Many tens of thousands of metal and engineering workers in South Africa, members of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), have been on indefinite strike over pay and conditions since 5 October. NUMSA is calling for an 8% wage rise for everyone in the first year of a deal, and inflation plus 2% in the following two years.
Employers offered 4.4%, then inflation plus 0.5% and inflation plus 1%. Under pressure they have now added an offer of 6% for the lowest paid.
Last year NUMSA agreed to no wage increase due to the impact of the pandemic on the industry. That helps explain workers’ anger and determination now.
The union is also making demands on sick pay, paternity and family responsibility leave, transport costs, family funeral benefits and an allowance for those working underground.
Another union, the Metal and Electrical Workers’ Union of South Africa (MEWUSA) has announced that its members are now out on strike. There are about 300,000 workers in the industry; MEWUSA has about 16,000, NUMSA 155,000. A third union, UASA, says it is in dispute but not yet on strike.
The strike seems to be characterised by big rallies and vibrant demonstrations. Violence by police and security guards against strikers looks to have escalated, with many injured by rubber bullets.
South Africa’s biggest union federation, COSATU, is not very vocal about the strike. NUMSA is part of another, more left-wing federation, SAFTU, and critical of COSATU’s support for the pro-capitalist ANC government. COSATU is a central pillar of a political regime which has continued to oversee dire poverty and precariousness for most of the country’s workers.