WORKERS are striking yet again – understandably so, given their poor wages and living conditions.
I can’t respect anyone for employing people for so little, unless of course housing, medical aid, transport and food are packaged with that measly amount. Ergo, striking is a legal and powerful form of protest against injustices. It also is a powerful negotiating tool, should the constitutional court and other legal methods fail. It serves to highlight the plight of victims of injustice to the general public, hopefully invoking sympathy. Concerned citizens’ voices will add support to their cause, assisting the strikers’ cause.
The erring employer too has the opportunity to present their case as publicly as the strikers – using media facilities and any other legal method to facilitate a win-win situation.
This is my understanding of the strike dynamic. It means strikers stay away from work. That is the only action required. The stewards and main manne will negotiate around that action.
The reality, however, appears somewhat more complex. Instead of the strike being a negotiating tool between employer and employee, it has evolved to an all-inclusive societal weapon.
The march is a prerequisite, as is the burning tyre. And no strike can be complete without sympathy strikes from other unions. But by far the worst sin is the inclusion of the non-combatant.
A burning tyre in a street, for example, now pollutes the air – a crime in itself – and creates a road hazard, both impacting on the non-combatant. Rioting – another strike prerequisite – forces disinterested or non-participative parties into the mix. For example, victims of road closures, shooting accidents, property and car damage accidents, march-related violence, financial loss, exchange rate fluctuation can, in some cases lose their life. This mix is pretty familiar to me, but in times gone by it was called WAR!
Here is must be noted that the non-participant is that strange creature who refuses to go to war at the whim of a union. Typically, he/she does not employ the striker, does not know the employer or the striker, has his own problems and trials and does not have geographical, historical or cultural connections with the protagonists. So the worse the excesses get, the further he’ll distance himself from them and the strikers lose their public sympathy card. The more public damage that is incurred, the more sympathy starts to move towards the employer. Lose-lose, the South African way.
It takes guts, however, for the striker to sit at home, alone, believing that his/her absence and that of his/her colleagues will force the erring employer’s hand.
"Will they hire scab labour? Will they take us seriously?” Is it this kind of doubt that sends the striker out onto the street, seeking the safety and bravado of the pack, the resultant baying and snarling sufficient to both hide their fear and put their case on show?
And what a showcase! Scampering, snapping hordes in a frenzy of anger, looting and burning, gun-firing law-enforcers – hell, it’s like watching an old western movie. Exactly that.
It’s about lawlessness and excess and barbarism. In short, it’s what has become the South African way – the ‘lose-lose’ way. Whichever side you’re on, you lose.
The cops shoot it out with stone throwing protesters and lose the bridge! Discounting that ignominy, what’s a bridge got to do with striking farm workers? Bottom line: everybody loses – credibility, humanity, effectivity, national pride, dignity ... and, in terms of national exposure, we just darken the African continent with yet another failed civilization.
But every cloud has a silver lining. Inasmuch that strikers wreck my country, as do their employers, their unions, their politicians and other assorted cling-on’s, I see a time coming when the sun will shine on the innocents in our land – all five of them – or are there six? I can never quite remember.
Stan Esterhuizen, Sardinia Bay, PE