Unions should make demands, but they must do it smartly

Unions need to go to the negotiating table thinking about their members, but also thinking about the long-term viability of the state.

Something we’re terrible at as a nation is negotiation.

Look around you. Universities are shut down because SRCs have encouraged protest. Businesses are closed because landlords expected full rent during lockdown. We’re even still miles away from the legal private weed legislation we were promised years ago because the legislature is too busy recovering from a perpetual ‘point of order’ whiplash.

Yet, we wonder why graduates are unemployable, why small business is struggling and why something like the Domestic Partnership Bill, designed to resolve vital societal issues, hasn’t moved much further than where it was in 2008.

Holding SA hostage

This tradition of leveraging power in numbers to get your way without any regard for the bigger picture has been holding the nation hostage for a while. It’s a misapprehension of how democracy works; one doesn’t call the shots for their own benefit just because they’re in the majority. One calls the shots for the benefit of the nation because they’re in the majority. That’s a wishful thought by the looks of things at the moment, but it need not be that way.

This is where the unions can finally step in and do something for the nation. It’s not like they’ve really done much else over the last few years so I’d say they owe us. And this is not some appeal to say they need to let go of their demands and expectations of nice increases. Who could fault anybody for wanting more, especially when they believe they deserve it?

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This is an appeal to read the room! Telkom is retrenching people. Transnet can hardly move two trains simultaneously on either side of the nation and Eskom… they can’t keep the lights on. Then you have that small embarrassment of municipalities that can’t provide basic services, schools that cannot teach and hospitals that have well paid staff, but no equipment nor medicine for the staff to do very much.

Everyone will suffer

Things aren’t that great at the moment, y’know, if you haven’t noticed and, yes, again, not me saying that you can’t ask for more money. It is, however, me saying that the money doesn’t seem to be there and the more you milk it, the harder you force the national debt, the higher you drive bloated wage bills, your members will suffer… eventually, as will their children. We all will. So, let’s consider that a little too.

And yes, it will be easy to shirk it off and say it’s not your problem and the trouble will only start when you’re sitting in retirement but I’m willing to bet that your retirement fund won’t be able to carry you over any sense of exorbitant inflation. They thought that about the electricity, and look at how much you’re paying for it now.

Negotiate with your thinking caps on

So how about this? Unions. Go to the negotiating table with your thinking caps on. Think about your members while thinking about the long-term viability of the state. Make your demands and add something to your list… give something. Try it. Anything. Get your members to agree to take 15 minutes less for lunch. Set targets of improved output and mechanisms to hold them to account. Why not even commit to more stringent rules so that work can get done.

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From an individual perspective, I get it that one may feel entitled to an increase. It’s just that the increase has to come from somewhere and I’d prefer that the individuals make it viable rather than putting themselves out of a job eventually. Having said that, I’d once again encourage you to read the room.

Strike, make demands, express yourselves; it’s all good. You’re part of South Africa too and it’s important that you enjoy your freedoms and rights as much as the next person. It just doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from assisting with solving our problems. It’s important that you realise this soon because things aren’t looking that great with economic growth, business, tax revenue and that lovely leadership lacuna.

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South Africa Unions