The strikes which have swept South Africa for two weeks are causing a deep political crisis – and there may be much more to come.
A strike by nearly one million South African public sector workers this week won a new offer.
Mediators suggested an increase in the offer from 6.5 percent to 7.25 percent, slightly above the present inflation rate. Ministers seemed ready to settle for that, but the Cosatu union federation was not.
'The 7.25 percent offer is not substantially different from the amount that the government has offered for weeks now,' Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Monday. The union has reduced its demand from 12 percent to 10 percent, but says it cannot accept an offer that leaves workers unable to survive.
Hundreds of thousands of teachers, nurses and other workers have defied extreme intimidation, sackings and police brutality to maintain their strike.
And thousands more in the public sector and parts of the private sector were due to join the action this week.
There are likely to be solidarity protests, and some strikes, in the mineworkers' union NUM, metalworkers' union Numsa, and municipal workers' union Samwu.
Huge demonstrations across the country were scheduled for this week.
NUM regional rep Sibusiso Bengu told Socialist Worker, 'It may be illegal for us to join the strikers, but it will be much more serious for us if they lose. Strikers are calling to us for aid. We must answer that call.'
Even the South African Security Forces Union (SASFU – a Cosatu affiliate) has called for solidarity.
JTN Hlatshwayo, SASFU deputy general secretary, said, 'We declare to soldiers not to be used as replacement labour as this will cause a reactionary blow against the honest plight of the working class.'
Up to now the main rebellion against the ANC government has been in the townships over services and by shack dwellers. Now that is merging with powerful workers' resistance.
The strike has already had a huge political impact. It has confirmed for many that the ANC heeds the rich rather than the masses who elected it.
Public service and administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi said this week that nurses who failed to observe an ultimatum to return to work were 'being sacked in the interests of the patients and the country'.
She and two other cabinet ministers are members of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Yet SACP members are central to the strike at every level.
The SACP is due to stage its national Congress in mid July to elect the party's new leadership. It should be an interesting event.