a favourable economic policy and put workersdemocratic demands as priority. By embarking ona joint opposition protest,next week 7
May, theopposition parties haveshown their intent for realconcrete solidarity to theworking class.
The politics of fear
After this demonstrationthe unions must preparefor the bigger challengesahead. The ruling classwill do everything tolabel them as politicallymotivated and use that todivide the union federation.But the connection betweeneconomics and politics inBotswana is for everyoneto see. Unions don’t have toshy away. The ruling party,Botswana DemocraticParty (BDP) is funded byDe Beers, which minesdiamonds using blood andsweat of workers.Botswana’s political power rests on economicsector, which in turn dependson labour power of workers. The political power in Botswana is builton diamonds. Diamonds are sold tothe global external markets, such asJapan, China, India and US and aretherefore fragile and prone to market price failure.That is why government is in deficit.Citing the economic crisis as a reasonfor not increasing worker’s wages, isto punish workers for a crisis whichworkers have not created.The hard-line uncompromising standof government reflects the strategynot to increase public sector workerswages as this would put pressureon the private sector profits whoseworkers will also follow with salaryhike. Therefore, for many years a purposeful purge of trade union rightswas maintained to protect the bosses’ profits at expense of the majorityof workers. Strikes were virtually banned, as they were invariablydeclared illegal.The policy of denying trade unions basic freedoms such as the right toorganise and unionise together withthe anti-working class labour laws,were effective state mechanisms thathelped to avert strikes and save theeconomy from crumbling and withthat the collapse and annihilation of ruling party.The fact that this is the first, legal public sector strike coming, justafter government agreed to recognisethe unions is significant to illustratethe extent of oppression of workersin this country. At a critical anddecisive period when the balance of power favours the workers, the ruling party, whose president appoints the judges, rushed urgently for a courtinterdict barring essential workersfrom striking. The same manoeuvrewas used against the 461 Debswanaworkers strike in 2004. It waseven the same law firm, Newman& Collins, acting on behalf of government, which is now standingagainst the public sector workersstrike participation.This intimidation of workers, whichthe Public Services International hasstrongly condemned, has been usedin the previous workers strikes inBotswana. The 2004, Debswanadiamond miners were threatenedwith jail imprisonment. In the strikeof the 1976 Selibi Phikwe copper mine workers, the state used policeviolence to quell off the anger of workers revolting against theexploitation by a multinationals.
But one victory of the public sector strike is already that it has managedto discredit the failing neoliberal project in the public sector.Since the introduction of theWorld Bank’s management reforms, performance management systemand performance based reward pay toimprove productivity in governmenta few years back, the situation hasnot changed. In fact it got worse.Government is still struggling withlow motivation in the public service. Itis widely recognized that governmentworkers are underpaid and often work under pathetic conditions.Instead of creating better workingconditions and offering decent wagesto its own workers, governmenthas responded with tighteningdiscipline and control. Draconianwork procedures on dress codes wereintroduced and salary increases freezemaintained for three years.Moreover, more measures thatgave power to management and put pressure on workers to perform better with the implementation of performance management system this project has been a glaring failure.The sheer scale of the strikedemonstrates this. The union shouldcall for aboslishment of public sector reforms and privatisation, whichhas resulted in job cuts and broughtslave-like exploitation in outsourced jobs that were previously in the public sector.
What is to be done
Judging how the President scoffedthe workers, the attitude of hisgovernment by intimidating workersand lately the court order that essentialservice workers have to return towork. it is unlikely that governmentwill easily give in..The most important point to note isBOFEPUSU has made a historicalmark. It has given workers confidenceto assert their burning demands.It was just too much for ordinaryworkers to leave governmentunchallenged on its responsibility to provide decent salaries.After three consecutive yearsof no salary raise, high inflationdoubled VAT tax, ever rising fueland transport, skyrocketing food prizes and housing, workers have hadenough.These conditions link governmentworkers to even more workers inother sectors in the country.There is an urgent need to broadenthe membership of public sector toits entirety. That means recruitingmore members from GovernmentState Owned Enterprises like water utilities, power corporation, tertiaryinstitutions, and telecommunication.Solidarity actions by workers inthe parastatals will be extremelyimportant to win the strike in asituation where the legislature isclearly anti-union.Indeed it is a turning point in history,where the public sector is at stake.Our public services have to be savedand not cut! This is why everyoneshould show solidarity in words andactions with the current strike.The unions have laid the basis for a united front with opposition parties.Vice versa, now the opposition partiesneed to make this unity practical byactively campaigning for worker’srights and bread- and butter issuesafter the 7th of May until electionday.Without the workers the opposition parties will not be able to take state power.
Many women are participating in the public sector strike. They are clear, outspoken and determined.
talked to some comrades about the issuesthat brought them into the streets.
‘I am here because I don’thave money’, simplysummarized Nelly,a worker at nationalregistration office. ‘Butthey have money andwe want to get paid’ sheadded.‘It is a lie that governmentsays that there is nomoney’, emphasizedGertrude, a nurse working at the Princess MarinaHospital in Gaborone. ‘Our doctors and we as nursesdecided to join the strike because 16% salary increaseis more than justified if you look at the conditionsunder which we haveto work. Long hours, permanent stress, riskywork, low pay – this isthe reality in governmenthospitals’. Similar sentiments were felt alsoin other cities. The localnewspaper Echo quoted anurse from Francistown:’The senior managersshould leave us alone.They use wheelbarrowsto carry their salaries, while we get peanuts’. Whenasked about consequences she said:’ The treatment weget from the employer is what makes us strong. Wewill emerge victorious. The law enforcement officersare our husbands, our wives, our kids and our relatives. Nobody should bank on them to intimidate us. Theysupport us because they know that if we win, they willalso benefit as their salaries will be increased.’Gorata, a primary schoolteacher, explained:’ Weare on strike because weare like everyone elsehere. We are workingunder great pressure, but we are grosslyunderpaid’.Another primary schoolteacher, who wanted toremain anonymous outof fear of victimizationdescribed the workingconditions of primaryteachers in more detail:’ We are here because we areoverworked. Primary school teachers have no resourcesand they don’t have a break. We have to raise childrenfrom all backgrounds, which is very demanding.Sometimes the children come unbathed and we have towash them. Everyday we have to feed the children. Weare exhausted and our pay is just too low’.When Mmereki asked a union activist what wouldhappen when government is not moving towards acompromise, she said:’ We have all seen what happenedin Northern Africa. When government is not willing tolisten and act, they should think twice. Then this goesfar beyond a strike. Then we will have a revolution’.The Public Sector Union Federation(BOFEPUSU) demand an 16%salary increase based on theunderstanding of the unions that for the past 3 years there was never anyincrease for public sector workers.The BNF is disturbed by the manner and attitude of government in thenegotiations with the unions whichin our vie smacks of an arrogantGovernment negotiating in badfaith. It is this intransigent behaviour of government which has left theunions with no option but to embark on industrial action.The BNF believes that theworkers demand for alary increaseis legitimate. The argument bygovernment that salaries cannot be adjusted due to the economicdownturn should be dismissed.The same government continuesto spend millions of Pula onunsustainable projects, which werenot even budgeted for.To show that government hasnot been negotiating in good faith,consider the fact that before the budget speech the President hadalready told the rural residents of North-East that there will be nosalary hike, while on the other handhis Minister of Finance said in the budget speech that negotiationswith the unions are ongoing.What a fallacy!We understand that after the unionswent through all legal proceduresassociated with embarking on anindustrial dispute, government triedto convince the unions to accept asalary increase of 5% based on thecondition of economic recovery.This the unions legitimatelyrejected. The BNF urges governmentto stand away with a conditionaloffer.It is important to note thatgovernment’s failure to increasesalaries had the effect that all private sector workers did also notget a pay rise, as all eyes are on whatgovernment does and that is robbingthe working class.
We wish to state that we are insolidarity with worker who demandtheir rights and call upon the powersthat be to take heed of worker’sdemands since their purchasing power has been eroded.To the workers we say:’ Workers of Botswana unite – You have nothingto loose but your chains!’.
Why the BNF supports the Public Sector Strike
Nelly, National RegistrationGertrude, NurseGorata, Teacher
WHERE SHOULD THE
MONEY COME FROM?
Government says there is no way they can afford asalary increase for public sector workers. There isthe economic crisis and there is the budget deficitthey say. But in reality it is about getting the priori-ties right.
Cut the military!
The Ministry of Defence andSecurity got the third largest budget of P3.6 billion.Why should we waste so much money for defend-ing the country against imaginary enemies and spyware which is allegedly used mainly for oppositionactivists and regime critics. Why does the spy agen-cy DIS obtains millions of Pula to recruit 1 spy for every 180 Batswana, while we would need at leastone decently paid doctor for the same number of inhabitants?
Tax the rich!
Botswana corporate taxes are witha rate of 15% one of the lowest in the SADC re-gion. Additionally, companies enjoy numerous spe-cial incentives to accumulatetheir profits. This is needed toattract foreign investments,argue the proponents of thecapitalist market. But in re-ality foreign investors makeprofits while they are relievedfrom taxes and disappear without re-investing a thebein the country. Corporate tax-es should be increased to fi-nace a well-organised publicsector with decent salaries.
Workers teach government calculating: A simple addition of living costs makes the case for salary increase
* Maemo Bantsi is theLabour Secretary of the BNF