70,000 construction workers strike in South Africa
Published Jul 20, 2009 9:17 PM
South Africa is in a frenzy of construction in order to host the 2010 World Cup
soccer competition. Complaining of low wages, the 70,000 construction workers
hired for the project walked off the job July 8.
Striking construction workers march
in Cape Town.
The union representing them, the National Union of Mineworkers, says they want
a wage increase of 13.5 percent and more benefits, like parental leave.
According to the NUM, all the involved worksites in the country have been hit
by the strike and 90 percent of the workers are respecting the call to stay
Bush Radio web site reports that Danny Jordaan, spokesperson for the local
organizing committee for the World Cup, says, “The workers have the right
to strike if they feel they have legitimate grievances.” He of course
hopes “the strike can be resolved soon so that the stadiums can be
finished on schedule.”
South Africa is upgrading five stadiums and building five new ones. A new
airport for Durban, the country’s major port on the Indian Ocean, as well
as power stations and a rapid rail line from the international airport to
Johannesburg and Pretoria, the capital, are also being constructed.
The average salary of construction workers is 2,500 rand a month—about
$300. The anger over management’s counter-offer is so high that 2,000
construction workers not in the union also walked out in Cape Town. They
disrupted traffic, doing the protest dance toyi-toyi through the streets,
chanting and singing. It was reported that the cops used stun grenades to
disperse them. (News 24 web site)
The World Cup of soccer, known as football everywhere but in North America, is
the biggest sporting event on the globe. Some 2 billion to 3 billion people
watch it on television and hundreds of thousands of fans throng the stadiums.
Next year the World Cup will be held for the first time on the continent of
Dispatches from both Reuters and AP say an agreement has been reached on the
wage issue which could be brought to the union members for a vote by July
Testifying to the significance of the strike, the South African Minister of
Labor, Membathisi Mdladlana, served as mediator for the talks. Besides
representatives from NUM/Building Trades, the employers’ council and the
local organizing committee for the World Cup, General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi
of the Congress of South African Trade Unions attended, along with the chair of
the parliamentary committee on labor, Lumka Yengen.
When the strike started on July 8, the employers predicted it would last a day
or two at most. They pointed to the unemployment rate, which Statistics South
Africa puts at 23.5 percent, and the financial weakness of the union and its
members, who have no strike fund and no savings.
They failed to take into account the whip of inflation, which is running at 8
percent, and the workers’ perception that their employers were under a
It was the employers who buckled first.
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