A strike by over a million South African public sector workers that had lasted three weeks was suspended by union leaders on Monday.
A statement from 19 trade unions involved said, “Labour has decided to suspend the strike and this does not mean we have accepted the state offer.”
The unions are going to use the 21 days they have by law to finalise discussions with their members on a draft agreement.
Workers have already made gains:
- Pay: the government initially offered a 5.2 percent increase but have been forced to raise it to 7.5 percent.
- Housing: the government initially refused to increase the R500 (£44) a month housing allowance. Workers have now won R800 a month.
- Workers won the right to a one-year deal—rejecting a three-year deal on the basis of the instability of the global economy.
These gains come despite intense attacks from the state and the media.
Police arrested more than 250 pickets and used tear gas and rubber bullets against strikers. The ANC government sent in troops to scab in hospitals.
But the result is still short of what workers demanded—and what they fought for with such great courage and determination.
The pay rise does little to attack poverty wages, and workers have not won the right to be paid for the time they were on strike—one of their most insistent issues.
Victory could have been won if the unions had carried through their plan to hold a general strike on Thursday of last week. But leaders of the Cosatu union federation called it off.
However, the strike has seen a great strengthening of workers’ organisation and has triggered battles in the private sector.
On Tuesday bosses pleaded for a settlement of a week-long pay strike by 70,000 workers in the Numsa union. Companies said that manufacturing plants would come to a halt within days if the strike did not end.
Over 8,000 mineworkers at Northam Platinum are also out, demanding a 15 percent pay rise.
The public sector strike reflected the depth of anger and bitterness workers feel at the slow pace of change since the fall of apartheid in 1994.
It has sparked intense political debates about how genuine freedom can come, and why the ANC lets down its own supporters.