The Guardian May 24, 2000


General strike paralyses Sth Africa

Millions of workers downed tools across South Africa in a one-day 
general strike on May 10 called by the Congress of South African Trade 
Unions (COSATU). They were protesting against massive job losses and 
demanding national action to boost the economy. Since 1984 over a million 
workers have lost their jobs.

The number of employed people has now fallen to levels last seen in the 
1970s. COSATU is calling on business and government to take urgent steps to 
end this "catastrophic" situation.

Some four million workers  more than double COSATU's own total affiliated 
membership of 1.8 million  responded to the strike call which was also 
backed by the South African Communist Party (SACP).

(COSATU represents some 37 percent of South Africa's formal non-
agricultural work force.)

Dismissing accusations that the general strike would disrupt an already 
weak economy, SACP leader Blade Nzimande said, "There is nothing as 
disruptive to any economy [as] massive unemployment and poverty, which 
disrupts family life and deprives workers of their only means of 
livelihood. It is not the general strike by workers that is disruptive, but 
the ongoing investment strike by the bosses in this country."

An SACP statement said, "The success of the general strike is a clear and 
strong message to our ANC Government to take urgent steps to meet workers' 
demands for amendment of relevant legislation and reviewing our economic 
policies to create new, quality and sustainable jobs. The strike was also a 
conscious offensive against capitalism itself."

COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said, "The response given by the 
workers of South Africa to our call proves once more that the number one 
problem our country is facing is that of unemployment.

"The success of today's action comes despite massive propaganda claiming 
our strike to be irresponsible or mischievous, and despite much 
intimidation of our members to stay away. We call again on business and 
government to address all the demands that we have tabled."

COSATU President Willie Madisha added, "Today's strike does not mark the 
end of the campaign. Our struggle for full-time, quality jobs goes on. We 
will continue to press  in negotiating forums, through NEDLAC, on the 
streets again if necessary  for our demands to be addressed."

Pointing out that "millions of South African workers sacrificed more than 
1.5 billion Rand in wages" to take part in the strike, the SACP challenged 
"government and the bosses to donate this money to COSATU's Job Creation 
Fund. This will be clear indication of their seriousness about job losses 
and job creation."

For its part, COSATU has tabled the following demands as part of its Jobs 
Crisis Campaign to address the crisis of unemployment in South Africa:

* Amend the Labour Relations Act to make retrenchments a mandatory issue 
for negotiations with the union.

* Change the Insolvency Act to protect workers in cases of company 
liquidations.

* Renegotiate the National Framework Agreement to halt unilateral 
restructuring of government or state-owned enterprises.

* Put an end to the current accelerated tariff reduction programme to 
(intended to bring South Africa in line with WTO commitments).

COSATU has also reiterated its call "for a thoroughgoing discussion amongst 
key stakeholders in the economy in order to find long-term solutions to the 
structural problems that continue to bedevil our economy.

"The key issues to be discussed ... should be the ending of the current 
investment strike by business, and the review of all economic policies in 
the light of the unemployment catastrophe."

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