Half of Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) members polled in its 2012 Workers Survey view violence by workers as necessary during a strike if a desired result is to be achieved.
The survey, conducted by Cosatu’s research institute, Naledi, and covering more than 3,000 workers in 37 districts, contains a variety of findings that cast light on the unfolding dynamics in the labour movement. It also canvasses members’ views on internal corruption, with 30 percent saying there was corruption in their union.
The survey results come as South Africa faces a wave of violent strikes in the mining industry, partly fuelled by a rejection of majority trade union the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which stands accused of having lost touch with members.
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In his organisational report to the Cosatu congress, which begins on Monday, general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says the findings on attitudes to violence during strikes "tell us that we have a problem on our hands".
The survey was followed up by focus groups, which further explored the legitimacy of using violence. One participant is quoted as saying: "Violence during strikes is appropriate, because it is the result of the pain that workers feel."
Another said: "(A) strike is the last resort for workers, after negotiations fail. When we go on strike we lose wages thus we use violence to make sure that the employer listens to our demands fast so we can go back to work."
Cosatu has opposed legislative proposals aimed at curbing strike violence under discussion in Parliament. The proposals make it compulsory for a union to ballot prior to a strike, and restrict picket lines to striking employees only.
Mr Vavi is hopeful that an agreement with the African National Congress will lead to the proposals being scrapped by the party’s MPs.
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