Strike while the press is hot

If there’s one thing that we as journo’s know how to do, it’s start a good sandstorm. Seriously. All you need are ingredients not unlike Professor Utoniums concoction for the perfect little girls. One such recipe being labour related issues plus reporters equals sensation.

Strikes are something that most South Africans either know about or participate in when dealing with certain disputes among the working sector. The unfortunate thing about this however is that the reporting of these incidents often gets out of hand. They give meaning to the word sensationalist, and make onlookers wonder if there is any truth to such stories at all and more often than not why there are always so many complaints and disputes in this sector?

The crux of the matter that most people do not understand, or rather are misinformed about, are the purpose of strikes.

Believe it or not, strikes form part of essential human rights. They are encompassed within the South African constitution and allow a form of pluralism that serves both the interests of the employers and employees. A structured antagonism if you will. The primary causes of strikes within South Africa seem to fall under issues of wages. Now, I can imagine you may be wondering why employers simply don’t give a little more in terms of their monetary agreement to their workers, but unfortunately it is never that simple. This conflict between workers and their employers is somewhat necessary in order to keep the dismal balance we maintain within a society such as this. Strikes try to balance the priorities between parties and more often than not highlight different issues that would otherwise be overlooked.

The words Marikana should immediately highlight the very issue we are talking about. A wage dispute turned into something much bigger, and much more shocking and disappointing than we as South Africans would like to acknowledge. It brought up things we thought we had left behind in the past, but that we clearly are still a far way from moving away from. Now, the fact that there was such a big strike is not what we should celebrate, but rather that other issues were able to be brought to light. And this in turn falls back to that perfect recipe idea – where reporters, though sometimes sensationalist, play a major role in alerting the masses of certain things that happen between employers, employee’s and in this case, the police.

There are various types of strikes that each serve a particular purpose. Some of these include offensive economic strikes (the big one about wages and leave which we hear a lot about in South Africa), solidarity strikes, defensive frictional strikes and political stayaways.

The umbrella term for all these could be put as trying to get the employer to comply to a certain agreement since essentially a strike is for workers to shake up and shake off things they are unhappy about. This being said, they will only be legally allowed to do this if they are engaged in a protected strike. This means the workers are indemnified and allowed to ‘toyi-toyi’ to their hearts content. This again highlights issues to the public as the journalists (pot-stirrers) report on them and allow these issues to gain media attention.

After a long history of dancing angry employees, one might begin to wonder why the cause of friction has not yet been identified. This is because there are often a range of factors that contribute to these incidents, including, but not limited to working conditions, communities and other social factors. It is possible for journo’s to report on one, but another, perhaps more pressing issue may come up. It boils down to what is the most appropriate cause for a particular strike and how that is reported on and dealt with.

It is difficult, without a doubt to say that a solution to situations like these will ever be found, or even that the reporting on it will bring more than a feeling of anger, gloom or hopelessness. It is difficult to be a reporter and not in some way a pot-stirrer when it comes to situations like these. But essentially that is our job – to make the masses aware of even the craziest things happening in the various sectors and hoping to one day find a solution to this age old recipe.




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