Three weeks ago, I stumbled across a construction workers’ strike in Rosebank, a smart district in Johannesburg.
Building sites like this one were at a standstill across the country.
These people are building a luxury hotel for international tourists who will come for the 2010 football World Cup. Meanwhile they have to live in hostels.
Retail and chemical workers struck next. Then at the end of July, central Johannesburg was echoing with the thousands of voices and stomping feet of nurses, street sweepers, lifeguards, firefighters, plumbers and some metro police as they poured onto the streets.
“We have cleaned this world,” sang one contingent of municipal workers.
“The agenda of the capitalists, we don’t want it,” sang another.
Waitresses sang and danced along from the steps of a fast food restaurant on the route of the march.
“We wish to be on strike like them, you know,” yelled one excited young woman. “You know next time it will be restaurants on the streets.”
A speaker from the Communists got a huge cheer when he said, “Don’t tell us about the recession.
“Workers have been in recession for years now.”
For the first time in two terms of office, Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo conceded to accept a memorandum in person instead of sending a lackey.
From behind a police shield, he sweated through a mumbled, vague reassurance while strikers swore at him from the crowd.
He must have felt the uneasy sensation that he, like many of South Africa’s politicians, may be on probation again.
One striker sympathised with the delivery protesters, “The government has been around for 15 years, they should know what they are doing!
“Those people must get delivery.”
“The poor will support our strike because they understand what we are talking about,” added a clinic nurse.
“Those who are comfortable, they will see us as being unreasonable. The rich won’t understand, they won’t side with us.
“I think maybe they are carving away the middle class. I feel myself part of the poor.”
Claire Ceruti is the editor of Socialism from Below magazine in South Africa