Taking to the streets 2: strike action in Johannesburg


Johannesburg CBD has seen upheavals and disruptions this week with striking SAMWU workers overturning rubbish bins and scattering the trash on the streets.  While the strike for low wages is legitimate, there has been severe criticism of the unruly behaviour of some strikers.  Redi Direko, one of 702’s talk show hosts, used words to the effect that those who were overturning rubbish bins were ill-disciplined, immature, irresponsible hooligans.  A visiting American guest staying at Liz at Lancaster who has been doing research work on Hector Pieterson Museum specifically and Soweto more generally, needed to work at Museum Africa. This required him to negotiate striking workers collecting in Mary Fitzgerald Square in the thick of the strike action. The challenges of academic research! 

Project 2010 no 145, a newsletter sent electronically every  week,  included this comment on the current SAMWU nationwide strike:

‘South Africa is back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Just two weeks after the National Union of Mineworkers ended a national strike which threatened to seriously disrupt several key 2010 construction projects, workers are at it again. Tens of thousands of SA Municipal Workers’ Union workers have taken to the streets to vent their rage over wages and working conditions. Footage of the protests are being flashed around the world, once again raising the question whether South Africa is capable of hosting a successful and peaceful 2010 World Cup. The answer is a resounding yes but, at the same time, we are not doing ourselves any favours. And, of course, it seems the strikers and unions are capitalising on the fact that they hold the trump card if the tournament is threatened in any way. Striking is a legal and legitimate way for workers to dispute issues with management, even when there is a secondary effect on others. However, we need to acknowledge the fact that the 2010 World Cup is looming fast. ’It is an event heavily dependent on the provision of transport, hospitality and the staffing and maintenance of sporting venues. When this country goes on show next year, the world should see an effective country. Not a strikers’ paradise where nothing happens on time,’ The Times noted in an editorial. At the end of the day, the World Cup will go ahead and we can take some comfort in the fact that we are not the only country forced to deal with labour disputes ahead of a mega sporting event. In 1998, host nation France was nearly crippled by a national transport strike on the eve of the World Cup. At some point over the next few months, the surge of excitement over the looming World Cup will unite tens of millions of South Africans – backed by an entire continent and hundreds of millions of other people around the planet wishing this nation to succeed. No doubt, this will counter industrial action or any other challenge thrown at us. The sooner the better.’ 

Wages at the lower end of the the scale for the Muncipal workes are around R5000 per month. Negotiations are still deadlocked.

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