Unite and Conquer

Something that I have never understood about the Labour Union Movement, is how the ordinary Union member can hand over the negotiation of his or her salary package to a group of highly paid, high-living, “labour leaders”. The concept of “Collective Bargaining” surely favours the Employer rather than the Workers? At least that is, in wage negotiations.

Where a company operating in a free market would reward a hard worker with a higher wage and perks, when negotiating with a union, the Employer looks at the workforce as one amorphous body. Both the hard workers and the lazy are all treated the same, and this is a shame. Wage negotiations, from the Employer’s persepctive, are also simplified, and one could, especially in a South African context, always fall back on the Reserve Banks inflation target.

The hard, diligent worker on the other hand, if negotiating on his own, would stress his diligence, his high work output and probably score an “above-inflation” increase. Not so in collective bargaining, so why bother to wotk any harder, you’ll still get the same negotiated increase?

Today we enter a new week in the strike by State workers, and I wonder if the sheep out there marching and picketing realise that this strike has nothing to do with giving them an extra R250 per month, after tax in their pockets (yes, in most cases this is all it actually boils down to), but more with Political maneuvering ahead of the ANC Presidential nominations later on in the year.

If the strike lasts two weeks, the average State Employee, earning R6500 pm, could forfeit R3250 in salary, and assuming that they eventually get say a 9% increase (R7020 pa), this will only net him an annual increase of R3770. If he had accepted the States initial offer of 6% he would have got R4 680. Now where is the logic here?

On the other hand, these strikes do provide the more sedentary workers with some exercise in the form of toy-toying and tyre-burning.

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5 Responses

  1. While I don’t dispute that there may be political manouevring at work here, you’ve got your facts wrong on a number of levels.

    Firstly, unity is strength. Collective bargaining allows wages to be negotiated at a sectoral level, meaning that cowboy companies can’t undercut wages. It’s the only way, short of legislation, to ensure a fair wage for everyone.

    Calling union members ‘sheep’ is insulting. They are experts in one thing – their own lives. They know the terms and conditions of their employment, and they know when it’s not good enough and they need to hit the streets.

    The negotiators, whom you call high-living and well-paid. Well, I’ve met lots of union negotiators, and its a thankless task. Pay is not particularly good, you work until 11pm and get calls on your cellphone from union members on Sunday afternoons, and you get flack from all sides: the media, blogs like this, management and your members who aren’t happy with what you’ve negotiated.

    You compare ‘hard working’ with ‘lazy’ workers, and argue that a hard worker will always be able to negotiate a higher rate. If you’re reading a first year economics textbook, and you’ve just discovered The Wealth of Nations, this might seem to be the case. There are a number of reasons why it isn’t:

    1. High unemployment means that even the hardest workers can be replaced by more desperate, even harder working individuals. Follow this logic and you end up with slavery. Increased mechanisation means unemployment is not likely to be significantly reduced.

    2. Jobs are increasingly being deskilled. The skilled artisan who has spent years learning a trade is being replaced by some one who knows when to press a button as part of a process.

    3. Have you ever had a job, outside of some specialised field?

    Did anyone notice when you worked hard? I think you will find that the overwhelming experience of people in work the world over is that the harder you work, the more your boss realises you are a sucker who can be exploited.

    Ever heard the Japanese word Karoshi? Most people’s lives are already shortened by unpleasant and stressful work.

  2. 70% Political Maneuvering, 30% Real Issues. That’s my take on the current strike. COSATU are clearly flexing their muscles prior the Presidential nomination.

    Can I assume that you have a Labour bias?
    Have you ever had your own company?

    In reply to your points;

    1. Agreed
    2. Agreed
    3. I have always been self-employed. I have probably consulted in management and IT fields to close to 300 companies over the years. When I work hard I get paid well, when I don’t, I get fired. Works for me !!

  3. Maybe. But remember COSATU doesn’t have the power to call out its membership. It’s up to members to deside to strike or not – though of course they are open to manipulation.

    I am a communist. Does that count as a Labour bias.

    I have never had my own company and don’t intend to, because I don’t think that private ownership of the means of production is progressive. I might help set up a co-op, though.

    Most people don’t have the kind of skill levels you do, where you are able to work hard and get paid well if you do. Most people’s choice is significantly limited, through no fault of their own – largely because of race, class and gender background.

    I am from a working class background, and always found that the harder I worked, the more I got exploited. As a labourer once said to me, “what they going to say at your funeral? ‘He was a good worker’.”

  4. Just a thought… the (all white) teachers at Knysna High School did not go on strike. The (mainly black) teachers at Percy Mdala High School in Nekkies all went on strike as per their various Unions’ calls. So much for unity – and of course, should the strike succeed in negotiating higher wages and better working conditions for all teachers, are the teachers of Knysna High going to accept the new dispensation although they did not lift a finger to support the action?

    And another thing… the salary teachers take home is not as much the thorn in their flesh as the fact that…

    1. Their accumulated long leave was cancelled without compensation
    2. Instead of 30-40 learners in a class, they are now having to cope with 50-60 without compensation
    3. Teaching hours were increased by 1 hour (instead of working till 2pm they now have to work to 3pm) without compensation
    4. Teachers are expected to attend compulsory ‘workshops’ during their holidays – no compensation – no going away with your family

    Fair is fair and if it takes striking to get decent working conditions from government so be it!

  5. […] 29th, 2007 · No Comments So the Public Sector strike is over. In Unite and Conquer I did some frightening calculations based on a two week strike and a final agreed increase of 9%. […]

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