SOUTH AFRICA: Municipal workers win bitter strike

Issue 

BY NORM DIXON

A bitter strike by the 120,000-strong South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) has ended in victory. The strikers returned to work on July 22.

SAMWU members had endured sustained police violence and state repression. One worker was shot dead, and two seriously wounded, when a municipal official from the Louis Trichardt council opened fire on a SAMWU mass meeting on July 15.

During the course of the struggle, hundreds of strikers were detained for participating in "illegal" pickets or gatherings.

On July 12, South African President Thabo Mbeki, writing in the ANC Today journal, condemned SAMWU for disrupting the July 9 meeting of the newly formed African Union. "Prompted and encouraged by their leaders, [SAMWU members] sought to misuse and degrade the songs, slogans and ... methods of our movement for national liberation at a critical moment in Africa's continuing liberation struggle", Mbeki stated.

The South African Communist Party's image was tarnished by its national chairperson Charles Nqakula, who is also police minister in the national African National Congress government.

SAMWU members began their first national strike in seven years on July 2. They were demanding that municipal workers' minimum monthly wage be increased by R300 to R2200 (A$367) and that all municipal workers receive a 10% wage increase.

The ANC-dominated South African Local Government Association (SALGA) refused to increase the minimum wage and attempted to impose a below-inflation 8% increase and a three-year agreement.

On July 19, SALGA buckled and agreed to a revised set of demands. They included: a R200 increase in the minimum wage to R2100; an immediate 9% increase for workers earning below R3200 (most SAMWU members) and 8% for all others; an increase equal to the inflation rate plus 1% in 2003; and an increase equal to the inflation rate plus 1.5% in 2004.

[Visit <http://samwu.org.za> for the latest news on the strike and its aftermath.]

From Green Left Weekly, July 31, 2002.
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