosed that "the project is similar to those which gave financial underpinning to Inkatha rallies and UWUSA". According to a letter to the security police controller of the operation, its object was to "promote peace on the labour front and economic growth by means of depoliticising actions". It used "apparently neutral figures to intervene in the labour arena".

. The head of the project was Professor Kobus Slabbert, a senior labour relations academic at RAU, Johannesburg. Since 1989, he has been the leading figure of an operation behind the cover of the Liaison Bureau Relations Service CC.

. The article disclosed that an attorney, Hugo Pienaar, of the firm Du Plessis, Pienaar & Swart, was involved with the Bureau. The Financial Mail disclosed it was in possession of an agreement signed by Pienaar which stated that "the SAP has decided to employ Pienaar and that his role would be to co-ordinate all legal aspects and assist clients in labour negotiations, telephone enquiries and Industrial Court litigation".

. On 26 September 1991, the Minister of Law and Order, Mr Kriel admitted that police had covertly funded the Labour Relations Bureau. He confirmed that the security branch of the police had begun its involvement in 1989 and ended it in July 1991 "with the exception of still to be finalised individual contractual obligations".

. Minister Kriel stated "the former security branch attempted through the Liaison Bureau for Labour Relations Services CC to counter labour unrest and promote sound labour relations. It must be borne in mind that during 1989 widespread labour unrest occurred which led to disruption and substantial economic losses. Intimidation was rife and relations between workers and employers steadily deteriorated. The SA Police are of the opinion that the activities of the Bureau made a valuable contribution towards improving relations between employers and workers".

. Business Day: 27 September 1991

261. President FW de Klerk gave a public assurance that all secret funding of Inkatha had been stopped by March 1990. In the Weekly Mail of 29 November 1991, however, it is alleged that Major Botha paid for an Inkatha rally held on 26 January 1991. The Commissioner of Police has apparently ordered an enquiry into the matter and a statement will be issued at a later stage.

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