Monday, July 27, 2009

Thousands strike in South Africa!

Worker march in central Johannesburg
Striking workers are demanding a 15% wage increase

Central Johannesburg has been brought to a halt as hundreds of South African workers marched as part of a strike to demand higher wages.

Many commuters were stranded because buses failed to run. Rubbish has also not been collected.

About 150,000 workers in the country have stopped work. Unions say most public services are disrupted.

Analysts say the strikes and recent unrest are the first major challenges for new President Jacob Zuma.

He has called for understanding from workers, but the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Johannesburg says crowd-pleasing promises he made during his election campaign are proving hard to keep.

Our correspondent says a pledge to create 500,000 new jobs has already been retracted.

In recent weeks, there have been violent protests over the lack of housing, water and electricity in the poorest townships.

Dale Forbes, from the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), said most members had gone on strike from 0700 (0500 GMT).

He said he was confident the public was backing the strike.

South African residents of Balfour run during riots with police on July 22, 2009
Townships residents have been protesting at the lack of basic services

"They want to see dramatic improvements in service delivery - which must start with improvements in the conditions of the workers," he said.

Services such as Johannesburg's Metro Bus service are not operational.

The Metro Police who are in charge of traffic policing in the country's major cities are also taking part in the strike.

Members of Samwu and other unions walked out after being denied a 15% wage increase. They rejected an offer of 11.5%.

The country has already faced a major strike by construction workers, which threatened stadiums being built for next year's football World Cup.

That strike was ended earlier this month after workers and employers agreed a 12% pay rise.

Mr Zuma took power in May after an election campaign in which he pledged to ease poverty.

He was supported by the main union federation, Cosatu, and the South African Communist Party which wanted a change in the previous administration's economic policies, which they said were too pro-business.

However, South Africa has since entered its first recession in 17 years, making it more difficult for Mr Zuma to increase state spending.

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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