Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Striking South Africans Are Entertaining To Non-Striking South Africans

Two exciting (if you can call it that) things happened at work today. First, just before lunchtime we all received "URGENT" system-wide emails stating that all the toilets in the building (over 20 floors) are out of order and we must use the toilets in the coffee shop on the ground floor. This is the second time this has happened in the past year since I've been in and out of this building doing work on various magazines. Smart people should design buildings so that processes such as electricity, networks, and sewerage aren't all one integrated unit. This has recently become a sore point as we moved to a new office a few weeks ago (all four copy editors (two English, two Afrikaans) now in one, slightly larger (but tunnel-shaped: yuck) room with better view - yay!), so we've had maintenance issues ever since. Someone's phone will suddenly go out, so they'll fix it (after about a week of complaints), and as soon as they do someone else's phone stops working...

Second, the municipal workers held a strike and a brief (rather unexciting) march, which we could see from our windows as the civic centre is near our building. I have no idea what they are protesting, since many of them are rather inept. This is the third strike happening at the moment in South Africa. The workers at one of our largest supermarket chains, Pick 'n Pay, went on strike last Friday to protest a 7.9% wage increase (they want 12%). A few days ago the strike turned nasty at the Pick 'n Pay at the Waterfront, as striking workers tried to barricade the doors and prevent shoppers from entering the store. Police had to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd, as the situation became violent. Although a 12% demand is ridiculous, especially since Pick 'n Pay apparently has some of the highest (and please note that I only say highest, which doesn't necessarily mean wonderful) staff wages in the industry, I just did some quick calculations, and the turnover that the group lost in the first four days of the strike (just under R50 million) would have been enough to fund the monthly increases the 13 000 striking employees are demanding for the next 42 months.

The other strike making the news at the moment is workers at SAA (South African Airways). Passengers here and overseas have been stranded as all the flights have been grounded, and there has been total chaos as the passengers try to find alternative transport. The stupid thing about this strike is that it is seriously damaging SAA, and I won't be surprised if it has to retrench workers in a few months due to the massive loss of income and many, many customers, who have permanently moved to other airlines in frustration and anger.

That was a long backstory.

Around lunchtime, after watching the rather dull strike action, the other English copy editor and I arbed[*] to the copy editing room of one of the other magazines on our floor.
M: "We want to strike. Everyone else is striking, so we also want to strike."
Me: "We should have a subbing strike."
C: "Yes, let's strike."
V: "We all got 5% and just accepted it. At least our posters and signs would be spelt correctly."

We returned to our office. J looked at us arbing into the office with an amused expression, since we usually don't travel in pairs and drift around aimlessly.
Me: "Hello. We tried to strike, but nobody noticed."
J: "You need to get someone to style[*] your strike, then they'd notice."
M [thoughtfully, to no one in particular]: "Margaux [our stylist and picture editor], please style our strike..."
J: "...so...what's up?"
Me: "Yeah - I wanna go to the bathroom and I'm pissed off that I can't."
J: "'Pissed off' is not the right term..."

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