Hlengiwe Mnguni

Striking for more than money

2010-05-28 08:28

We are right in the middle of strike season and whether we like or not, most of us will come out having been inconvenienced in some way.

The Metrorail strike was undoubtedly the one most felt by ordinary South Africans as the country’s public transport system was clogged with stranded train commuters.

With Satawu going on two weeks of that strike, I suppose it must be clear to everyone paying attention that although this is a protest in demand of higher wages and better working conditions there is more at stake.

Especially after an economist said to strike for more than one week was stupid of the unions. Perhaps it was the wrong choice of words, but it is probably one of the side issues that have fuelled this strike.

The perception that there is general agreement that their plight is one they can’t win has possibly made Satawu and its members more determined to go on. Perhaps it has insulted their principles that their decision to demand what they feel they are rightly entitled to beyond economic sense is "stupid".

Bargaining season is likely one of the few times employees get to exercise real power over their employers.

They can shut down operations, affect the economy and make headlines – and still keep their jobs.

It is sad that in the first place there have to be labour unions. They are the evidence of unfair and inconsiderate labour practice and abuse of power on the part of the employer; they are an opportunity for disgruntled workers to exorcise their year-long frustrations and briefly hold the powerful to ransom.

It is about more than money now for Satawu members and its leaders, who have called the attitude of Prasa negotiators towards them "arrogant".

You don’t call someone arrogant unless you fell looked down upon. You don’t go on strike unless you feel undervalued.

 Neither Prasa nor Satawu are budging. The cash strapped company says it has put its final offer on the table, and it is a non-negotiable package. Satawu calls that arrogance.

But living in a country where every bad thing that happens is generally seen as something inherently South African, I find comfort, morbidly, in seeing other workers all over the world go on strike. It’s the order of things. Employers and employees will always battle each other while we grin and bear it.

Now it’s all a matter of who caves in first.

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