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Unions should be made to pull unruly strikers into line

The Editor, The Times Newspaper | 2011-11-03 00:23:35.0

The Times Editorial: Pressure is mounting on unions to rein in wayward members when they take to the streets.

PRESSURE is mounting on unions to rein in wayward members when they take to the streets.

The SA Local Government Association has asked parliament to amend sections of the Labour Relations Act to allow the suing of unions for damages and losses caused by looting during strikes and protest marches.

At present, the act makes unions liable for damages and requires them to pay compensation only if their members embark on an illegal strike. If the local government association gets its way, unions will be liable for damages or losses incurred during legal strikes too.

The initiative follows a commitment by the Gauteng provincial government to get municipalities to impose conditions on striking unions in the form of money or collateral, and a DA-sponsored private member's bill proposing that unions be forced to take proactive steps to prevent violence.

Labour federation Cosatu has vowed to resist Salga's bid to amend the act, branding it "union-bashing".

But after enduring a string of unruly, even chaotic, strikes - can anyone remember when a protest by the SA Municipal Workers' Union has not been accompanied by intimidation and the tipping of rubbish into streets? - it is hard not to sympathise with the local government association. Municipalities, businesses and hawkers unfortunate enough to be in the path of a strike have borne the brunt of undisciplined protest action.

That hoary old union excuse that non-members join protests and are responsible for the mayhem just does not wash any more.

Unions that are given permission to strike in support of legitimate grievances must deploy enough marshals to ensure their protests are not disrupted by troublemakers.

Just as workers have the inalienable right to strike, so citizens, shopkeepers and hawkers have the right to go about their daily business without being attacked.

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