Business, Politics

A brief look: Municipal workers rubbish fears of lawlessness during today’s strike

By Carien Du Plessis 15 August 2011

According to Samwu, if you see any rubbish scattered in the streets during the municipal workers’ strike starting on Monday, be assured it’s only the wind. CARIEN DU PLESSIS asked Samwu deputy general secretary Walter Theledi if we’ll have a repeat of last year’s trashing.

There is nothing that quite sets the middle-classes off like a municipal strike. Rubbish removers are among those who down tools during this time, meaning it’s the kind of action that quickly turns the streets into plague-infested rubbish heaps – and the bourgeoisie don’t do chaos well.

On Monday our municipal workers’ union Samwu did as they did last year and its 200,000 or so members will strike for higher wages.

Don’t be surprised if you see a repeat of scenes in 2010, when rubbish bins were emptied and scattered across the streets as city centres were turned into filthy war zones.

Samwu deputy general secretary Walter Theledi said no action had been taken against Samwu members alleged to have been involved, because they were mostly innocent.

“Our members are always disciplined,” he said. “As the strikes begin, residents still put dustbins or plastic bags outside, and it’s the wind that creates the problem, but people will come to the conclusion that it’s our people. It’s not our people that are trashing, it’s the wind,” he said.

Asked about the scenes captured on television where people in Samwu T-shirts were pictured throwing rubbish out of dust bins, Theledi said some people wore Samwu T-shirts and then did these deeds to discredit the union’s strike. Samwu members were disciplined, and any that aren’t would be dealt with by internal processes. But as a result of last year’s trashings there were no “disciplinaries”, he said.

The workers want an 18% – or R2,000, whichever is greater – increase across the board, while the South African Local Government Association is only offering 6.08%, saying it cannot afford more.

“This is completely unacceptable to our members, given the current price increases we are experiencing. Inflation has risen consistently over the past six months. Food inflation is at 8%, transport costs continue to soar and electricity has increased by another 30%,” Samwu said.

For now, unhappiness with President Jacob Zuma for signing the Municipal Systems Amendment Bill into law last month, is on the back burner. The ANC managed to avert a strike days before the 18 May local government elections on this matter, so the union was angered when they found Zuma had given the act the final stamp of approval and they threatened “rolling mass action”.

While they won’t be taking action against the Act now, Samwu is angered that Salga now has to consult with the Fiscal and Finance Commission and the minister of cooperative governance before entering into a negotiated agreement. It’s stripping Salga from its ability to make independent agreements and frustrating the spirit of collective bargaining, Samwu says.

Salga, meanwhile, has given the assurance that plans would be made to pick up rubbish from the streets during the strike, and has asked residents to put out their trash as usual. DM

 


 

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Photo: Striking municipal workers protest as they make their way through the streets of Durban, April 15, 2010. About 100 workers marched through the city centre, tipping rubbish bins along the road, to demand for better pay, according to local media. REUTERS/Rogan Ward.

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