Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Post-apartheid class struggle

Many wonder if the Arab Spring will reach Africa, but what people should really be watching is the spread of strikes across the continent in response to rising costs, inequality, and government dissatisfaction. Problems like rising food and fuel costs, economic inequality, and dissatisfaction with government taxes and other policies are driving workers to shut down businesses and take to the streets. Strikes in Uganda by traders and taxi drivers (teachers have since threatened to strike as well). Nigerian workers are preparing a national strike over a non-implemented minimum wage increase ( although a last-minute promise by governors to pay the wage may avert the strike.)

South Africa is also facing major strikes.

According to the Naledi Research Paper on the Living Wage, presented to the Cosatu central committee last month, the top 10% of earners receive about 94 times more than the bottom 10%. The poorest 10% share R1.1bn between them while the richest 10% share R381bn, 51% of the total.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is being calculated does not accurately reflect the full cost of living faced by workers.

“The costs attributed to transportation, healthcare and administered prices to items such as electricity and food are understated in terms of their weighting in the CPI calculation,” said Karl Cloete, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).not taking into account administered price increases, which were affecting workers heavily. He said that for the past five years, there has been serious price increases on essential services which had heavily affected the buying power of ordinary workers.

John Appolis, national policy coordinator at the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union, said the cost of living had been on the increase and the inflation rate failed to reflect this reality. “It is not a true reflection of the living experience by our members. Most of the CPI baskets are skewed, underrated and understated,” he said. According to Appolis, CPI is therefore a weak measure of how much workers spend on ensuring their families are able to survive, and should not be used as a proxy of any kind.“Our members are productive every day and we have spent time explaining that to the public. But in return, they get paid peanuts while executive directors are rewarded with huge salaries. What are those executives doing? They come and check balance sheets and go play golf the whole day and at the end cream up all the wealth. We don’t buy the argument that our members are not productive,” said Appolis.

Lesiba Seshoka, spokesperson of the National Union of Mineworkers said “The majority of our members in the mines are forced to walk distances to reach their places of work. They are not being provided with transport, live in shacks without electricity.”

Numsa’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, said “South Africa is the most unequal country in the world in terms of income, and the most concrete way to address this inequality is to close the wage gap...It is not true that capital will substantially increase employment if wages are set at a lower rate.”

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