South Africa: Public Sector workers shut down city centres in day of marches

Massive turn-out on ninth day of strike

There was a massive turn-out as a day of nationwide marches was called on August 26, on the ninth day of South Africa’s public sector strike involving 1,3 million workers. About 40 000 workers marched in central Johannesburg, 25 000 in Cape Town and about 20 000 in Pietermaritzburg (KwaZulu-Natal). Marches were also held in many other towns.

The Johannesburg march was completely dominated by a furious mood. Workers started gathering with placards and songs full of harsh criticism and resentment against in particular the Public Sector Minister Richard Baloyi – who has signed the government’s 7% wage offer and claims it will be forcibly implemented later this month; President Jacob Zuma – who has threatened mass dismissals and who has in effect declared this protected strike illegal – and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi – who has denounced striking health workers as “murderers” . As the day proceeded workers made up new songs along the march way, launching even more searing attacks on the politicians.

Along the way, workers from shops, offices, building sites and public transport facilities also stopped their work cheering the marchers on. The DSM spoke to a group of school students who said they had come to support their parents. Some community organisations also marched in solidarity:

The Democratic Socialist Movement received a very positive response from the workers to our special pamphlet demanding a general strike in support of the public sector workers, and arguing for the rank-and-file to take Cosatu out of the Tripartite Alliance (the ruling ANC’s alliance with the Communist Party SACP and Cosatu, the biggest trade union federation).

Comrades who participated in the Cape Town march noticed a dramatic shift compared to the previous mass march which was held on August 10: the otherwise customary chants of “Viva ANC!” were hardly to be heard in yesterday’s march. This was also the case in Johannesburg. The dominant message in speeches and discussions was in fact that “the ANC is the enemy”. A Cosatu shop steward commented that he and other members felt that it’s time for Cosatu to pull out of the Alliance:

“We’ve been blaming individuals – Moleketi [public service minister under the hated Mbeki administration], Mbeki, and now Baloyi – but people are more and more realising that it’s about the policies. Moleketi was following the policies of the ANC, and they all are.”

The union leaders have been pushed by the government’s hostile stance into escalating a strike which they desperately tried to avert in the first place. Cosatu has now called a general strike for next Thursday if the government does not meet its demands of an 8,6% wage increase and R1000 housing allowance before then. All 21 affiliates have declared their support for the call. Today (Friday) the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) has threatened to begin a solidarity strike. (Curiously, the South Gauteng High Court this morning slammed SAMWU with an interdict prohibiting them from striking, whereas the union never even served the employer with a notice to strike – it was merely a threat so far. All the “impartial” judiciary needed was apparently an instruction from the employer, strike or no strike.)

Speaking yesterday, Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi made the most direct threats so far to break away from the Tripartite Alliance, saying it is “dysfunctional again”. He also threatened to withdraw the federation’s support for “certain” ANC candidates in next year’s municipal elections. Other union leaders openly warned that they would make sure Zuma was recalled the same way that Mbeki was two years ago (clearing Zuma’s way to the presidency). Vavi also admitted openly that the Cosatu leadership had been ready to sign the 7% settlement but could not because of their members’ anger.

Clearly, the Zuma coalition which was forged in 2007’s massive public sector strike is now being fatal blows by the 2010 edition. The massive anger against not only the “new” ANC administration under Zuma, but also against the ANC directly, indicates the shedding of the illusions in Zuma, who was a couple of years ago likened to “Messiah” by the union leaders. The Tripartite Alliance, in effect a political prison of the working class, is dead for all relevant purposes, with all three parties in open conflict at almost every front. The next step for the rank-and-file members of Cosatu is to initiate the building of an alternative; a new mass workers party armed with a socialist programme – the only way to take workers’ interests forward.

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August 2010