Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 21 June 2007

South Africa - third week for public-sector strike

Weizmann Hamilton, Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI), South Africa

A public sector strike in South Africa entered its third week, with workers remaining determined to maintain pressure on the government to substantially improve its pay offer. The overwhelming majority of South Africa's one million public sector workers started an indefinite mass action campaign in support of a 12% salary increase, on Friday 1 June. With the majority of Cosatu (Congress of South Africa Trade Unions) affiliates not responding to calls to make this a general strike, industry was not brought to a halt. Only the SA Municipal Workers' Union took secondary action in solidarity with their public sector counterparts. The National Union of Mineworkers' Central Committee decision to support the strike could not be carried through as the union had not give the necessary 10 days' notice to ensure the strike would be "protected" (legal).

Scandalously, leadership of the National Union of Metal Workers of SA, which is pro-SA President Mbeki, claimed that though they sympathised with the public sector workers, they were preparing for their own wage negotiations. They also claimed their lawyers advised them that the union would be interdicted if they took secondary action, as they would have difficulty proving a "nexus" between the metal/auto/energy industry and the public sector to justify secondary action.

Despite this, South Africa's major urban centres were brought to a complete standstill as public sector workers marched and demonstrated in 43 towns and cities across the country. The taxi associations and bus companies in Kwa Zulu Natal showed their support by pulling all busses and taxis off the roads. The public sector strike, involving nearly 800,000 workers, is, by far, the biggest strike in South Africa's history.

Ironically, the hysteria in the media, and the gross exaggerations by government spokespersons about "violence" and "intimidation" surrounding the strike, actually contributed to businesses closing down. Although there have been some violent incidents (a school principal was sjambokked [whipped] for not striking and, in one instance, some hotheads pulled health workers out of the Intensive Care units) these have been isolated.

State violence

In fact, the violence has come mainly from the state forces, using stun grenades against peacefully demonstrators in Durban and Cape Town. As reporters (as opposed to political commentators writing from the comforts of their newsrooms) observed, the demonstrations were peaceful, disciplined, high spirited and even good-humoured. Reacting to the dismissal of health workers, one poster taking a swipe at Minister of Health, Manto Tshabala-Msimang, over her promotion of quack remedies for HIV/Aids, and who recently underwent a successful liver transplant, read, "Dr Beetroot Garlic, we gave you our live with love now we want it back by force".

Although yesterday was more a national day of action than a general strike, a general strike is inherent in the situation. The summary dismissals of health workers (for defying the ban on striking in essential services) have only hardened the resolve of the unions. The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union pledged the strike will not end until all workers are reinstated. The Police, Prisons and Civil Rights Union (Popcru) resolved at its conference, earlier this week, they would defy the essential services laws, and join the strike, if the government does not meet workers' demands.

Some journalists are denouncing this as a political strike claiming the Cosatu leadership is using workers for their pro-Jacob Zuma agenda [Zuma is one of main ANC opposition figures to the Mbeki leadership]. These critics also claim Cosatu hope to have some advantage going into the month-end ANC policy conference, where the government's economic policy will come under severe criticism, and the succession conference at the end of the year, which will decide who takes over the ANC presidency and, therefore, presidency of the country. Yet, at a demonstration in Johannesburg, earlier this week, attempts to rally support for Zuma were met with a much muted response.

A public sector strike, directed as it is against the government, is, of course, inherently political. Inevitably, the pro-Zuma faction in Cosatu and the ANC may be hoping that this strike will advance their anti-Mbeki cause. But the accusation of a political agenda is just as true of the Mbeki faction, as the treacherous role of the Numsa leadership shows. It is widely believed that the majority of ANC branches support the strikers' demand and that the ANC General Secretary, Kgalema Motlanthe, and the Cosatu union leaders had agreed to settle the pay dispute at 8%. But the Minster of Public Service and Administration enjoys the backing of the president, Thabo Mbeki, and has, so far, ignored the evidence before her eyes of growing support for the strikers.

For the overwhelming majority of workers, the Zuma-Mbeki conflict is not the issue. The fact is that South Africa's 'economic boom' is entering its 8th year and workers have seen no real benefits. All they experience is deepening poverty and growing unemployment, alongside the ostentatious wealth of the new elite and fantastic profits and outlandish pay to executives. This is why there is such overwhelming public support for the strike.

Government fears example of victorious workers

Civil society organisations, including the South African Council of Churches have pledged support for workers' demands. Even newspaper editorials acknowledging that the government, with budget surplus and tax revenue overruns of R11 billion, can afford the public sector workers' demands. Clearly, the government, as the agent of big business, is afraid of the example that a double-digit wage increase would set for the private sector. At the same time, they do not want to be seen to be backing down in the fact of workers' pressure.

But their arguments that wage increases cause inflation have been severely undermined by the increase in inflation to 6.3%, even before the wage negotiations are concluded in the public sector and before they started in the private sector. Despite the government's hard line on the strike, it has increased its offer, albeit in tiny increments, and now puts forward a wage deal at 7.25%, which was recommended by 'independent mediators'. But these tiny increments have been like Chinese torture to an infuriated workforce. The government may well be compelled to retreat and to offer 8%.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) the CWI in South Africa - visited striking workers in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. We distributed two pamphlets on the issues, and our newspaper, Izwi la Basebenzi, is a best-seller.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 21 June 2007:

New PM... same old Bosses' agenda

Brown stresses 'continuity' with Blair

Manchester council swings the axe

Workplace news

Postal and post office workers demand action

National shop stewards' network

Workers must fight Ford sell-off plans

UNISON Leadership get a roasting from angry delegates

No UNISON witch-hunt!

Greenwich UNISON wins concessions

NUT miss opportunity on pay

Socialist Party NHS campaign

Stop Hatchet Hewitt's NHS plans now

Blood centre workers fight job cuts plan

Socialist Party news and analysis

Something for everyone at the summer camp

How Cadbury's keeps shareholders sweet...

Arise... Sir Stephen who?

War and terrorism

Withdraw occupation troops!

Palestinian infighting blows apart 'national unity' government

Socialist students and ISR

Have Scottish students got free education?

Eye-witness from the G8

Why you should join ISR

Workplace news and analysis

Deskilling and destaffing - Tube bosses' dream

PCS leadership recommends new deal to members

Global Warming

Turning the tide for alternative energy

International socialist news

South Africa - third week for public-sector strike


Home   |   The Socialist 21 June 2007   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleSchool strikes against academy management

triangleUCU strike: staff and students unite to continue pensions fight after magnificent 14 days of action

triangleWest Virginia teachers' strike victory

triangleSpain: millions on streets against sexism and capitalist oppression

triangleStrike continues: set dates for next national action

South Africa:

triangleSouth Africa: Ramaphosa is a safe pair of hands for capitalism

triangleCape Town drought

triangleSwansea Socialist Party: South Africa - Has the ANC been 'radically transformed'?

triangleZimbabwe: Mugabe gone - but his regime remains in power

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



Homes for All - Not billionaire profit!



School strikes against academy management



Hands Off HRI campaign granted judicial review



Refugee Rights to be launched in Manchester



Over 1,000 on Newcastle NHS march


Socialist Party

Why I joined: 'The Socialist Party is at the forefront of defending Corbyn's anti-austerity leadership'


Socialist Party

Past fund-raising campaigns show dedication to the fight for socialism


May Day

Ideas matter: help us fight to win with May Day greetings



Refugees march against racism and to demand rights



Unions condemn 'culture of bullying' at Merseyside hospital



Hull college workers ballot for action against mass redundancies



Strikers and parents rally again in Newham against academies



Hinkley workers win back unpaid wages after sit-in protest



UCU strike: staff and students unite to continue pensions fight after magnificent 14 days of action



Walkout from undercover policing inquiry

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0191 421 6230

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

March 2018

February 2018

January 2018