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Strike diary: Three weeks of living hell

Jul 18 2014 12:47
A co-owner of a small family-owned business in the Vaal Triangle shares her story about the impact of the wage strike by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA. She writes:

Since the onset of the strike, our small engineering firm in Randvaal has been targeted on various occasions.

Our business has been in operation since 1989.  We are a small family run business and provide for over 40 families. It is owned by my father, mother and brother.

The week preceding the strike, we tried to talk to our elected shop stewards with regards to agreeing on a peaceful strike; however they refused to sign any “safe picketing rules”.  Probably knowing full well they were going to do whatever they can to intimidate and threaten people into not coming to work and stopping any form of production.

July 2 2014: A group of between 30-40 Numsa members arrived outside our gate and were brandishing sticks, knobkerries and bats. They demanded that we let three of our employees out, despite them being non-union members and not wishing to strike.  Our three non-white employees did not want to leave and they reiterated that “Numsa” had a right to strike and they have the “right to work”.  

However, we were forced to make them leave. Our security had to escort them out and take them to the nearest train station for fear of their safety. My father and I tried to come to an agreement with our shop steward who was in the group. Would they now leave all the white employees alone to carry on working? 

Whilst I was talking to him, he was brandishing a large stick in his hand and so was one of our other employees.  I tried to reason with him that him holding that stick is intimidating, but he could not give me an answer. There were two other gentlemen with them who was doing most of the demanding and talking. Most were wearing their Numsa shirts. They then left.

About an hour later we received a phone call from a company close by telling us to get out as a group of 200 to 300 Numsa members were outside their gate and harassing them. We made the decision to leave as we had five ladies in the office.  We therefore left in fear of what might happen.

July 3: We went into work, but at around 09:00, a group of Numsa members in a train, which stopped directly opposite our factory, shouted to our security guard that they are coming back for us.  

Watch:



All was quiet until about 13:00. I went outside to check if all was okay with our security guard and he yelled at me to get inside because a big group of people was coming down the street. I immediately called the police. We raced to get one of the vehicles inside as it was parked outside, and then notified the group that we were working. We closed all steel doors and locked down. Our security company was outside the gate in order to let us now know what their demands were and be a go between.  

He phoned me within five minutes of the group of Numsa members arriving at our gate to inform me that they are demanding that we leave. He informed the leaders of the group that it is only the management in the office and they argued with him that they want no one working and want to stop all production.  

The leaders of the group also threatened us that if we return the next day on July 4 then they would force entry and burn the factory. They would not entertain the idea of the “right to work”. The leaders then advised our security that if we did not leave immediately then they would force entry and burn the building.  

In fear of them making true on their threat, we agreed to leave, but only when the police arrived and pushed them back to at least 100 yards because we were afraid they would throw rocks and stones at us as we left.  When we locked up the factory and began to leave with all the cars, the group began cheering about the success of their intimidation - enough to get us out and stop all production.

July 4: We heeded their threats and stayed away from work.

Monday July 7: We decided it would be best if all the office ladies worked from one of their houses so that we could at least keep the office running - signing new business and getting quotes out. All the white males went into work to carry on with production. At about 11:30 we received word that another large group of Numsa members were on their way to our factory. The men decided to leave before they arrived since there have already been violent damage to other businesses in our area. Even black non-union members were pulled out of their work places and forced to march with them and if they refused to sing, they were beaten.  

It was then decided to go onto a night shift from that evening.

July 7-11: The workshop worked during the night. The employees who agreed to do the night shift all have families with young children. It was very frightening knowing your husband/brother/father was there at night and not knowing if the Numsa members would come and attack whilst they were working.  

Week beginning July 14: Management decided to go back to work. Approximately 12:45 my brother and CEO of the company phoned me asking to please call the police because the group of people was yet again down the road. At the time I was at one of the houses with all the office ladies. I immediately logged onto the security cameras and what I saw, scared the living daylights out of me. On the road was about 100 to 150 Numsa members. I began recording the scene. My brother went out to meet the group and hear what they wanted. He had a hard hat on with his “go-pro” attached so that he could film what was going on.  

Immediately when he got closer to the gate, one of the marshalls shouted to the group “camera, camera”.  The group were brandishing sticks, knobkerries and other weapons and singing. My brother heard one person shout out from the crowd “take that whitey with the camera out”. The one person said to my brother “we want to talk” so he said talk and the reply was “turn your camera off”.  But my brother said: “No, if you want to talk, go ahead [and] talk.”

They refused because they knew he was filming the whole thing. While he was standing there, one member of the group was hitting our company’s sign board with a hammer. My brother started to back away because they were getting rowdy. As he was backing off, someone threw a handful of gravel stones at him, which hit his hardhat. If he was not wearing his hardhat, it would have hit him on his head. He then backed up into the factory and the workers behind the door locked the steel door.  

The group then proceeded to get even louder. About 5 or 6 of the group members then began to shake the gate, which nearly gave way. While they were shaking the gate, others were throwing rocks and bricks at the factory.  This whole scene went on for about 20 minutes. After the group left, about 5-10 minutes later, the police finally arrived. While this incident was happening, Numsa’s marshall was just standing by and watching them do this to our premises.  

Numsa says that they protest in a peaceful and law abiding way. This is false. On all occasions that we have been intimidated and threatened, the people were wearing Numsa shirts. Also in each of these occasions, at least five of our own employees have been amongst the group.  

Do they not realise that if their fellow members burn our factory down, that they will not have a job to go back to? Why support for this violence? Is this how to strike peacefully? Where is the right to work? Numsa may want to make a stand for their rights but where are the rights of all the people who are not Numsa members? They don’t care.

Our company has given year on year an average of 10% to each and every employee. The one year when the company had a good financial year, the agreement from the Metal & Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) was 6.8%, however our employees got 12% across the board.  

If our employees work overtime until 19:00-20:00, we take them close to home. If we do any form of extra overtime we supply dinner and snacks, which can at times cost up to R4 500 per night if all employees are working. They are paid overtime rates for this and also fatigue allowance. We run our company by the book with regards to labour law. Our employees have very good working conditions.  

July 15 & 16: White male employees and four of the black employees went into work and there were no incidents.  

July 17: They returned to work, but at about 10:00 we received a message that the strikers were close by. I immediately went onto the security cameras and there was a group of 60 to 70 Numsa members outside our front gate. The group went straight for the main locks and broke the locks and took one of the chains off. They then began to shake the gate tremendously. It almost came off the posts. 

My father and brother went to speak to the Numsa marshalls. They refused to speak to them because my brother again had his hard hat on with his “go-pro” attached to it.  My father was holding his camera against his stomach.  Eventually my brother took his hard hat off and began speaking to the leader of the group. My father was trying to reason with them about his constitutional right on where he wants to be - at the factory that he is owns. They refused to listen to anything. They kept on saying that “no one must work”. They wouldn’t entertain any form of reasoning.  

Whilst they were talking, someone from the back of the mob threw a rock at my father which hit his stomach.  They were trying to hit his camera and it was damaged. Then they threw another one and it hit my father on the arm, which was followed by more rocks. My father and brother had to dodge rocks that were flying towards them. My father walked away as they had hurt him. My husband then went outside to see if my dad was okay and got him inside the factory. My brother followed suit.  

The marshalls had kept on saying to them having cameras were intimidating. But nearly breaking our gate down, throwing rocks at the owners of the company, brandishing sticks, knobkerries and other forms of weapons are not? After watching this on the security cameras for nearly 20 minutes, the police arrived. They defused the situation and made the Numsa mob move back. Then talks began between the police and the Numsa marshalls.  

In the end we were forced out of the factory once again, but the police had to push the crowd back so that my family and our staff could get out safely. As they were leaving the mob starting chanting: “voetsek!”. How is this peaceful?

Again I say. Where is the right to work in all of this? It seems to be that if you stand up for your “right to work”, this is what happens.

Something needs to be done and quickly, before our family business which my father built up from nothing is closed for good.

* Fin24 withheld the names of the people and the business for fear of further intimidation.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyFin24 have been independently written by members of the Fin24 community. The views of users published on Fin24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent those of Fin24.


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