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4 December 2019

South African Airways workers win wage increase after strike action

Weizmann Hamilton and Bongani Nkosi (SAA worker), Marxist Workers Party, CWI South Africa

The outcome of the South African Airways (SAA) strike is a victory. The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) and the Cabin Crew Association of South Africa deserve the applause of all aviation workers, and the working class, as a whole.

Every strike is a battle for the hearts and minds of the public; for organised workers, those of the working and middle class public, in particular.

Despite the capitalist media's attempts to mobilise public opinion against the strike, by raining down a torrent of abuse on the workers and the unions, the strike enjoyed widespread public sympathy, including from inconvenienced air travellers.

Cynical divide and rule

Management's tactics included a cynical attempt to use the well-known one of divide and rule, by settling first and separately with the pilots who won a 5.9% increase, and offering the cabin crews an insulting 0%. In addition, they sought acquiescence to the plans to retrench 944 workers.

The capitalist media is now trying to wipe the rotten eggs from their faces after this setback for the SAA management and their capitalist ANC government by belittling the outcome.

The fact is that the unions mobilised to strike against the 0% insult. Once the 5.9% was offered on the eve of the strike to prevent it, workers were absolutely correct to attempt to press home the advantage of the bosses' retreat.

They did not secure 8%. But this does not detract from the stubborn fact that they prevented an effective wage cut and secured an increase no less than that obtained by the pilots.

In picketing in support of a strike, co-led by a union not affiliated to the federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) demonstrated not only the principle of working-class solidarity in action. It was also recognition that what was at stake were not only the wages, jobs and conditions of SAA workers, but public sector workers as a whole and the working class in general.

Wider assault

The SAA management's government-backed strategy was to bring the SAA workers to their knees, in preparation for a much wider assault on Eskom (the state-owned electricity company) workers, followed by other state-owned enterprises and public sector workers.

The strike was also meant to serve as a testing ground for their new legislative weaponry in the coming wider class war - the Labour Relations Act (LRA) amendments calculated to cripple the right to strike.

That the LRA's anti-strike provisions failed to intimidate the cabin crew workers, has set an example to the working class against whom these weapons will almost certainly be deployed in the battles to come.




http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/29982