COSATU STATEMENT TO PARLIAMENT ON THE VIOLENCE LINKED TO STRIKES AND PROTEST.
The violence that has often been associated with strike actions in the W Cape over the more recent months has been escalating. The instances of injuries, death and destruction to property has its origins in various quarters and has to be stopped as a matter of urgency.
The Cosatu structures have for a while now expressed concern about the ongoing violence that has been linked to the various strikes that have been taking place ,as well as the community protest that has been sweeping the land. This could be an expression of the deep frustration workers have linked to the slave wages and conditions of employment that are especially prevalent in the W. Cape. This sense of disregard is compounded by the fact that the W Cape has the highest level of inequalities in the world. Which leads workers to feel further marginalised in a province where they can see this emerging middle class and super rich class whose income they are essentially subsidising with there low wages. These examples are most stark in the security and contract cleaning industries and is demonstrated by the huge pay differences between casual retail workers and Sean Summers the CEO of Pick and Pay. Growing inequalities will give rise to an increasingly unstable society and this instability that has its roots in the townships will spill over into the other areas.
The strikes and protest actions have seen other elements use the activities of the unions as a cover for their own illegal activities. So we have instances where protest are joined by criminal elements that are using protest as an opportunity to rob customers and loot shops. This clearly presents a huge challenge in respect of the responces required from all quarters to the manner in which we police the protest.
The third area we have become more aware of is the agent provocateurs that are infiltrating our protest to undermine the credibility of our cause. This is where some employers who use apartheid style tactics to discredit our cause. This also sees antagonism develop between police and the demonstrators due to the conduct of some of thas well as e participants in the protest.
In most strikes our success is in part determined by our ability to win popular support for our strikes, the instances of violence losses us the support of the society more broadly and weakens our strike effort.
Police brutality has a role to play in the growing tensions that are developing in protest , as the public order policing who has been trained in crowd control has been replaced by metro police who has no training in crowd control. This deployment of untrained personel in crowd control has seen serious injuries taking place and the protest unravelling into chaos. Besides not complying with the obligation the police has to ensure the safety of people it also opens the police up to law suites for injuries. They would in many instances respond to legitimate protest in a manner that sees the protest lose control and become disruptive. This conduct by the police is seeing increasing antagonism develop in the protest amongst the event organisers and the police. It is these parties who have to collaborate to ensure the safety of all the participants in the march and the deepening tensions in the relaitionship does not help this.
The need for a clear protocol to guide police actions in such instances, as well a guide to the organisers of the protest event is essential if the integrity of the process is to be secured. Should police be arresting march organisers who must assist to bring the situation back under control, this only contributes to the disruption. The police would in any event know where to get the organisers after the march if an arrest was required so the only purpose was to disrupt the march even further or act in a vindictive way. This type of arrest could see march organisers being the first to leave the scene in the event of disruption, fearing arrest, thus further undermining crowd control prospects. The police may be able to shoot up smallish gatherings as they do now , but somewhere down the line this tactic is going to lead to a full scale riot that spirals beyond control.
The use of scab labour by the employers during strikes are leading to increasing tensions and this must be stopped, as the threat to peoples jobs which is the means through which they feed there families is a highly emotive issue. Scabs and strike breaking labour brokers are a scourge in the society and undermines orderly industrial relaitions. The LRA act provides for the use of industrial action to be the mechanism through which the patties can compel each other to concede to their demands, the way in which scab labour undermines the bargaining process forces further hostility between the parties and complicates settlements.
The instances of violence clearly does not help the cause of workers and undermines our broader call for solidarity in a cause that is designed to build greater solidarity around wage bargaining as a key redistributive mechanism within the society and a contributor to greater social justice that in turn builds greater social cohesion.
As Cosatu we would want to work with the entire society to build greater solidarity and common purpose around the key challenges facing our society, of which inequalities and poverty are the main challenges. These deepening levels of violence with in the society more generally is symptomatic of our inability to respond to the social crisis caused by poverty and is a sad indictment on our ability to respond to the needs of our people.
As Cosatu we condemn all acts of violence and call on our members to expose the undisciplined elements from whatever sources who seek to undermine our legitimate struggles. We will as Cosatu following due process expel people from our ranks who do not comply with the central policies and decisions of our organisation.
The manner in which the police are responding to instances of violence is clearly rooted in the law as it existed before apartheid. The use of the provision of public violence is totally out of keeping with the events unfolding. The public violence provisions may have their origins in the apartheid state where violent protest is directed at the state or some act of sedition. The aim being to ultimately overthrow the state , that clearly is not the intention in this instances. The actions of strikers are essentially directed at monopoly white capital who the state has no capacity to discipline or force to pay living wages to SA citizens, so it supports the state. This violence is related to the instances of mainly criminal conduct that are committed by rogue elements against the unions express instruction, as a result this acts must be charged using criminal provisions in the law. The kind of laws that could be used is malicious damage to property, assault, theft, etc to charge the perpetrators, who are apprehended in such acts. The most recent instances of arrest has seen the state try to move the cases to the regional court with the possible intention of trying to secure stiffer sentences. This outlawing of legitimate action due to a few criminal acts will have the effects of suppressing the rights of workers and communities to peaceful protest. A different balance needs to be found to protect the rights of the different roleplayers related to legitimate protest. Turning protestors into political opponents is counterproductive at best..
Whatever the reasons are we need to respond to it in a manner that safeguards the labour movement right to protest whilst at the same time clamping down on illegal activities that undermine the central message and plea of workers for greater social justice.