The union with a mouth


The strike at Pick ‘n Pay


Last year a worker from Pick ‘n Pay joined a union called CCAWUSA – the union of all shop workers.


Every weekend he went to the union office in Johannesburg. He met hundreds of workers from big shops like the O.K. Bazaars, the C.N.A. and Edgars.


He saw how the workers from these shops came together at meetings. He heard them talk about their problems at work. And he saw how they decided to fight. Fight against these problems – together.


At the union office he heard the songs of the workers’ struggle – and he saw that the spirit of the other workers was high.

The Pick ‘n Pay worker was a member of the union together with hundreds of his fellow workers. But he didn’t feel so good. He felt very alone. He never saw many of his friends from Pick ‘n Pay at the meetings.


He was worried. Many Pick ‘n Pay workers belonged to the union. They paid their membership fees every month. But very few came to the union office to meet, talk and sing. Pick ‘n Pay workers were not strong members of the union.


So he wrote a letter to a newspaper. He complained about his fellow Pick ‘n Pay workers. In the letter he asked why Pick ‘n Pay workers did not unite to fight their problems together like the workers from other shops in Johannesburg.


In January the other workers from Pick ‘n Pay gave him their answer. But they didn’t answer in a letter to the paper. They answered with action. Over 2 000 workers from seven Pick ‘n Pay shops went on strike.


The workers wanted a 20% wage increase. But the bosses only wanted to give 10%. So the workers did not pack the shelves and sit at the cash tills. They said they would not work until they got more money.


After ten days the workers went back to work. They didn’t get their 20% increase. They only got 10% more wages. But the workers and their union won other things. The Pick ‘n Pay bosses said they will give the workers another 10% increase in April. And they said they will talk to the workers and their union in future.


Now Pick ‘n Pay workers can walk tall. They showed they were strong and proud – like all the other members of CCAWUSA. The worker who wrote the letter does not feel alone anymore.

Learn and Teach spoke to some Pick ‘n Pay shopstewards (worker leaders) about the strike. This is what they told us:


Learn and Teach. Why did the workers decide to strike?

Shopsteward. Well last year we didn’t get much of a wage increase. The Pick ‘n Pay bosses showed us a film. The big boss Raymond Ackerman spoke on the film. He said they will give us a 20% increase in 1984. But in January we heard we were only getting 10%. So we decided to stop work until we got 20%.


Learn and Teach. How did the strike spread to so many Pick ‘n Pay branches?

Shopsteward: We started the strike here in Bedfordview. The news­ papers wrote about the strike. Other workers read about the strike. The next day workers from other branches were out. They all demanded the 20% increase. We did not need to plan the united action.


. Learn and Teach: Why were the workers so angry about the small wage increase?

Shopsteward. We felt bad in our hearts. They tell us Pick ‘n Pay hasn’t got money for more wages. But then they opened many new branches. They are even opening a branch in Australia. Then they give money to sportsmen like Gerrie Coetzee. How can they give away money like that when they don’t pay us more? We felt Pick ‘n Pay has got enough money to give us a 20% increase.


Learn and Teach: Do you think the workers won or lost in the strike?

Shopsteward. Well, we never got the 20% increase. And the strike divided some of the workers. The workers who went on strike are very angry with the workers who did not go on strike. This will make the workers’ unity weak. But we can fight this problem. I’m sure the other workers are already thinking differently. The strike showed the other workers how the union helped us. The strike showed the bosses that our union is powerful.

The bosses show us respect. They don’t insult us. And they can’t fire us easily. CCAWUSA is a union with a mouth .. We feel safe.

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