On 5 and 6 September 1989, South Africa experienced one of the biggest stay-aways in its history. Over three million workers, which is more than the number of voters in the white elections, heeded the call for two days of protest.
Production in many centres was brought to a complete standstill. The protest was part of a sustained campaign against the Labour Relations Act (LRA), and was called for by COSATU and the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) and a number of independent unions.
The LRA tried to reverse many of the reforms that had been introduced in 1979. It attacked workers’ rights by making unfair dismissals and retrenchments legal. It tried to prevent workers from striking and from boycott action. It also allowed the Minister of Labour to decide what an unfair labour practice was.
The unions resisted strongly against the new proposed Labour Relations Bill. In June 1987, workers protested by holding a three day stay away which resulted in almost 3 million workers staying away from work. This led to about R500 million loss of capital, which both business and the state could ill afford. The bosses agreed to meet with both COSATU and NACTU to discuss the new bill.
Despite negotiations, in September 1988, the bill came into law anyway as the Labour Relations Amendment Act. Another stay away was held. The struggles against the new Labour Relations Act brought about closer unity between COSATU and NACTU. Both federations participated in the stay aways, and in March 1989, COSATU, eleven independent unions and eleven NACTU affiliates attended a joint summit. Its aim was to work towards greater unity and to show joint solidarity in their rejection of the LRA.
At the summit, workers agreed to isolate any companies that used the LRA against them, by boycotting their products nationally and internationally.
Exhibitions in the classroom
Reading the past
Source: COSATU/NACTU march to protest against the Labour Relations Act (LRA). JHB. October 1989. Photographer, Anna Zieminski.
Examine the image in the source and the images on the page. Which rights and demands were withdrawn? Find six strong verbs that tell the people how to act.
Write your own slogan for a workers’ protest using one of the verbs.