For two days in November, most factories and firms in the big cities of the Transvaal were empty and silent. The workers were showing their anger. And they were showing their muscle – the muscle of unity.
For the first time in many years, old arguments and fights were forgotten. All kinds of student organisations, community organisations and worker organisations came together. They came together to make the stayaway work.
The stayaway did work. On the East Rand, 80% of the workers stayed in the townships and in the compound. In the Vaal townships, 90% of the workers stayed at home. And few people from the West Rand and Pretoria went to work.
The people stayed away because they were unhappy about many things. They made a list of all their demands:
No more rent increases in the townships
No more bus fare increases.
No more tax and GST increases.
No more police and army in the townships.
No more community councils m the townships.
Trade union leaders and other leaders must be freed from jail.
The Simba Quix Workers must get their jobs back (This factory fired nearly 400 workers in September. The workers got their jobs back just before the stayaway began).
The government must give students a better education. They must stop teachers beating students. They must stop age limits and allow all students to finish school. And the government must allow students to choose their own SRC’s.
The people did not rush into the stayaway. On the 28th October, the students called the stayaway.
People chose a special committee to plan for the stayaway. The committee decided to have the stayaway on the 5th and 6th November. Workers needed time to talk about it.
“Workers need time to decide such things,” says a shopsteward from a big factory in Johannesburg. “People who don’t work in factories must not tell workers to stayaway. Workers must talk about things like stayaways. They must have meetings and decide for themselves.
The stayaway worked well because of another reason – hard work. People from many organisations handed out pamphlets on the trains, in the buses, in the streets and in peoples’ houses. All day and all night the people worked to make the stayaway a success.
The stayaway was a big success but the price was heavy. In the townships, 25 people were killed mostly in battles with police. Many leaders of the stayaway were arrested and are now sitting in jail.
And in Secunda, the bosses of the big Sasol factory fired 6500 workers – because they supported the stayaway.
Many people suffered because of the stayaway. But they showed the government their strength. Now they are waiting to see if the government will listen.