BY ROGER RONNIE
More than 100,000 municipal workers across South Africa members of the militant South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) began a national strike on July 2. Tens of thousands have marched in demonstrations in major towns and cities.
One of the main reasons for the strike is that workers in South Africa are getting poorer every year. The minimum monthly wage for local government workers has remained at just R1900 (A$316) for the past three years. This year, when the African National Congress-dominated South African Local Government Association (SALGA) once again refused to increase it, municipal workers decided that strike action was the only way out.
Municipal workers are asking for a minimum monthly wage of R2200 (A$367). This demand is not unreasonable given that the recognised "poverty line" for South African families is R2400 per month.
Even this "poverty line" is inadequate as it is based on the racist premise that black workers can live on less money than workers of other races. It estimates that rent, for example, should not be more than R137.05 per month. Workers are spending five times that for the cheapest, smallest dwellings.
This means that workers are forced to make impossible choices between buying electricity, water or a bare minimum of food for the month.
Even those workers who earn above the minimum cannot make ends meet. SAMWU is also demanding a 10% increase for all municipal workers, but SALGA is trying to impose a below-inflation 7% payment.
Health care is another burden on the pockets of municipal workers involved in dangerous jobs. Sonnyboy Dube, a labourer in Amsterdam municipality in Mpumalanga, spends a disproportionate amount of his low salary on doctor's bills.
"I remove night-soil buckets and live in constant threat of getting sick at the sewer plant. The government should show value for our lives by providing us with a living wage", said Dube.
Municipal workers are angered that municipal managers and heads of departments can earn more than R700,000 per year while some workers get less that R23,000 far less than the mobile phone allowances of many mayors!
[Roger Ronnie is general secretary of the South African Municipal Workers Union. For updates on the strike, visit <samwu.org.za/strikepage02.htm>.]
From Green Left Weekly, July 10, 2002.
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