Unions find spine

Just got back from a splendid, militant march in support of public service workers today here in Durban. Mixed race, and with some fairly direct indictments of the ANC from the unions. The usual limp petition was backed up by a far more beligerent promise to strike on Monday and Tuesday next week if demands are not met. Seems like the union movement has found its spine again.

Pictures here, in my first forray into the South African Indymedia world.

Just reading the Mail and Guardian’s website, it turns out it was the largest strike in South African history! 700,000 public service workers. A full report from the Mail and Guardian’s newswire here. But since they’ll probably charge to look at it in a week, here are the good bits:

More than 700 000 public service workers were on strike on Thursday, making this the biggest strike in South Africa’s history, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) claimed.

“This includes 320 000 educators,” Sadtu’s secretariat said in a statement on Thursday.

About 200 000 of those striking took part in the 24 marches held across the country, Sadtu said.

“Sadtu hails South Africa’s public-service workers in general — and the educators in particular — who today in their hundreds of thousands came out on strike to demonstrate to the employer the depth of feeling and their resolve to pursue this just dispute.”

Although the teachers’ union is committed to negotiations, Sadtu nevertheless said the strike will not be a “one-day affair”.

But it added: “We are committed to finding a settlement to the current dispute. We believe that we are so close. We cannot accept a two-year freeze on real wages for 2005 and 2006 — but on the other areas of difference we believe that we can find each other.”

This is so important – it signals an important fissure in the alliance between the ANC, the South African Communist Party (who were vocally in support of the strike) and the Confederation of South African Trade Unions. The ANC will likely surprise us with a clever concession, a smart counter-strike and several smooth words on telly (not that SABC, the state broadcaster, covered any of this… the cameras were told not to turn up). But for today, just for today but not just for today, we won.

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