Friday, August 20, 2010

ANC and COSATU: The Greatest Dangers To Worker’s Rights

Come the announcement that the government and COSATU have entered into wage negotiations, South Africans knows we have entered into another one of our political circus seasons. COSATU leaders take a moment from their daily work of partaking in the various squabbles and factional battles of the ANC. Government and trade unions engage in their debate of who, if anyone should be barred from engaging from striking, on the basis that they are an ‘essential service.’ The comfortable middle-class, (ironically and hilariously often identified as ‘leftist’) dust off and trot out their usual complaints; complaints that, ‘the country is being held to ransom,’ that ‘striking is nothing more than blackmail,’ that in the face of South Africa’s soaring unemployment ‘these workers should be grateful they have a job and get back to work.’ Nevertheless, the one fear, that all share, is the 2007 Public Sector Strike, which was marked by damage to private and public property, intimidation and violence will be repeated. Regrettably this week saw that fear come to be a reality with such reports. As with the 2007 strike, as fully expected, the media has focused on these reports and COSATU has denounced the media for focusing on ‘sporadic but regrettable occurrences.’ Whether these occurrences are widespread or sporadic is of no consequence. The very fact that they occur cannot be tolerated, and that is very much what COSATU and by in large government as well seems to do with their strongly worded denouncements followed by, well, followed by nothing.

The simple fact is this; the moment a striker commits violence, intimidates or in any way illegally impinges on the rights of another, they cease to be protected by the rights, which protect workers on industrial action and no longer are striking workers, but rather, are criminals. Furthermore, the actions of these criminals are ignominious for two primary reasons. Beyond their basic criminality, they present perhaps the greatest danger to the crucial right of workers to engage in industrial action. More so than any call The Right may make against these rights.

With each successive wave of violence and intimidation at the hands of these so-called strikers, the public understandably gets even more disillusioned with unions and the strikes they embark upon. What the government (which has regularly reiterated their support for protecting this right) and COSATU have to realise is that their empty rhetoric of denunciation is just as, if not more so, harmful to the right to strike than the actions themselves. People have a right to expect health-care when going to a hospital that their kids will be safe when at school, that if they choose not to participate in a strike, they will be free of intimidation.

However, having spoken to some striking workers, I have come to realise that these actions are not the acts of marauding hooligans, as the media often seems to depict them. There are reasons behind it. Firstly, the statements the government puts out which characterise their position as intractable does nothing more than add oil to an understandably angry fire. The initial tone of these messages, dismissive of the actions and that the government can handle the crises (though this has clearly been shown to be not true) further engenders anger. Even if the government had forgotten, recent events particularly service delivery protests and the ‘xenophobic violence’ reminds one of the South African populace’s propensity to violence. All a result of what political theorists refer to as, Political Socialisation.

Despite all these various reasons explaining the violence of so-called strikers, the fact of the matter is, they are excuses. Near all criminals can provide a compelling reason as to why they committed the acts that they did but our legal system does not accept excuses. A broken law is a broken law, and whomever broke it must be swiftly dealt with. In another blogpost earlier this year, I mentioned how in Junior School we were taught on the correlation between rights and responsibilities. For many, in defending the rights of strikers, they have drawn on this thinking, characterising the violence and intimidation, as an ‘abuse’ of that right and it is easy to see where this idea stems from.

However, I wholeheartedly disagree. To in any way equate the violence to the strikes, muddies the water on the right of workers to embark on industrial action. I’ll reiterate this point, the violence and intimidation are in no way equitable to the majority of striking workers, who are making use of their right peacefully. The aims behind the two acts may be the same, but one is a legal and constitutionally protected action, the other a nothing more than a mere criminal act. One only hopes that sooner, rather than later, the ANC government and COSATU will realise that by issuing an endless ream of empty statements, they are not protecting the cardinally important right to strike, but rather being its greatest danger.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Barack Obama: Homophobe in Chief…

Judge Vaughn Walker, in handing down his ruling on California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, marked the 4th of August 2010 as yet another historic day in the long battle for the recognition and protection of equal rights in the US. Whether they praised or decried the decision, across America reactions poured in recognising the historic nature of this ruling. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, in her reaction recognised the two basic rights Propostion 8 violated, and referred to it as, “a stain upon the California constitution.” California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself an opponent of Proposition 8, closed his statement saying, “Today’s decision is by no means California’s first milestone, nor our last, on America’s road to equality and freedom for all people.” From President Obama, the silence was deafening. The only reaction was the following statement from a spokesperson, “The President has spoken out in opposition to Proposition 8 because it is divisive and discriminatory. He will continue to promote equality for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transsexual) Americans.”

The reaction from ‘LGBT Americans,’ to that can be characterised overall being a resigned sigh. Murmurs of confusion and discontent on his LGBT credentials have tailed President Obama for a while now. Most of those murmurs, which are now escalating to outright denouncements, have been heard in primary from the LGBT media, but even now, the mainstream media is noticing this spreading zeitgeist.

As ­­­­­­­­­­­­­former Massachusetts State Senator,­ Jarrett Barrios, President of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) questioning whether to accept an invitation to the White House’s first ever event commemorating the Stonewall Riots, the political coming out of the LGBT community put it: “The problem is that I haven’t been as excited as I’d like to be about President Obama. I’d been excited by Candidate Obama. His campaign invited people like me and my husband Doug…into has aspirational vision of America the possible.” In running for office, Barack Obama promised many things, some attainable, some not, but most, falling into a murky grey in-between area. As candidate Obama, his LGBT positions were progressive and sympathetic to the cause, but once President Obama, there has been a marked lack of action on many of these promises.

A sad reality is that in American politics, LGBT issues tend to fall into that murky grey area though there is one that isn’t; ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ (DADT), the US military’s gay-ban. Whilst Obama using presidential powers may not be able to repeal DADT, as the repeal of this policy slowly makes its way through Congress Obama does have the power to stop its implementation, and has he? The answer to that question is a sad, expected and disappointing, no. With 80% of Americans being in favour of a repeal of DADT, scores of mainstream Republicans have also come out in favour of its repeal. This leaves Obama, who in public iterates support for such a move, and has the power to at the least to stop its implementation with the single signing of an executive order, having done nothing to support this policy.

As his time in office passes, the true image of Obama’s views on LGBT issues, despite his stated policies is starting to emerge, and the image, in light of his actions, and inactions, is a disquieting one. However, perhaps even more disquieting is the opinion, that, no, Obama is not putting forth a homophobic agenda, but rather is playing politics with basic civil rights.

In 1996, he is known to have been in favour of gay marriage. However, the higher his political aspirations have been, the further he has shifted from this unpopular position. In 2004, he then was quoted as saying he didn’t support gay marriage, and favoured civil unions, but only for strategic purposes (to advance the cause for equal rights). Though couched in politically correct language, the message is basic and as ugly as it always has been; separate but equal.

But the drift didn’t stop there. By the time he ran for office, he was stating that personally, he believed that marriage ‘is between a man & a woman,’ and that it is a ‘religious’ matter and a ‘state’ issue. Today, we are now in an even more perplexing position. By Sunday, Obama’s administration has to indicate whether it plans to appeal a decision to appeal a ruling that found an element of yet another odious piece of homophobic legislation, the Defence of Marriages Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. Disappointingly, the signs are that they will, despite, yet again, Obama’s official policy being that DOMA should be repealed.

In a memorable, though nonetheless contrived piece of dialogue, from The Interpreter, Nicole Kidman’s character opines to Sean Penn’s that she is ‘disappointed,’ in the politician the movie revolves around. He replies; “Disappointed is a lover’s word.” He’s right, ‘disappointed’ is a lover’s word. That ‘disappointed’ is a word that is often used in describing Barack Obama by the left of American politics and specifically the LGBT community is telling.

Whilst to call him ‘homophobe in chief,’ may be too early a call to make, and one to harsh to be ever made, the facts are as follows. Obama presented himself as someone who could be relied on to advance the LGBT cause, that his election to the Presidency and the passing of Proposition 8 came on the same night, lessened the blow of Proposition 8. However, nearing two years into his Presidency, it is time that some serious focus is placed on this image. He says the right things, but it’s time to recognise the reality; his inactions and most damning, his actions speak volumes. Perhaps it is time for the LGBT Americans to take that disappointment and channel it into a politician who will champion the LGBT cause with real action, not just one who does so with soaring, inspiring, yet ultimately and disappointingly, empty rhetoric.