Thousands of workers in South Africa will go on a general strike tomorrow

The general strike called by SAFTU is against poverty minimum wage and attack on workers’ rights

By Musawenkosi Cabe / The Dawn News / April 24, 2018

Tomorrow, on the 25th of April, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) and progressive movements will be on a mass worker strike across South Africa. The unions and social movements across the country will challenge the proposed draconian amendments on labour laws and anti-worker policies recently proposed by the South African government. Thousands are expected to join the general strike.

As per SAFTU’s statement, workers are expected to march to various governmental departments and some key state institutions across the country. For example, the protest in Cape Town will be targeting the local municipality and the national assembly (parliament). Johannesburg and many other parts of the country will target the department of labour and other state institutions in their respective provinces.

Minimum wage

SAFTU challenges the government on Wednesday on the basis that South Africa is the most consistently unequal society in the world – “in which 10% of the population earn more than 50% of the household incomes while 20% earn less than 1.5%”.

For progressive trade unions like SAFTU, the proposed minimum wage is an insult to the working class and poor,  “these grossly overpaid tycoons, together with their new champion in the Union Buildings, multi-billionaire President Cyril Ramaphosa, want workers and their families to survive on just R20 an hour, something they would never dream of accepting for themselves”

The proposed minimum wage of R20 an hour is below the poverty line and will not breach the already widening gap between the rich and the poor, rather “will still leave workers trapped in poverty, entrench the apartheid wage structure, and widen income inequalities even further” reads SAFTU statement.

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Workers know too well that workers in Marikana were protesting for a living wage of R12,500 a month not R3,400 proposed by the state (34 miners were killed by police and more than 70 injured and over 200 criminally charged for demanding a living wage)

The proposed amendments on the national minimum wage will create a number of legal and practical difficulties for workers. If the proposed minimum wage is adopted it will be the job of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to ensure employers comply. For unions, this is problematic, on the basis that already the CCMA is overburdened, on average a day 745 cases are referred to the CCMA. Employers hardly implement resolutions of the CCMA, even when workers have certified awards. Litigation is expensive, and bosses have deep pockets to hire lawyers and frustrate workers.

Right to strike

Another issue which the general strike seeks to address, is the right to protest. Strike is an important tool for workers in fighting for a living wage. The proposed amendments will make it difficult if not impossible for workers to utilise this tool. SAFTU believes that the proposed amendments “threaten to paralyse unions, frustrate angry workers who will be more, and not less, likely to embark on spontaneous and unprotected strikes”.

Amongst many changes, before a strike, trade unions will have to hold secret ballots to decide on strike action. This entails – each worker will decide unilaterally if they will strike or not. This is seen as a divide and conquer strategy amongst workers. A strike by its very nature, is a collective action amongst workers, without knowing what fellow comrades are thinking, workers will hesitate to strike.

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If the proposed amendments to the labour laws become law (adopted as law) – it will be a big defeat for the poor and the working class in general. Hence, SAFTU has campaigned across the country for workers to withdraw their labour to mount pressure on the government, particularly the department of labour to withdraw the proposed amendments. Failure to do so, will be a clear indication that the state has taken the side of the bosses.

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