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PORTSIDELABOR  August 2010, Week 5

PORTSIDELABOR August 2010, Week 5

Subject:

Two Updates from South African Strike

From:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 00:59:41 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (242 lines)

Two Updates from South African Strike

(1)

Zuma Tells Ministers to Negotiate End of Strike
by RFI
August 30, 2010

http://www.english.rfi.fr/africa/20100830-zuma-tells-ministers-negotiate-end-strike

South African President Jacob Zuma has told his
ministers to return to the negotiating table with
unions to try and end an indefinite public sector
strike. Zuma's spokesperson said on Monday that the
president had met with ministers over the weekend. Last
week the strike threatened to spread to South Africa's
mining sector.

"The president has met with the ministers and he
instructed them to immediately go back to the
negotiating table," said Zizi Kodwa, Zuma's
spokesperson. "In the interest of the country, the
strike must be resolved."

The indefinite strike entered its 12th day on Monday,
while on Friday South Africa's National Union of
Mineworkers announced that they would hold a strike in
solidarity.

[Moderator: To read entire article:
http://www.english.rfi.fr/africa/20100830-zuma-tells-ministers-negotiate-end-strike]


(2)

South Africa: Public Sector Strike Highlights Crisis
By Patrick Bond
Green Left Weekly
August 29, 2010

http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/45218

The two major civil service unions on strike against
the South African government have vowed to intensify
pressure in a struggle pitting more than a million
workers against a confident government leadership fresh
from hosting the World Cup.

Along with many smaller public sector unions, educators
from the South African Democratic Teachers Union
(SADTU) and nurses from the National Health and Allied
Workers Union (NEHAWU) have picketed schools, clinics
and hospitals, leading to widespread shutdowns from
August 18.

Skeleton teams of doctors and military personnel were
compelled to send non-emergency cases home.

In several confrontations with police, workers have
been shot with rubber bullets and water cannon. On
August 21, the courts ordered workers to return to jobs
considered "emergency services". In dozens of hospitals
and clinics, military health workers took over.

South African President Jacob Zuma threatened mass
sackings and attacked the workers. "Even during the
campaigns against the apartheid government we did not
prevent nurses from going to work", the leader of the
ruling African National Congress (ANC) stated.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) issued a
statement defending the strikers but requested the
labour movement and ANC desist from "flinging irritable
insults at each other, while the private sector and
anti-worker elements sit back and laugh".

Zuma enjoys reasonably high popularity, but recent
reports about vast profits in "black economic
empowerment" deals for his son, nephew and inner-circle
allies are fuelling anger.

NEHAWU's press statement lambasted Pretoria's
hedonistic state managerial class: "We read on a daily
basis government's wasteful expenditure on World Cup
tickets, cars, hotels, parties and advertising."

Pretoria subsidised the World Cup to the tune of US$5
billion. Corporations sponsoring the soccer tournament
took home more than $4 billion in profits, tax-free
without exchange controls.

South Africa's economy in under increasing stress and
marked by extreme inequality. More than 1 million of
the 13 million workers in South Africa's formal economy
have lost their jobs since 2008.

In spite of the pressure, workers have become
surprisingly militant, winning above-inflation wage
settlements from the state-owned transport and
electricity utilities in recent weeks, assisted by
pressure they applied before and during the World Cup.

With inflation at 4.5%, the government's latest offer
to the striking public sector workers of a 7% annual
increase plus a rise in the monthly housing allowance
would ordinarily be a strong settlement.

Some unions would be happy with a 8.6% raise and a
higher housing assistance increase. But NEHAWU's
demands include an 11% wage increase (backdated three
months) and a housing allowance more than double the
government's offer.

The government responded on August 18: "We had to make
a choice between increasing the salary bill to
unaffordable levels by meeting the union demands and
cutting other urgently needed services. It's a choice
between improving the wages of state employees and
continuing to address the service delivery needs of
poor communities and the unemployed."

The unions have called for higher taxes on business and
the rich, which have fallen sharply from 1994 levels.
Unions also point out other places wherestate waste and
corporate subsidies could be cut.

Vast spending on infrastructure has come under strong
criticism, especially given that the four major
components mainly benefit elites at the cost of
infrastructure for poor people (and the environment).

These are two new coal-fired power plants financed
partly by the World Bank, a fast-train from the
Johannesburg airport to the main financial district, an
airport in Durban and new dams for big mining and
agricultural interests

Public transport continues to decay and electricity
prices are rising by 25% each year to pay for the new
power plants. Yet two corporations, BHP Billiton and
Anglo American, will continue receiving the world's
cheapest electricity (one seventh of the price ordinary
workers pay).

The unions' greatest disappointments with Zuma's
government are its amplification of neoliberal economic
policies such as exchange control liberalisation and
monetarism (high interest rates), and its failure to
ban labour brokers who supply hundreds of thousands of
cheap, casualised "outsourced" workers at far lower
wages.

Also reflecting the widening social divides are the
several thousand protests that police record each year.
Many have flared up spontaneously as localised "service
delivery" riots, with results that include vandalism of
municipal offices and even xenophobic outbreaks.

Unfortunately, no major urban social movement has
emerged to capture and channel the frustrations into a
sustained, democratic force.

This is mainly due to the residual township loyalty to
the ANC, even in these protest-rich communities, and a
decade-old split between the (now fading) radical "new
social movements" in South Africa's cities and the ANC.

The new movements had hoped that the most left-leaning
forces in the SACP and Congress of South African Trade
Unions (COSATU) would break away from the ANC. But
instead they only attacked its leader, former president
Thabo Mbeki, and helped replace him with Zuma.

Having thrown Mbeki out of power in September 2008,
COSATU and the SACP expected more than the handful of
marginal seats they received in the cabinet.

The feeling of betrayal was made explicit in the widely
circulated Ruth First Memorial Lecture delivered on
August 17 by COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi,
one of the most radical voices in contemporary South
Africa. In 1982, anti-apartheid activist and SACP
member Ruth First was assassinated by an apartheid
regime letter bomb.

Vavi paid tribute to First: "Her contempt for private
ownership of the means of production, for exploitation
and for all forms of oppression is evident in all of
Ruth First's undertakings."

Vavi continued: "Ruth First would be shocked to learn
that 16 years after our emancipation we have not moved
decisively away from an economic system she died
fighting against. She will seriously ask whether it was
worth all the sacrifices she made when she learns that
... South Africa (is) now the country with the biggest
inequalities in the world ...

"What will annoy Ruth First most is that despite this
mounting and unfolding catastrophe, she would have
heard some of the leaders who were at some point
serving with her in the [SACP] Central Committee,
assuring private capital, locally and abroad during
their endless trips, that the economic fundamentals are
in place and the country will stay the course despite
mounting evidence that this market fundamentalism is
dismally failing humanity ...

"She would ask where her SACP is, and why it has not
led a united working class in a struggle to change the
direction we seem to be taking.

"She would ask where all other democrats have gone to
after reading about the proposed Protection of
Information Bill that, if it goes through in its
current form, will make a mockery of her work as a
journalist committed to fighting injustice."

The top two SACP leaders, Blade Nzimande and Jeremy
Cronin, have defended Zuma's attacks on the media and
access to information.

The pressures in South Africa's economy and society
will keep growing. And the wedges now being driven
between the ruling partner and its COSATU and SACP
allies will not be easily healed.

[A longer version of this article can be read at Links
International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Patrick
Bond is director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal
Centre for Civil Society in Durban.]

PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to
people on the left that will help them to interpret the
world and to change it.

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