SA labour unrest ceaseless despite injunction

Labor unrest and Washington’s threats involving participation in AGOA poses challenges for ANC government

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SA Nurses

Members of the National Education and Health Care Workers Union
(NEHAWU), an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions
(COSATU), are defying an interdict (injunction) to end their strike
and demonstrations at the Parliament building in Cape Town which has
prevented the normal operations of legislative sessions.

Negotiations were halted on November 16 when the NEHAWU leadership
reported that their member’s salaries were withheld due to their
participation in the strike. The South African government is saying
that the strike is illegal because the workers perform what is
described as “essential services.”

One of the main issues in the dispute is centered on the way
performance bonuses are calculated. Labor leaders say that talks to
end the strike will not resume until the workers are paid their
salaries from November 6 when the work stoppage began.

Parliament workers perform various functions including cleaning and
catering to overseeing the efficient operations of the legislative
committee meetings as well as access control at the visitors’ center.
Consequently the strike has severely hampered the capacity of the
parliament to function properly.

Sthembiso Tembe, the Parliament branch chairperson of NEHAWU, said
“the strike is continuing.” A settlement earlier in the year
involving at 9 percent pay increase did not encompass the issues
related to performance bonuses. (News24)

Since November 9, workers have engaged in strike actions inside the
parliament building resulting in the cancellation of legislative
committee meetings. The strike action has been strengthened by
numerous messages of solidarity and support including from COSATU.

Other statements of solidarity have been sent from the NEHAWU regional
leadership, the South African Students Congress’s (SASCO) national
executive committee and the chairperson the African National Congress
Youth League (ANCYL) in the province. A rally held on November 16
emphasized that the NEHAWU demands were non-negotiable.

Independent Online reported on the rally noting that “Workers gathered
in the Old Assembly chamber on Monday (November 16) morning on day
seven of their strike to hear messages of support from the NEHAWU
leadership, ANC alliance partners, and the Congress of South African
Trade Unions (COSATU).”

The newly-elected NEHAWU Ikapa South regional secretary Baxolise Mali
told the crowd “We are going to have a national shutdown…we are very
clear. We are not fighting the alliance, we are fighting the
employer.”

Mali conveyed to the parliamentary staff that the time for negotiating
with Parliament was over. “We are not negotiating. We have passed that
stage,” he declared.

The latest action is the result of not only the outstanding labor
issues going back to 2014 over pay levels but also the demand for the
removal of parliamentary secretary Gengezi Mgidlana.

On November 11 police used stun grenades in clashes with the NEHAWU
members marking the second time in a month where the Parliament
building in Cape Town has been the scene of battles between students
in October and now workers. Law-enforcement officers wearing full body
armor carried away members of NEHAWU. “The police must go,” union
members chanted as they held their ground on the front steps of
parliament’s second house, the National Council of Provinces.

Parliamentary administrators are saying that the adoption of the
demands of NEHAWU would be unsustainable. South Africa is already
facing serious economic challenges including the rapid decline in the
value of its currency.

An article published in News24 says “The financial implications of
agreeing to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union
(NEHAWU) demands are unbudgeted for and unaffordable for Parliament
given the shoestring budget it is managing, a parliamentary
spokesperson said on Sunday (November 15). In a statement, a
spokesperson said Parliament ‘is committed to continuing discussions’
with the union to ‘resolve the impasse which has seen the union embark
on an illegal strike last week’”. (November 16)

Finance Minister Says Drought Will Compound Economic Crisis

At the G20 Summit held in Turkey, South African Finance Minister
Nhlanhla Nene spoke on the drought in the sub-continent which could
impact agricultural production and consequently prompt a rise in
prices for food and other consumer goods. The Southern Hemisphere is
moving into the summer season and the lack of rain would destroy crops
compounding the already precipitous decline in economic growth.

Nene told Reuters press agency in an interview delivered outside the
conference meeting that the drought, “If it’s long, indeed it will
have serious impact on food prices. It will have an impact on economic
growth because agriculture is one of our focus areas. It would also
have an impact on employment; it would have an impact on our revenues.
We are bracing ourselves for the worst.” (November 15)

Problems with the state-owned Eskom utility agency have mounted over
the last several months. Periodic power shortages and outages have
compelled the government to take measures aimed at addressing the fall
in consumer revenues from power generation.

The government response to the Eskom crisis includes the conversion of
subordinated debt into equity, which Nene says has eased funding
pressure. The utility agency has still not tapped into the roughly 50
billion rand (approximately $US3.5 billion) of financial banking
guaranteed by the government.

Nene said of Eskom “They still have room to play. All of that gives
them breathing space between now and the time they go out to the
market again.”

Obama Threatens to Suspend Aspects of South African Participation in AGOA

As it relates to South African foreign policy and the deepening
economic crisis inside the country, the administration of President
Barack Obama is demanding changes in Pretoria’s trade policy which the
White House says maintains barriers to United States access to
domestic markets.

The Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) was established during
the latter period of the presidency of Bill Clinton. It is ostensibly
designed to foster the export of capital to the continent while
providing market access for products produced by both the U.S. and
African nation-states.

If the U.S. removes key agricultural sectors from the agreements with
South Africa it could cause further damage to the economy.
Negotiations to resolve outstanding issues are ongoing while a January
1 deadline approaches.

In a statement issued by the South African Communist Party (SACP) on
November 9, supporting the ANC government’s position in the
negotiations, the party says that despite its commendable declarations
“in reality, AGOA is imperialist both in terms of its content and
strategic goal disguised under the fetishist illusion of ‘free
market’. Its extraterritorial imperialist content is now being
aggressively pushed by the U.S. against South Africa.”

This same statement from the SACP goes on to emphasize that “to allow
the U.S. to prohibit ownership of economic assets by the state in our
country is to allow it to usurp our constitutional right to democratic
national sovereignty. This will be tantamount to handing over to U.S.
imperialism our right to determine our own development trajectory and
decide policies to achieve it. The SACP is strongly opposed to, and
rejects, imperialist domination in its entirety and all its
manifestations.”

The party also noted “South Africa’s independence must be safeguarded
in the interest of the completion of our struggle for national
liberation and social emancipation. Our democratic national
independence and public property rights – the right to collective
ownership of productive assets including through the state – are
crucial to the success of our second, more radical phase of
transformation!”

Such a stance by the Obama administration illustrates the real agenda
behind AGOA and the overall foreign policy imperatives of the White
House. South Africa has the inalienable right to determine its own
economic program without the interference of Washington and Wall
Street.

Abayomi Azikiwe

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