Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 19 May 2000

South Africa general strike signals turning point for workers

In the biggest mobilisation since the early 1990s, on 10 May the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) led more than four million workers - half the workforce - in a general strike that brought major centres and several towns to a standstill for several hours. Weizmann Hamilton of the Democratic Socialist Movement, South Africa, reports.

CALLED TO protest against what COSATU general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi described as a "bloodbath of job losses", the general strike signifies a turning point in the political relations within the Tripartite Alliance between COSATU, the South African Communist Party and the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

It is the beginning of open opposition to the ANC government's policies by COSATU. At the end of this road lies the end of the Alliance itself, when the question of the political independence of the working class and COSATU and the need for a mass workers, party forces itself unavoidably onto the agenda.

The biggest demonstration was in Johannesburg, where 150,000 gathered in the city centre, delaying the commencement of the march to the Stock Exchange and to the Gauteng Provincial Legislature by over two hours.

The marches were distinguished by their discipline. With the exception of a minor incident in Kwa Zulu Natal, the general strike went off without incident. Generally, there was a serious mood with the leadership surprised by the large turnout even in the smallest towns.

After five years of 'democracy' more than half of South Africans earn less than R300 ($43) a month, half of all schools have no electricity or equipment, 15 million are illiterate, hundreds of thousands are homeless and living in squatter camps. Millions are living with Aids as 1,500 a day are infected. Whereas the government had promised to redistribute 30% of the land, the current figure is only 2%.

The general strike reflected the anger of workers who had voted the ANC to power expecting the fulfilment of its pre-1994 elections slogan "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs". Unemployment is conservatively estimated at running at 30%, and is more likely anywhere between four and six million (40%-60%).

As a direct result of its neo-liberal Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) strategy, tariff reductions have seen thousands sacked in textile and clothing. More than 300,000 have lost their jobs in the mining industry over the last few years. The government has also destroyed 170,000 jobs and is placing the axing of a further 120,000 jobs on this year's public-sector wage negotiations.

Whilst carrying out these attacks against the working class they have followed a programme of the enrichment of the capitalists and a new black elite through privatisation and over R8 billion tax concessions in the last five years.

The government insists on repaying the debt inherited from the apartheid regime because "we cannot renege on our obligations" for fear of the reaction of foreign investors - that consumes over 20% of the budget.

The general strike was the culmination of a campaign of rolling mass action that commenced in March but was largely ignored by the media including the government controlled television. The rolling campaign of mass action developed immediately after president Thabo Mbeki's ANC government was re-elected with an even bigger majority in June 1999. Within less than a month the bosses, sacked tens of thousands of workers and used provocative disciplinary measures including the first ever use of the lock-out clause in the new Labour Relations Act.

Provocatively, the the ANC government had ever undertaken they walked out of the annual public-sector wage negotiations and unilaterally imposed a derisory increase. It led to the first ever public-sector general strike, involving even the predominantly white-led conservative unions in joint action with the COSATU unions for the first time ever. The demand for a general strike - for 48 hours - was first raised in this context.

The workers' mood and the massive support for the 10 May strike radicalised the speeches of the COSATU leadership.

Addressing workers in front of the Stock Exchange, COSATU president Willie Madisha announced that the bosses had six days to respond to their demands. "If you don't listen we will be back and after six days we will fight until we win. The strike is about poverty, joblessness and the greed of capitalism." He threatened an indefinite general strike if their demands are not met.

The actual demands around which the strike was called are very weak and can easily be met without altering the situation - the reduction in the rate of tariff reduction, consultations with workers over redundancies and privatisations, etc.

The bosses' main problem is the timing of such concessions. To do so in the face of a general strike is highly problematic. It may appease the trade union leadership but the workers are to the left of the leadership. In reality, the working class came out to warn the bosses that they would retreat so far and no further.

There will be no respite ahead. The South African economy is sinking into deeper crisis. Mbeki is determined to speed up privatisation and to hold the line on wages and to set an example in the public sector to the bosses on wages, conditions and jobs.

Mbeki and the ruling class are in a no-win situation. But his arrogant over-confidence will accelerate the process of political differentiation, placing the question of a mass workers' party on a socialist programme to the fore.

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

In The Socialist 19 May 2000:

Save Jobs, Sack the Bosses

Workers halt health sell-off

Livingstone's London

Students still say - don't pay the fees

Occupation in Kent

Don't fall for divide and rule

South Africa general strike signals turning point for workers


Home   |   The Socialist 19 May 2000   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:

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

triangleCardiff West Socialist Party: South Africa - 5 years after the Marikana massacre


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


triangleA world in crisis, ripe for revolution

triangleBristol South Socialist Party: What is happening in South Africa?

triangleChesterfield Socialist Party: South Africa


triangleFor a fighting, democratic Labour Party

triangleSocial media - the potential and the limits

Trade unions:

triangleLeaked pay deal: fight for a genuine pay rise


triangleBristol South Socialist Party: How can workers' jobs be protected?


triangleSouth Africa: burning anger





Brazil: Psol councillor Marielle Franco murdered



US school shootings: student walkouts challenge establishment



West Virginia teachers' strike victory



Spain: millions on streets against sexism and capitalist oppression



Italian elections create huge political shake-up



Japan - toxic legacy of the Fukushima disaster



Syria: No ceasefire for 'hell on earth' eastern Goutha



United States: young people demand change after latest mass shooting



Russia: Ali Feruz, journalist and human rights activist, freed from jail


South Africa

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



France: rallies in support of oppressed Kurdish people



Big political strike against Finnish government's attack on unemployed



Brazil: Lula conviction confirmed


South Africa

Cape Town drought



May's silence is a green light for Chinese repression

triangleMore International 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