Fire them all!

Fire them all!

I believe in democracy – that everybody has equal rights, the freedom to express their displeasure and to live a good life. But when innocent life is remorselessly taken, well, that’s crossing the line.

The recent strike action rocking the country has gotten my blood boiling and made me wonder, what’s the value of a life? Some people say that life is cheap. Almost as cheap as talk. Must be tough for politicians then. Talk to the masses, curry favour by telling them what they want to hear and then – when the ululation dies down and they’re elected to office – slip away in a million-rand luxury sedan among a haze of blue lights and sirens; out of sight and out of mind.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to stereotype; some politicians do good work. However, I think it’s about time most start thinking of the country as a whole and not just how to ensure another term in the fat-cat litter box. This will mean telling the masses things they DON’T want to hear.

Case in point is the recent truckers’ strike. For almost three weeks over September and October, truck drivers allied to the Transport Allied Workers’ Union of South Africa (TAWUSA), the Professional Transport Workers’ Union (PTWU), the Motor Transport Workers’ Union (MTWU), and the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) went on strike for better pay. Fair enough and well within their rights, but the rate at which it turned violent sent shivers down my spine. Sociologists call it “mob mentality”, and it’s something that’s become characteristic of strike action in South Africa. Maybe I just expected more from our otherwise generally professional drivers.

One headline read that a non-striking driver ran for 14 km non-stop after being attacked, with many subsequently being hospitalised; trucks were set alight and burnt; and strikers threw rocks and petrol bombs at passing vehicles in some areas.

The strikers got so out of hand that on Friday, October 5 the Road Freight Employers’ Association (RFEA) had to obtain a court order to stop the violence and destruction by union members.

A court order! The police could easily have moved in and arrested them all for many, many offences. It’s clear the country’s unions have forgotten the meaning of a strike. It’s not 1980s South Africa anymore …

Did the court order help? I’m hesitant to think so. On Wednesday, October 3, 41-year old Capetonian Gary Stewart was hit on the head by a rock thrown by strikers. On Monday, October 8, he was declared brain dead and his life-support system switched off (it was reported that his family would pursue legal action against the unions). The very next day a 62-year-old truck driver was doused with petrol and set alight in Manenberg on the Cape Flats.

Again, these strikers should have been arrested – and if I were in a position of power, this would be long past the point at which I would have had them all dismissed, as is becoming popular with mining companies. Surely there are many, many more people who would willingly be trained to drive and take over the jobs. They’d probably also do it for the lower, original pay the unions were trying to negotiate, and at a cost to the industry far lower than the estimated R1,2 billion loss – per week – that resulted from the strike.

Eventually, on Friday, October 12, the strikers got what they wanted. Effective March 1, 2013, an across-the-board increase of 10 percent for 2013 will be given. This will be followed by 8,25 percent six months later in 2014, and another nine percent in 2015 – to average out at 8,7 percent per annum. After the animalism we witnessed, I think it’s about 8,7 percent too much.

Adding his voice to the strike at a breakfast function in Midrand a day prior to this announcement, President Zuma said that “destruction of property and the beating up and killing of people is not acceptable.” I agree fully, but why so late? Had he made the statement two weeks earlier to stop the violence before it got out of control, it could’ve been accepted as genuine. But saying it after the fact, well Mr Pres, that’s talking cheaply.

Not that you could blame him … As a politician, why would he want to tell the angry masses something they don’t want to hear? He wouldn’t want them to think he doesn’t have their interests at heart. Not even when they willingly destroy property or take a life. Or two.

In the end, I’m disgusted with the strikers for carrying on the way they did, the unions for encouraging it, and the politicians for letting it all happen. It’s an embarrassment to our industry, and to our country.

Published by

Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
Volvo pioneers independence
Prev Volvo pioneers independence
Next The new FH: worth the wait
The new FH: worth the wait