Saturday, August 14, 2010


South Africa presents such an interesting mix of developed and developing that it sometimes still throws us for a loop. This country is extremely unionized (and I can't say what I think about that as per PC policy, but if you know us, you can probably figure it out) and this time of year is strike season as it's when unions and employers negotiate for raises and whatnot. There has been a continuing threat for the last few weeks of teachers and other public service workers going on strike because the government won't meet their request. The government is offering a 7% increase and a newly revised R700 housing allowance, and the unions are asking for a 8.6% increase and a R1000 housing allowance. To an American who is used to thinking in terms of 2 or 3 percent raises annually, this may sound really really high, but electric company workers received 11% and the auto workers are striking for 15%.

Now the thing that is interesting to me about this strike is that the time it has taken to get started. The unions first announced their intentions of striking at the end of July and gave some time for the government to revise their offer. Then we heard the strike would start Aug 6, but then they would get more time and the strike would start Tuesday, Aug 10 after the women's day holiday on Monday. Then the strike of the 10th (which happened) was declared to be a one day strike to give a taste of what's to come. They gave the government until Thursday to make a new offer which we thought meant the strike would commence again on Friday. But no, it will take through Monday to inform all the union members, and now the strike may start on Tuesday. Everything has to go through the channels and there are quite a lot of laws affecting labour. It's organized, yet the amount of time it takes to make it happen is distinctly developing world. In Chad, because of the lack of communication and organised unions, striking was decidely simpler. If you hadn't been paid in three months, you went on strike until you got paid again.

So the dilemma we face is the perpetual one of the Peace Corps volunteer - waiting (with a little bit of cluelessness thrown in their for good measure). I got back from helping with the new group's training last week ready to get down to business finally after being away for most of the first month of the term but unsure of when the strike would start and how long it would last. I have lots on my plate if there is no strike - substitute teaching English and life orientation to grade 6, restarting educator computer classes, doing a workshop for educators on the Foundations for Learning campaign, getting the kids in my clubs to do the bulk of the work (putting together their magazine and planning and presenting an HIV awareness event for kids at other schools), and making sure people actually are using the library that we made a timetable for at the end of last term. But if the strike happens, I'll be finishing up my grant report, watching a lot of TV, and attempting to help out at the old age home. But the first priority is to be a good Peace Corps volunteer and practice the art of waiting.

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