South African clothing workers win 9%

Wednesday, August 14, 1996

By Norm Dixon

South African clothing and textile workers have won a 9% pay increase after an eight-day national strike. The workers, members of the 83,000-strong SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union, returned to work on August 5. They had been demanding a 10% rise.

The strike, which had the full support of South Africa's peak union body, COSATU, was particularly militant in the union's Western Cape stronghold, where 40,000 SACTWU members work. Members marched on the head offices of major South African retail chains and picketed and held sit-ins at Woolworths and Edgars outlets.

A very popular tactic was for unionists to fill shopping trollies full of goods, have them rung up and then refuse to pay. The actions had the support of the shop workers' union.

SACTWU targeted the retail chains because of clothing industry claims that the chains would not buy their products if they paid workers more money. The union pointed out that the big chains already mark up clothing 100% and so could easily absorb any price increase resulting from wage rises. SACTWU demanded the shops sign a memorandum committing themselves to support the clothing workers' demands and not to buy goods from clothing manufacturers for the duration of the strike.

The strength of workers' action, which cost the clothing industry more than R30 million (A$8 million), and the solidarity of other workers forced the bosses to back down.

Meanwhile, Cape Town members of the SA Municipal Workers' Union went on strike on August 5 in support of wage demands while 25,000 mineworkers around Johannesburg employed by Impala Platinum downed tools on August 1 in support of wage increases between 8.5 and 12%. The strike will cost the company R8 million in revenue and 50,000 tonnes of production a day.