South Africa: over a million public sector workers on strike

South Africa: over a million public sector workers on strike

More than one million South African state workers have gone on strike to press for an increase in pay, a move that threatens to paralyse Africa's biggest economy. Schools were closed early on Wednesday as teachers left for meetings to discuss the walkout, while workers dressed in red T-shirts gathered outside hospitals and government offices.

"The strike is indefinite. It will go on until there has been an improvement, until the government delivers on our demands," Fikile Majola, the general secretary of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union, said

"The response has been very good especially in the schools."

Those on strike included police, healthcare workers, teachers and customs officials. Essential services are expected to be maintained through skeleton staffing.

"We have nothing to lose but the chains that bind us," Norman Mampane, the national spokesman for the Popcru police and prison guards' union, one of the groups in the labour coalition representing about 1.3 million state workers, said.

Offer rejected
The strike was declared after four days of consultation in which the state's offer was to increase the monthly housing allowance to 700 rand from a previous offer of 630 rand. However, it had refused to increase its wage rise offer of seven per cent.

Dumisani Nkwanba, the spokesman for the ministry of public service and administration, said: "The government has been very sincere … The question here is the issue of affordability on the part of the state.

"The offer the government has put on the table … we feel is a fair and reasonable offer. We cannot move beyond what we have done now."

However, workers do not believe the government when it says that it has no money.

"They say they see politicians living lavish lifestyles, they question why there was money for the football World Cup [staged in South Africa] and say they are tired of corruption allegations in government departments and that they will not put up with it anymore," reporter Hara Mutasa said.

"They are saying that they are not going back to work until their demands are met and that they don't care how long the strike drags on.

"It's going to have a big impact. Schools are shut down … we've heard people have barricaded hospitals. If this strike drags on a lot of people will become the casualties of the strike action."

The last big public sector strike in South Africa took place in 2007 when a four-week strike by 600,000 state workers cost the economy several million lost man-days, discouraged investors and angered the public.

Comments

Samotnaf
Aug 19 2010 14:16
Quote:
"We have nothing to lose but the chains that bind us," Norman Mampane, the national spokesman for the Popcru police and prison guards' union, one of the groups in the labour coalition representing about 1.3 million state workers, said.

They've learnt well from their Stalinist-turned-neo-liberal masters how to demogoguically manipulate radical language so that it means fuck-all.

But are the South African working class seizing the opportune time to assert their own needs without fear of arrest? And what happens if proletarians decided to attack cops on strike - will the cops suddenly start scabbing on themselves?

And how does this no-comment report square with your critique of unions, Ed? or does your journalistic notion of "just-give us da facts" 'objectivity' mean you're leaving that till later? I suspect that if someone had reported, a couple of years ago, the "struggle" of lawyers, magistrates and judges in France against their increased workload, when they chained themselves to fences and claimed they were like the sans-papiers, sandwiched without comment between reports of genuine workers' struggles, they would have been subjected to some suspicious questioning. I hope, in this case, I'm not the only one who finds this report's selective "objectivity" more confusing than enlightening.

Django
Aug 20 2010 06:24

Are you objecting to this report covering the police and prison guards' involvement in the strike here, or to government employees generally? It isn't clear from your post.

smg
Aug 21 2010 13:55

The inclusion of the cops and prison guards without comment seems a bit too much like "objective" journalism.

Samotnaf
Aug 21 2010 18:37

Django:

Quote:
Are you objecting to this report covering the police and prison guards' involvement in the strike here, or to government employees generally? It isn't clear from your post.

Since i quoted a cop saying "We have nothing to lose but the chains that bind us," I thought it was clear that it was the cops being quoted uncritically that i objected to , not to the public employees strike as a whole.

Django
Aug 22 2010 10:03

OK, thats fair enough.

Ed
Aug 22 2010 17:55

Further on from what people have been saying about police involvement in the strike, this should be an interesting new development..

Quote:
South Africa unions condemn strike injunction
South Africa's trade unions have condemned a court injunction obtained by the government prohibiting public sector workers from continuing a national strike.
Ed
Aug 24 2010 09:04
Quote:
And how does this no-comment report square with your critique of unions, Ed? or does your journalistic notion of "just-give us da facts" 'objectivity' mean you're leaving that till later? I suspect that if someone had reported, a couple of years ago, the "struggle" of lawyers, magistrates and judges in France against their increased workload, when they chained themselves to fences and claimed they were like the sans-papiers, sandwiched without comment between reports of genuine workers' struggles, they would have been subjected to some suspicious questioning.

For what it's worth, I agree with you with regard to producing propaganda (leaflets, newsletters etc where that piece is really the first impression/point of contact). For instance, when we did Tea Break in 2008, we did a round-up of all the strikes that had been going on in the public and private sector but left out strikes of immigration officials and prison guards for the same reasons you outlined.

The difference with libcom news is that it's not a leaflet. People won't just look at one page and take that as representative of the site. People click on a few other pages (such as the police tag above, populated almost entirely with articles about anti-working class actions by the police) or they look in the forums. This gives them more of an idea about the site and our views generally and that's why I feel we're able to leave explicit opinions out of the news section as it comes through on the rest of the site (but that's my view, we don't enforce it and other people who write news express their opinions explicitly, like your news article on travellers)..

I don't believe in 'objectivity' either (as you can see in this post on the Ssangyong occupation last year), I just feel that opinions are better articulated with subtlety than with constantly restating your position. The same way The Guardian doesn't constantly say "and that's why we need to implement a more liberal form of government", it comes through in the content of the paper, what they deem to be news etc.

And as to why I specifically left that bit in, well, I just thought it was funny.. as the article above shows now the police may have to scab on themselves! So it's funny to see the cop union leader paraphrasing Marx! grin

As you can see, this post is fairly long and mostly contains information about me and how I agree with you for the most part.. though perhaps there's an interesting discussion to be had here on the role of the news section..

Samotnaf
Aug 24 2010 12:25

Well, at least you responded - I'm too tired to answer much, and probably there's really nothing to answer, though I think the best reports also contain critiques (like Red Marriot's stuff on Bangladesh, for example), and the fact that certain facts are selected already implies you have a point of view; I'm not against subtlety, however, but you can fetishise it as much as its opposite - the sledgehammer of obvious critique.

Steven.
Aug 24 2010 12:47

yeah, I just think the police quote is funny more than anything, and worth leaving in for that reason alone