A high-level transport symposium in Johannesburg, South Africa has brought together the leaders of eight major unions to discuss how to appeal to the 76 percent of transport workers in the country that are unorganised. Also participating at the event were the general secretaries of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and IndustriALL global union.
South African transport workers face many challenges including violence against women workers, unsafe working conditions, failing infrastructure and a chronic lack of investment. The purpose of the symposium was to see if there was a desire to build unity among unions to address these issues for the benefit of organised and unorganised workers.
Prior to the symposium, the ITF commissioned a leadership survey that indicated there was a desire among the unions to build unity, but that this would not be an easy process. The fragmentation of unions in South Africa has had an impact on the ability to influence policy decisions and organise workers.
Research carried out by Naledi into the transport sector further demonstrated the opportunities open to unions to have an impact, if a consensus on unity could be developed.Jack Mazibuko, general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), attended the event: “When the unions don’t work together, we send a confused message to the people we are supposed to represent. We need to put our differences to one side and focus on advancing the interests of working people.”
ITF general secretary, Stephen Cotton, spoke at the symposium: “The ITF is fully invested in the future of transport workers in South Africa. But we are not here to decide what your pathway should be, that must come from you.
“We understand the impact that a strong message of unity among South African unions would have on unorganised workers. The outcomes from the symposium have gone beyond our expectations and give you the opportunity to change things for the better for working people here.”
Leaders at the symposium agreed in principle a declaration that would establish a forum in which all the unions would develop a common theme and a day of action collectively.
Participants also committed to ensure that the new forum would focus on initiatives to involve women and young workers in those areas in the forum. Currently, both women and young workers are under represented in South Africa’s transport sector.
Valter Sanches, general secretary of IndustriALL global union, said: “Unity is key. We must overcome old structures and divisions and focus collectively on the issues that all working people are facing. Transportation and manufacturing are directly linked through supply chains and economic employers. By being organised and working together we can make a big impact.”
The symposium concluded with a documentary premier about the challenges facing South African transport workers at a public forum and press conference.
The event was supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a non-profit German foundation funded by the German government.