What a glorious feeling to wake up to the announcement that the construction industry strike has ended. In such things, there are always clear winners and losers with this case not being an exception. The clear winners at the end of this frustrating and irritating episode is the union leaders, who clearly got their intended result, so much so that they have been able to convince or coerce management to have a signing ceremony for the sole reason of publicly celebrating their victory whilst rubbing the noses of management in it. At the ceremony, the parties will no doubt, declare that it was a win-win solution. The truth being that any wins, except for the union leaders’ victory, are short term and only insofar as the 2010 Soccer Stadiums are concerned.
Once again, the unions achieved victory through anarchy and intimidation. What was especially noticeable, and it has been that way since the election, is a new sense of militancy given to the union by Jacob Zuma, a fact acknowledged by well-known and former activist, Charles Nupen who, in a fatalistic manner, excused the situation as something we should get used to as “normal”.
The losers in this sad tale are many. The first and foremost loser is South Africa, a country was held to ransom by a small number of arrogant anarchists with a narrow and selfish agenda to exercise their power and enforce their will. It showed the word a country where anarchy and militancy holds sway, a place investors should avoid.
The “poor” workers lost. However, for them I do not feel sorry. They deserve what is coming to them. They, mostly having a low level of skill, and would in any other place be easily replacable, were prepared to forfeit at least R 600 in wages because of the strike, in order to gain an additional R 30 per month. Certainly not the type of action I will attribute to a lucid and logical person. It makes me wonder whether it is hunger pangs dulling their brains, plain laziness or that unique South African sense of entitlement. The pain exceeds the gain in this case. The mere fact that some people tried to work indicated that there are people who need the money and are prepared to work for what management offered. These people, who wanted to work, unfortunately did not only loose income, they were also humiliated and stripped of their dignity when they were intimidated and beaten up by the anarchists because they wanted to exercise their right to work, for them I feel sorry.
The construction companies also employ highly skilled staff. People who generally understand the effect of wage increases on the long-term viability and profitability of the company. They did not strike and probably never will strike. They, in most cases, have accepted lower increases. The loyal, once again, will subsidise the stupid and the lazy in the organisation. How long can this loyalty last I wonder? I doubt whether they will want to carry on wearing the loser tag.
The ten million unemployed workers who cannot find work because unions are keeping wages unreasonably high will be weeping in desperation when they hear about the signing ceremony, where the union will celebrate the victory of the artificially protected employed and the demise of opportunities for the unemployed. The unemployed and hungry will weep at the plates of food consumed by the victors, at the signing ceremony. These desperate people are the losers.
Management, of the construction companies, won a short- term reprieve to complete their stadiums on time but in the long term, has shown their vulnerability to the “blackmailers” and “hostage takers”. When the high-margin government sponsored world-cup projects are completed will have to compete for lower margin projects. This will become increasingly difficult given the ever-decreasing labour efficiency of an overpaid and low-skilled, but politically powerful workforce. Already they are losing contracts abroad. Although they are losers, I have no sympathy with them. They are the cowards Trevor Manuel referred to recently and they deserve what is coming their way.
Also, spare a thought for the investor, not all of them wealthy. People like you and me, who have our retirement funds invested in these companies. Spare a thought for the small construction companies, who often sub-contract to the big players. Their profit margins are smaller and they are often coerced by the big players to accept conditions they can hardly afford. Some of them will go out of business once the world cup projects are completed and the ranks of the unemployed will swell once again.
The general population, the ordinary citizen is another big loser. The victory of NUM will exacerbate the wave of strikes and anarchy we have to endure, teachers, doctors, emergency workers, health workers and transport workers will all take heart from the glorious, well-published and much celebrated victory of NUM. I am sure we will soon have a national day of celebration, a festival where we will celebrate the power and glory of the “Union Leader” your friend in need, if your subs are paid. In the mean time, we will pay for damage done to property and services not delivered. We will clean-up after them when these proud South Africans march and destroy.
How do we rectify the situation? Government must take a stance against the anarchists. They must stop talking and refrain from passing their monkey to business. Avoiding confrontation with the monster they created is a cop-out. I however doubt their ability to take strong action in the fear that it may result in diminishing popularity amongst, what they perceive to be a major support base.