Metal and engineering workers in South Africa ended their four-week strike this week having forced bosses to make major concessions.
The deal means pay rises of 8 to 10 percent in year one, 7.5 to 10 percent in year two, and 7 to 10 percent in year three.
The biggest rises are for the lowest paid. Official inflation is presently 6.6 percent a year.
Bosses had originally offered 7 percent in year one, and a rise equal to the rate of inflation in years two and three.
One of the employers’ groups, representing 2,000 firms, has declared the deal “excessive” and threatened a lockout of the returning workers.
Metalworkers’ union Numsa also won some concessions to restrict the use of labour brokers.
These are firms which provide workers to employers and take a cut of the wages.
Crucially, workers at plant level can continue to fight for local improvements in areas outside the deal during the three years it operates.
This was hard fought with bosses demanding the agreement included “Section 37” which would rule out further costs increases once the deal was struck.
It seems the union has won on this. However, Numsa’s insistence that there be a one-year deal in case inflation soars has not been secured.
Irvin Jim, Numsa general secretary, said, “The settlement offer has been overwhelmingly and unanimously accepted by our members.
“This is a massive victory given the pittance offer at the start of the dispute.”
The strike by about 220,000 workers is part of a wave of crucial challenges by workers to the bosses and the government.
It began just as the five-month platinum miners’ strike ended, and metalworkers were undoubtedly inspired by the miners’ courage.
The Numsa strike hit the bosses hard, affected 12,000 firms and, according to the employers, cost companies £25 million a day.
Carmakers including Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Ford and General Motors stopped production at some or all of their South African units due to lack of components.
Further battles are to come. Top ANC leaders are now demanding new anti-strike laws—ironically similar to those pushed through by Margaret Thatcher here.
The strike has strengthened demands for a political voice for workers.
During the strike Numsa complained that it had “endured, like all the black and African working class post 1994 in South Africa, sustained vicious attacks”.
These attacks have come from “the combined might of the capitalist bosses of all colours, its liberal media, rightwing political representatives and the black and African parasitic capitalist elites in the ANC and its Alliance.”
These people, said Numsa, claimed decent wages were unaffordable.
In fact, said the union, the problem was that “the racist colonial economic base of South Africa which depends on and feasts upon extremely cheap black and African labour has not been transformed in the past 20 years of our so called democracy.”
Numsa will now play a leading role in organising a new workers’ party.
Struggles such as its recent strike—and the platinum miners’ strike—must be central to any such formation.