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Sit in for your rights

On Tuesday, 11th March 1200 miners at Blyvooruitzicht mine went underground for the morning shift.

In the afternoon, none of the miners came up. They just stayed underground.

The mine bosses waited at the top of the mine. They waited for two days. By Thursday they were tired — and worried. They were worried because no one was working. They were also worried about what the miners were doing inside the mine.

The miners were angry. The miners wanted the bosses to listen to them. They did not like the new bonuses. That is why they stayed underground. But after 36 hours with no food, they were too hungry to stay down any longer.

More and more workers are stay­ing at work when they are angry. In the last couple of months there have been sit-ins at many factories, at Kelloggs, Bosch, Printpak, the Durban bakeries, Renown, ASEA, Cheeseborough-Ponds. While we write this story, workers are sitting in at Haggie-Rand.


Meshack Ravuku of the Chemical Workers Industrial Union told us about the sit-in at the Cheeseborough-Ponds factory in January.

“At the wage talks with the bosses, the workers asked for R3,50 a day, May Day as a paid holiday and a 40 hour working week. But most of all they wanted the personnel manager to go.”

“The bosses said no, so the workers started to work very slowly. The go-slow lasted for one and a half months — but still the bosses did not agree.

“The workers started to talk about a strike. ‘Will the police come? Will they be fired? Will the bosses try to get more people?’ Then one worker said, ‘If we sleep in the factory, we need not ask these questions.’ And that was what the workers did.

“The workers made posters to say what they wanted. The posters said that the bosses must listen to the workers. They also said that overseas companies make money out of South African workers. Cheeseborough-Ponds is a Cana­dian company.

”Then the workers tried to sit in the general manager’s office but the general manager locked himself inside. So the workers sat outside and sang songs.


The workers were in the factory for two nights. Meshack said, “The workers said if they stayed awake, then the bosses must stay awake too.

“So every fifteen minutes or so, they phoned one of the bosses and made a hell of a noise. The bosses couldn’t unplug their phones. They wanted to hear from the security guards what the workers were doing in the factory. They were worried about their machines.

“In the end, said Meshack, “the workers told the bosses there was going to be more trouble. They said that they were going to fetch their families, dogs, cats, everything.

“About ten minutes later, the boss­es made another offer — R3,25 an hour, May Day as a paid holiday and a 44 hour working week. The workers said yes.”


At the Bosch factory in Brits the workers went on strike. They want­ed a R1 an hour increase for all workers. The bosses fired all the workers after they had been on strike for two days.

The bosses wanted to teach the workers a lesson. But the workers had a lesson for the bosses. They refused to leave the factory, even at tjaile time. The workers didn’t want the bosses to get other workers. They said, ‘No-one will touch our machines’ and they made sure that no-one got a chance.

The bosses of Bosch did not take the workers seriously — not until the workers’ families started to arrive at about 6.30 in the evening. When the bosses saw food and blankets coming in, they said to the workers, ‘Let’s talk.’


The longest sit-in was at Printpak in Jo’burg. The workers at Printpak were angry when Cyril Rulashe was fired. They said it was unfair.

Hamilton Ntanda laughs when he remembers the sit-in. He says, “We stayed in the factory for two and a half weeks. The bosses took turns to stay in the factory with us. They worried that we would break the machines. We were pleased to see the bosses working shifts. Now they know how heavy shift work really is.”


We spoke to some trade unionists about sit-ins. “A sit-in is the strongest weapon workers have at this time,”says Meshack Ravuku of the Chemical Workers Industrial Union.

“A sit-in keeps other workers out of the factory. Bosses worry about the money they lose when no work is done. They also worry about their machines. So they try to end sit-ins quickly. It is also hard for bosses to pick and choose which workers to take back. Everyone is there at the factory — so they have to take everyone back.

“Bosses are afraid of sit-ins. But workers must be careful about when they sit-in. Bosses sometimes go to the courts. Then the court tells the workers to leave. If they don’t leave, the bosses can call the police to arrest them.”


Mayekiso of the Metal and allied Workers Union said “Sit-ins bring people together. Workers in the factory need people outside the factories to bring food and blankets. So people outside get to know more about workers problems.

Sipho Khubeka of the Paper Wood and Allied Workers Union said, “Sit-ins give workers more power than a strike does. But it needs more organisation otherwise people get bored. It is also good for workers to be together for a long time. It makes people feel strong.

“People are changing their protests all the time. First people used to say, “Stand up for your rights.” Then they said, “Fight for your rights. And now the workers are saying, “Sit-in for your rights.” Who knows what people will come up with next. ?


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