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Mmereki 28

Mmereki 28

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Published by Drew Povey
Issue of Socialist Paper in Botswana
Issue of Socialist Paper in Botswana

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Published by: Drew Povey on Jul 01, 2012
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Pampiri ya Babereki - No. 28 - Registered at GPO
- Solidarity price: P3.00 -
 As the devastating strike by government workersenters its second week the most important question, which the many strikers are thinking nowabout, is how their historic strike might end and what workers might have achieved. It is a decisivequestion at a critical point in the Botswana labour movement. Also tghe bourgeois economist Keith Jeffries stated Botswana ‘at the crossroads’. But he comes to different conclusions and recommendsthe downsizing of the public sector. Therefore the strike is not only about the immediate 16% salaryincrease but also about the saving of 35 000 jobsin the public sector.
 Never, before have we experienced such a powerful strike that united workers across the citiesand the countryside in anger against government.This massive protest closed schools and clinics,magistrate courts and border posts.It forced government to resort to desperatemeasures, such as to deploy soldiers and police to break the strike. The state television banned thecoverage of the strike while continuously churningstate propaganda that everything just workssmoothly.Government did everything by the publicrelations book: Don’t tell lies, tell big lies. Theimpact of this strike was serious and far-reaching.Realising that they were loosing, governmentviolated the strike rules by employing scab labour and asking for assistance from the Red Cross toreplace striking workers. Nevertheless, the situation didn’t improve.That’s why as a final resort government throughthe Industrial Court ordered all essential servicesworkers to return to work.
At Morula Square, a place where workers meeteveryday, the mood is that of defiance. Workersare continuously fired up with struggle songs andinspiring speakers motivate workers to fight onand resist government’s intimidation of ‘no work no pay’.From a cleaner, clerk, secretary, meteorologist,driver, nurse, teacher and doctors, mechanic, all put up a staggering fight for a decent wage. Whatwill be the next steps for the unions?
Despite government blackout on news coverageof the strike the union leadership has succeeded inwinning support from members of the public.Many people who called in private radio stationsshowed sympathy with the striking workersand urged government to pay them. They have brushed aside government’s talk that this strikewas politically motivated. By inviting differentopposition parties to address them, BOFEPUSU,had taken a bold decision and made it clear to therulers that their economic decisions which hurtworkers are inbuilt in the political system.As gesture of solidarity the opposition parties also broke with old habits of expecting workers to votethem even though they failed to clearly articulate
Public Sector Workers say:
‘Go fnd moneyand pay us!’
Solidarity isneeded!
- Join the
May Day March
- Join the
Solidarity Demo
organized by oppositionparties on
7th May
- Collect solidarity signatures in
 your union
and suggestsolidarity action- Send solidarity messages to:
or fax to: 3935773/4
Motsomi Marobela
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
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*
* Maemo Bantsi is theLabour Secretary of the BNF
 Most of the times when you talk about revolution people tend to give you acompassionate smile and say you are aday dreamer. Then came 2011 and wehave witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt what the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotskycalled “the forcible entry of the massesinto the realm of rulership over their owndestiny”—the hallmark of revolution.
Ordinary workers in both countrieswere decisive in breaking the dictatorialregimes. The Union General DesTravailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT) called alocal general strike on 12 January anda national general strike on 14 Januarythis year. It played a profound role in thecollapse of the Ben Ali regime.In Egypt independent unions wereformed on Tahrir-Square, the site of mass protests. 2000 workers went onstrike and broke the final straw of HosniMubarak’s regime. The waves theseworkers sent out are starting to resonatethroughout the whole African continent.While comrades in Lybia, Syria, Jemenand Bahrain are still bravely fighting for regime change, people in Burkina-Fasohave staged mass protests against highfood prices.Public Sector workers taking part inone of the biggest strikes in the historyof Botswana are thinking aloud whether their strike could also culminate in‘regime change’. So far, the BotswanaDemocratic Party (BDP) governmenthas not signalled any compromise tothe workers in relation to their morethan justified demands of 16% salaryincrease.The outcome of the strike is not decidedyet and the struggles in Egypt and Tunisiaare far from complete. It remains to beseen whether the political revolutionsthat have happened can deepen into socialrevolutions, in which workers begin tocreate their own democratic bodies to runsociety and challenge the foundations of capitalism.Yet many who stand in solidaritywith the uprisings see the return of revolution to the world as specific torepressive regimes only. ‘But Botswanais a democracy and a shining light of aneconomic sound and peaceful country.Why should we embark on an uncertain path of change?’, some people argue.Anger in the Arab regimes built uplike steam in a pressure cooker, suddenlyexploding onto the streets. In Boyswanawe have safety valves. We can vote for MPs, we have trade unions and somelegal and human rights. These limitedfreedoms we have to defend. But thatdoes not mean a fundamental changeof society can never happen. In fact, itseems that some of the safety valves tendto get blocked.
Apathy and change
Many say Batswana are just too defensiveand apathetic to make a revolution. Butwhen people speak of apathy, they arenot grasping the reality the majority of Batswana live in.People are struggling all the time. Toget food on the table, to pay rent for ashabby house, to raise enough funds to pay school fees for their kids. Most of thetimes, Batswana feel tired, bitter after aday of hard work and pressure from the boss and powerless when it comes to being overworked and underpaid.But sometimes enough is enough.Apathy can suddenly flip over into itsopposite—activism. What does it takefor such a change to occur?It is certainly not necessary for themass of the population to descend intodestitution. The clash between people’sexpectations and what the systemdelivers for them is more important thantheir absolute wealth or poverty.For example, many Batswana studentswho graduated from university expectto get a decent job. But instead, they areroaming the streets or have to work for  peanuts as interns. In the past, often theanger of students led to revolt, like inIran 1978. But for revolution to erupt, theideas in millions of people’s heads alsohave to change.
This was the problem that the ItalianMarxist Antonio Gramsci sought toaddress. He was inspired by the RussianRevolution and hoped to apply the lessonsto the very different circumstances inWestern Europe.Gramsci argued that many people, muchof the time, function with what he called“common sense”. This is a mishmash of ideas uncritically absorbed from wider society.We are taught at school and by thePresident the importance of disciplineand the need for individual success inexams. Economic necessity forces usinto tedious jobs where we labour inconditions dictated and enforced bymanagers.The resulting sense of powerlessnessand isolation can allow us to absorb allkinds of peculiar notions—that capitalismhas been there forever, that hard work isrewarded with success, and that there isno alternative to BDP.But, Gramsci argued, our headsalso contain a healthy amount of “goodsense”. This consists of ideas that bindus together with our fellow workers— notions of solidarity and commonstruggle. Such ideas are either directlyexperienced by workers who take part inactions like strikes, or are passed on byfriends, co-workers and others.This good sense lays the basis for an alternative conception of the world.But most of the time the clash betweengood sense and common sense results in“a situation in which the contradictorystate of consciousness does not permit of any action, any decision or any choice,and produces a condition of moral and political passivity”.This is not a static state of affairs.Capitalism is an unstable, chaotic systemthat goes into crisis again and again.These crises are not just economic, butalso political and ideological.At such moments common sense ideascan begin to crack apart. Consider themost concentrated form of pro-capitalistideology—the economics taught inuniversities. Remarkably, this remainsthe same as it was before the crisis,despite its now obvious failings.At a more popular level, in earlier times of economic stability Batswanawould not think much about an increasing budget for Defense and Security, but intimes of crises, priorities change. NowBatswana ask why there is money for thespy agency DIS, but no money for decentworkers salaries.The ideological cracks can widenas the crisis develops. Politicians,capitalists, senior civil servants andnewspaper editors can clash as they try toshift the blame for the crisis and imposetheir preferred solutions.This can lead a minority, sometimesquite a large force, to question aspectsof capitalism—or even the system as awhole.
But for a revolutionary situation todevelop, something more than this isrequired. It is only when people beginto fight back that they discover that, far from being weak and isolated, they haveenormous power.This can become evident in any formof collective action—a demonstration, auniversity occupation or a riot. But it isfar clearer during a militant strike.For capitalism to function effectively,it has to bring people together in largeworkplaces—and not just factories, butalso offices, warehouses, supermarketsand so on. This is exactly what we see inthe current public sector strike: Cleanersmarch with doctors, nurses with teachersand magistrate workers with customsofficers.It is our labour, our exploitation, that produces all the profits the bosses grabfrom us. This means that it is at work thatwe are at our most powerful. Our abilityto withdraw our labour can paralysecapitalism.And because such struggles arecollective, to succeed they must challengethe petty differences that divide workerssuch as race, gender and sexuality. Thisis the key to changing ideas.Old ideas do not just change simply because clever revolutionaries putforward new and better ones. People haveto learn through their own experiencethat a new view of the world is necessaryto make sense of their struggles.
Revolutionary outbreaks always beginwith struggles to reform the system.People often have only one form of democracy in mind – elections. That isthe only democratic activity they know.But in a crisis, the fight for reforms cantake on a revolutionary dimension.This does not happen in a day or a week.The Russian Revolution of 1917 took eight months to develop from the fall of Tsarism in February to the insurrectionof October.The German Revolution that followedlasted five years, from 1918 through to1923, before it was defeated.The liberation struggles on the Africancontinents were in many cases long and bitter, before they succeeded.Part of the reason why the Germanrevolution was so prolonged was the roleof the “safety valves” in more democraticand developed capitalist societies.In such societies, the contradictions donot just exist inside people’s heads—theyalso take organisational form. The tradeunions and parties like the Labour Partyexpress people’s desire for reforms, butwithin the framework of capitalism.Similarly, opposition parties in Africaare built on nationalist ideas, that therecan be class unity to the benefit of thewhole nation.This leads to arguments within theworking class itself. Even in small strikesand local campaigns there are battles over whether to use militant tactics drivenfrom below or try to gently persuadethose at the top.A revolution magnifies these to life anddeath questions. There will always bemoderate leaders who seek to run to thehead of the movement, only to hold back the struggle and direct it into electoral or legal channels.In order to win in a revolutionarysituation, revolutionary organisationand ideas would have to start to replacereformism.In Russia in 1917 the Bolsheviksentered the revolution with about 23,000members. By the end they had grownten-fold. This was sufficient in a countrywith no mass reformist organisations anda small and militant, working class.Today, revolutionary parties wouldhave to be much bigger, as the size of the working class is larger in numbers.Revolutionaries would have to organizenot only in one country, as capitalismtoday is penetrating every corner of theworld in a globalized manner.Building such an organisation requiresmore than simply raising sloganstelling people that capitalism is the problem. Revolutionaries also have towork alongside non-revolutionaries,and sometimes their organisations, incommon struggles for reforms.While we do this, we have to both arguefor the most militant methods, whichraise the confidence and combativity of workers, and patiently persuade those wework with of our revolutionary ideas.That is why the International SocialistsBotswana (ISB) both organisesindependently and also seeks to work with wider forces. We are a groupmember of the Botswana National Front(BNF) and our activists are members of trade unions.ISB is very small. Creating arevolutionary organisation of hundreds of thousands will require waves of strugglethat radicalise ten thousands, break apartexisting reformist organisations, andcreate new ones. Revolution in Botswanais not an immediate prospect. But theinstability of capitalism means that oneday the Main Mall will feel like Cairo’sTahrir Square. Such moments will takeeven revolutionaries by surprise. But if we hope to win in such a situation, thework we do today to forge revolutionaryorganisation is vital. Join us!
People’s power in Egypt
From strikes to
people’s power
Kerstin Andrae-Marobela
There is always time to read...
This is Mugabe’sZimbabwe:
Socialists accused of treasonwhen discussing the massmovements in Tunisia andEgypt
The Zimbabweansocialists
Edson Chakuma
, and
were arrested on February 20for organizing and participating in avideo screening and discussion of therecent Egyptian revolution and withthe view of drawing the lessons for thestruggle for democracy and social justicein Zimbabwe. All six are facing trial for treason in July 2011, which can result indeath penalty. In the past, Zimbabweanactivists supported campaigns of the BNFwomen’s league and inspired womento stand firm as a rock in the strugglefor social justice and women’s rights. Now, they need our support. Pleasecheck the campaign page (http://www.freethemnow.com) for updates and
sendsolidarity donations to cover theirlegal costs to:Zimbabwe Labour CenterCommercial Bank of ZimbabweAccount number: 02120514330023Bank sort code: 6109Swift code: COBZZWHAXXXBranch: Selous Avenue, Harare,Zimbabwe
Te book describes the back-ground and the driving forcesbehind the public sector reformsin Botswana.It places the development of the public sector reforms in a his-torical and global context.A good read if one wants an in-depth background to the currentpublic sector strike in the coun
This article is based on a piece by Joseph Choonara pub-lished in Socialist Worker, UK 

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