According to the Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant, a total of 17,290,552 working hours were lost in 2012 due to "unprotected" or "un-procedural" strikes.
Replying in a written statement to parliament on Tuesday 28 May, Oliphant said that the department recorded 99 strikes in 2012. Out of these, 45 (almost half) were "unprotected". An unprotected strike is one which falls outside the Labour Relations Act of 1995.
The calculation was done using the International Labour Organization guidelines of multiplying the number of employees involved in each stoppage by the number of hours it lasted.
The strikes took place in all industries, except for the financial industry. They were also spread across the country, except for the Free State Province. In total, 118,215 workers were involved. Of these, 100,847 came from the mining and quarrying sector.
Commenting on the figures, the minister said, "South Africa's law provides a space for protected, peaceful strikes, which should obviate the need for illegal strikes accompanied by violence."
Why is it then, that such a large number of workers decided, that they had no option but to embark on wild cat strikes?
Since the act came into being in 1995, wages as a share of national income dropped from 56% to 51% (1995 to 2008) and the Gini coefficient of inequality increased from 0.64 to 0.68 from 1995 to 2009, according to figures provided by the Metalworkers union NUMSA. Workers became poorer and inequality shot up.
Together with deteriorating living standards came deteriorating representation by some unions, especially the National Union of Mineworkers. In the mining industry we see, in a concentrated form, the expression of all the contradictions of the negotiated settlement which brought formal democracy. Former mineworkers’ leaders are now mining businessmen, while the majority of workers still live in similar conditions to the ones they had under apartheid.
All of this came to a head in August 2012 with the massacre at Marikana when the police shot dead 34 mineworkers, graphically showing who is responsible for the violence.
So, while the petty bourgeois leadership of the national liberation movement celebrates 19 years of democracy as the final thing to be said of the South African revolution, the workers, which make up the overwhelming majority of the ranks of the movement, are forced to continue to fight for their emancipation. The attainment of capitalist democracy is not an end in itself. Democracy within the limits of the capitalist system does not address the fundamental problems of housing, jobs, education, working and living conditions of the masses of working people. At best, the democratic rights won are a means to an end - the total socialist transformation of society.
Vernie Morken, SACP and ANC activist, Northern Cape
30 May 2013