Interview with Tahir Sema of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union on industrial relations in South Africa. Massive inequality and the rising cost of living is leading to a wave of industrial unrest.
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It’s spring in the Southern Hemisphere, and we’re seeing unprecedented industrial unrest in South Africa. The South African economy is in growth, but workers are not sharing in the fruits of this wealth. The cost of living has risen sharply, and South Africa now has the unenviable reputation as the most unequal society in the world. Extraordinary wealth exists alongside extreme poverty. The rising cost of living and an indifferent or hostile political class were a major factor behind the Arab Spring, and South African workers are saying that, 18 years after the end of apartheid, they are tired of waiting: they want economic justice now.
South African workers have taken to the streets with new determination this year. A wave of union protest against the privatisation of the road network early this year put the government on the back foot, but the barbaric murder of miners by the police at Marikana shocked the world and stripped away the veneer of the New South Africa to show capitalism’s brutal, acquisitive underbelly.
Unrest in the mining sector continues, with tens of thousands of mine workers currently on wildcat strike. The British platinum giant, Anglo American Platinum, escalated the situation on Friday by firing 12,000 workers.
Meanwhile, the distribution network has ground to a halt as truck drivers from SATAWU strike, in an action that they threaten to extend to South Africa’s ports.
Local government faces a crisis of corruption and mismanagement, and municipal workers from SAMWU are planning industrial action too.
We spoke to Tahir Sema of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union to get his take on the situation in South Africa, and what the union movement is doing to address the crisis.
Will we see an African Spring?
See our coverage of South Africa here.
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