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 The Germiston Solidarity Committee

2012/12/01

The Solidarity Committee (SC) is based in Germiston, Gauteng. It organizes solidarity with striking and dismissed workers. Formed a week before the Marikana Massacre in August 2012, the SC has led several marches and demonstrations to various workplaces. It has also called for community boycotts of specific company products. Its success has forced bosses to recognize it and even meet with it, despite it having no legal standing within the existing labour relations framework.

In this respect, the SC resembles the Marikana workers committee, and the more recent National Strike Committee, which has been co-ordinating the subsequent mining and related strikes. The common thread that unites these different initiatives is that they begin to point the way for a new workers' movement. Marikana showed that the old labour movement has become a weapon in the hands of the bosses.

The SC was formed when the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) brought together over 300 of its dismissed workers. The workers were from 7 different workplaces, and had been dismissed for different reasons. Some had been dismissed during a protected wage strike in 2011 while others were dismissed for striking against their labour broker employer, demanding to be employed directly by the client company they were working for.

The 300-strong meeting set up a Solidarity Committee with representatives from each of the affected workplaces. However, from its very first meeting the SC included workers who were not members of GIWUSA, like the Germiston street sweepers and later the Simba workers. Both groups had approached the Casual Workers Advice Office for support, and were working closely with it.

The SC has prioritized solidarity with workers on strike, although it also supports workers who have already been dismissed. Its first action targeted Home & Catering, where 40 workers were on strike, their main demand being that the 20 workers employed as casuals be permanently employed. The strike ended in victory, with the company agreeing to make the casuals permanent workers.

The SC organised a spontaneous march of 150 workers to the Ekurhuleni municipality in support of the Germiston street cleaners' demand to be employed directly by the municipality, and not by the sub-contractor that pays them an average monthly wage of R1500. The workers would be earning at least R6000 if they were employed by the municipality itself. This struggle is on-going, and the SC organized a second march to the municipality in early November.

The single biggest struggle the SC is currently engaged in is at Simba. The company terminated its contract with a labour broker, Franmann Services, resulting in 636 workers losing their jobs. The workers approached CWAO for support and started attending the meetings of the SC. After the SC organized 2 marches to Simba demanding the re-employment of the workers, and issued a public call for a consumer boycott, Simba invited the SC to discuss the workers' demands. This was a significant development.

The company was forced to meet with a committee that had no legal right to meet with it and was not representing a trade union either. Three of the 5 delegates to the Simba meetings were not even employees of the company, echoing the Marikana experience, where some of the workers committee members that negotiated with the Lonmin bosses after the massacre were also not direct employees of the company.

The outcome of a series of meetings was an agreement by Simba to re-employ all workers interested in getting their jobs back. The company has typically backtracked, now offering to directly employ a small number of workers, with another 50 to be absorbed by the new labour broker. Workers have rejected the offer and are making a renewed call for a consumer boycott of Simba products.

Although the first delegates to the SC were nominated in a mass meeting, the SC is open to all workers. The only condition for attendance is to bring a particular struggle to the committee for support or to come and help organize support for such struggles. This means that the size and composition of SC meetings vary. The average meeting number is around 25, but this can easily swell to around 50 when support is being organized for an immediate struggle, as in the case of the strike by the street sweepers or the one at Hi-Tech Inks. Meetings take place when necessary, sometimes daily, but at least twice weekly.

The SC has discussed the need to involve communities in its campaigns, and to involve itself fully in community issues. In one particular factory march, it invited the community from Kwathema to participate. The SC met a community task team consisting of community activists from a number of different communities and convened by Khanya College. The meeting agreed on co-operation between the two structures.

The SC is also part of the We Are All Marikana campaign, which consists mainly of community based organisations. The campaign organized a September mass meeting in the Germiston city hall in solidarity with the mineworkers. It was at this meeting that a consumer boycott of Simba products was first announced. However, the issue of a strong community presence in the SC is an area of its development the committee needs to give much more attention to.

The co-ordinator of the SC, Thabang Mohlala, can be contacted on 0735405950.

(This article first appeared in the November edition of Workers World News, produced by the Ilrig.)


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