Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Their banner reads:
“Ex-Midrand Council Workers in Dispute Since 1994!
Dismissed for fighting corruption in 1994 and still fighting today!
20 years of Sacrifice! 20 Years of Poverty! 20 Years of Solidarity!”
South Africa’s ex-Midrand Council workers are engaged in what is surely the world’s longest running industrial dispute, a Burston for our times. It started back in 1994, in the midst of the birth pains of South African democracy, when more than 500 workers employed by Midrand Council took industrial action against corrupt employment practices. At that time, local government structures had not yet been subject to democratic ‘transformation’; they were still the creations of the apartheid era. Midrand was run by remnants of the old regime with no interest in reaching a settlement. Under pressure, some strikers returned to work, but the great majority remained in dispute.
In 1996, Midrand Council disappeared into the new local government structures, its responsibilities passed to Johannesburg City Council. There were hopes that the dispute would now be resolved, with the strikers re-integrated into the council workforce, but these came to nothing, thanks to endless buck-passing and bureaucratic inertia (i.e. lack of political will).
The now ex-Midrand workers were left in limbo, on strike against an authority that no longer existed, pressing their demands on an authority that refused to recognise them as employees.
Through all this time, to the present day, the strikers have continued to meet, to agitate and to organise. Many of the original group have passed away (though some of their descendants are active in the campaign). Some have reached pension age (but receive no pension). Others have become too sick and weak to work, and others have moved out of the vicinity, often seeking refuge with family in far-away communities. As a recent statement from the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) says, “Despite these hardships and sometimes with virtually no external support, the Midrand workers have remained resolute and committed to settling their dispute with dignity and with fairness.”
For 19 years, they have met every Sunday in Ivory Park/Tembisa “in significant numbers, and often in excess of 120, to hear progress in their dispute, and to share whatever meagre resources they have.”
For many years, they did so with no help from outside, relying entirely on their own resources, which were meagre but treated collectively. In 2009, SAMWU assumed a more active role. With the full support of the 283 remaining ex-Midrand strikers, the union resolved to launch a “political intervention” to secure a just resolution.
Negotiations with Johannesburg authorities commenced but were dogged by what SAMWU describes as “delays and roadblocks.” The election of a new mayor in 2012 led to further postponements. A recent public letter from SAMWU notes:
“Two months ago, we learned that a report [on the Midrand dispute] had in fact been submitted to the Mayoral Committee, but we were not allowed to see it, or were able to contribute to it. Indeed we have not even been informed of the outcomes of the Mayoral Committee’s deliberations. In our view this contradicts both the consultation process we had agreed, and national and local government policy of open and transparent government.
“We can only assume that there are forces within the council who are determined to derail the cause of the Midrand workers, and who perhaps for reasons only known to themselves do not want the Midrand case resolved.”
Nonetheless, support for the Midrand workers is growing. Their campaign has been endorsed by COSATU and many of its affiliates. Media interest has also risen in recent months, in South Africa and beyond.
It’s a small scale struggle with a very big resonance. The context includes the debate about the relation of labour unions to the ANC government, the widespread feeling that the post-apartheid regime has failed to deliver on the promises of liberation, and the hot issue of corruption. The ANC’s right-wing opponents exploit the latter for their own ends, but it is nonetheless a reality, a corrosive force running counter to democratic aspirations. Through SAMWU and other unions, public sector workers have shown that they want to tackle corruption and need support from their employers to do so. Obviously there are others with different interests.
In any case, the ex-Midrand workers deserve support and solidarity from trades unionists everywhere, especially public sector trades unionists. Their tenacity is an example to us all.
Contact SAMWU for more information.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences