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UCT strikers victorious! February 20, 2007

Posted by Andreas in News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.

After striking from 2pm last Friday, members of the UCT Employees’ Union this morning accepted a substantially improved offer from the university’s management and the strike has been suspended.

The offer, which was accepted nearly unanimously, is arguably better than the demands that the union had put on the table. We were striking for an across the board increase of 5.5% plus a 1.5% performance related raise (i.e. a maximum pay increase of 7% for top, walk-on-water performers).

What we got is a performance related raise that incorporates a guaranteed minimum 5.5% increase which can be higher than 7%, depending on where the worker is placed on her or his payscale according to her or his performance appraisal.

The guaranteed 5.5% raise essentially translates into an across the board increase (it only excludes individuals with a documented below-par performance record) and the deal is not capped by the 1.5% performance related top-up we demanded.

This outcome is a definite victory for the union. Management was clearly shaken by our militancy and resolve. The fact that they essentially conceded to our demands is brilliant. Union members have demonstrated to themselves and the rest of the university community that as a united force they are capable of winning these sorts of battles with the management – and it took just over a day!

There were also exciting signs of solidarity between the EU and NEHAWU, between workers from different bargaining units as well as from students and academics.

Members of the union exec emphasised that a commitment was made to start the next round of salary negotiations much earlier this year to avoid some of the problems that plagued the process this time around.

In our meeting this morning, several members made it clear that we should see this victory as a stepping stone to further improvements and gains and I think that is a particularly positive development. If we can take the success of this strike as what some people would call a “non-reformist reform”, which we can build on in future rather than suffering an erosion of our new gains, then we have made a quantum leap in the struggle for better working conditions at UCT.

There are clearly some outstanding problems, particularly those around the practical implementation of the performance appraisal system, but these issues are acknowledged and will surely be addressed and at the very least watched with eagle-eyes by union members.

As for management and particularly the Human Resources department, they will have to work hard to rebuild a number of bridges that have been burnt in an effort to re-establish some sort of trust.

When I was leaving the meeting at which the new proposal was accepted this morning, I bumped into one of my co-workers who was wearing a broad and satisfied smile. Last year this long-time UCT employee and consistently good performer got an increase of less than half a percent (I’m not kidding you, even his line manager was astonished!). This year he will get 5.5% guaranteed and most probably considerably more. That thought alone makes this a particularly sweet victory!



1. Walton Pantland - April 22, 2007

You should start a branch of the IWW – Education Workers Industrial Union 620. We have a job branch at Glasgow Uni which has been quite effective in fighting the closure of a campus. IWW allows dual carding, so the best activists from all unions get drawn together into one fighting organisation.

2. Andreas - April 23, 2007

Walton, I’ve actually thought about that before, but never did anything about it. As far as I know, there are no IWW branches in SA at the moment and it would be awesome to get one going here. To be honest, though, I’m not sure I’m going to be working at UCT all that much longer… (don’t tell my boss just yet!).

3. Leischa - May 11, 2007

You’re quite right. There have been a few individual members in the past, but no one has ever set up and sustained a branch – though one of my friends at Wits, who is also in ZabFed, was interested.

The EWIU is trying to network education workers around the world, check out http://www.ewiu-international.org/. It might be worth being in touch, even if you don’t join the IWW.

4. Andreas - May 13, 2007

Ta. The EWIU looks great. Would be brilliant to get a branch started at UCT. Problem is there are very few conscious anti-authoritarians or anarchists in our workforce that I know of. A fair amount of educational work and canvasing would have to be done to get people to become interested, besides the fact that the current Employees’ Union is actually doing quite well…

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