/ 10 May 2011

Strike suspended after ANC ‘intervention’

Municipal workers have suspended their strike planned for Friday after talks with the ANC, South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) spokesperson Tahir Sema said on Tuesday.

“The Samwu national strike action that was to take place this Friday has been suspended, due to the late but welcome intervention by the African National Congress,” Sema said in a statement.

“Samwu’s national leadership had been locked in closed-door meetings with the ANC and Cosatu for most of yesterday [Monday] and had welcomed the commitment made by the ANC to look into all areas of concern raised by the union.”

About 220 000 municipal workers, excluding essential services, were planning a nationwide strike on Friday, five days before local government elections.

Sema said on Monday the union had various concerns, chief among them that local government had failed them.

“We have mentioned time and time again, local government is not working for our people. Something drastic needs to be done to turn it around.”

‘Shiceka not serving the country’
He said the strategy proposed by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka, who has been on sick leave since February, was “hollow” and had “nothing substantial to improve delivery of services”.

Samwu has called on President Jacob Zuma to sack Shiceka as “he is not serving the country”.

The union was also demanding that Zuma not sign the Municipal Amendment Bill into law. The Bill is intended to “depoliticise” municipalities and ensure they appoint skilled people.

The meeting with the ANC started on Friday at Luthuli House in Johannesburg, with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe present.

Samwu wanted provincial governments scrapped, and the funds diverted to local governments to improve service delivery. It also wanted the government to address its concerns about the alleged victimisation of members who blew the whistle on corruption.

Sema said the union had initially demanded an 18% salary increase, but this would be “negotiated down”.

“It has been misconstrued in the media that we are demanding 18 percent% … but this is how negotiations work. We put a high figure on the table and negotiate down.”

As wage negotiations deadlocked on Friday, the wage demand had now been added to the union’s list of grievances it discussed with the ANC.

The salary increases were due to be implemented in July.

Sema said a detailed statement would be issued later on Tuesday.

Since the early 1990s Samwu and the ANC have been on a collision course because of their differences over issues such as local government restructuring and the privatisation of key state assets.

Samwu’s anti-privatisation stance prompted some senior ANC leaders at the time, including then local government minister and ANC national executive committee member Valli Moosa, to label the union ultra-left.

‘Smelly cities’
The union’s strike announcement came only days after it suspended a three-week strike by union members employed by Pikitup, Johannesburg’s waste management company, which left the city littered with uncollected refuse. Speaking to the Mail & Guardian at the end of April, ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa took a swipe at Samwu leaders.

“This [the planned action] is in poor taste and it contradicts the spirit of what was agreed upon in the alliance [meeting] to support the ANC manifesto,” he said.

Phosa said although the ANC respected the union’s constitutional right to voice its opinion in public discourse, it did not approve of the opportunistic way in which Samwu members disrupted local public services.

That did not serve the democratic cause, he said. “They should engage on issues without crossing the line. We are not saying people should not express their anger, but to make cities smelly during election time can’t be condoned. – Sapa and Staff reporter