Cross-border Chronicles: Striking a chord

HOT on the heels of the anniversary of the Marikana Mine massacre on August 16 it would appear that strike season is upon us once more – minus machetes and spears which have been replaced by umbrellas and sticks.

Cross-border Chronicle by Sukoluhle Nyathi

By definition, a strike is concerted action instituted by employees resulting in cessation of work.

However, striking has also been extended to other spheres. Do you recall in 2012 how a right wing civil rights female group in Togo called for women to engage in a weeklong sex strike?

This was to force their sex starved husbands to call for the resignation of President Fauré Nassingbe. Fast-forward to 2013 and the President in question remains in power and is seeking re-election for a second term leaving me in doubt of the effectiveness of bedroom strikes!

As I write, the South African Airways technical staff has downed tools demanding a 12% salary adjustment and management is only willing to concede half.

This action follows that of the auto manufacturing sector which saw 30 000 workers who brought the operations of General Motors and Nissan to a halt with their 14% wage demands.

Management is only willing to offer an increase of between 7,5% to 8,5%. Wage negotiations are always a thorny issue, more so when management insists that turnover has not increased in line with operational costs. Therefore wage increases cannot be justified. At a cursory level this indeed makes a lot of sense.

However, demands of the average worker are also logical considering that for the average worker food and transport inflation has grown beyond 6%. It is for this reason why 10 000 workers gathered on a dusty outcrop of rock exactly a year ago to demand wage increases.

The strike deteriorated and culminated in a bloodbath when police were called in to dissipate the strike action. Sadly, 34 lives were lost in the heat of agitating for better wages. A year later, the wage struggle continues. Gold miners have taken off where the platinum miners left.

They are also agitating for increases in wages amid the backdrop of declining gold prices and increasing production costs. Six weeks of negotiations have yielded no positive results. Strike action is now imminent. At the helm of the strike action are the trade unions who represent the voice of workers.

Trade unions for the most part have been accused of being instrumental in the demise of many economies. For some corporates, the end of unionism would be a dream come true. Trade unions originated in Europe in the 18th Century with the Industrial Revolution.

Essentially they were formed to guard against worker exploitation, negotiation of better wages and working conditions. South Africa is highly unionised with movements like AMCU, NUM, Numsa, Saccaw, Sactwu and Satawu who all represent various sectors from catering, construction, mining, motoring, textiles and transport.

Cosatu can be said to be the grand-daddy of all the unions. Wage discrepancies between skilled and unskilled workers remain a bone of contention. Some mining executives have hefty packages of R24 million per annum. The justification being that the title of chief executive officer (CEO) carries immense responsibility and requires great skill and aptitude.

However, that figure appears sinful in light of a gold miner agitating for a monthly salary of R8 000.

However, the wage bill is amplified when you consider the number of miners! Maybe the ratios of CEO to average worker remuneration need to be evaluated further. Still I question the efficacy of strikes in achieving wage demands.

For most part workers are often dismissed without pay and end up unemployed and in a worse off position. In some sectors when wage increases are granted, they are often accompanied by shedding of numbers in the workforce.

The worst case scenario is company closures resulting in bigger job losses.

Moreover, wage increases are inflationary by nature in that they push prices up through the whole value chain. And while all this is taking place the economic impacts of strikes are reflected in lost productivity and a plummeting currency.

It’s like a vicious circle or a double-edged sword. Maybe capital intensive means of production is the way forward, but in a country with high unemployment this seems almost immoral. However, a chord needs to be struck somehow in order to put to rest these laborious labour issues.

Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her @SueNyathi

Our Partners:   NewsDay   The Independent   TheStandard  MyClassifieds