27 August 2010

Why strike when you can vote?

If you don't like working for this government, use your vote and choose another, says Joanne Hart.

If you don't like working for this government, use your vote and choose another, says Joanne Hart.

By now most South Africans are wondering if the current wave of strikes probably has anything to do with money, or whether it's all about power.  If so, I'm not convinced that it's the kind of power that will be used to do anyone any good. 

I know that there are casualties in any struggle, but that used to mean that the protagonists were laying themselves on the line for a cause.  Peaceniks braved bullets to put flowers in gun-barrels, anti-nuclear demonstrators held hands and sang in the face of armed soldiers, people carried placards across no-man's-land strips all over the world, people were prepared to be imprisoned rather than back down on something they believed in, and some of those prisoners went on hunger strikes to highlight their message.  The salient feature running through all those actions:  I believe in something enough to give up everything. 

What makes the action we’re experiencing now smell so foul is that the casualties are not volunteers – they are the ill and the helpless.  Pre-term babies and post-op patients are not acceptable losses - they're hostages to a cause that has nothing to do with them.  Basically the mantra appears to have changed:  I believe in something enough to take everything from someone else.

Who is The Boss?

I'm very much in favour of organised labour, such as the unions that first formed in England during 1820-1860, because labour does need protection from rapacious bosses.  But what happens when the boss is also the elected government?  Weirdly, the strikes we're experiencing now are protests against the prevailing State – and many of these strikers, as voters, are shareholders of the very "company" they're holding to ransom.

The same can be said for teachers, medical workers, the police services and the military – in fact pretty much anyone who goes on strike today (except for the notable exceptions of chain-store workers and mine workers).  Naturally, should the mines be nationalised, we would probably see mineworkers on strike within the year.

Sure, I could point out that the quickest way to lose all your chickens is to set a fox up as their guardian, but the stress that mismanagement and general mischief is placing on the workers and voters of this nation is starting to tell.  And someone somewhere is happy to harness all that unhappiness to an end I can't yet clearly understand.

For each striker who imagines that this action is to their benefit – every producer/retailer/service-provider losing money due to your strike will have to increase their prices to make up the loss.  And all those increases for State employees?  They’re going to come from the same rapidly-shrinking pool of revenue we’ve had all along. So, whatever gains you get from this action will be spent on purchasing precisely the same amount of goods and services you were able to get before – maybe even less. 

And that doesn't even begin to measure the amount of ill-will that is being fostered as people lose loved ones, bodies lie untagged in neglected mortuaries and children watch a year of their education go up in smoke.  Who is calculating the cost of that?

Read more:

Strikes: special report

(Joanne Hart, Health24, August 2010)


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