2012 could arguably be characterised as 'The Year of the Strike'. On my ten fingers (my toes kept in reserve) I've counted around 22 major industrial actions this year, covering and overlapping a number of crucial sectors. South Africa has in a sense become uncomfortably comfortable with the concept of strike action. It was a right violently denied under Apartheid, and like a fat child on a diet, being denied sweets and fast food, trade unions which were denied the right to legally call strikes in the past, seem to be stuffing themselves with industrial actions, making up for lost time and opportunities.
The PC thing to do and say is to sympathise with the workers. Many are truly downtrodden; they’re cheated and bitter, especially in the face of the feeding frenzy we see in government for money. Their grievances are almost always justified... except, my sympathy is waning.
As striking farm labourers in De Doorns in the Cape set fire to hectares of vineyards, torched houses and looted shops I ask, has the right to strike, to vent and to show one's anger been taken too far? Will this rampant violence really achieve anything apart from damaging the legitimacy of strikes? On the latter question, the answer is simple - No.
Maybe to a degree in the case of De Doorns it forced the hand of grape farmers to revisit labour issues around a negotiating table. The strike revealed the agonisingly shameful conditions under which farm labourers have had to work for decades. Mission accomplished. The industrial action hurried the relevant stakeholders to the table. But in real terms, it won't hurry a tangible solution.
It's common knowledge that farm workers are among the lowest paid in the country and have historically been marginalised. But could it be these strikers are envious and crave attention? Could the actions of a few mindless individuals be viewed as a form of jealousy, where some are seen to be jostling for attention among the working class, given all the focus which has been trained on the likes of the mining sector? Was it a sad attempt to grab headlines? I struggle to sympathise with workers amid what I honestly regard as an idiotic, futile display of bestial, rabid violence, which is defacing a protected right to demand better wages. If they can resort to anarchy, why can't I also then tip my desk over, stomp on my computer and toyi-toyi outside the boss’s office?
Does it not occur to those strikers, prone to violence, that perhaps the message they are sending is that they have become nothing more but glorified criminals, disguised as the stereotype of a desperate member of the proletariat and all its romantic associations under Marxism? Probably not.
The visual of man on a TV news broadcast haphazardly carrying a cash register after looting a shop during a wave of unrest that clinched De Doorns recently, stands out in my mind like an unsightly pimple.
Was he a shop owner, jealous of his competitor’s cash register? Again, probably not. In all likelihood he was just another fool who allowed himself to get caught up in a moment of madness, which entailed him to grab whatever he could in the heat of the looting. Once the daftness lifted, I hope it occurred to him that his actions amounted to little more than criminality and stupidity. Amid this madness, we are expected to sympathise because we have it better than them. Sorry. My sympathy has gone on strike.
Article continues on page two: Where are the trade unions in all of this?