I’m sick to death of strikes. I had to drive to three different petrol stations just to find fuel the other day. Some productive, important people couldn’t get to work at all because some petroleum-worker-truck-driver collective was demanding more money. I decided I was buying jerry-cans and filling them with petrol so that they couldn’t hold me hostage. How dare a group of ordinary truck-drivers, all of them instantly replaceable, make their dispute with their management the problem of ordinary people like me?
On the TV news in July they actually had the nerve to call it “strike season” like they’d announce an annual event – like Mothers’ Day or Freedom Day for example. The fact that it’s a calendar entry every year does make the unions’ demands sound less about the actual working conditions and salaries, and more about just asking for more every twelve months. It sounds like something the unions devised to keep them in business, to keep their members assured they’re getting value for their membership. That’s a good marketing strategy for them, but it shouldn’t cost the taxpayer more and more every year. I mean, I don’t know a lot of people who are philanthropists for the unions, do you?
Do you know that as of 2011, we have just under two hundred different registered unions in South Africa? There’s everything from the National Union of Mineworkers to the Vrystaatse Plaasbestuurders’ Vakbond. I think we have more unions than we have industries. Thanks to government and their carnal relations with COSATU we also have no way of balancing the arrogant demands of collective workers against the public good. Government are loathe to criticize the unions because they need them at election time. The unions however, are not scared to keep increasing the state wage bill. This now accounts for the largest proportion of the National budget’s expenditure. On average, a public sector worker in South Africa earns more than their equivalent in the private sector (and that includes management). Where do they imagine all this money is coming from? It certainly isn’t being generated by the parastatals or the burgeoning bureaucracy. It comes from the private sector, and from taxes. So in effect, government are giving increases to public sector workers from private sector taxes and private sector workers (who bring in all the money) are earning less. This situation is dangerously unsustainable. Someone needs to have the balls to break the backs of the unions, and it won’t be Jacob Zuma.
I don’t know if the unions have considered the fact that they represent employed people, not the unemployed poor, but people who already have work. They claim that wages are too low, that the cost of living has gone up and that people can’t live on meager salaries. That’s how I felt when I was a student. I used to moan to my dad and he’s shell out – sometimes. If I wanted more, I knew I’d need to work harder. The unions are still running to daddy asking for more, but producing less.
For every one unskilled person with a job, there are almost two unemployed people who would love that job, bad as the pay may be. I have a proposition: Why don’t we fire the striking workforce and give the unemployed unskilled workers a chance. Let the dancing, singing, excessively violent members of NUMSA take an unpaid sabbatical while we give some others a go. I’d be willing to bet they’ll work harder.
Collective bargaining has morphed into a quasi-political, top-heavy extortion machine that holds a knife to the throat of the ordinary citizen like a mobster, and threatens to use it if demands are not met. In any reasonable situation this threat to the public would not be tolerated, but in their greed for ever-dwindling support, the ANC have entered into an unholy and unhappy marriage with the unions. The marriage bore it’s first fruit in Polokwane three years ago, but it has not made the marriage any more savoury. In fact, rather than a married couple, COSATU and the ANC seem to be swingers, engaged in a complicated and probably unhealthy sex life.
As a final thought, have you looked at the faces of the strikers while they’re toyi-toying for more of the money and less of the work? They’re all smiling. And fat. Not one of them looks miserable, starving, threadbare and incensed. They look like they got the day off – which is nothing less than the truth. Fire the lot. We need a black Margaret Thatcher.