OVER 100,000 South African council workers started their second week on all-out strike on Tuesday. They are fighting for a minimum wage of £150 a month. At present the minimum wage is £125 a month.
The employers want a three-year deal with an 8 percent rise this year, followed by increases of 0.5 percent next year and 1 percent in 2004 to 2005. Top managers in the municipalities grab as much as 40 times what workers get. The strike has been enthusiastically backed by the vast majority of council workers. The workers' SAMWU union has organised huge demonstrations and large scale picketing.
It is a bitter strike which has focused millions of workers' feelings about low pay, the slow pace of social change and the way that living standards are stagnant or falling. A vehicle driven directly at workers killed striker Linda Xolo instantly in the Free State town of Welkom last week. Police have launched repeated assaults on strikers.
The police arrested about 20 members of SAMWU as pickets disrupted the start of the African Union summit in Durban. In Kaisergracht, Cape Town, 4,000 workers gathering for a march were met by huge numbers of police and were then penned in with razor wire. Police surrounded workers in Queenstown and harassed them as they held a march down the main street.
Police have used rubber bullets and birdshot against strikers. President Thabo Mbeki and most of his ANC cabinet colleagues have denounced the strikers. But there is strong support from workers and communities.
The SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU), the SA Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), and the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union have all pledged their support and some are threatening a solidarity strike in support of municipal workers.
Other unions backing the strikers are the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA), the Communication Workers Union, the SA Agricultural and Plantation Workers and the National Education Health and Allied Workers (NEHAWU). Township residents have marched with the strikers. They have raised their own demands for proper water supplies and an end to the use of bucket toilets. Such toilets, which are used nationwide by 500,000 people, have not been emptied in many areas since the start of the strike.
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