South Africa: Pick 'n Pay strike settled

Issue 

By Norm Dixon

JOHANNESBURG — The militant three-week strike by workers at the Pick 'n Pay supermarket chain has been settled. The outcome reflects that neither the workers, their union, the SACCAWU, nor Pick 'n Pay management were able to get the upper hand in the struggle. The early and brutal intervention by the police (at management's request), to enforce a court order to outlaw picketing within 500 metres of Pick 'n Pay stores, probably prevented SACCAWU workers from winning a greater wage rise.

Pick 'n Pay has agreed to pay workers an extra R180 a month ($A72) backdated to March. The average increase works at 12.3% and the agreement will remain in force until May 1995. Pick 'n Pay workers will now earn an average of R1643 ($660) a month. The union had been demanding an increase of R229 ($92) a month. Management had refused to budge from R175.

Pick 'n Pay management estimates that it lost up to R30 million ($12 million) during the strike, despite using scab labour to keep open most stores. The SACCAWU agreed that their members would resume work on August 5.

The agreement package included improved training, development and "career pathing", accelerated affirmative action and a greater disclosure of company information to the union. Management refused to drop criminal charges laid against picketers but promised to "review most cases". They agreed to "talk" to the police to see if trespassing charges could be dropped.

SACCAWU campaigns coordinator Jeremy Daphne said the agreement represented an "important breakthrough", an assessment that was not shared by Pick 'n Pay workers I spoke to. The overwhelming attitude was one of anger and bitterness at management's hardline stance and the role of the police and courts in limiting the strike's effectiveness. Their wages remain "miserable" said one young woman and they remain determined to fight for a "living wage for all".

In response to the settlement, COSATU Wits regional Secretary Langa Zita announced that the threatened August 8 regional stay-away in solidarity with the Pick 'n Pay workers would not take place. Discussions between COSATU and PWV Safety and Security Minister Jessie Duarte and national Safety and Security Minister Sydney Mufamadi had already led to a change of behaviour and involvement of police in industrial disputes, COSATU Secretary General Sam Shilowa said.

Meanwhile, the dispute between SACCAWU and the Shoprite/Checkers supermarket chain seems set to escalate. SACCAWU charges management with unfairly dismissing a shop steward for raising workers' grievances. Further dismissals followed protest action which has now spread to 24 stores in the Transvaal and involves 500 workers. In a repeat of the Pick 'n Pay dispute, Shoprite management has secured a court order to limit picketing.

SACCAWU general secretary Bones Skulu said that the strike will become national if management does not reinstate all sacked workers. Langa Zita has promised that COSATU will organise solidarity with the Shoprite/Checkers workers.

Meanwhile, South African workers are taking industrial action in a number of other sectors.

  • A striker at the Cape Gas company in Cape Town was shot dead by a security guard. The workers, members of the Chemical Workers Industrial Union, have been on strike since July 22. A security guard opened fire when strikers attempted to prevent scabs entering the company site on August 1.

  • Thousands of mineworkers downed tools on July 29 at the world's largest platinum producer, Impala Platinum Mines, after the company offered a 4% wage increase. The National Union of Miners has referred its wage dispute to the Chamber of Mines for mediation. Reports indicate little progress is being made. NUM's 385,000 members want an increase of 12%. The Chamber of Mines has offered 8.5% for gold miners, and 8.5-9% for coal miners. Anglo American has offered 7%. De Beers has offered 8.5%.

NUM declared a second dispute with the Chamber of Mines on August 1 accusing it of sabotaging the Reconstruction and Development Program by backtracking on an agreement to provide basic education and training to mineworkers. NUM Assistant General Secretary Gwende Mantashe attacked the mining companies saying, "It's not good enough to say you support the RDP and then renege on proposals which have elements of the program in them. This is an obstacle to the removal of apartheid's horrendous legacy, where mineworkers were treated like mindless chattel".

  • The Prison Officers and Police Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) announced on August 1 that they were launching a campaign of strikes and mass actions to force the reinstatement of POPCRU members sacked for political reasons between 1990 and 1993. POPCRU President Enoch Nelani said talks between himself and Police Minister Sydney Mufamadi had not been successful.

  • PWV government social workers began a sit-in in Pretoria on August 1 over racism and staff benefits in the department.

  • Striking building workers in the Western Cape returned to work.

  • Workers employed at the infamous Sun City hotel complex, in the former Bophuthatswana, began returning to work on August 1. Sun City was forced to shut down on July 28 after 3000 workers walked out in protest at the stage of wage negotiations. The workers are members of SACCAWU. Earlier in the week, staff had protested against a racist attack by a security guard. Since its opening in the mid '70s, Sun City has been closed only once before — during the Bophuthatswana uprising earlier this year.

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