Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

South Africa: The Beggar-Thy-Neighbour Outcomes of Strike Season

analysis

The Numsa strike in the automotive sector has been called off after an enervating couple of weeks for the sector.

The petrol pump attendants' strike (and subsequent settlement) followed a similar trajectory: a labour dispute that dragged on for weeks before employers agreed to double-digit wage increases. There's another important feature that both industries share: employees' wages are partly subsidised through the fiscus.

This means that the unemployed are subsidising the wages of the employed, albeit indirectly and partially.

There's been a fair bit of debate in the media about poverty, unemployment and inequality in the last few weeks. Some commentators have claimed that inequality is not a serious problem and that unemployment is the bugbear and the boggart to be tackled.

Others believe that inequality is a grievous threat to social stability and cannot be ignored.

The debate is seemingly without end or resolution. The differing sides can't agree on which social ill should be made a priority, nor can they find consensus on who is to blame for our record level of inequality and rate of unemployment.

It might not be constructive to view the economy as a zero-sum game, but it's not far off...

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