Socialist Worker

South Africa: continuing strike action drives the political debate

Issue No. 2057

A public sector mass strike in South Africa continued at the start of this week despite a “final” and marginally improved offer from the government.

Almost a million public sector workers, principally teachers and health workers, have been on strike since 1 June for decent pay and conditions.

Their strike underlines the disenchantment felt by millions over the continuing poverty since the end of apartheid, and the ANC-led government’s fawning to the rich.

The unions had been demanding a 10 percent pay rise, but have now cut their demand to 9 percent.

On Friday of last week the government offered a 7.5 percent wage increase together with increased housing allowances and other benefits.

This was enough for a few unions to withdraw from the battle.

One teachers’ union settled, but the largest one (the South African Democratic Teachers Union) continued.

Health workers were also maintaining their strike on Tuesday despite intimidation from bosses and security forces. Bosses have dismissed nearly 1,000 nurses and other workers during the dispute.

The magnificent fighting spirit shown during the strike has encouraged other groups to push for their own demands.

In Eskom, the power generator, some 24,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers are pushing for a 12 percent pay rise. Bosses have offered 6 percent.

The NUM recently also declared a dispute against platinum producer Implats, saying it had failed to make a wage offer.

Unions are demanding a 15 percent wage rise from Implats and another platinum producer, Angloplat.

The public sector strike is also causing deep political turmoil.

The ANC was to start its policy conference on Wednesday of this week. There are certain to be tense discussions about who has gained most from the party’s rule.

The Communist Party, which is also intensely debating the strike, will also meet soon.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which fights for for treatment for people with HIV and Aids, is demanding the reinstatement of the sacked nurses.

“There was pressure on us to denounce the strike for disrupting critical treatment, but we blame those who are attacking the health workers,” a TAC member from the Western Cape told Socialist Worker.

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Tue 26 Jun 2007, 18:38 BST
Issue No. 2057
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