Defend the Right to Strike – Support Striking Public Sector Workers

by Aug 25, 2010All Articles

cosatu national strike1Conference of the Democratic Left – Statement on the public sector strike – An Injury to one is an injury to all!

In just a few days teachers, nurses and other public sector workers have mutated from the upholders of civilised values to a cruel mob intent on destroying our country. Government, Buthelezi and Zille stand united in condemning the public sector workers. The Conference of the Democratic Left believes that not only have the public sector workers the right to strike against their miserable working conditions and wages but they have the duty to picket their work places against scabs, otherwise what is the point of withdrawing one’s labour?

This is the only power workers have in fighting their unfair conditions of work. They do not have the power to set their wages, determine the conditions under which they work nor the socio-economic circumstances that impact on their workplace.

We know public sector workers are very angry and they have a right to be angry. The unions have been negotiating in good faith and with much patience. Government has stalled and negotiated in bad faith playing expensive public relations games. Their lies that their offer to workers is just 0.1% of what they are asking further fuels the anger of workers. Public sector unions have even moderated their very reasonable demands to a mere 8.6% wage increase and R1000 housing allowance. They are not asking for R9 bn. share of ArcelorMittal, they are not asking for R140 bn. (conservative costing of hosting the World Cup), nor even Mercs – unlike Richard Baloyi, minister of public service and administration, who says they are “tools of our trade”!

The public sector strike is demonstrating the skewed priorities of our government. We need to urgently fix our collapsing public education and health systems. This starts with those that work in them. We have to restore the dignity and morale of public sector workers by not only ensuring they receive a living wage but also change the terrible conditions under which they work.

Government is calling out people to come and volunteer to fill in for striking workers. Even Minister of health Motsoaledi was working in a hospital saying he did not want people to die. This is just a public relations exercise to try and win back public sympathy, which is largely with the strikers. If they really were concerned with the situation of patients in our public hospitals why have they allowed hundreds of babies to die? Take for example the death of six babies at Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital in May this year. An investigation into the causes of their death found that “overcrowding, under-staffing and a lack of antiseptic sprays and paper towels” as major factors.

The way to ensure that patients get decent healthcare and students get effective teaching is for government to end the strike by ending intimidation of strikers, agree to their demands and to call a series of urgent summits to fix our schools and hospitals. This is urgent when we consider that: •

42% of schools have virtually no access to water,

61% of schools have no proper sewage systems,

21% of schools have no toilets or have more than 50 learners per toilet,

16% have no electricity,

only 8% of schools have libraries

62% of schools have a learner educator ratio that exceeds 30.

The burden under which health workers, doctors and nurses have to carry out their work is unbearable. HIV/AIDS, TB and other infectious diseases are overwhelming our hospitals and clinics. Posts have been frozen for years leading to a shortage of personnel. It is estimated that there is a shortage of more than 80,000 health workers. Few doctors often result in doctors working a 36 hour shift and at current levels there is just 1 doctor for every 3,800 people that use public health system. Operating theatres and trauma units are often closed due to lack of supplies.

The Conference of the Democratic Left demands that the state settle the strike in favour of the demands of public workers immediately and that takes urgent steps together with the trade unions and other popular movements to address the conditions under which public sector workers have to work.

The Conference of the Democratic Left is a process where popular movements, organisations and activists are coming together to chart a new path for overcoming inequality and division in our country. A conference is planned for December 2 – 5 this year where a platform and strategy for uniting our struggles against neoliberal capitalism will be developed.

For more information contact:

Mazibuko Jara, 083 6510271

Martin Legassick, , 083 4176837

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