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A great workers’ victory

When 16 000 railway workers were fired on 13 March, many people said the workers would never get their jobs back. They thought that SARHWU, the small railway workers union, could not win the battle with the giant South African Transport Ser­vices (SATS). But they forgot about the story of David and Goliath which is told in the bible.

The strike was long and difficult. Six workers lost their lives, many workers and union officials were detained, the union’s offices at Cosatu House were bombed – but SARHWU came out the winner in their struggle with SATS, who lost R20 million because of the strike.

SATS fought SARHWU from all sides. It used the radio, television and the newspapers to try and break the strike. But the workers stood strong and united. When the bosses tried to speak to BLATU, the “sweetheart” union, the workers said that SARHWU was their only voice.


The strike was 12 weeks old when the lawyers of SARHWU and SATS came out of their meeting room with good news. The strike was over and the workers sang and danced in the streets praising SARHWU for their victory. SATS agreed to:

  • Give workers their jobs back.

  • Take back the workers who are in detention when they are free.

  • Allow workers to choose their own representatives to talk for them.

  • Improve living conditions at Kaserne and Delmore hostels.

  • Give full-time jobs to all workers, black or white.


“It is our unity that won us the strike,” says John Khuzwayo, a sorter at SATS for 23 years. ” We used to come to our union offices every day. We sang and had meetings with our union officials. We knew that the strike was difficult but the strike meant life or death to us.”

“Now we have learned that unity is strength and nothing can divide us. But we cannot say we have won our victory when some of us are still in prison. Our slogan is ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ and we call on the police to free those who are in prison.”


Mandla Msimango, an official of SARHWU said: “This is an important victory for us. SATS must know that SARHWU is no longer the SARHWU they knew. Victory has made us grow. We gained thousands of new members during the strike. More workers are joining us now that we have won”.

“When we go back to work we will be more united and we will have more power. We have lost some of our brothers but what we have gained is bigger than anything else in the his­ tory of our struggle.

“SATS now knows that we have sup­ port from most workers in the country. We have also proved that BLATU is just a big dog with no teeth.”

The dust has now settled and workers have gone back to work.

The workers paid a heavy price – but ‘ SATS will not forget the story of how a small boy called David killed the giant Goliath with only a sling and a small stone.


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