Date: Fri, 7 Aug 1998 13:24:33 +0100
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Anna Weekes <samwu@WN.APC.ORG>
Subject: August 19 strike will open offensive on Gear
Business Report newspaper
August 6th, 1998
August 19 strike will open offensive on Gear
6 August 1998
Yesterday's announcement of a 24-hour general strike in Mpumalanga was the
opening shot in what is likely to be the biggest challenge yet to the
government's macro-economic policies.
Cosatu notified the National Economic Development and Labour Council that
the strike would be called on Wednesday, August 19.
Given the resolutions taken at the Cosatu mini-congress's central committee
meeting at the end of June, this challenge was probably inevitable.
Because of the bitter battle over water privatisation in Nelspruit, there
was also a degree of inevitability about Mpumalanga being the flashpoint.
Although the strike forms part of the general programme of action adopted
by Cosatu's central committee, it is aimed specifically at the plans
announced by Nelspruit to privatise water and sanitation services.
"This will be the focus of the strike," said Norman Mokoena, Cosatu's
At a special meeting on July 31, the provincial Cosatu executive resolved
to call the strike as the Nelspruit council refused to back away from a
"public-private partnership" deal with Biwater, the British company.
The decision by the Nelspruit council is in keeping with statements by
Kader Asmal, the water affairs minister, and ties in with the government's
Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) programme.
However, the move towards private sector involvement in water delivery is
contrary to an agreement reached last year between the SA Municipal
Workers' Union (Samwu) and the SA Local Government Association, the
national employer body.
It also seems to contradict the government's own Water Services Act,
gazetted last year, which states that a water services authority may only
enter into a contract with a private sector water services provider after
it has considered all known public sector water services providers.
"By promoting privatisation, the government is undermining its own laws and
policies," said Mokoena.
He and Pogisho Pasha, Samwu's regional secretary, pointed out that although
Samwu had put forward plans for more effective, equitable and efficient
delivery, these had never been considered.
An increasing number of union members are convinced that the law is being
flouted in favour of "privatisers", while it is upheld against themselves.
The unions feel they have been scrupulous about following the letter of the
law, while councils such as Nelspruit, with the apparent backing of
provincial and national governments, have been able to ignore it.
The problem is that a range of previous agreements, as well as clauses in
legislation such as the Water Services Act, often directly contradict the
thrust of the government's overall economic policy orientation.
At its June central committee meeting, Cosatu clearly outlined its
intentions, adopting "a wide range of policies designed to address [the]
social and economic crisis".
The condemnation of Gear was very specific, leaving no doubt that the trade
union movement, numerically the largest member of the governing ANC-led
alliance, expected a major change in economic policy.
On a national level, the Mpumalanga campaign is seen by many unionists as
the first step against the "forces of the past", perceived to be still
holding the government to ransom.
But the proposed general strike and the leadup to it may precipitate more
legal wrangling, with the prospect of a flurry of interdicts relating to
plans for August 19.
Over that 24-hour period, Cosatu, its affiliated unions and supporters,
including civics and ANC and SACP branches, plan to blockade all roads into
the provincial capital, stopping all traffic flowing along the N4 motorway,
the backbone of the Maputo Corridor.
"There can't be one law for us and one law for them," said a Nelspruit
union official. "And if the masses turn out, there really is nothing anyone
can do about it."
See also http://www.cosatu.org.za/press.htm#biwater