A right or a problem?
Photo : Wikimedia Commons
It has been on the news since the middle of this year – South African miners on strike for higher wages. And after a strike got out of control at the Marikana mine on 16August 2012 when almost 34 people, mostly mine workers, were killed when police started shooting them, the question is whether or not striking is a constructive way of being heard? Or does it simply just result in further problems.
The term ‘strike’ – according to the Oxford dictionary – refers to ‘a period of time when an organised group of employees of a company stops working because of a disagreement over pay or conditions’. And this is a term that is well known and practised in South Africa, where striking is a human right. However, one of the main issues around striking is when a strike results in violence, which of course is illegal in this country.
This was the case for the Marikana miners’ strike (or Lonmin strike), because of the amount of weapons present and the high number of injuries and deaths. The miners hoped that their strike would lead to an increase in their salaries, but this very event was later dubbed the Marikana massacre. In other words this violent strike did more harm than good, but even though many people lost their lives and there were nearly 270 arrests there are still those who believe that violence was the key to solving their problems. ‘Violence works. When we just talk, we get only peanuts,’ said one of the Marikana miners after the board signed for a 22% increase in their salaries.
‘It seems unthinkable that South Africa now with this fantastic new democracy and Bill of Rights, that the agents of the state are relying the remnants of apartheid brutality,’ said Andrea Durback, associate professor at Australia’s University of New South Wales. Although many will agree with Wale’s words, especially because of the police brutality during the strike, there are still a lot of things to fight for in South Africa regardless of our new democracy. This is the main reason people strike and many peaceful strikes are a sure solution when all other measures have not worked. ‘If you strike, you want to be heard by someone who is apparently abusing your power,’ said Shaun Stevens, history teacher at Christel House School. ‘Striking can indeed be good if you have a good reason to go on a strike,’ he explained.
On the other hand, even though a strike may peacefully play out, another problem arises when ‘it [striking] affects people who are not striking...’ and often, as Stevens pointed out, ‘you are actually infringing other people’s rights’. For example, taxi drivers. When they strike they expect the public to use other means of transport (busses and trains) which often are not reliable or not travelling to their destination which is often work or school.
At the end of the day, some may say strikes have more cons than pros. But the reason it is a human right, shows that we have the power to stand up for what we are not happy with. The only thing we need to remember is not to abuse that right. A peaceful strike without any violence or damaging to objects can help you in your quest to achieve what you and your fellow workers want. But the lives of other people should always be considered and whether it works or not, violence never helped anyone.
‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ – Jonh F. Kennedy.