On A Knife’s Edge: economic freedom now!

I have been listening with keen interest at comments by Labour Unions, Employers/Management, the Media et al and their views around the issue of industrial action stemming from the Marikana and the subsequent labour strikes that are flaring up across the country.

After the Constitutional court ruled last week that the South African Government can go ahead with is controversial e-tolls, taxes drivers must pay to use long roads in Johannesburg, despite public wide oppositions to this earlier in March. That will be 30cents a kilometer, then add another 93cents a liter for petrol and you have a price hike, which means that a month I pay R800 rands just for transport, for 8 kilometers, in a mini-bus taxi. Others people are not so lucky.

Truck Drivers have gone on strike, although it’s all completely unrelated. Workers  have been largely labelled as irresponsible in their decision to refuse to go to work until their needs have been met.

Their decision to stand up for their rights has been labelled as “wild-cat” “illegal” “unprotected” basically illegitimate.  Some unions have even made assertions that Marikana has set a “dangerous precedent” for labour  for  wage negotiations in the country, not because of the  44 or is it 47 people who lost their lives lost their lives in the quest for justice but because workers dared to stand up for their rights, and fight for what is due to them.

They set a “dangerous precedent” because they can’t dare represent themselves – their own needs and interests directly to the people who employ them.  And they in truth have had to embark on “wild-cat” protests and marches because the unions who are their “legitimate” representatives, who take a portion of their pay to do so every month, have simply failed to represent and fight for workers needs. What alternatives do workers have?

Despite striking being a genuine way of saying hello?? we cannot live or survive on the money you insist on paying us. Despite this being a symptom of a deeper problem plaguing worker rights/ or working conditions in the country, employers and unions have continued to belittle them, and their desperate plight for a fighting chance at life, at every turn.

With things (economy) being tight as they are, I understand when people hold on as tightly as they can to the jobs they already have. Always being assured that at the very least they will have some money, at least for a day to afford a roof over their heads, to pay for food and transportation, basics which are becoming increasingly unaffordable with each passing day.

Life in South Africa has become so expensive even I am, as we speak, am one or two connections away from becoming a hobo. Literally. And not because no one cares but because everyone is trying desperately to keep their own heads above water, to afford their own lives, they are also just as thinly stretched, breaking-even if they’re lucky, and could feasibly join me in the trenches should some things grow even more expensive. Or better still they might, just like striking mine workers and truck drivers, find themselves on the streets defending their right to a descent living, again armed and equally underpaid police officers. It’s really tough.

So everyone is trying to put their oxygen masks on, to breathe in and to stay alive (with fading possibilities) The worst part of it is, these people are employed! they all have jobs that they wake up to everyday and yet they have nothing to show for the 8 hours or more they spend everyday at work.

Fortunately if I end up without a job or money to pay for my basic needs I only have myself to worry about. And I am grateful for this.What about those mothers and fathers, sisters, grandmothers who have to ignore their own growling angry stomachs to find something, anything that could for a moment, silence those piercing screams from the stomachs of their children.

Just a few weeks ago, a mother of five children, woke up one day and silenced all her five children – permanently. She confessed in court that she did it, sighting economic and violent abuse. In her mind, the way things were,  they would be better off dead.Yes nothing  no situation should warrant such extreme action. But Marikana happened. Those men could have just simply gone back to work. If it their needs were so greedy and ‘unreasonable’, if it is ultimately so easy to just “bite the bullet”. Not every one smells great under-pressure, and clearly we’re all so much under pressure that close 30 thousand people we’ve all been under so much pressure anymore pressure will be our last breath.

Hunger is not pretty, Neither is it friendly.  To even assert that these men and women are acting out of greed and being careless and irresponsible – is inhumane. No woman or man  would do anything to risk not getting money to buy food, but if all that money can busy is a ride to work and back – what do you say to mouths? Conspiracies aside. People are suffering.

We are living on a knife’s edge all of us. And I guess if people, everyone, can stop for a moment and re-look at their own budgets, and make re-calculations of how much you earn and how far that money goes today, regardless of your status;  perhaps you can also find  a little sympathy for the striking workers, because even you will find that money cannot afford you as much as it did before and  that perhaps R12, 500 rands a is not such an  exorbitant amount after all.


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