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Message-ID: <199808071226.OAA07991@wn.apc.org>
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
Inside Labour

August 19 strike will open offensive on Gear

Business Report
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 provincial secretary.

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

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