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COSATU strikes back!

"The first four months of 1987 have witnessed a rising militancy and resolve among black workers unprecedented in the history of our struggle. There have been more workers's strike in these four months than the whole of last year. More and more workers have begun to combine various forms of struggle in pursuit of their demands and are embracing the policies of the liberation movement."

- O.R. Tambo, ANC President, 1987.

 However, this did not deter COSATU. Membership continued to increase and workers became more militant. Strike action became commonplace during this period. Strikes were a powerful weapon of the workers. As historian Kally Forest stated:

“… it is the strike weapon, the ability to withdraw labour, that lies at the basisof trade union power.”

The strike by the South African Railway and Harbour Workers Union (SARHWU) in 1987 was one such important strike in the 1980s. The strike began when a SARHWU member was dismissed by the South African Transport Services (SATS). Railway workers in over 250 depots went on strike and demanded recognition of SARHWU. As SATS was a state-owned institution, management refused to negotiate with the union and called on the state to intervene. As a result, the police took action. They broke up any meetings that were held by SARWHU and seven railway workers were killed.

Part of the issue was that SATS refused to recognise SARHWU and during the strike, 16,000 workers were dismissed. After a long legal battle, SATS management was forced to reinstate these workers and recognise  However, this did not deter COSATU. Membership continued to increase and workers became more SARHWU, but it was a costly battle for COSATU.

Exhibitions in the classroom

Reading the past: 

Read the text above and describe in detail the legal battle between SATS and SARHWU.

What was the loophole that gave SARHWU the edge? What was the result for the workers?



NEXT: COSATU attacks!

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