In the middle of its members in the cleaning sector going out on a national strike, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) on 8 August found time to issue a press statement entitled ‘SATAWU condemns the illegal strike action of Gautrain bus drivers’. The statement is short (six lines), but striking for its emotional language. Its opening phrase contains the words ‘condemns in the strongest words possible’. Whoever is being condemned here must be indisputably guilty of a most reprehensible act.
As the title indicates the condemned in this case are Mega Express bus drivers contracted to Gautrain. The actions of the drivers that provoked this strongest possible condemnation was that they embarked on a strike that the union describes as ‘illegal’. In the six line statement the word illegal is used four times to describe and condemn the actions of the bus drivers. Strangely the statement admits that the union lacks direct knowledge of what the workers are doing. They are issuing this statement based on ‘media reports’.
The truth is that there is no such thing as an illegal strike. When workers strike they merely withdraw their labour. They cannot be guilty of an illegal or criminal act as no one is legally obligated to work. The Labour Relations Act makes provision for a distinction between procedural and unprocedural strikes. In the case of procedural strikes workers have applied for and given the required notification and they therefore have a certain level of legal protection against dismissal. With unprocedural strikes they have forgone the required notifications and are liable to be dismissed. That is all. They are not guilty of anything illegal and they should not be accused, least of all by ‘their’ union.
The fact that SATAWU would condemn the workers for an illegal act that they could not possibly commit and would take care to side with the employers by saying, ‘We wish to publicly say SATAWU did not declare any mutual interest dispute with Bombela Operating Company the owners of Gautrain,’ indicate a deep problem regarding the relationship between workers, unions, employers and the law. Workers risk dismissal by the employers, and condemnation and abandonment by union leaders precisely because the laws favours the employers to such a degree that staying within it often makes strike action ineffective. The drawn out procedures are intended to minimise the disruptive power of strikes, which is exactly what employers want and workers often cannot bear.
Typically the SATAWU statement does not explain why the ‘illegal’ actions would be bad. Precisely because this ‘legalism’ is in the interests of the union leaders who fear the threats to their money and jobs that possible liability suits may pose. But workers cannot start with this fundamentalist commitment to stay within the law. The law has not been made by or for them. They know that to get justice you often have to break the law.
SATAWU condemns the illegal strike action of Gautrain bus drivers8 August 2011
SATAWU PRESS STATEMENT
SATAWU PRESS STATEMENT
The South African Transport & Allied Workers Unions (SATAWU) condemns in the strongest words possible the actions of Mega Express bus drivers who are contracted to Gautrain. According to media reports, these workers are currently on an illegal strike. We wish to publicly say SATAWU did not declare any mutual interest dispute with Bombela Operating Company the owners of Gautrain. SATAWU does not condone any illegal action taken by its members.
The decision to embark on an illegal strike and march to Bombela’s offices to demand a salary adjustment is quite regrettable. SATAWU strongly condemns this action, our national office has instructed the Gauteng provincial executive to investigate the matter and provide a full report on the context under which the decision to strike was taken.
Issued by SATAWU Secretariat
For further enquiries contact:
Assaria Mataboge –Passenger bus sector coordinator – 082 379 0927
Ephraim Mphahlele – Gauteng Provincial Chairperson 072 111 8131