Workers of the world, Unite!

That we see more than our fair share of industrial action in Namibia and South Africa is an undisputed, sad fact.
Strikes have become part of our daily life. And it is funny, our population seems to be either indifferent – it is the smaller part of it – or angered by strikes, and the anger is most often directed against the strikers.
We should change this public opinion.
Strikes are, in contradiction to the opinion of most, not “normal, seasonal occurrences”; strikes are the outcry of those in need of a better living; honest strikes usually are actions of self-defence.
Strikes are a symptom of a severe illness of society and its systems.
In Namibia, industrial actions were, during the first years after Independence, almost exclusively directed against white employers.
That changed.
Today, race is no longer a dominant factor. It seems as if, this more or less so, that industrial action is directed against all employers, even against government-run businesses and institutions.
Why is this so, why here and in South Africa? The answer is simple; wages across the board in our counties are low, too low.
The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is widening and the ideologies of the struggle are forgotten; the people now struggle to stay alive in spite of an overwhelming poverty against which governments are helpless.
Little changed after Independence for the worker, the promised “Heaven on Earth” did not materialise and inequality and misery are mounting.
Part of the population is indifferent to what happens; they do not understand the short and long-term implications of the state-crippling strikes.
Others are angered because suddenly, there are items missing on the shop shelves or prices are skyrocketing because of the sudden scarcity of an item.
And then there are those who are “pleased” by the strikes, their motivation is sinister, malicious and utterly selfish. They want to see a breakdown; they see their chances for “fishing in troubled waters”.
Do they not see that troubled water is not fit for sustainable fishing? In troubled water few fish, if any, will be able to survive!
That the workers have a valid reason to strike we know. Their wages are not living wages; their needs can never be covered by the wages they receive and their aspirations are dying – they have little to lose.
The environment in which they live is not “nice”.
We all, poor or well-off, know it; we see it on the TV screen and in our papers and if we visit the townships.
And perhaps, our own circumstances are not so much different from those of the striking workers.
To be honest, if the worker gets some pennies more because of the strike, the next strike is already growing because the original problem, closing the economic gap, has not been solved.
It would be much better for all if our society would throw its weight behind the strikers; these people are humans as well as we are and they expect to be treated as such, just like us.
We should forget about the immediate consequences of the strike to us, we should make it clear for all to understand that we all demand full(!) equality in Namibia (and South Africa) our constitution guarantees us (at least on paper).
We should stand up for the cause of the worker because it is our cause too; it is even the cause of the employer!
And it does not matter who we are, we all have to be honest members of our societies and if we would like to have peace in our countries, peace and freedom – and that on a sustainable basis – we have to help engineering a new and, a better society.
Without fair wages and fair salaries, true peace and real freedom will not dare enter our countries!
The damages of strikes are costly, this in both a materialistic and a much wider understanding than we see in our society.
Damage is done to the trust we have in ourselves as human beings and in our systems, our governments and if this essential trust is corrupted, everything and everyone will be harmed.
If we do not want to fight this danger with heart and mind, what then can we expect from our future other than gross failure? We have to learn. Learn from the past and learn from what happens now.
It does not pay to be selfish, to let others fight a lonely fight, which is in fact our fight too. It is our society’s fight.
If some deny the worker the right to live a life we all would like to live, others will, eventually, also get trapped by that thinking and they too will someday in the future have to take (industrial) action against those, who will then deny them these rights, too.
Yes, it begins with “the other one” but, not too long thereafter, it will be you whose time has come to suffer.
That is no secret!
“Worker” is a broad term. We see that those who are “pen pushers” in government, those in education, nurses and drivers etc; all see the need to take to industrial action.
They may not wear a blue overall, but they are workers too. And their salaries are too low, too.
Nobody is listening to them; nobody takes them and their needs seriously, why not?
Their “employers” do not fare too badly; they are rather comfortable in their well-paid managerial positions.
Why can we not support them all in their action to press for a better, a more people-friendly policy?
It would make our society a better society. We all should think about it and we should do it now.
It is useless to give these people a 20 hectare plot of land; they have no use for it, they are town dwellers.
Instead they need fair wages and salaries. And they should get what they need.
We have to re-engineer our system, our society, and effectively so! That is our urgent duty. We cannot escape this duty! We have to push for it, all of us.
• PRH Claus is based in Namibia.

November 2012
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