National Sections of the L5I:

Indefinite general strike by public sector workers in South Africa

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Classes were stopped and courtrooms closed as public sector workers walk out, writes Simon Hardy

Nearly 1.3 million public sector workers started an indefinite strike on Wednesday 18 August, demanding an 8.6 percent wage increase and a housing allowance of 1,000 rand ($137) a month. The workers want to beat the government’s offer of a 7 per cent increase and fight for more.

The strike was called by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU and the Independent Labour Caucus (ILC). It follows from a one-day ‘warning strike’ last week which failed to get a good enough offer from the government. But now nearly a quarter of a million teachers have been joined by customs officers, hospital workers and even some police officers on mass demonstrations across the country.

The bosses union, South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) condemned the workers for their “undisciplined actions”. Of course as usual the bosses got it wrong, with almost 95 per cent of the public sector on strike the workers are far from undisciplined! They have a strong union organisation behind them and they are determined to fight for better pay.

The government has claimed that it cannot increase its pay offer because it is unaffordable. But they spent $5 billion on the World Cup in June – yet when it come to their teachers they plead austerity.

Despite the strike impacting on students’ education, the South African Students' Congress unreservedly supported the action. Issuing a statement they placed the blame firmly on the government. “It is about time that the working class demands to be compensated for its worth by the capitalist state. It is not only mischievous but irresponsible for government to continue to offer peanuts to workers whilst often lazy public representatives continue to rake hundreds of thousands in undeserved salaries.”

The strike is a real success, especially in a country with a very high unemployment rate like South Africa which averages at around 25 per cent of the potential work force. The public sector workers are not daunted by the threats of the government – and with the economic situation in South Africa far from stable it is essential that workers stand up together to fight for their interests. Unity is strength!