Strike action set to hit schools

THOUSANDS of South African teachers are poised to heed Cosatu’s call to go on a 24-hour general strike tomorrow. South African Democratic Teacher’s Union (SADTU) media spokesperson Hassan Lorgat says his organisation is “standing with the poor” by calling on its 220 000 members to join the strike. He said that SADTU members would be exercising their democratic right to demonstrate, and that “losing one day’s work is insignificant.
This is part of a broader movement against cuts.” Cosatu has called the strike in protest against job losses, poverty and the restructuring of state assets.

Education Minister Kader Asmal yesterday criticised SADTU’s intention to strike, while “continuing to support the grounds on which it is called”. He said he had requested that teachers be exempted from the strike so that schooling would not be disrupted. The floods in several provinces had already had a negative impact on schools, Asmal said. “The effect of this action on teaching and learning will be to further disadvantage students, and to compromise the improvement targets we have collectively set ourselves”.

While the government did not want to adopt a “union-bashing” stance, “we would regret it if anyone puts the welfare of children in second place”, Asmal said. “Parents and community members have been called on to assist on May 10,” he added.

Lorgat stated that “the issue of poverty and joblessness is a great factor in the underperformance of our students. We are concerned about the poor. These are our own kids and parents, so we cannot stand aside. We are unashamed about this issue and are showing where we stand. We do not have any apology for our actions.”

Don Pasquallie, Provincial Secretary of SADTU in the Western Cape, said that “participation [in the strike] depends upon how the call is received in schools.” He expected that between 3 000 and 5 000 of the Western Cape’s 15 500 SADTU members would support the strike. Pasquallie explained that many SADTU members had been “dealt a major blow” by the ‘no work- no pay’ clause that was enforced after last year’s 4-day June stayaway. “They were stung,” he said. He added that “educators are growing increasingly despondent about how the government is treating them. The criticism and lambasting that they have received has impacted upon the manner in which we can mobilise our members.”

Lorgat said that educators would also be protesting about job security, in light of a proposed laying off of 10 000 teachers in June. Tensions are running high, and the potential for clashes between parents and teachers cannot be ruled out. Education Minister Kader Asmal’s call for parents to enter classrooms tomorrow, in order to take care of students for the day, “might result in violence,” said Lorgat.

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, May 9, 2000.