Socialist Worker

Indefinite strike by 1.3 million public sector workers in South Africa

by Viv Smith
Issue No. 2215

Public services have ground to a halt as over a million South African public sector workers, including some 245,000 teachers, walked out on indefinite strike today (Wednesday) over pay.

Everything from schools to home affairs offices, courts and hospitals are shut down as workers fight for an 8.6 percent wage increase and a housing allowance of R1,000 (£88) per month.

Workers struck for one day last week and thousands marched through Durban, Cape Town and Pretoria to force the government to reconsider their offer.

The government asked for further strikes to be suspended while they reconsidered their position—and came forward with a 7 percent rise, up from 6.3 percent, but refused to budge on the R630 housing allowance.

But in a statement released last night after consultation with their members across the country, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) public sector workers unions said,

“Today we want to announce that after a four-day consultation process members have unanimously rejected the offer. Starting tomorrow, 18 August 2010, the strike for public service unions will continue until such time that the employer accedes to the demands of the workers. We will be having pickets in all our workstations and on the 26 August we will be having mass marches across the country in all nine provinces.”

Nomusa Cembi, spokesperson for the Sadtu teachers union, condemned the criticism of the strike made by president Jacob Zuma. She said, “The government has a responsibility to honour the demands by workers without trivialising them. The current macroeconomic policy is responsible for low wages in the public services. The strike programme will include a total shut down of institutions.”

The government and bosses have criticised the strikes claiming workers pay demands far exceed the official rate of inflation, which was 4.2 percent at the end of June 2010.

But the cost of basic necessities for workers in relation to their pay packet remains high. The state electricity supplier, Eskom, recent announced a 35 percent tariff increase and some 15 percent of the population—nearly 2 million people—live in shacks and some 48 percent of the population live on less than R322 (£28) a month.

Meanwhile 31,000 workers in the car manufacturing industry continue their all out strike over pay and conditions.

Thousands of workers represented by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) are marching through the country’s capital Pretoria today to hand over a memorandum of demands.

The strike has shut down production at every car plant and affected car component factories.

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