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Strikes Spread as Political Situation Deteriorates With AM-South Africa, Bjt

June 26, 1992

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ As South Africa’s political crisis heats up, so does its labor unrest, with strikes hitting everywhere from hospitals to cinemas.

Thousands of marching strikers have blocked traffic in major cities. Hospitals canceled non-urgent surgery. TV viewers looking for the Zulu- language news this week found reruns of a cultural dance show.

Almost all the strikers are black, and many strikes are linked to a protest campaign launched by the African National Congress this month. All, including the apolitical strikes, reflect the country’s dismal economic situation and black workers’ growing impatience for financial as well as political equality.

″The mood is peaking so fast that it would be silly not to harness it,″ said Neil Coleman, a spokesman for the ANC-aligned Congress of South African Trade Unions.

Inflation is running at 16 percent, unemployment has been estimated at 40 percent, and most blacks with jobs are in the lowest-paying, unskilled positions.

″Most white workers have never been ill-treated and disadvantaged. In short, one could say they are not directly feeling the pinch,″ said Themba Hlatshwayo, assistant general secretary of the Media Workers Association of South Africa.

The mostly black union went on strike May 18 demanding a higher minimum wage and a 20 percent pay increase from the government-run South African Broadcasting Corp.

The strike, affecting news anchors, cameramen, and other studio workers, has resulted in African-language newscasts being replaced by timeworn tapes of cultural dancing and singing.

The biggest strike by far involves about 30,000 unskilled state health workers, such as hospital porters and cleaners, who want more money, better job security, and benefits.

Nearly every day brings new strikes, threats, or traffic-stopping marches.

On Thursday, the National Union of Mineworkers threatened a strike by its 300,000 members unless wage demands were met.

On Friday, the union halted wage negotiations after learning that a mining house rented space to policemen from a notorious paramilitary unit implicated in the June 17 massacre of 42 blacks.

Also Friday, workers at several Johannesburg movie theaters began a strike for more pay, and about 1,000 striking health workers marched on Parliament in Cape Town.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, a coalition of labor groups claiming to represent 1.25 million workers, will hold a conference next week in an attempt to bolster labor’s stance against the government.

COSATU and the ANC also plan to call a nationwide general strike soon to press their demands for the government’s resignation.

Tens of thousands of workers have held marches nearly every day in Johannesburg and Cape Town to show solidarity with the ANC, the main black opposition group.

Update hourly