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Strikes and the nature of a general strike

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What is a strike?
Kunhiyop (2004:117) describes a strike as workers, often represented as a whole by a union/organization, essentially refraining from work-based activity to accomplish a goal to protest in solidarity conditions at the workplace which they feel are unjust. The action of striking is aimed at bringing about change. Jump (2011) defines a strike as, “withdrawing our labour”, to bring about change.
The nature of a general strike
Kunhiyop (2004:117) quotes that a general strike is, “a child of the Labor movement”, a standoff between the labourer and the employer for various reasons that the labourer cites as being unjust or unfair. A general strike will often have either labour leaders or unions representing the interests of the employee in their grievances against their employers. Meenely (2011) elaborates further that the nature of a general strike can be seen as, “seeking justice and correcting oppression” against labourers by those who have employed these individuals.
General strikes: advantages and disadvantages
There are several advantages and disadvantages to consider for the labourer before participating in the action of striking:
Advantages
1. The disruption caused by general strikes is effective in that the normative functions of society are thrown into an imbalance that often reaches other sectors and thus demands a swift response for normality to be achieved once more (Kunyihop 2004:118).
2. Regardless of governmental structures, general strikes serve the purpose of maintaining a healthy power relationship between the working class and those who have the charge of governing over these individuals (Kunyihop 2004:118). Meneely (2011) strengthens this argument from a Christian perspective stating that in the very first chapter of Isaiah we are called upon to “seek out justice and correct oppression”.
3. Following on from the previously mentioned advantage it is factual to state that general strikes often does end in a successful conclusion. Kunyihop (2004:118) cites that corrupt governments have been toppled and unjust policies abolished or changed due to the action of general strikes.
4. General strikes have been how insight between employers and employees have been gained (Kunyihop 2004:118). The context of individuals is often lost when there is no moment created for either side to see through the lenses of the other parties involved. General strikes create these moments for introspection so change can be accomplished.
Disadvantages
1. Not all general strikes lead to a positive result for those who have put in their very best efforts to attempt to bring about change (Kunyihop 2004:119). This leaves disheartened workers to have to return to the very conditions they were aggrieved by with no resolution in sight.
2. Due to the very nature of a general strike, the disruption caused that seeks to bring about change inevitably does have negative effects on both employers and even non-partisan individuals (Kunyihop 2004:119).
3. History has proven that general strikes can often lead to violent confrontations. Emotions are high from both parties; employees and employers. These highly tense situations could be likened to walking a tightrope. It could be the slightest action that causes an eventual escalation to violence and even loss of life (Kunyihop 2004:119).
The South African Railway and Harbour Workers Union strike in 1987
The strike by the South African Railway and Harbour Workers Union (SARHWU) in 1987 was one such important strike in the 1980s. The strike began when a SARHWU member was dismissed by the South African Transport Services (SATS). Railway workers in over 250 depots went on strike and demanded recognition of SARHWU. As SATS was a state-owned institution, management refused to negotiate with the union and called on the state to intervene. As a result, the police took action. They broke up any meetings that were held by SARWHU and seven railway workers were killed. Part of the issue was that SATS refused to recognise SARHWU and during the strike, 16,000 workers were dismissed (COSATU:2020).
A Christian analyses of the scenario
Phil Jump (2011) believes there are several questions a Christian should ask when participating in a strike:
1. What is the motivation for my actions?
2. What are the key issues at stake?
3. What will be the likely impact of my actions?
4. Has every other possible course of action been considered?
5. Where do my responsibilities lie?
6. Am I simply withdrawing my labour or is there a more manipulative programme in place?
7. How am I called to show forgiveness and grace?
8. Where are the opportunities for reconciliation?
As we look at the scenario presented these are some very critical question a Christian should ask. Whatever we as Christians do should be guided by Biblical principles, the Spirit of Christ and ultimately doing good.
Our given scenario touches on many of these questions and can thus be examined accordingly using these questions as a form of guidance.
1. What is the motivation for my actions?
In the case of the scenario, the motivation seems to be the desire for representation on matters that concerned the labourers where they feel they were not being represented at all. Jump (2011) states that the core area to address this question is whether the motivation behind my actions is compatible with the values of the Christin faith.
2. What are the key issues at stake?
Fair representation of the rights of labourers during the apartheid-era in South Africa where equality and human rights were not freely available to all South African citizens. As stated earlier, Kunyihop (2011:118) explains in the advantages of general strikes often lead to the toppling of an oppressive regime.
3. What will be the likely impact of my actions?
In this scenario the impact led to many unjust conclusions; labourers were unfairly dismissed, individuals had lost their lives. The labourers involved however most likely understood the grave risks at the time but decided that the need for just representation was critical to their freedom and basic human rights. We know now the impact of these types of scenarios in South Africa were all part of a bigger picture that led to the destruction of the wicked apartheid-era. Meneely (2011) citing Isaiah calls it a Christian obligation to combat injustice and oppression.
4. Has every other possible course of action been considered?
Considering the era in which this scenario took place it is hard to conceive that any other action was a consideration. Jump (2011) notes that negotiations require two parties. If one fails to recognize the other there can be no negotiating at all.
5. Where do my responsibilities lie?
Honesty, diligence and being honourable in our actions and participation are the responsibility of labourers to their employers (Jump 2011).
6. Am I simply withdrawing my labour or is there a more manipulative programme in place?
The only clear motive based on our given scenario was that of fair representation.
7. How am I called to show forgiveness and grace?
Jump (2011) rightly states that “our Christian identity can be displayed not so much by whether or not we get involved in industrial action, but by how we conduct ourselves while we are.”
8. Where are the opportunities for reconciliation?
Taking into account the context of our scenario, we consider our Christian mandate as reconcilers in the aftermath. Restoration and healing are deeply needed after any general strike, in the given scenario we are faced with the same need today. Effective Christian conduct, morals and values can contribute to this process of healing and restoration (Jump 2011).
Works Cited
COSATU 2020. COSATU strikes back. http://www.saha.org.za/workers/labour_during_the_states_of_emergency.htm accessed 17 June 2020
Jump P 2011. To strike or not to strike. http://www.icf-online.org/ accessed 19 June 2020.
Kunhiyop SW 2004. African Christian Ethics. Baraka Press: Kaduna
Meneely P 2011. Searching for a biblical perspective on striking. https://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/politics/searching-for-a-biblical-perspective-on-striking.cfm accessed 17 June 2020.

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