The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) is to investigate the link, if any, between security-sector employers and African National Congress leaders.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said such a link, if found, ”may help explain the apparent indifference of political leaders to the plight of security workers, in contrast to [their] eagerness to condemn them [strikers] at the slightest provocation”.
”Who are the employers? There are rumours spreading that some are leaders in the democratic movement,” Vavi said, without going into specifics. ”Their silence [on the strike] is absolutely deafening.”
Vavi was briefing the media in Johannesburg on the outcomes of a Cosatu central executive committee (CEC) meeting that ended on Wednesday.
He said the CEC noted with disapproval that the public debate has focused on violence surrounding the strike, rather than the deplorable conditions in the security industry and other issues that led guards to strike.
”Yet the strike centres on the employers’ refusal to bargain. Given very low base pay, the workers demand of 11% will mean only just over R100 a month more. In addition, workers are demanding four months’ paid maternity leave — a normal benefit in most industries,” Vavi said.
He noted that the security industry is marked by rapid growth and high profits for employers, on the one hand, and deplorable conditions and pay for ordinary workers, on the other.
”In the last financial year, the security industry realised profits in excess of R16-billion and only retail grew more rapidly.”
He poured cold water on claims that the public would not pay more for security guards if this gave them a better wage.
”The CEC noted with disgust that security companies were saying that their customers would not meet the cost of decent salaries for the guards who risked their lives to ensure safety of customers. In our view, this is a smoke screen for profiteering. If these companies were really concerned about affordable service, they should trim fat at the top.
”Cosatu has long regarded security guards as among the most vulnerable workers, after domestic and farm workers. Most workers do not have permanent jobs. Instead, their employment depends on companies securing contracts.
”Security guards form the front line between criminals and the properties of those that they are protecting. Yet most have neither arms nor adequate back-up.
”Employers in this industry are from another age. A significant number of them come out of the CCB [Civil Cooperation Bureau], Koevoet and special branch police, and resigned from the state security forces at the dawn of democracy. They were masters of deceit and dirty tricks. Given this historical association with apartheid dirty tricks, we fear that agents provocateurs are behind the current events,” Vavi warned.
Standing by Satawu
He also announced that Cosatu will now assist the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) in its eight-week long strike. Pickets will be organised at security companies, starting on Thursday.
Vavi and other Cosatu officials left after the press conference to attend the picket at Stallion Security in Doornfontein, Johannesburg. ”The CEC will lead sit-ins and other forms of demonstration targeting individual private security employers and their associations,” Vavi added.
Cosatu will also establish strike committees to coordinate solidarity actions and support Satawu financially.
”We will also develop mechanisms to make it possible for individuals from inside and outside the labour movement to contribute to the strike fund. In the longer run, Cosatu will explore the establishment of a solidarity fund to enhance its capacity to support the struggles of affiliates,” Vavi said.
The trade union federation will also do more to target the outsourcing and casualisation of workers.
”Many of the security workers now on strike were outsourced from the public sector and large private employers over the past 12 years. The strike has exposed the moral bankruptcy of the policy of outsourcing so-called non-core services,” Vavi charged.
”Every union will communicate directly with the security companies to demand that they improve conditions for their workers, starting by negotiating with Satawu. Furthers unions will approach companies in their sectors who are users of the service to demand that the security companies address the appalling conditions of security workers.
”Cosatu will mobilise all its members to demand from all the employers that they should not replace striking workers with scabs, whether in or out of uniform. The CEC calls on all members to refuse to be guarded by scabs who cross the picket line.”
Vavi called on all Cosatu members to desist from violence and engage strike-breakers in oral, not physical argument, in line with the customs and traditions of the federation.
At least a dozen presumed security guards have been murdered and scores more seriously assaulted during the two months the strike has lasted.
Many of the killings and beatings have been attributed to strikers, but Cosatu and Satawu blame apartheid-era third-force operatives. — Sapa