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Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price December 6, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Film screening, Politics, South Africa, Work.
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Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, an acclaimed documentary film that investigates the destructive impacts of the world’s largest retailer which is soon coming to South Africa, will be shown at the Labia on Orange cinema in Cape Town on Saturday 11 December at 12:00 noon.

Walmart is infamous across the world for its attack on workers. Now it’s coming to South Africa!

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price is a feature length documentary that uncovers the retail giant’s assault on America and the world by exploring the deeply personal stories and everyday lives of families and communities struggling to fight the goliath. A working mother is forced to turn to public assistance to provide healthcare for her two small children. A family loses its business after Wal-Mart is given over $2 million to open its doors down the road. A community in California unites, takes on the giant, and wins!

This event is hosted by the Cape Town branch of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), a democratic, worker-run union dedicated to organising on the job, in our industries and in our communities, both to win better conditions today and to build a world without bosses.

The screening will be followed by a facilitated audience discussion.

Tickets are R10 and can be reserved by calling The Labia at (021) 424 5927. This is a once-off screening and we strongly recommended that you reserve tickets to avoid disappointment.

This event is presented by the IWW, the Labia and While You Were Sleeping, a Cape Town-based non-profit film collective committed to bringing progressive, non-mainstream documentaries with important social, political and environmental messages to South African audiences.


The Labia:
021 424 5927


While You Were Sleeping:
Andreas Späth
084 772 1056

IWW documentary screening and public meeting October 12, 2010

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, anarchism, Cape Town, Film screening, Politics, Society, South Africa, Work.
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Join the Cape Town Branch of the IWW for:

A screening of the short documentary “Together we win: the fight to organise Starbucks” followed by a public meeting on “Organising as casuals and contract workers”.

Most workers today work in casual and precarious jobs. In many parts of the world, including South Africa, most unions have not been up to this challenge, and have often failed to organise casual workers.

The IWW Starbucks Union, however, is different. The entire union is made up of casual workers who are organising themselves at Starbucks stores. In tribute to their comrades in the IWW Starbucks Union, the Cape IWW branch is presenting a documentary made by these workers themselves. This inspiring movie tells the remarkable the story of how casual workers in the Starbucks chain of stores fought for and won the right to organise.

Date: Saturday 16th October 2010

Time: 14h00

Venue: Cape Town Democracy Centre, 6 Spin Street, Cape Town

For more information or to RSVP contact us on iww-ct@live.co.za

The origins of May Day April 30, 2009

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, anarchism, History, Politics, Work.
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For many people it comes as a bit of a surprise that May Day doesn’t have its origins in, say, revolutionary Russia, the Soviet Union or China – what with all those hideous military parades on Red Square and Tiananmen Square of rows and rows of rocketry filing past gigantic banners of Marx, Lenin and Mao.


The celebration of the first of May as International Workers’ Day, in fact, goes back to the United States in the 19th Century and involves several high-profile anarchists. In the late 1800’s there was a widespread movement for the establishment of an 8-hour working day which coincided with massive repression of workers by authorities, factory owners and the police. At a workers’ rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square on the 4th of May 1886 a bomb was thrown at police.


Who threw the bomb was never discovered, but police used the incident to charge eight prominent anarchists with the crime, four of which were subsequently hanged.


For a more thorough and detailed re-telling of the events, have a look at this article by Chicago indymedia.

She Earns More Than I Do March 11, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life, Society, South Africa, Work.
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I wrote this for Best Life some time ago.

She Earns More Than I Do

So when are you going to get a Real Job?”

For nearly ten years that was my mother’s staple conversation starter during our regular trans-national telephone conversations. For the most part, of course, she had her tongue firmly lolly-popped in her cheek when she used that phrase, but as is so often the case with these sorts of things, she was also expressing a real concern. Usually I’d simply ignore the question and segue seamlessly into some inane comment about the weather in the Cape or the lamentable state of international maritime jurisprudence.

I suspect that her gentle but insistent bimonthly prodding had a number of underlying causes. One was certainly that my university job hadn’t exactly catapulted me into the upper echelons of salary brackets generally thought to be appropriate for my sort – the married and massively over-educated suburban father of two. Of course it was much preferable to the prospect of eternal studenthood – by all accounts my chosen career path during the preceding decade.

Perhaps it’s instinctive for mothers to want their son’s aspirations to set them on a more corporate, better paid and, well, more “normal” employment trajectory than the one I had chosen. Before I paint too unsympathetic a picture of my mom, however, let me say that both of my parents, having themselves had very little say in their own career choices, have always been extremely accepting of mine. It was always pretty clear that the most important reason for my mother’s disparaging outlook regarding my job, however, was not that it paid so little, but that it paid less than my wife Sam’s.

Sam has always earned more than me. Even before we met she pulled down more pocket money selling “Cosmic Chess” in Jo’burg shopping malls dressed as the alluring Captain Cassandra – you should see the pictures – than my teenage self ever dreamt off making from mowing what seemed like several rugby pitches worth of lawn once a week.

When Sam got her first Real Job doing her articles at a law firm and then working as a junior attorney, while I was still studying, she obviously trumped my meagre bursary by several orders of magnitude. Even when she bravely embarked on an entirely new career as a freelance writer after she fell pregnant with our first child and I had already started my illustrious run as a Scientific Officer at UCT’s Department of Geological Sciences, she made more every month than I did.

I put the disparity in earning power between myself and my fabulously talented wife down to a combination of drive, practical-mindedness and sheer willpower – a lack thereof on my part, or a sufficiently chunky helping on hers, whichever way you prefer to look at it. The thing is that while I don’t think that I can be accused of being too stupid, unconscientious or lazy to make it in the land of the Real Job, I just seem to have been dealt somewhat short when it comes to the career-ambition and making-wads-of-money genes.

And you know what? I’m quite comfortable with that.

My mom, on the other hand, thinks my attitude isn’t entirely appropriate. And to a degree I understand where she’s coming from. For her and for millions of others around the world it’s the primary role of the male head of the nuclear family to raise the finances to feed, cloth, house and educate his wife and children. While it has become acceptable for wives to pursue professional careers outside of the home in recent times, it is still seen as rather unsavoury for her to outcompete her husband in the salary department.

The logic behind all of this has, of course, been on very shaky ground ever since the industrial revolution reduced husbands to wage slaves and wives to unpaid housekeepers. The fact that the traditional housewife’s contribution to the nuclear family and by inference the entire economy – the cleaning, cooking, washing, childcare and pampering to her worker-husband’s fragile body and ego – has never been acknowledged, certainly not in financial terms, has been a rallying cry for women’s rights campaigners since the first wave of feminism.

In the USA, Salary.com, “a provider of on-demand compensation management solutions” has estimated on the basis of a nationwide survey that if the services rendered by stay-at-home moms were to have been compensated in monetary terms, they would have earned an average of $138 095 in 2007. What I’m trying to get at here in a somewhat tangential fashion is that more wives than many of us might think are worth more than their husbands – in financial terms – whether they have a salaried job or not.

But even if you think that the argument that women should be paid for traditional “housework” is bogus, statistics from around the world show that there has been a steady increase in the number of families in which the wife earns more than her husband. Figures compiled by the US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which are comparable to those from Canada, show that between one third and one quarter of all American women in two-income marriages now bring home bigger paycheques than their partners. In the UK, the number of men earning less than their partners doubled from 2002 to 2007 and today more than 40 percent of British women in fulltime employment make more than their spouses.

In South Africa, the situation is even more startling. According to Women24.com’s 2008 Female Nation Survey, which is statistically representative of three million urban South African women over the age of 20 and earning more than R2500 per month, a staggering 56 percent of all fulltime employed South African women are their family’s main breadwinner. Perhaps even more surprising, 45 percent of all new mothers in this country fall into this category. And all this, while women, even in developed countries, still earn substantially less for equivalent jobs than their male colleagues.

So there you have it, Mom. I’m not the only bloke who earns less than his wife. In fact it’s becoming quite trendy and it turns out, I’m in pretty illustrious company, Prince Philip excluded. John Kerry, who was defeated by George W. Bush in the 2004 US presidential elections, is worth a pittance compared to his ketchup-heiress wife Teresa Simões-Ferreira Heinz. Cindy McCain, who chairs one of the largest beer distributers in the US, rakes in substantially more than her husband and current Republican Party presidential hopeful, John. And then of course there is Neil Murray, an independently well-to-do anaesthetist from England, who just happens to be married to J.K. Rowling, the world’s first ever dollar-billionaire author.

The pessimists among you will say that all of this bodes very poorly for the world’s male fraternity and more specifically for that most mythical of its attributes – masculinity. Personally I’ve always found masculinity very hard to define beyond the obvious biological bits. I’ve especially struggled to equate it with financial prowess, but then that might be yet another gene I’m just a bit under-endowed in. Is there a joke that starts “You know what they say about men with large paycheques?” that no one’s bothered to tell me?

I guess the argument goes something like this: only men who earn enough money, and certainly more money than their female partners, are manly enough to also earn the respect of their wives, kids, society and, ehrm, their mothers. Now while I can perhaps be persuaded to see the validity of this logic in the context of pre-historic times when the tall, built bloke who on average managed to club down more Woolly Mammoths and Sabre Tooth Tigers and literally brought home more bacon topped the rankings in the popularity sweepstakes, we’ve surely come a long way since then.

As far as I’m concerned the rigidly nuclear family in which the man made most of the money all of the time and did nothing much else, has outlived its usefulness – if indeed it ever had any. Similarly outdated concepts include the strict division of labour along male and female and professional and domestic lines, as well as the traditional inflexibility with regards to the timing, content and setting of one’s “career”.

And I don’t mean these things in a negative way. Far from it: I’m hoping for what I think would be a positive evolution of gender roles in society. Imagine families in which both partners value each other equally, irrespective of who delivers the most hard cash at the end of the month. Genuinely cooperative and supportive families in which both partners pull their weight, yet have the freedom and flexibility to explore paid and unpaid work options. Of course I’ve felt guilty about earning less than Sam, but after speaking to her about it we found that I could compensate by taking on a larger share of household and parenting responsibilities.

As the statistics on primary breadwinners suggest, women have taken the lead here and men need to pull up their sock to keep up, both in terms of salaried work and unpaid household work. As a BettyConfidential.com survey in the US showed earlier this year, most wives who are their family’s main breadwinners are simultaneously proud of themselves and resentful of their husbands who tend not to share their load at home. Women have successfully entered the corporate world. It’s about time for men to enter the domestic one with equal enthusiasm.

About eight months ago I finally had a non-evasive answer to my mother’s perennial question. She wanted the “good” news first: “I have finally quit my old job”. The “bad” news (she’s actually grown to like it since): “My new Real Job, for now, is going to be that of a work-from-home primary parent and secondary breadwinner.”

Bill Hicks on advertising and marketing February 12, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life, Society, Work.
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Gotta love Bill Hicks – tells the truth and is funny at the same time.

The Story of Stuff January 16, 2008

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, Life, Politics, Society, Sustainable Living, Work.
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This is brilliant: a 20 minute animated film about the mad and completely unsustainable way humans extract resources from the Earth, produce stuff and then consume and trash it. Easy watching and highly recommended!

I am a bit perplexed by how this story can be told without ever mentioning the phrase “free-market capitalism” (come on, let’s call a spade a spade!) and naturally I have much less no faith in any government fixing this problem for us, but this is still a great little movie – watch it!


My Dad’s a Mom September 13, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Life, Parenting, South Africa, Work.

This was part of a story I wrote for Fit Pregnancy magazine recently.

My Dad’s a Mom

Driving my sons to school the other morning, six-year-old Benjamin started an all too familiar interrogation routine: “Dad, why do you always take us to school and pick us up after, and why do you pack our lunchboxes? Timmy’s mom does that for him…” “Well, you see our mom works in town and she’s there all day and…” “But you work as well and why do you always bath us and…”

Just as I was beginning to feel a bit like the Big Bad Wolf posing as the Grandmother under Little Red Riding Hood’s verbal barrage, eight-year-old Josef came to my rescue: “In our house dad is kind of the mom, Ben”.

For the last few years I have been the primary parent in our family. I hate that term, “primary parent” – it practically makes my wife, Sam, sound like a second-rate absentee parent, which she definitely is not. There just doesn’t seem to be a more appropriate phrase to describe fathers who do the majority of the hands-on parenting work in a household.

Everyone knows what a working mom does, but a “working dad” is just a bloke who goes to work every morning, like every other guy. In fact, I remember being a working dad myself.

Sam quit being an attorney when she first fell pregnant and by the time Benjamin arrived, had built a successful new career in freelance writing. Pretty soon she was earning more than I was and had to shoulder most of the parenting work on top of it.

I never did get used to the angry and profanity-laden phone calls from Sam, terminated by an abruptly slammed-down receiver before I could get a word in myself. I felt guilty for abandoning her with this physically and emotionally draining double-job every day.

I gradually started taking over some of the kiddy chores: nighttime bottle feeding and nightmare-consoling (Sam sleeps like the dead, so I didn’t really have much choice there), bath time and so on.

Today, as Joey so perceptively explained to Ben, I’m the mom. Sam has successfully kick-started a new full-time professional career in town and I do all of the things that mom’s are usually expected to do: mom’s taxi, coordinating extra-murals and play dates, getting everyone, including Sam, up and ready in the morning, lunch boxes, etc.

My job is flexible enough for me to do the Mr. Mom thing without too obviously neglecting my work responsibilities (anyone from work reading this: if you don’t tell on me, I’ll keep quiet about you being pregnant, if you know what I mean…).

Other aspects of being a male-mom have been less straightforward. I have it on good authority that The Land of Mother may be a difficult enough place to break into even if you’re a woman. For a guy it’s like a fairytale castle with magically unscalable walls.

Mothers tend to be very protective of the safe-space they have carved out for themselves over the millennia and I’m the last person to begrudge them this haven. They have, after all, long been on the receiving end of patriarchal neglect and non-appreciation for the monumental task of reproducing and sustaining the very basis of our entire society.

I understand why a he-mom like myself would find it somewhat of a challenge to gain access to the circle of trust that mothers have established in nursery, pre-, primary and high schools around the country, but boy it can be trying at times – it’s like a driver’s test that nobody ever told you existed.

At kid’s birthday parties, most moms just don’t really know what to talk to me about. I tend to feel as though I’m wearing a conversational halo that sucks away anything a mother could possibly want to say to me. Maybe they think that I just wouldn’t be interested in the latest skinner about the headmistress and the buff new PT bloke, or in who’s kids are bullies or little bitches, or which hairdresser charges least for extensions, when in actual fact I really, really am (well, I could probably do without the hairdressing advice).

The great unspoken question that stifles all communication between mothers and the dad-masquerading-as-mom, especially at a new school, is: “Where on earth is the mother?” I can see the potential answers bouncing over their furrowed brows:

“He’s a widower – the poor man.”

“They’re divorced – the rotten bastard.”

Seriously. Having seen Sam join me a little late at a school play once, a fellow mother remarked to her during the interval: “You two get along amazingly well for a divorced couple.” Had it been the other way around, I would have been duly recognised as a hard-working and understandably late, husband and father.

And then, I guess there are just some things that mothers and even teachers are just not comfortable talking to a man about. The other day, Sam got a call from Ben’s pre-school teacher that she claims to have been the most embarrassing moment in all her life (a most ridiculous proposition, as anyone who has spend more than five minutes with my wife will happily attest to).

The teacher, who is the kindest person and wonderful at her job, and who speaks to me every day of the week but hardly sees Sam, just couldn’t get herself to tell me that two or three cockroaches had been emerging from Ben’s school bag every morning of the last week, to Ben’s great embarrassment and his class mates’ daily entertainment.

I’m probably being unfairly harsh. Being gender-challenged in the mothering league can’t possibly be as difficult as it is for a working mother to get a little well-deserved respect and acknowledgement in the macho world of “real” work.

I am glad to report that, given a little time and mutual acclimatisation, even a male-mommy like me will be happily accepted into The Motherhood. These are, after all, caring people by definition, and once you’re in, the sky, or in this case the chairwo/man of the PTA committee, is the limit.

An anarchist May Day April 30, 2007

Posted by Andreas in anarchism, History, Politics, Work.

The 1st of May is celebrated as worker’s day in most countries around the world, but few people are aware of the fact that the tradition began in commemoration of four anarchist trade unionists executed in the United States.

On the evening of May 3 1884, a rally was held in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, a busy commercial centre at the time, as part of a nationwide campaign for an eight-hour working week. The event and speeches were calm and orderly until police attempted to disperse the assembled workers.

A bomb was thrown towards the advancing police, killing a policeman by the name of Mathias J. Degan .


The police opened fire immediately and in the fighting that ensued seven more policemen and at least four workers were killed and many more injured.

The bomb-thrower was never found, but eight men (August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe) connected directly or indirectly with the rally and its anarchist organisers were charged with Degan’s murder.

The trial, which is often described by legal experts as one of the worst cases of miscarriage of justice in United States history, resulted in a 15 year jail sentence for Neebe and the death penalty for the other seven.

Fielden and Schwab’s sentences were subsequently commuted to life in prison and Lingg committed suicide on the eve of his scheduled execution.

Spies, Parsons, Fischer and Engel were hanged on November 11 1887.

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!

UCT strike rolls along February 19, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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The strike by workers in payclasses 5 to 12 at the University of Cape Town continued into its second day today. This morning started with successful picketing along Rosebank Main Road and Woolsack Drive followed by a convergence on Bremner building (home to the university’s administration).

From there workers marched to Upper Campus singing and toy-toying, surely an apt initiation to the throngs of students coming to UCT for their first day of lectures for the year. Most of the students looked somewhat perplexed, but the atmosphere on the plaza and on University Avenue was generally supportive.

The only exception to this that I noticed was a student holding a hastily hand-written piece of paper that read “Go Home Commies”. His childish conflation of our democratic and constitutionally-guaranteed right to strike with a political philosophy was rather comical. A dignified elder striker took him to task and let him know (with a few carefully chosen kind words) that he’d better be off to his lectures since his education was clearly lacking and rather incomplete.

At a meeting in the acoustically-challenged echo chamber that is Jameson Hall, the strikers overwhelmingly resolved to continue the strike for the rest of the day and into Tuesday. Management and the union negotiating team met at Bremner at 2pm. By tomorrow morning we should have an indication if UCT is finally prepared make a constructive offer.

Today was a good day for the strikers – it was sunny and hot and this whitey got his face and balding forehead thoroughly burnt. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this strike, it is to come prepared and appropriately accessorised. Oh, and that a united workforce is a powerful thing, of course!