The Security Guards’ Strike

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I have a few personal anecdotes I’d like to share.

My mother owns a small shop; one of those businesses that economists like to call “SMEs”, but with the emphasis on the “S”. About a week ago, one of her employees told me that her daughter, after a spell of unemployment, had managed to get a job at the airport, working as a security guard. But the company wasn’t willing to take on new staff until the strike was over, leaving her daughter in limbo. This was making things pretty hard on their family.

At the time, I noticed that the security guards at the shopping centre were wearing civilian clothes. I was told that this was for the guards’ own protection. If they were to come to work in uniform, they would run a very real risk of being attacked on the train. A few days later, the guards stopped coming to work altogether. They’re not on strike; the company decided to let them off work. Too many of their guards had received death threats, and they didn’t want to risk their employees being hurt or killed.

Today, a group of unionised security guards tried to organise an illegal march through my neighbourhood. Policemen in full riot gear cordoned off the area, and even brought in a helicopter. I tried to get some photos, but the police kept me away, saying it was too dangerous. (If I had a press card it wouldn’t have been a problem. Unfortunately, nobody issues us with “blogger cards”.)

This evening I was watching the news, and I saw that six men, presumed to be non-striking security guards, had been stripped naked, beaten, and then thrown off a moving train: a sick, vicious murder if ever there were one. The police haven’t yet confirmed that they were attacked by unionised security guards, but it seems very likely.

Organised trade-unionism can be an ugly thing. (Remember the British trade unions bitter defence of the “closed shop” arrangement back in the ’80s?) But even by those standards, this current strike is extraordinary in terms of the levels of violence and intimidation that has occurred. The victims of the violence are not the “evil capitalists” of the left-wing demonology, but ordinary workers trying to make a living; precisely the sort of people the trade unions claim to speak on behalf of. And despite the union leaders’ vigorous protestations to the contrary, I do not believe for one second that the they are not fully aware of the violence, and equally supportive of it. Satawu doesn’t have enough members to successfully pull off the strike on its own: their only hope is to intimidate other guards into staying away from work. Violence isn’t some unforeseen byproduct of the strike, it’s their entire strategy.