South Africa: Unions call for ‘total shutdown’

Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi announced on August 24 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 on strike for better wages and allowances.

Vavi warned: “No member of COSATU will be at work next week.”

Vavi told a press conference: “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.”

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 African 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, saying “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 South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) said its 52,000 members in Gauteng province would go on a sympathy strike on August 27. SAMWU spokesperson Tahir Sema 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 said its 16,000 members in the Eastern Cape province would strike on August 30.

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

[Abridged from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]