It starts with the rhythmic stomping of boots and tekkies pounding to the beat of 1, 1 2, 1, 1 2… sticks, golf clubs and rocks are waved above the heads of the strikers. The crowd chants softly, but slowly builds the crescendo, getting louder and louder. Each beat rises like a rolling thunder, becoming ever more tangible. In total unison, the crowd moves from foot to foot, the chanting louder, their eyes wider, and their anger visible for us all to see. We can smell the rancid fumes from burning tires and feel the vibration against the company gates. Union chants and threatening hand signs are part of the scene.
This is no rugby game, and it certainly isn’t the Hakka. This is a whole new level of intimidation; a psychological act that literally brings beads of cold sweat to your lower back, a dry mouth, and a perpetual series of thoughts including: “do I get out of here alive?”.
When this is happening outside the gates of your company, crowds of 50 to 200 can inflict such levels of emotional anguish that PTSD is a reality. Police and army have been confronting strikers and rioters since as far back as time immemorial… but for company owners, executives, and everyday people, these labour protests are utterly terrifying.
Every company typically has one or two individuals who would like to think they are not intimidated by strikes – and maybe they aren’t. However, spare a thought for the ladies, admin staff, and employees that strikers love to target. Strikes are no time to portray your leadership by bravado; trust me, I’ve seen all too many times how badly that can turn out. Instead, leadership through Duty of Care (DOC) should be the only strategy when strikes occur.
Sadly, we have such a lack of resources in our SAPS that relying on the Public Order Policing Section (POPS) has virtually become a non-option. This is even more noticeable when sector strikes occur at national level, and their already strained resources become completely tapped out.
Companies cannot rely on SAPS to quell the crowds or to even make an appearance at a strike outside your plant. Making a dire situation even worse is the lingering effect that the now infamous “Marikana” incident has had on public violence and strike control. A poorly handled situation by all involved has successfully been hi-jacked and used by trade unions and political parties to severely dampen the energy and resilience of most police officers when deployed to a strike, or mass action. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
This leaves companies with only one real choice… to align with a private sector company that specialises in strike security. I say specialises because, contrary to many people’s belief, 95% of local security companies have no specialist, experienced strike management units. Sure, they have guards – but that is not what is needed.
Day-to-day security officers are not what your company needs during industrial action. If your chosen security company is trying to handle a strike without the required skills and emotional maturity needed for tense situations, the chances are their approach will do more harm than good. This will ultimately lead to a catastrophic backfire, even one with possible fatal losses.
Bringing in Professionals
When deciding on bringing in a specialist strike security and protection company, it is of absolute importance that a clear policy of reaction vs action is established. Unfortunately, many people are misinformed on what constitutes reasonable (rightful) action against strikers participating in various levels of criminal activity. Protection of property (e.g. trucks) is largely not considered a reasonable reason for any form of action that could lead to fatalities.
The understanding and knowledge of the security strike team dealing with protection during strikes is the single most important aspect of their skillset.
Non-lethal equipment (including drones and evidence gathering technology) must form the basis of your strike protection arsenal. Levels of engagement is another area that requires strike team leaders to be emotionally stable and possess the mental acumen to read the situation correctly.
I have always strongly discouraged any members of a company, be it executives or HR, to engage with striking protesters. A single wrong word can turn a very combustible situation into a media and legal explosion, and may very well lead to mass violence.
Strongly Advise a Contingency Plan
By far the most effective means of strike protection and management is to create contingency plans long before strike action occurs. Far too many South African companies approach their security – and particularly the protection against strikes – much like ostriches. Choosing to believe it will never happen to them… this is a fatal move. Calling in a company that will assist you in developing a full strike safety and continuity plan is not something that should be put off. Strikes happen spontaneously and very often are not even from a particular sector or union.
Companies therefore must be adequately prepared. Employees not striking should know long beforehand that, in the event of strike action or unrest, you have everything under control. They must be assured that their safety and that of the property is in capable hands. The laws of self-defence, as well as the “dos and don’ts” pertaining to lethal and non-lethal force are a vital part of the strike preparedness programme. Legal advice that outlines the laws governing your security and protection teams must be known to all management, as well as to the security personnel who’s function it is to protect the facility.
The golden rule of strike protection is that there must be an adequate physical barrier between strikers/protesters and the security team. Adequate physical barriers can always be defended, but poor flimsy barriers are an open invitation to strikers and large union mobs forcing their way onto your site. When that happens, it’s too late!
A professional strike protection team such as “The Saints” – a specialised unit from D&K Management Consultants – will bring with them ground markers and drones to assist in making sure all laws governing strikes are adhered to.
Crowd control is the toughest of all security assignments and is definitely not something to leave up to anybody other than professionals.
For any advice regarding the creation of successful strike contingency plans, or on how to deploy “The Saints”, call us anytime.
Kyle Condon is an international speaker and consulting professional on the subject of strike and crowd control.
His teams are seasoned veterans of strike protection professionals.