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Workers on the stage

In Durban some workers from a tyre factory had a hard time with their bosses. After they spent years and hours building their union, the bosses did not want to talk to the union. The union is called the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU).

But the workers did not give up. In the day they worked for the bosses. At night and weekends they worked for the union. They didn’t spend much time at home. They didn’t have time to rest. But they had time to play – to make a play about their fight for a better life.

The workers thought a play would help them with their struggle. The play would help them understand their struggle better. And they hoped the play would get other workers to join them in the struggle.

The workers began to work on the play three months ago. They met in the union office after work. Most of the workers did not know how to act. Some of the workers had never even seen a play before.

The workers worked very hard on the play. “I never saw my wife,” says one of the workers in the play. “But she didn’t complain. I told her I was out fighting for her, for the kids and for the workers of this country.”

After 10 weeks the play was ready. The workers took the play to a big MAWU meeting in Durban.

In the play the workers tell people: “We are the workers who make Dunlop rich. We make the tyres for the kwela kwela’s that chase us. We make the wheels for the bulldozers that smash down our shacks.”

Then they talk about how the people struggled in the past. They talk about the ‘One Pound a Day’ struggle in 1957, when people asked for a pound a day for all workers in South Africa. They remember the Potato Boycott in 1959 – when people stopped buying potatoes because the potato farmers treated prison workers like slaves.

They also remember when the women of Cato Manor fought against the beerhalls and the police in 1960. And they remember the day when ten thousand people in Sharpe­ville left their passes at home and met outside the police station. 69 people were killed that day. And 180 were hurt.

After 25 years in the factory the workers get a gold watch and some beers from the bosses. This insult makes the union even stronger.

The play also talks about the big strikes in Durban in 1973. After these strikes, trade unions for black workers began to grow strong again. And then the workers tell of their own struggle. They tell how they made their union strong inside the Dunlop factory. They tell of the tricks the bosses used to make their union weak. And they show how the union did not fall for these tricks.

The workers at the big MAWU meeting all liked the play. The union inside of the Dun­lop factory also got stronger. All the years of hard work and the lessons of the play paid off.

The bosses still did not talk to the union. The workers were tired of waiting. They stopped buying food in the factory canteen. They said they would only buy food when the bosses spoke to their union.

Then the workers at the Dunlop factory in Benoni joined the Durban workers. They are also members of MAWU. They also stopped buying food in the factory canteen.

The Dunlop bosses got a fright. And they began to think again. They agreed to talk to the workers. They signed an agreement with their union. The agreement says MAWU is the union of the workers. And the agreement says the bosses must talk to the union about wages and working conditions. They must also talk to the union before they fire anybody.

Now the Dunlop workers want many workers to see their play. Last month they came to Johannesburg and gave their show. Hundreds of workers came to see the play. Everybody enjoyed the play. And at the same time they learned about the struggles of the workers from Dunlop.

“We want to take the play all over the country, “says one of the workers in the play. We want to show why unity is so important. Without unity we will not win.

So who says the workers’ struggle is all work and no play?

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