South Africa: ‘Massive’ strike spreads on 13th day

Cosatu pickets

A nationwide public sector strike by hundreds of thousands of workers has shut down schools, courts and hospitals in a bitter dispute over pay that has seen the army deployed against pickets.

Today thousands of workers have joined one of the largest strikes in South African history. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) – which is a partner in the ANC government – has called for a one-day solidarity strike today from public and private sector workers as the ongoing pay dispute enters its 13th day.

Reports say that Durban, South Africa’s major port has ground to a halt as bus and taxi drivers joined the strike while mass marches are planned across the country, prompting the government to warn it will use the army to ‘prevent violence.’

Cosatu is demanding at least a 10% pay rise, while the government is offering 7.25%, revised from 6% before the strike action. With the rate of inflation at around 7% the pay ‘rise’ on offer is in fact a freeze after several years of falling real incomes.

On Friday 2,500 soldiers were deployed, firing rubber bullets at pickets. The government has so far sacked over 600 public health workers who are not allowed to strike under South African law, whilst it is withholding pay from the thousands of others talking action. Cosatu has said the strike will not end until such threats are withdrawn.