PUBLIC SECTOR PAY | Name Start Date for All-Out Indefinite Strike!

PSA Members Protest Outside Treasury on 10 November


  • Cosatu out of the Tripartite Alliance
  • Unions must lead creation of a socialist mass workers party
  • Re-convene the Working Class Summit to Name Workers Party Launch Date

Below is the text of a pamphlet that will be distributed by Marxist Workers Party members on the marches planned for the public sector National Day of Action on 22 November.

The public sector National Day of Action on 22 November is an extremely important step-forward. It has been called jointly by all three trade union federations with members in the public sector. This level of unity and coordination will be essential in the struggle to win decent wages, protect jobs and defend collective bargaining. There is the potential to bring 800,000 workers out in a one-day national strike in support.  The Day of Action builds on the PSA’s successful 10 November strike.

The 10 November opening skirmish gave a flavour of the ANC-government’s hostility to its own workforce. Finance Minister Godongwana refused to collect the memorandum workers had marched to Treasury to deliver to him. Instead, he threatened to cut jobs in a public sector already severely understaffed.

The DPSA itself is at the centre of the government’s-propaganda machine. It led a media campaign denying the 10 November PSA strike was having any impact despite reports of closed offices and reduced services. They repeatedly banged the “no work, no pay” drum and sowed misinformation that there was no legal basis for workers to strike. All of this was calculated to scare workers away from exercising their democratic right to organise and to strike. But they are just reflecting the attitude of the wider-government and the capitalist class to collective bargaining which is under attack on multiple fronts (see here).

Following the unions’ announcement of the Day of Action the DPSA scandalously re-announced its long-rejected “final” offer. It was again dishonestly cooked to look like 7.5%. The DPSA  was trying to create the impression that a new offer was on the table (it was not!), that negotiations had resumed (they had not!) and to create doubt in workers’ minds about whether or not the Day of Action was going ahead (it is!). The unions correctly denounced the DPSA’s lies.

Hardening the government’s attitude is the crisis of SA and world capitalism. Unwilling to break with the profit system it has no solutions except to attack the working class. Almost the entire media is united behind the propaganda that lazy and overpaid public sector workers must be held responsible for the government’s debt and budget deficit. But workers did not create these problems! These attacks will only make workers more determined to fight. But it is a taste of the vicious propaganda war that lies ahead. The unions will need their own ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to win the support of the wider-working class.

Build For All-Out Strike

Public sector workers have stood firm and maintained the pressure on their leaders not to cave-in. Likewise, it is the pressure of the membership that has demanded bureaucratic rivalries be set aside in favour of united struggle. Only the leadership of the teachers’ unions, led by Cosatu-affiliate Sadtu, have broken ranks and accepted 3%. This will infuriate ordinary teachers and the leadership will in time pay a heavy price for their strike-breaking.

The National Day of Action is an important step forward, but, on its own, will not be sufficient to move the government. The unity in action it has demonstrated must be carried over into an all-out indefinite public sector strike. Only this can force the government to make a higher pay award and meet the unions’ other demands. To these, following Godongwana’s jobs threat, must be added the demands – No retrenchments! Fill all public sector vacancies! Expand the public service headcount!

The pressure from workers that has pushed their leaders this far must be increased further and become more organised. Public sector workers must demand that the Day of Action is used as a platform to announce the date for starting indefinite strike action. Even if that date is only in early 2023 the date can still be announced NOW. It would send a message to government ahead of the February budget and allow the festive period to be used for thorough preparations and planning to ensure a solid strike.

Workers must build unity on the ground by creating joint-strike preparation committees uniting all public sector workers in an area regardless of union or federation. These could be created from scratch or by joint-meetings of branches, locals, JMCs, or even provincial structures. All decisions about the conduct of the strike and on what terms to end it must rest with the rank-and-file of the unions. This must include the crucial issue of essential workers and minimum service levels. Workers themselves must determine what work must continue, e.g. at accident & emergency departments in hospitals.

Lessons of 2010

The lessons of the 2010 public sector strike must also be studied. The starting point for an indefinite strike, either this year or next, is already weaker than in 2010 because of the absence of the teachers. The participation of teachers is key. When they strike the entire economy is disrupted as workers in every industry are forced to take time-off for childcare. The government has tabled a bill in parliament that, if passed, would effectively ban teachers from striking altogether or face imprisonment for 12 months. This must be added to the issue of pay to make an appeal to the 400,000 teachers to participate in the strike regardless of their leaders. Invitations should be extended to all teachers to participate in the planning of the strike.

A crucial lesson of 2010 is the need to expand the strike beyond public sector workers. The active support of the communities who rely on public services will be crucial. Public sector workers need to reach out to community organisations appealing for solidarity. The strike must be transformed into one that is simultaneously a strike to defend and improve the services that communities rely upon. Shop stewards and worker-activists should attend community meetings to explain the issues and invite community and youth organisations to participate in strike preparation committees.

On 24 August Cosatu and Saftu organised a National Shutdown. They promised it would be the start of a campaign of rolling mass action. So far that promise has not been kept. The federation’s leaders should be lobbied to initiate this campaign now alongside a public sector general strike. In support of demands against any and all retrenchments (2,000 have been threatened at miner Sibanye) and for inflation-proof pay increases across the economy, private sector workers could be mobilised laying foundations for a general strike. This battle is not just about wages but the right to collective bargaining. Where the government leads the private sector will follow.

Political Front

The struggle over public sector pay, and the attack on collective bargaining that is going hand-in-hand with it, poses fundamental political questions about how society is run and in whose interests. The working class can only answer these with its own independent programme and organisations. Workers are increasingly drawing this conclusion. Under the pressure of its members Cosatu will debate their alliance with the ANC at a special congress next year. There is a growing mood amongst Cosatu members to break ties. This is an urgent task. The Cosatu leaders’ desperation to defend the ANC alliance has made them reluctant to respond decisively to the attacks on public sector pay. These attacks are in their third year but only now is the question of strike action being placed on the table.

However, simply breaking ties with the ANC is not enough. The “independence” of Saftu and Fedusa has not placed them in a meaningfully stronger position to fight the attacks on pay and collective bargaining. For this it is necessary to open a political front in the class struggle. This can only mean the unions leading the creation of a socialist mass workers party that challenges the ANC, and all the other capitalist parties, at the ballot box.

In 2018 Saftu convened a Working Class Summit (WCS). The decision to create a mass workers party was supported by 147 community, youth and trade union organisations. Unfortunately, this decision has been put in the deep freeze. Public sector workers must lead calls for the WCS process to be renewed. A new Summit must urgently be convened and the doors must be thrown open to Cosatu and Fedusa members. The date should be announced NOW alongside the promise that the Summit will set a date for the launch of a socialist mass workers party that will contest the 2024 elections with supported by the entire organised working class.