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Strike by S. African Public Workers Poised to Spread to Private Sector

In South Africa, more than 1 million workers in the private sector have been told to prepare to strike next week Wednesday in sympathy with striking public servants. The call by the powerful COSATU confederation would extend the work stoppage to important sectors of the economy such as mining and manufacturing. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

The secretary general of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Zwelazima Vavi, said COSATU was calling its private sector members to strike next Wednesday. He said it was to show support for several hundred thousand teachers, health and government workers in the public sector whose work stoppage is affecting all workers.

"The children of the workers are unable to go to school and the workers are being inconvenienced in all other public institutions," he said. "And therefore, it is in the best interests of the health of the workers in the private sector to get a solution to this. They want to play a role."

COSATU says it has 1.8 million members. It groups 21 unions, including the public servant unions currently on strike and powerful unions in the important mining and manufacturing sectors.

However, some of some COSATU members in essential services such as law enforcement are forbidden by law from striking.

Unions representing public servants went on strike last Friday demanding a 12 percent wage increase. They have rejected the government's offer of a 6.5 percent increase.

The unions say they will expand the strike to the entire public service beginning Friday, when the two sides are to hold another round of negotiations.

The strike has shut many public schools and crippled operations at public hospitals and government offices around the country. Members of the military have been called in to help in some hospitals.

Some incidents of intimidation have been reported but the strike for the most part has been orderly.

COSATU is a political ally of the governing African National Congress but it has criticized the South African government for ignoring the needs of workers and the poor in favor of business.