Outsourcing Victory!! State repression fails
by Shaun Arendse, Tshwane WASP
On 17 January the ‘public violence’ charges against Austin Mofyoa were dropped and the state’s case against him dismissed. This is an important victory against the attempts to criminalise protest in general and to suppress the struggle against outsourcing in particular.
Austin is an #OutsourcingMustFall activist, branch secretary of the GIWUSA union’s Pretoria branch and a member of WASP’s National Committee.
On 4 February 2016 he was arrested outside of the main campus of Tshwane University of Technology. Outsourced cleaners, security guards, caterers and landscape workers were in the third week of a strike. They were fighting to be insourced and for their poverty-level pay of R2-3,000 per month to be raised to R10,000. The strike was of course ‘illegal’, or ‘unprotected’. This is because it is virtually impossible to organise a protected strike of outsourced workers. Undermining and weakening the position of organised labour is a key reason that the bosses and their politicians – parties like the ANC and the DA – support outsourcing. But workers were determined to fight to end their super-exploitation and Austin was prepared, side-by-side with all the members of WASP’s Tshwane branch, to support them. This was part of a Tshwane-wide strike across the higher education sector organised under the banner of #OutsourcingMustFall.
Austin was identified as a ‘leader’ by management and the police early on. His name appeared on an injunction taken out by TUT management. The day of his arrest the police targeted him directly in an attempt to ‘behead’ the strike. This suppression came on top of management threatening workers with mass dismissal for protesting, and even an organised attack on the picket line orchestrated by the ANC’s SASCO student organisation and the ANC-linked Nehawu union. That must have involved the TUT management. Workers suffered serious injuries in the attack but it was Austin who was later arrested for ‘public violence’!
Over the next 23 months Austin appeared in Atteridgeville magistrates court a shocking 20 times. Every time the case was postponed due to technicalities. This was an attempt to demoralise and wear-down Austin, and to limit his ability to fight for workers by keeping the threat of prison or a huge fine over his head as a deterrent.
Showing the complete hypocrisy of the criminal-‘justice’ system, throughout this time not a single boss or company has been prosecuted by the state and taken to court for their failure to ban labour broking (of which outsourcing is one of its forms). This is despite the law changing at the start of 2015 to say that after three months employment, temporary workers must be made permanent. In the strike of 2016 the workers were just demanding that the bosses implement the law.
But with vital assistance from a Lawyers for Human Rights legal team, the judge finally ruled that the state “had no case”. However this final ruling does not excuse how for nearly two years the legal system was used as a weapon for the suppression of the workers movement and the struggle against outsourcing.
Ultimately, the state is controlled by the ruling class and used to defend their interests. From time to time they are forced to pass pro-worker laws, not because they want to, but to give them a way to manage the class struggle that their exploitative system provokes. However, they will always find a way to frustrate workers on ‘the legal route’ if their vital interests are at stake.
Management does the same. They will enter agreements with workers when they have no choice – i.e. being forced to in a strike. But will tear-up any agreement as soon as they get the opportunity. This is what ended-up happening at TUT. Shortly after Austin’s arrest the strike achieved victory and an insourcing agreement was signed. This was not least because workers remained united and showed the police that they would not be scared by arrests and intimidation. Dismissals were reversed and workers went back to work. But as soon as TUT management felt strong enough, they started to back-track. Despite the agreement, management is refusing to insource the catering and security workers and has issued new tenders in recent months.
Workers can only rely on their own strength by building fighting and democratic trade unions to win victories, and crucially, to defend their gains. The struggle against outsourcing continues.