More than 200 union members protested South Africa's racial policies at a downtown Washington rally yesterday that was part of a nationwide "Day of Solidarity With the Victims of Apartheid" organized by the AFL-CIO.
"We are demonstrating our solidarity with our black blothers and sisters of the South African trade union movement, and with all the victims of the racist apartheid system," AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland told the demonstrators.
The protesters carried signs proclaiming "Hotel and Restaurant Employees Against Apartheid" and "Machinists Support South African Labor."
The protest at Western Plaza was one of seven demonstrations nationwide commemorating the 26th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre, in which South African police killed 89 demonstrators protesting pass laws that restrict the movement of blacks.
The protesters were urged to cut their Shell credit cards in half and mail them to AFL-CIO headquarters as part of a boycott campaign against the international oil company for alleged antiunion activities in South Africa.
Kirkland, wearing a "Stop Apartheid; Boycott Shell" sticker on his jacket, said American workers support the antiapartheid movement "first of all because their cause is right and just."
In addition, he said, "We also respond because we know that we cannot make it alone in this world.
"We live in a global economy today. The exploitation of foreign workers threatens the American standard of living no less than the substandard wages and working conditions that prevail in too many areas of our own country."
James Mdaweni, president of the Council of Unions of South Africa, said, "It is very encouraging to see the American workers united and strong trying to end apartheid . . . . We welcome your pressure on the racist regime."