And so begins the final drama/In the streets and in the fields

I’m probably late posting on the South African general strike – but I’ve been passively, interestedly watching it and wondering what would happen. Oddly the BBC, like the IHT, is something I read more on my mobile phone these days as well (either to-and-from Bethlehem, or waiting for my wife after her Latin class).

In any event, it got me more Billy Bragg lyrics up there.

The very interesting turn that the strike took yesterday was news that, since emergency workers do not have any legal entitlement to strike, about 600 of them were sacked by the government (New Yorkers will remember this, I’m sure, from a couple of Summers ago when such talk was in the air). This is interest purely from the perspective of logic. If these people are necessary, and therefore legally forbidden to strike, how much worse has the government made affairs by putting them all our on their ear? There’s a disconnect there.

As it stands, things are pretty bad by now. Tomorrow the strike will have been an even fortnight (Americans: a fortnight is 2 weeks). What’s missing so far:

    • Children have missed exams as schools have closed
    • Nurse have (as stated) been fired, meaning
    • Soldiers have been brought in to work in wards and (importantly) protect those who have elected to work*
    • Other civil services must surely have been affected**
  • * First: the introduction of soldiers to do the work of nurses very clearly indicates that there aren’t enough of them – surely the government will need to hire or re-hire nurses (at least, but we can use them as an example). Now nurses in South Africa are earning, according to the Guardian, GBP240 per month – for qualified labour (context: Inflation is around 7%. Unions asked for 12% wage increases, refusing to go below 10 (they haven’t had one in a while, mind), and the government has so far come up only to 7.25%. That’s quite a difference). Also:

    In addition to the annual increase — the latest offer being 7,25% — the offer included an increased housing allowance, increased medical-aid contribution, a 25% adjustment to nightshift, special and danger pay, and full implementation of overtime payment as per the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

    However. If the current wage offer is too low, how will the government get qualified nurses? At those wages, why won’t those that were fired try to emigrate? Moreover, it has given the strikers a line to draw in the sand, although it may also have given the government a bargaining chip – in fact probably more the latter.

    * Part II, protection of civil servants seems to be an issue – not suprising with a general strike 2 weeks old and still mobilising about 1 million union members. Having said that, though, quick searches are showing Mbeki calling for no violence, along with reports of no violence. Sounds like a government/media beat-up, although I could be wrong. There are reports of ‘clashes‘, but I’d like to see you bring together this many people on one side of an angry issue, and cops on the other, and keep the peace.

    ** Second, I don’t find anything beyond the effect of teachers and nurses (even at the likes of AllAfrica, the Mail & Guardian, etc. am I doing something wrong?), but there is a lot more to the civil service than only they. I imagine this is bringing cities pretty well to a standstill, and lost productivity must be noticeable, to say the least. Are people even able to get wills sorted, deeds transferred, married? I don’t know.

    So the business end of it isn’t clear to me, but it must be having some effect. The other side of the same coin is politics.

    South Africa’s trades union confederation, Cosatu, which has 1.8 million members, is part of the ruling alliance with the ANC and the Communist party. Its leadership has fallen out badly with Mr Mbeki over economic policy, accusing him of enriching a small black elite at the expense of the majority of poor.

    Meaning there is a lot more in play here than mere salaries. There is a grudge, and a play for political futures. Like I said, interesting.


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