Apartheid ended, injustice remains
FAMILY and friends of Patrick O'Sullivan, who was killed in an accident while working on the new Wembley Stadium, unveiled a plaque commemorating him at the stadium recently. Having had to miss the Workers Memorial Day march which was held in Wembley three years ago in Pat's honour, I was pleased to be able to attend this ceremony, and proud that Brent Trades Union Council had joined the O'Sullivan family, the Construction Safety Campaign, and the building unions in campaigning successfully for the plaque.
It was also a sad occasion of course, remembering Pat O'Sullivan and all the other workers killed or injured at work, and wondering whether we would succeed in ensuring safety in the London Olympic project.
Big building projects, especially if for international sports events, are always occasions for celebration, not least for the big money they promise developers and contractors, some of which is supposed to trickle down to the working class. What really happens to conditions and safety, or as in this next case, in workers' actual earnings, does not receive the same attention.
South Africa is preparing to host the football world cup in 2010, and there are bound to be celebrations, particularly remembering the sporting isolation brought on the country by the old Apartheid regime. But what about the workers, whose struggles did so much to force an end to Apartheid, and whose sweat is needed to cement forthcoming success?
A friend, like me a member of the TGWU Unite union, received this message last week from a South African comrade:
Another shame have emerged in South Africa on the part of working class, Building workers who build the stadium for 2010 soccer world game are on strike because of poor wages they are paid. They are paid R65, a day out that money the cheapest meal they can get is R30 to spend during working hours and the cheapest transport return home to work is R16. Therefore the total cost is R46. R65 -46 =R19.
How can one person SURVIVE with R19 a day where the lowest rent is R20 a day exclusive water and lights, this is what a democratic government has for the ordinary citizen of SOUTH AFRICA.
THE WORKING CLASS OF THE WORLD MUST KNOW THIS AND WHEN YOU PREPARE TO COME TO WATCH THE 2010 WORLD SOCCER GAME IN SOUTH AFRICA YOU WILL BE ENJOYING THE HIGHEST EXPLOITATION OF THE WORKING CLASS.
I WROTE THIS LETTER WITH TEARS BECAUSE I KNOW THAT I AM CRITICISING THE GOVERNMENT WHICH I CONTRIBUTED LOT OF MY EFFORT TO HAVE IT IN PLACE, MY HEART IS PAINFUL THINKING OF WHAT WE COMRADES/ FREEDOM FIGHTERS WERE PROMISING SOUTH AFRICANS WHEN WE WERE ORGANISING THEM TO TAKE PART IN THE STRUGGLE FOR LIBERATION WHICH HAVE RESULTED TO A STRUGGLE FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF SLAVERY.
COMRADES IS A SHAME WORKERS OF THIS COUNTRY WHO GO OUT TO VOTE FOR THEIR BRIGHT FUTURE HAVE BECOME A VICTIM OF THEIR CROSSES. MOST OF OUR GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ARE THE OWNERS OF THESE CONTRACTORS WHO EXPLOITING THE WORKERS.
I HOPE ONE DAY THE WORKERS OF THIS WORLD WILL UNITE
The labour movement in Britain has been reluctant to criticise anything about post-Apartheid South Africa. Perhaps liberals and lefties alike have been too busy patting themselves on the back for the part they and the "international community" supposedly played in ending Apartheid, to acknowledge that while some leaders have done well for themselves, the workers and fighters who bore the brunt are still struggling against exploitation. Maybe our bureaucrats envy their counterparts' apparent ability to combine hero-status with opportunism. But it's good to see that links are being forged between class-conscious workers, as seen in this resolution adopted by the new national shop stewards' network, London-South East section, in support of the South African building workers.
( Incidentally, I like the mention of British anti-union laws. This takes away any taint of patronising the African workers, and is a welcome change from the conferences I've been to where high-flown resolutions of "solidarity" are passed and boycotts proposed without ever a hint that our leaders will tell us they are illegal to carry out.)
Full support to South African building workers:
:To: Thenjiwe Mlabatheki_Tmlabatheki@num.org.za_ (mailto:Tmlabatheki@num.org.za)
National Union of Mine Workers
7 Rissik Steet,
Corner Frederick Street,
Dear sisters and brothers,
The London, South and East region of the National Shop Stewards Network salutes the strike of building workers on the World Cup 2010 sites and sends its full support for your struggle.We note that building workers on these sites are working for as little as R6 and hour – 44p in UK currency -- which could not even buy a cup of tea in our country; that solidarity strikes by other workers on the sites is a central feature of this dispute.
We have to tell you in shame that such solidarity actions are illegal in our country, where the anti-trade union laws of the Thatcher Tory government have been upheld by the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown;
That countless freedom fighters were prepared to risk their lives to overthrow apartheid, but that ministers and officials of the present ANC government are among the owners of the building contracting companies against whom you are striking for a living wage; that the facilities you are building will serve the enjoyment and entertainment of millions of workers all over the world when the World Cup competition takes place in 2010.
It is only right that the construction workers on the job should receive an adequate wage for their labour and should work under safe and dignified conditions.We therefore call on workers all over the world: Speak out against the exploitation of workers on the World Cup stadiums! Speak out for working class unity across the world! Pass resolutions in your trade union organisations and workshop meetings! Make it known that you will not let this shameful situation pass in silence!
On South African strike see:
For more information on the national shop stewards' network: