Historical Overview: The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union [POPCRU] is a trade union organisation in South Africa operating within the South African Police Service [SAPS], the Department of Correctional Services [DCS] and the Traffic component. POPCRU represents more than hundred and fifty thousand [150 000] Police, Corrections and Traffic Officials. This gigantic movement was established on the 5th November 1989 at the height of the liberation struggle within the country. Prior to the establishment of POPCRU, institutional racism was entrenched within the Public Service and the three departments where we operate were the implementer of such atrocious practices. There was huge salary disparity among various racial groupings, Blacks being the least paid. There were serious challenges with regard to the promotions of those who were regarded as the inferior race – Blacks. Some Black correctional officials were eve housed in prison cells as the system failed to recognise them as normal workers. Collective bargaining was a pipe dream.
Founding Principles: When it was founded in 1989, POPCRU served as a voice for Black security services members who were compelled to enforce unjust laws of the apartheid regime. Black police officials were chased away from the communities they had to work for because they were serving an unjust system. POPCRU’s further founding belief was to integrate them back into the community. It struggled for the establishment of collective bargaining structures in order to improve the conditions of service in the departments within which POPCRU organization.
Motto: POPCRU’s motto is “Justice for All”. This slogan has helped drive the ideological principle and operation of this movement to fight for justice for all workers security cluster from the time of its inception to date.
Challenges: Due to the system which was governing South Africa at the time, the union had to operate in a hostile political environment. Police and Prisons authorities refused to recognize the union until 1993 and 1994 respectively. In fact, when it was established the National Commissioner of the then South African Police Force, vowed that there would never be a union in the police in his life time. As a result thereof, there could be no access to a subscription deduction facility. The police and prison services prior the democratic breakthrough were divided along racial lines. The union was hardly a year old when it embarked on its first national strike in 1990 which was followed by mass dismissals and suspensions of its members. There was frustration over the slow pace of transformation and resistance to change. When the police management noticed the inevitable reality that POPCRU was there to stay and grow, they sponsored and encouraged the formation of a rival union. The serious challenge was the non-acceptance of police and prison officials by communities, leading to the rise in police killings by the communities. There was internal organisational infighting propelled by the surrogates planted by the then management of the SAP, which somewhat led to the inter-departmental rivalry, especially between the police and corrections officials.
Breakthrough: POPCRU was able to build relations with management over a period of time and have since driven the establishment and maintenance of independent bargaining structures in all sectors. There is continued interaction and significant improvement on relations with the community. We have since made sure that the work place is de-racialised. Through POPCRU’s hard struggles, the transformation agenda has been taken forward within all the departments where it operates, including active and meaningful participation in policy formulation.
Union Successes: POPCRU membership has grown from thirty thousand [30 000] in its first 5 years to more than hundred and fifty [150 000] in 23 years. POPCRU has nine Provincial offices across the country and one National Office in Auckland Park. Of all the ten offices, five are owned by the organization [National Office, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Western Cape & North West]. The union has a staff complement of more seventy  which strengthen its internal delivery machinery. POPCRU has embarked on leadership and membership development programs fully sponsored by the union. The union has managed to establish five  departments in response to membership growth and service delivery namely: Secretariat, Bargaining, Organizing, Finance and Legal.
International Projects: We have hosted three successful International Symposiums on Police Labour Relations since 2002. The first symposium was convened in Durban – South Africa in 2002, 2006 at Maseru in Lesotho and 2009 at Gaborone in Botswana. Such symposium had positive spin-offs because union movements were established out of such influence in Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana.
Affiliation: POPCRU is an affiliate of Congress of the South African Trade Unions [COSATU] and the World Federation of Trade Unions [WFTU]. There is active participation in these two formations by the movement.
Conclusion: Our continued fight over the last 22 years has been inspired by the quest for justice for all and fairness. We hold the view that labour rights cannot be separated from human rights. The essence of collective leadership has kept us going over the years. We shall continue to wage our struggles alongside community struggles.