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(Updated Sept. 2) South Africa: COSATU calls `total shutdown', condemns state `scabbing', violence

See also "South Africa: Public sector strike highlights post-apartheid’s contradictions".

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STOP PRESS: COSATU suspends solidarity strike

September 1, 2010 -- In the light of the consultations and negotiations currently taking place around the public sector strike, the Congress of South African Trade Unions has for the moment suspended the secondary strike which was scheduled to begin tomorrow [September 2]. This is to give public servants’ unions sufficient time to consult with their members and then to resume talks with the government.
The federation would however stress that this is only a suspension and our affiliated unions remain ready to take solidarity strike action in support of the public service workers if a resolution to the dispute is not reached.
Patrick Craven, national spokesperson, Congress of South African Trade Unions

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August 26, 2010 -- Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on August 24 announced that its affiliated unions will launch a solidarity "secondary strike" on September 2 in support of the country's 1.3 million public servants and teachers, who are on strike for better wages and allowances. "All COSATU unions, in both the public and private sectors, will embark on a sympathy strike. No member of COSATU will be at work next week", Vavi warned.

According to the August 25 Johannesburg Times, Vavi told a press conference following a COSATU executive meeting (see statement below) that the African National Congress (ANC) government was being "disingenuous"."We do need a total shutdown until government comes to its senses and accede to the legitimate demands of the working class." He likened ANC cabinet ministers who lived "caviar lifestyles" to "the shepherd feeding himself, forgetting about the lambs".

Public servants are demanding an 8.6% wage increase and a R1000 a month housing allowance. The ANC government is offering 7% and a R700 allowance.

Vavi attacked the government for organising "volunteers" to staff hospitals and schools around the country. "Volunteering for a stipend is scabbing. Scabbing is an international word meant to explain exactly that -- when you come and take jobs off workers who are in a legal strike. Yes, you can work with us in order to ensure that no lives are lost, but please don't cross the picket line", he said.

After more than 100 strikers were arrested on August 23, Vavi urged members of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) and the South Afrcian Policing Union "not to allow the employer to use them to crush the strike". POPCRU accused the national police and Johannesburg Metro Police of "real state brutality" towards its members during protests outside hospitals and schools: "Our contention is that all has been applied in terms of the law, but we continue to see police officers provoking workers at the picket line . hitting, arresting and shooting peaceful marchers."

On August 25, South African Security Forces Union president Bhekinkosi Mvovo said that "workers in uniform ... should not be used in a manner that seeks to undermine the right of workers to strike. The scenes that have been widely reported in the media of policemen failing to use the minimum force to striking women during women’s month are very disturbing. The continual use of soldiers as scab labour in hospitals is not only unsustainable but is parasitic as the very soldiers stand to benefit to a reasonable settlement and demand of the public service workers. The government should be careful of developing a negative relationship between the soldiers and the poor as this might strain any future cooperation between soldiers and workers."

South African Democratic Teachers Union's  Bongani Mconyana told a rally of striking public servants and teachers on August 24 that South Africa's President Jacob Zuma might, like former president Thabo Mbeki, not complete his term as president if he refused to change his attitude to the strike. Mbeki was deposed by Zuma after COSATU and the South African Communist Party members within the ANC campaigned against him.

The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) confirmed that its 52,000 members in Gauteng province would go on a sympathy strike on August 27. SAMWU spokesperson Tahir Sema said: "There will be a total shutdown of all Gauteng municipal services, including water, customer service, Metro Police and municipal clinics to show support for our colleagues." Sema also warned: "If the government does not resolve the current impasse as soon as possible, as many as 150,000 SAMWU members will be downing tools nationwide." SAMWU's 16,000 members in the Eastern Cape province will also strike on August 30.

Also, on August 26, mass marches in support of the public service strikers were held throughout South Africa.

COSATU in solidarity with public service workers

Statement by the Congress of South African Trade Unions

August 25, 2010 -- The Central Executive Committee of the Congress of South African Trade Unions has declared its total support for the strike by 1.3 million public service workers and demands that the government moves immediately to make a new offer which can lead to a rapid conclusion to the strike.

COSATU warns that it will not allow a defeat of the public sector workers. We know the full political and economic implications if the public sector workers lose this battle. In order to ensure that the strike does not fail COSATU makes the following calls:

1.   On all public sector workers to intensify the strike. We need a total shut down of the public sector until the government comes to its senses and accedes to the legitimate demands of the working class.

2.   All COSATU affiliated unions will embark on solidarity action in support of the demands of the public sector workers. In this regard, every COSATU union shall on the 26 August submit notices to their respective employers that will allow them legal right to embark secondary strike. Our members and their communities (working class) are the ones on the receiving end of the current situation. It is workers’ kids who have not been at school since the beginning of the strike; it is the workers and their families that rely on the functioning public hospitals. The rich, which includes the elite in society, are hardly affected by the strike. Their kids are in private schools where teachers are better paid. They go to private hospitals to access healthcare. We warn that the strike will also be protected and take as long as necessary until the government as the employer accede to the legitimate demands of the workers.

3.   COSATU calls on all members of POPCRU and SAPU and all police and other law enforcement officials not to allow the employer to use them to crush the strike. We certainly are not making a call on them to allow lawlessness. Our call on them is that they exercise maximum caution and avoid unnecessary conflict with workers whose only sin is to exercise their right to picket and demonstrate in support of their demands.

4.   We call on civil society to support the strike and not to cross the picket lines. Volunteering is equal to scabbing and scabbing does deepen frustrations and anger amongst workers. This is what normally creates violence between workers on strike and those seen by workers to be taking their jobs and undermining their legitimate demands. 

The federation regrets the hardship which the strike has caused but insists that the responsibility for this must be firmly placed at the door of the government, which could have prevented the strike in the first place, and could still now end the strike, by coming forward with a serious new proposal. Secondly government has refused to sign an agreement on minimum service level agreements for the past 16 years. This would have allowed clarity with an agreed number of workers to continue providing a service in case of essential services. Government has for all these years refused to sign so that it can unilaterally declare most of the public sector workers as essential services whilst declaring that there is no support for strike action by its employees. We call on the government even at this late hour to sign an agreement with the public sector workers so that there is skeleton staff in areas where workers provide an essential service.

The federation also reiterates its strong insistence that strike must be conducted in a peaceful, lawful and orderly manner and condemns any acts of violence and intimidation by anyone involved in the strike, including its own members. We also disassociate ourselves from the irresponsible utterances by some of our leaders that have only served to alienate us from the public. Our demands are legitimate and enjoy overwhelming support from the public.

Union pickets have been mainly very peaceful, but striking workers exercising their legal rights have come under attack from the police with intimidation, rubber bullets and arrests. What makes us even more angry is that during the FIFA World Cup police were trained in civilised ways of crowd control. Once their more important visitors left, they have now revert back to the old apartheid-style skiet and donder with trigger happy police shooting at workers at their backs. This we will take up with the leadership of government at the highest level.

We submitted a letter to the Minister of PSA on 12 August in line with the Labour Relations Act authorising legal pickets by members and supporters. We are entitled to establish the legal pickets in public places outside workplaces. The police have no right to disperse pickets outside workplaces.

The unions are deeply disturbed by the outright lies that government has told the people of South Africa that there is an 8.5% wage increase offer that has been presented to the unions. No offer was tabled at the PSCBC, a democratic institution set up for negotiations. Government has now decided to negotiate with the media instead of trade unions admitted to the council. The unions latest statement issued by government stating that in “real terms” government is offering public service unions an 8,5% increase, is pure misinformation aimed at causing confusion.

The Government has added the Pay Progression – an old and hard fought gain by the Unions -- on to the 7% salary increase offer to claim this 8.5% increase. The government must explain to the public and workers that, the general salary increase for 2010/2011 is only 7% as contained in the draft agreement. Labour is demanding a general salary increase of 8.6%. 

The pay progression which is 1% for teachers and 1, 5% for other public service employees, has been in place since the signing of Collective Agreement No 8 of 2003. It is also not automatic as workers first have to undergo performance evaluation before they are awarded the increase. 

Government calculates pay progression as a wage increase knowing full well that not everyone qualifies and benefits from it and it is a flawed system that is open to abuse by the supervisors. This system is a performance-based system which was first unilaterally implemented during the 2001/2002 financial year by the government as employer. This performance based system is part of the existing conditions of service, which was not part of the 2010 negotiations and had never been part of any negotiation recently.

The system gives rise to extreme unhappiness amongst public service workers and annually when evaluations are completed government is flooded with grievances by disgruntled public service workers. This unilateral system is not an objective tool and bonuses are allocated on favouritism, nepotism and blatant unfairness. Further, it is not possible for everyone to qualify as a limited budget is made available and the DPSA policy also limits the different categories of bonus allocations.

We would like to state categorically that the government’s offer at the Bargaining Council is a 7% general salary increase, R 700 housing allowance and 1 July as the implementation date.  

We urge the employer to refrain from confusing the public through this misinformation. This wage impasse will not be solved by misinformation but by the parties concerned working together in good faith.

We also demand that SABC News apologise for broadcasting inaccurate news to the public. The public broadcaster must, at all material times, provide the public with accurate information and not allow itself to be used by government to spin. Government’s unashamed lies show the contempt which this government has for the citizens of this country and the crisis of leadership we have as a country if our own government lies to the public without a sense of shame.

We have noticed that despite government pleading poverty it has enough money to buy full page adverts to peddle its lies and also has money to transfer patience to the private hospitals. With the private health receiving 2/3 of all money spent on health to provide services to 15% of the population, private hospitals are helping government to derive big profits. Special courts were set up for the World Cup but now they are being used to punish striking workers when they should be established permanently to fight crime that is affecting everyone.

These are workers who are employed to serve the public and they are ready and willing to perform their duties as long as government gives them what they deserve which is an 8.6% wage increase and a R1000 monthly housing allowance. A government with serious socio-economic challenges will think twice before spending millions of rands buying tickets on a month-long soccer tournament and buy acres of space in the media to peddle lies and mislead the public.

The government ministers who deny workers their meagre wage increase have spent millions of rands on luxury vehicles and are living caviar lifestyles at the expense of the poor majority that is dependent on government services. This is a case of the shepherd feeding himself forgetting about the lambs.

We call on government to respect the democratic institutions and present a new offer, if there is one at the PSCBC, not tell lies in the media. The ministers are wasting time playing games because they are not suffering and their children are not forced to use public hospitals and schools. The entire government continues to fail the poor South Africans by failing to provide the necessary leadership to resolve the impasse.

Finally COSATU repeats its demand that the government is responsible to end the strike by bringing a new offer to the table.

All workers to the front: Ours is a struggle for service delivery

Our members and working-class communities are the ones on the receiving end of the current situation. It is our kids that have not been to school since the beginning of the strike, it is the workers and their families who are affected by the non-functioning public hospitals. The elite in our society are hardly affected by the strike.

Public sector workers call on civil society and communities to support the strike and not to cross the picket lines. Volunteers are equal to scabbing and scabbing does deepen frustrations and anger amongst ourselves as it undermines our legitimate demands. On 26 August 2010, tomorrow we will take our struggle to a higher level embarking on decentralised mass marches throughout the provinces and regions.

We have no other weapon but the withdrawal of our labour

 

 

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