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Issue #1470      1 September 2010

Workers’ demands are legitimate!

Statement by South African Communist Party

From the outset of the current public sector strike, the South African Communist Party (SACP) has consistently indicated its support for what we regard as a legitimate struggle for a living wage in the wider context of the struggle for decent work. The SACP also fully agrees with our comrades in COSATU (Council of South African Trade Unions) that the wage gap between upper echelons, on the one hand, and the majority of workers, on the other, in the public sector (as in the private sector) is unjustified and unjustifiable.

The SACP also fully agrees with COSATU statements that, in the course of exercising their legitimate right to strike and to picket, workers must avoid any acts of violence and physical intimidation. Life-threatening actions like the invasion of operating theatres, the blocking of access to public emergency services, or the abandonment of new-borns in ICUs are completely alien to the traditions and values of our struggle.

Even during the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, MK operatives, for instance, were instructed at all times to go out of their way to avoid collateral injuries and deaths and even to abort missions when there was a risk of death to innocent civilians. It is the unions themselves that must now take the lead in condemning acts of grave indiscipline which are, in effect, counter-revolutionary, and a serious set-back to the working class struggle. Workers who are involved in counter-revolutionary and anti-people activities, workers who conduct themselves as witting or unwitting agents provocateurs, should be disciplined and if necessary expelled from their unions.

At the same, we also call on our comrades in the police and other law enforcement agencies to conduct themselves with maximum restraint. We call on government and the unions to move speedily to find an effective settlement to the present dispute.

Above all, we call on all of our formations not to play into a right-wing neo-liberal agenda that seeks to break the organic and strategic unity between Alliance partners, between organised workers and wider popular forces, and between unions and our democratic state. This means that, from all sides, we need to remain focused on what unites us - our key strategic priorities.

When the relationship of our democratic government and public sector workers is reduced to an employer-employee relationship then our revolution is in trouble.

Over the past decade-and-a-half the SACP has consistently criticised government (and to some extent the ANC) for often failing to consolidate, mobilise and, indeed, treat, key sectors like teachers and health-care workers as the core protagonists of any genuine democratic transformational program.

The current strike – and other major strikes this year – have all high-lighted one of many critical challenges we face. It is no accident that in all of these strikes, it is the housing allowance issue that often looms largest in worker demands.

The great majority of organised workers, not least those in the public sector – among them police, nurses, teachers – find themselves with a serious housing problem. Most of these workers are trapped in a housing limbo – they do not qualify for state-provided subsidised housing on the one hand, and they are rejected by the banks when they apply for mortgage bonds on the other. Part of an answer may well be to increase housing allowances – but it is doubtful if this, on its own, will ever help to close the grave gap in the housing market.

Housing is seen as one of the critical challenges highlighted in the current strikes.

In this regard, we call on workers to join the SACP in our ongoing financial sector campaign. Let us inject fresh energy into this campaign, and particularly let us engage government and banks, including relevant publicly-owned Development Finance Institutions, to ensure that house-loan policies are transformed, and that there is a massive construction of appropriate mixed-income and well-located housing, including rental housing.

The SACP has called for the formation of a dedicated publicly-owned Housing Bank.

Instead of flinging irritable insults at each other, while the private sector and anti-worker elements sit back and laugh, let us, once more, forge a militant strategic unity within our Alliance, and between government and the working class.  

Next article – After long struggle, village on the grid

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