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ANC officials rush to end crippling state workers' strike

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-09-02

South African government officials are scrambling to reach an agreement with labour unions to end a civil servants’ strike -- now in its third week -- that is adding strains on the ANC’s already shaky governing alliance.

 
South African leaders were scrambling to find an accord with unions on Thursday, a day after the country’s main labour federation, the COSATU, voted to continue the 16-day-old strike that has paralysed public services and further damaged the relationships that keep the governing ANC party in power.
 
The strike has ended the national euphoria over hosting the 2010 World Cup. It has shut schools, led to bodies piling up at state morgues, put hospitals on alert and hurt investor confidence.
 
The weeks-old strike has also threatened the alliance that brought the ANC to power, with local elections looming next year. After hesitating to address the strike, President Jacob Zuma has in recent days ordered his ministers to negotiate a solution to the stoppage.
 
The COSATU leadership has said its long-standing alliance with the ANC was on the verge of rupture. But for COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven, that potential split is separate from the strike itself. “The ANC manifesto identified five areas of priority: decent work, education, health, rural development, and fighting corruption. On all these, the COSATU is not seeing enough progress,” he said.
 
COSATU-affiliated unions represent around 2 million South African workers, including civil servants, but also employees in vital industries like mining and metallurgy. The ANC’s grip on power since the establishment of non-racial democracy in 1994 has been based on its tripartite alliance with the COSATU and the Communist Party.
 
Strike continues
 
The government had hoped to negotiate a 7.5 percent wage increase and 800-rand (86 euros) housing allowance. But on Wednesday that deal was rejected by unions, who are demanding an 8.6% pay rise and 1,000 rands (108 euros) for housing. The government has insisted it cannot afford to pay workers more, warning that money would have to be cut from other spending.
 
Three weeks of strikes and failed negotiations have not discouraged South Africa’s civil servants. On Thursday around 1,200 protesters from various unions marched peacefully in downtown Johannesburg.
 
While the COSATU rejected the latest offer, the independent unions were still consulting members. A meeting between the COSATU and the smaller unions was held on Thursday, but was adjourned for the next day. A joint statement is expected on Friday afternoon, according to Craven.
 
As the public sector protest drags on, continuing industrial action by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa has also hit the motor industry. This action forced an indefinite shutdown at Volkswagen's plant in Uitenhage.
 
A deal to end the strike would give Zuma a welcome boost ahead of a major ANC policy-setting meeting later this month, with organised labour likely to take a less hostile position if the strike ends soon. While the COSATU says it wants a more energetic approach to tackling unemployment and inequality, it also says it recognises some positive signs from the ANC. “We’ll have to see how that continues,” says Craven.

 

Date created : 2010-09-02

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