This week 70,000 workers started an indefinite strike action on the sites of the stadiums being built for the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa. These construction workers are organised by the country’s National Union of Mineworkers, and the union’s spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka spoke to The Commune about the action.
What are conditions like on the World Cup stadium sites?
Working conditions are dangerous and workers are badly paid although the stadiums are making big profits for the owners of the means of production. Most only get 2,500 rand a month and some only 2,200. We want a 13% increase in the minimum wage for the workers on the sites. The building of the stadiums has been outsourced by the state to private companies, who have expensive contracts for the World Cup but exploit the workers.
How solid have the strikes been?
The strikes have been a huge success, there has been no work at a single one of the sites in any town or city. There has been a 100% turnout and the strikes are still ongoing and shall continue to do so, across every stadium and until we win.
What are the next steps for the workers? What has the management response been?
Late last night we were up late in talks with management and the LOC [Local Organising Committee] and they have conceded ground to our demands. However, the strike is not just for one day, it is continuing today and the strike shall continue until the workers are happy that they have won. It will not end before the workers are happy, it could go on. But now we will be going back to the workers with the 11.5% wage increase management have now put on the table, and if they agree to this then we will go back on Tuesday and have a deal.
What level of public sympathy is there for the stoppages?
We have had a great deal of public sympathy, people know the construction workers and they know how they are being exploited by the construction firms. They understand why they are going on strike and what it is like to have to live on such bad pay as they are getting now.
What is the attitude of the African National Congress to the strikes, and how does that effect its relationship with COSATU [the union federation]
Well, the ANC respects the right of workers to organize and for us to strike, but it also recognizes the right of the owners of the means of production to make profits. At the meeting last night the government was represented via the LOC and in the talks we made significant headway on the workers’ demands. COSATU has expressed unconditional support for the workers’ action.
What is the impact of the World Cup on ordinary South Africans?
The World Cup is for the benefit of those who own the means of production and not for South Africans as a whole. We cannot truly say that the World Cup is for the benefit of the whole people when there is no participation of the workers in the event only those who can make a profit from the contracts and who are exploiting the workers in places where the stadiums are being built.
Many western media reporting on the strike have said that they show that South Africa is not going to be ready to hold the tournament. What is your attitude to these claims?
It is no concern of mine whether the stadiums are built, I am a trade unionist and I am fighting for the cause of the workers. Our union is here to fight, not to do as we are told by government or the LOC or managers. Our right to protest and to strike is something we have without question, World Cup or no World Cup. It is our democratic right. We are not going to be stopped from standing up for ourselves by such claims.