South African Public Workers Strike: Class Struggle Challenges Ruling Alliance

State blindly follows a recipe for disaster

The strike by public service workers, supported by Cosatu, the largest workers’ federation in the country, brings up many lessons, especially for working people and the rural and urban poor.

Aug 31, 2010 |

by Tiyani Lybon Mabasa, Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA)

Let me state right at the beginning that the Socialist Party of Azania (Sopa) unequivocally places its support where it rightfully belongs – with the workers.

Their demands enjoy our full support. The government, which is the employer, cannot remain intransigent while it is guilty of spending about R900billion on the Fifa World Cup, which was nothing more than a public relations effort for South Africa and the continent as a whole.

They must now show the same mettle and resolution in dealing with the workers who are citizens of this country.

In the first instance, the target for this strike is the government, which under normal circumstances should be more positive and sensitive when it deals with their employees who belong to the most essential services such as health, education and those directly involved in service delivery.

We want to state that workers who have gone on strike are not insensitive or irresponsible but are forced by the economic realities that this government knows quite well. What is good for government officials should in the same vein be good for the workers.

The government is at the core of the discontent. The only instrument the government and the revisionist organisations are using is the Codesa lockout clause that allows them to use scab labour of any form and to walk away from the negotiation table. If one does not work in the industry, one has no reason to be there when those who work there are on strike.

That, in any language, is crossing the picket line. Let the government settle with the workers; that is real democracy. We do not understand the language that encourages workers to break ranks.

The Kempton Park conspiracy that produced the sellout Codesa settlement package continues to bear its bitter fruit, using the lock-out clause to try and break the resolve of the workers.

This allows them to use volunteers instead of settling with the workers and their union representatives. And the masses certainly do not enjoy this beautifully-coated bitterness. In fact, it causes them to vomit!

The coating comes in the form of the Mandela, Mbeki and now the Zuma-led anti-worker policies of the ANC government.

And the leadership of both Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) are co-signatories to the Codesa/Kempton Park settlement. It is this unholy alliance that continues to betray the aspirations our people.

It has created conditions conducive to the continued plunder of the wealth of our motherland. Their children become billionaires before they have grown a full set of teeth.

Cosatu finds itself in the untenable position where its membership are at the receiving end of the brutal “free market system”. It is this system that justifies the fact that the president, ministers, directors-general and all bureaucrats can feel it is okay to pay themselves but cannot do the same for the workers.

The hard-earned gains by the labour unions during the Struggle are surely but steadily being eroded. Job shedding through, among others, labour casualisation, has become the order of the day.

The economy is allegedly recovering from the world economic crisis and yet one sees massive unemployment in the streets. In some townships you could easily mistake a Wednesday for a Sunday. The masses are fighting for their very survival. The price of a loaf of bread is beyond many of our people.

Worse still, a mushrooming of bakeries selling sub-standard bread – both in weight and nutritional value – is becoming the order of the day.

We have seen big business colluding to fix prices of bread and other basic commodities, even medicine. In the case of bread, the government response was a meagre R100million fine. Soon afterwards the price of bread shot up anyway.

Maize meal, the staple food of the country’s masses, is fast becoming a luxury item. In a few years the prices of necessities have doubled or trebled: milk, cooking oil, margarine (forget about butter), Sunlight soap, soap powder, Vaseline, toothpaste; vegetables like onions, tomatoes, pumpkin, spinach, beetroot and potatoes are out of reach.

It’s worse with fruit and medicines. Again, price-fixing wreaks havoc with the poorest of the poor. What are teachers, nurses and doctors expected to do in the face of such attacks?

Capitalism is a notorious one-way street – always at the service of profit and not people. People borrow money to buy food.

The 27,5percent rise in electricity, more than 17percent in food, 20percent in interest rates and more than 35percent in fuel (from May 2007 to May 2010), also provide the basis for this strike.

Couple this with the ever-increasing jobless and a recipe for revolution is brewing. The power struggle within the ruling party can only help ignite the powder keg.

The leadership of Cosatu has to be seen to be on the side of its members lest they be rejected.

Workers are clamouring for a political break. At the core of their demands, which we support, are matters political.

  • The writer is president of Sopa

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