The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) strikers are inciting hostility and stability is absent as vandalism rises. The engineering strike began last week, and protesters marched around the country demanding a higher wages and other benefits. Lengthy negotiations between union officials and companies within the manufacturing sector deadlocked at the end of June, and NUMSA called for a protected strike. The engineering industry plays a vital role within South Africa, and the new strike threatens the economy.
Stability is absent, and President Jacob Zuma has not commented or undertaken any form of action to stop the strike. A state department issued a statement condemning the action of the strikers and the unnecessary destruction caused to the company by the raging strikers. Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi said it was imperative for discussions to continue between employers and employees to resolve the dispute. Muthambi called on all parties to reach a speedy and nonviolent resolution. Muthambi said the government was committed to ensuring stability. NUMSA is the largest metalworkers’ trade union in South Africa and an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) that forms part of the tripartite alliance of the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC). COSATU is in a strategic political alliance and is committed to the struggle for socialism.
The organized movements by NUMSA around the country are reproachful. The violence, looting and intimidation by members of NUMSA during strikes is causing instability and threatens to drive South Africa in a recession. There is no orderly behavior during marches and union chiefs are not leading by example.
Witnesses reported the violent acts of striking workers and claimed that theft of laptops, cash and office equipment was the norm. Several protesters threw rocks at windows and stationery vehicles, breaking gates and wrecking the workplaces.
NUMSA must acknowledge responsibility for the acts of vandalism and be held accountable for the actions of participants. The behavior and actions of the strikers have gone beyond the normal civilized protests and are not aiding any effort to seek a final resolution to their demands.
Widespread damage around the country is a concern, and the consequences of the recent rampage can lead to the unemployment of thousands of workers. South Africa is already trying to deal with a high level of unemployment and adding to this dilemma can influence adversely on the engineering sector.
NUMSA rejects the reports of intimidation and destruction by its members as a trick to weaken their struggle for demanding a living wage for workers. NUMSA insisted that no amount of slanderous accusations would undermine the strike.
It would appear that the striking workers are following the union leaders’ requests without consideration of the economy or the damage caused by their bullish behavior. A peaceful strike might have made an impact and shortened the negotiations between NUMSA and companies. Reports of the strike appear to be a coordinated destructive frenzy of looting and damage by masses of intimidated workers. A number of manufacturing companies are contemplating closing their businesses after the destructive behavior of striking works.
NUMSA remains defiant and continues to incite hostility between the working strikers. Stability within South Africa is absent, and President Zuma does not appear to be intervening. The continued marches and destructive behavior can only lead to financial ruin for the striking workers. The political alliance of NUMSA and the ruling ANC party deflects responsibility toward the ordinary people of South Africa.
Commentary by Laura Oneale