Eighteen years, on 18 – 20 May 2000, SATAWU’s historic inaugral National Congress took place under the banner of COSATU, giving birth to a giant trade union to be a home for all transport, cleaning & security workers in South Africa with a paid up membership of 103 000.
The historic merger was implemented in terms of a COSATU Resolution adopted at its inaugral National Congress in 1985 informed by the strategic objective of uniting transport workers in both the public (SARHWU) and the private (TGWU) sectors.
The values and fundamental principles upon which SATAWU was founded included among others Unity, Non-Discrimination , Democracy, Worker Control, Accountability and International Solidarity.
During the first three years of the merger, good progress was made as the leadership set about focusing on consolidating the unity process through applying the best organisational cultures of both unions to build vibrant structures on the ground, adopting new policies, integrating administration, financial and investment systems and facilitating cooperation among leadership at all levels as they had to get to know each other and learn to work together.
SATAWU also had to confront many challenges of a financial and investment nature as part of the consolidation process. However, the major challenge faced during this period was an orchestrated project that could have resulted in the destroying of the merger. Regrettably, the union had to expel certain provincial leaders, members and officials as evidence emerged that they were involved in a project to undermine the merger by starting a new union to be renamed SARHWU.
Having overcome the above challenge, SATAWU slowly found its organisational and administrative stability and leadership was beginning to work well together.
SATAWU made it to its first ordinary National Congress in 2003 which was robust but emerged united with clear resolutions intended to focus on organising and campaigning to advance the interest of members against employers or government anti-worker policies.
There were historic struggles led by SATAWU between 2003 and 2006. The first was the national security strike during which the union took on very conservative, arrogant and stubborn employers who were hell-bent on perpetuating their exploitation and abuse of workers. The employers undermined the determination and resilience of workers as the strike became less about money but rather about the dignity and respect of black and African workers. That strike will go down in the annals of South African labour history as one of the most violent and bloody in which 60 people regrettably lost their lives. It was also a strike in which police brutality was meted out on workers without any restraint.
That strike fundamentally changed the attitude of the most conservative, para-military and racist “rooi nek” type of employers and more importantly resulted in a more progressive approach to collective bargaining in the industry – which still exists today.
The second was the strike which took place in Transnet in the context of the restructuring process intended to turn into a freight logistics company. However, given that the engagements were marred by arrogance, bad faith negotiation and undermining, labour unions decided to embark on strike action to reposition the talks and correct employer’s attitude. Victory was indeed claimed when they returned to the negotiating table without arrogance, willing to engage and not to impose their positions. As history will show, an agreement was reached in which Transnet achieved its freight logistics focus and labour ensured that no job was lost and conditions of employment remained unchanged, even in the instance where state-owned companies like Metrorail and SAA among others were exited.
The third major campaign was against government’s proposal to privatise the railways. Here again, SATAWU and its members, demonstrated practical support to back its ideological mandate that strategic SOEs must remain state-owned, managed in efficient and accountable manner and used for the benefit of growing and transforming the economy so that our people get jobs and small business opportunities. SATAWU achieved a decisive victory against right wing ideologues (officials) in the affected government department and investment bankers waiting in the wings to suck our economy dry from which the masses of our people would have derived no benefit and many of our members could have lost their jobs.
Further attempts were made with regard to the partial or full privatisation of the ports, SATAWU successfully thwarted these.
The union successfully convened its second ordinary National Congress in 2006. At that point it had gained a huge reputation as a principled, mobilising and campaigning union that was organisationally strong with vibrant structures, financially sound and ideologically clear. SATAWU had indeed earned the respect of employers and the relevant government departments through organising, campaigning and highlighting workers’ struggles.
Given constitutional amendments adopted by Congress, terms for national and provincial office bearers changed to five and four respectively. As a result, leadership changes had to be effected in late 2009 given the resignation of the founding/former general secretary and deployment as a Special Advisor Labour Relations to the Minister of Public Service and Administration.
FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES FLAUNTED
It is with a deep sense of sadness, disappointment and anger that we observed SATAWU become a former shadow of itself between the period 2011 and 2017. During this period, a new culture took root within the union, during which the fundamental principles referred to above were undermined and ignored, resulting in lack of transparency and accountability. The intention was to instil fear when asking questions about how the monies of workers were being managed.
This resulted in the union:
All of this happened under the leadership of the now deported (back to Zimbabawe) and former general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu alias John Sibande and those who supported him that nearly brought SATAWU to the brink of collapse.
The former National Office Bearers and former leaders attempted to intervene as far back as 2015 but all efforts were blocked by the now deported general secretary. Notwithstanding, former NOBs and leaders engaging with COSATU, ANC & SACP to seek support for an urgent intervention through a Road Map to rescue the union – the efforts were blocked.
It was only in mid–2017 when a group of comrades decided to approach the courts to ensure compliance with the constitution for an urgent CEC to be convened to deal with the serious challenges, decided the fate of the general secretary given Department of Home Affairs’ decision to deport him and proceed to hold 4th National Congress.
The efforts resulted in an historic CEC held on 17 November 2017 and attended by former leaders.
It was this CEC that recognised that SATAWU was in a serious organisational, financial crisis and that an urgent intervention was required to rescue the union. The following key decisions were taken:
BACK TO BASICS
Therefore, as SATAWU celebrates its 18th anniversary, it is certainly not under ideal organisational and financial conditions. However, we can reflect on positive developments since the CEC of 17 November 2017, the election of the Task Team and the appointment of the Executive running the union. While there is a recognition that there are still many challenges to be addressed and noting that some decisions could not be implemented due to financial constraints:
We are very proud of SATAWU members’ recent participation in the collective bargaining processes in the Tollgate sector, Transnet Bargaining Council and the Bus Industry Bargaining Council (SARPBAC) and the agreements negotiated on behalf of members.
Our members demonstrated unity, loyalty and determination to force the best settlement out of intransigent employers.
The strike led by SATAWU and four other unions in the passenger sector will be forever remembered as the longest industrial action in recent memory that produced the highest settlement in a multi-term wage agreement. SATAWU applauds its members, leaders and officials who managed the strike in a disciplined and resilient manner.
The passenger strike serves as a reminder of SATAWU’s capacity to engage in struggle against employers and advance interest of workers.
We hereby call on all SATAWU members to support the turnaround strategy to Renew, Rebuild, Unite, Recruit and to provide quality service as we go back to basics by returning the union back to its rightful owners – the workers.
For any media enquiries contact:
SATAWU Executive Coordinator Jack Mazibuko on 011 403 2077