Saturday, 17 November 2012

What is the Catholic view on South Africa's crippling strikes?


There are many ways to look at striking. The practice is deeply associated with Gandhi, who learnt this practice in the British domain of South Africa, when Zulu workers refused to work, and Indians were brought in / imported to replace them. Gandhi encouraged peaceful resolution of the dispute with employers, by inaction of workers. Likewise, the Roman Plebeians, would strike in arcana, refusing to work. The Roman strikes turned into something unique. The office of the Tribune was set up to support Plebeian underclass workers, and this office eventually turned Republic Rome, governed by a senate and consuls, into Imperial Rome, governed by an Emperor, an office that evolved from that of Tribune.

The fall of the Soviet empire, occurred via strikes, when Solidarity, in Poland took to peaceful protest, as a workers' front against the tyrannical Soviet regime occupying their ancient country, so often conquered over the ages. Solidarity was a Catholic workers union. Oddly, violence, even murder seem to always be present when certain unions strike, but utter peace, even silence exists when other unions strike. Strikes seem to be determined by the organization which strikes, and not the industry they belong to or any other factor. When a massive increase is given for a strike: such as the 22% at Lonmin, or the large increase one De Doorns farmer gave his workers, at least in South Africa, this tends to encourage workers to strike.

The issue with strikes, lies in when they become a greedy first resort, whereby strikes aim not at a fair increase, but do away with good performance to gain better pay. The second major issue: besides strikes being anything but a last resort, is that violence, intimidation and other acts, by strikers: turn a peaceful means of collectively gaining a good, into an act much resembling the working of an Organized Crime Family. Where workers collectively and voluntarily strike as a last resort, for the collective interest it is a good, but where strikes are to enrich a few, who would rather blackmail their employer with their power to intimidate workers, than work hard for success, the strike ceases to be a good.

The Catholic Church's Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching says:

'c. The right to strike
304. The Church's social doctrine recognizes the legitimacy of striking “when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit”,[663] when every other method for the resolution of disputes has been ineffectual.[664] Striking, one of the most difficult victories won by labour union associations, may be defined as the collective and concerted refusal on the part of workers to continue rendering their services, for the purpose of obtaining by means of such pressure exerted on their employers, the State or on public opinion either better working conditions or an improvement in their social status. Striking “as a kind of ultimatum” [665] must always be a peaceful method for making demands and fighting for one's rights; it becomes “morally unacceptable when accompanied by violence, or when objectives are included that are not directly linked to working conditions or are contrary to the common good”.[666]'

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