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South African public sector strike suspended

Labor actions continue in mining sector

Published Sep 9, 2010 10:34 PM

Leaders of the unions involved in the public sector strike in the Republic of South Africa have called for the suspension of the work stoppage in order to discuss the government’s latest offer. An estimated 1.3 million workers have been on strike since Aug. 18 demanding a 8.6 percent pay increase and a 1,000 rand (U.S. $138) monthly housing allowance. The strike has crippled the educational and health care sectors.

“Labour has decided to suspend the strike and this does not mean we have accepted the state offer,” all 19 unions representing the state workers said in a joint statement. The strike has generated a widespread debate over the future of economic policy within South Africa, which is governed by the ruling African National Congress.

A statement issued by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Independent Labor Caucus says that the government “succumbed to the demand by labor,” calling it “a victory in the history of public service negotiations where the employer was forced to reopen negotiations.” (CNN, Sept. 6) COSATU is the largest labor federation in the country.

The ANC issued a statement saying that they welcome the suspension of the strike: “We believe this is a step in the right direction in ensuring stability and normality in our public sector offerings, particular around education and health services.” (Sept. 6)

The strike has reportedly cost the government 1 billion rand per day, in the largest public sector labor action since 2007. The ANC government has offered the unions a 7.5 percent increase and a 800 rand per month housing allowance.

South Africa has been under the control of the ANC since 1994, when the first nonracial democratic elections were held inside the country since the formation of the racist settler colonial system in 1652. Although the ANC controls the government, the economy is still dominated by transnational mining and manufacturing interests.

At present the unemployment rate is estimated to be 25 percent. A decline in real wages is making it extremely difficult for workers and the poor to purchase food and other essential services.

In a recent speech, Blade Nzimande, the ANC’s minister of higher education and secretary general of the South African Communist Party, addressed the high rate of unemployment, especially among the youth.

“To have three to seven million 18- to 24-year-olds sitting at home doing nothing is a ticking time bomb. The situation right now is worse than 15 June 1976, the eve of the Soweto riots,” Nzimande said. (Mail & Guardian, Sept. 3)

The public sector strike in South Africa is indicative of the broader struggles being waged by labor throughout the country. The National Union of Mineworkers went out on strike on Sept. 6 at Northam Platinum, demanding a 15 percent pay increase. NUM represents 8,000 workers out of the 8,600 member work force.

In August, the Automobile Manufacturers Employers Organization and the National Union of Metalworkers accepted a 10 percent pay raise after an eight-day work stoppage.

Growing relations with China

With the possible resolution of the public sector strike, the South African government can commit additional resources to addressing the economic crisis that has affected countries throughout the African continent and the world. More details have emerged in regard to the outcome of President Jacob Zuma’s visit to the People’s Republic of China in late August.

The online magazine Leadership states, “President Zuma’s three-day official visit to China with 13 members of his government and some 370 business and other civil leaders has seen the announcement of a comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries and the signing of no less than 12 agreements between companies from both sides, ranging from memorandums of understanding to possibly develop power grids, the setting up of a cement plant in South Africa, and on mining and transport infrastructure.” (leadershiponline.co.za, Aug. 30)

The website notes that the visit “has taken South Africa one important step closer to adding the status of being the Africa representative on the informal Bric grouping of developing nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to that role with the G-8 and G-20 summits.”

Economic relations between China and South Africa have accelerated in recent years. In 2009 China became South Africa’s largest individual trading partner, replacing the United States and second only to the European Union.

As the impact of the capitalist economic crisis worsens, various states on the African continent and other underdeveloped regions will seek alternative relations with China and other Asian, African and Latin American states.