Wednesday, June 13, 2007

South Africa strikes escalate

South Africa's massive public sector strike, entering its twelfth day, is to reach its first peak today as other groups of workers join them in solidarity action (a word which the BBC curiously feels it must put it in inverted commas). The government has escalated the political crisis unleashed by this confrontation, by sacking hundreds of key workers who participated in the strike.

Metalworkers and municipal workers will take part in solidarity action today, and the powerful NUM, in particular, is threatening to take solidarity action to inflict a defeat on Mbeki's government, although reports now indicate that this will be limited to off-duty workers taking part in the marches rather than illegal solidarity strikes from duty workers. COSATU leaders have warned the government that the strikes could turn violent, after accusations that a few scabs were attacked by workers as they crossed picket lines. This could open up a huge fight within the South African Communist Party (SACP) as well, since its grassroots members are involved in the strike while its leaders are involved in the government. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the minister who has fired nurses for striking, is an SACP leader.

Much of the press coverage of this has discussed the strike as a politically motivated move by left-leaning unions to demonstrate the power of labour to the ANC leadership and force a shift away from 'market-friendly' policies. The idea that the strikes are motivated by these considerations is certainly a pile of crap, but the effect of a successful and wide-ranging shut-down today would certainly pile pressure on the ruling parties and massively strengthen the left.