MILLIONS of South African workers and youth on Wednesday took part in a national strike called by the country’s two largest trade union federations, COSATU and SAFTU over the rising cost of living.
The strikers marched to Union Buildings, the seat of government in the capital, Pretoria, while demonstrations were also staged in various cities across the country.
The striking unions want the government to address what they say is a socio-economic crisis facing South Africans.
A crowd of more than 300 supporters in Cape Town made their way from the gathering point in Hanover Street to the Civic Centre on Wednesday.
Frustrated supporters earlier during the day said that they were under immense financial pressure and urged the country’s leaders to come to their rescue.
Among a list of demands, the South African Liberated Public Sector Workers Union (SALIPSWU) have called for more job creation and a basic income grant of R1,500 and were participating in the picket led by Cosatu and Saftu.
Supporters of the march started to gather in Hanover Street, in Cape Town, on Wednesday.
Police and traffic officers had taken up positions in Hanover Street, ahead of the march.
Protesters nevertheless made their way through the City of Cape Town, towards the Provincial Legislature and Parliament.
Supporters had started arrived on Wednesday morning, ahead of the march.
SALIPSWU members have made their demands clear. ‘Jobs to end unemployment and decent jobs for all, and number two – we are saying to the government we need the basic income grant of R 1500 to address the levels of poverty amongst the unemployed,’ explained SALIPSWU provincial secretary, Bongani Ndlywati
COSATU’s picket, calling for a better public transport system, started at the Prasa office on Wednesday afternoon.
Protesters in KwaZulu-Natal marched to the Durban City Hall as part of Wednesday’s national shutdown over the rising cost of living.
The Dr Pixley Ka Seme Street in Durban which also happens to be the busiest road in the economic hub was painted red.
Unions – COSATU, SADTU, DENOSA and SACP marched to the Durban City Hall joined by student organisations SASACO and COSAS.
Protesters carried placards calling for more employment opportunities while others were demanding salary increases.
The marchers delivered a memorandum at the Durban City Hall.
Announcing the national strike, SAFTU had said that its 2nd National Congress in May ‘stated that “We declare that we must seek to work together, in solidarity, with other trade union federations, unions, and other worker-oriented organisations to protect workers against consistent and unrelenting attacks from capitalists and their system. We need unity in action – on the ground – not just simply declared”.’
It added: ‘A second National Working Class Summit was convened on the 5th August, to discuss the proposal and the tentative date earmarked by the SAFTU NEC: 24 August.
‘Over two hundred working class formations and pro-worker non-governmental organisations and social movements, unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed the call made by SAFTU. Countless left-leaning political parties have also endorsed the call for a national shutdown including the EFF, the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, the Azanian People’s Organisation, the Workers and Socialist Party, etc.
‘The decision to hold a general strike/stayaway/national shutdown comes as a result of the worsening socio-economic conditions for the working class and the marginalised poor communities.
‘The cost of living is rising. Corruption and the neoliberal policies of the ANC, have compromised the provision of public services. Unemployment has soared. And the government is accelerating the offensive on public corporations in the form of commercialisation, outsourcing and privatisation.
‘The cost of a standard basic food basket has increased by 46,5% since December 2019, and as a result, the average household grocery bill today is R4 748.
Electricity tariffs increased by a combined 507% between 2007 and 2022. The high electricity tariffs over the period have been driven up by government’s bid to offer conducive conditions for profitability, and to attract private investments in electricity generation as envisioned in their White Paper on Energy in 1998.
These astronomical increases in electricity tariffs have caused strife across all municipalities, for example causing the people of Tembisa to go on strike late last month, as the national Treasury imposed a new, more neoliberal electricity pricing scheme.
In Msunduzi Municipality, it costs R787,50 per month for a household to consume 350 kWh of electricity. In the Ekurhuleni Metro, where 1 kilowatt per hour of electricity costs R2,95 per kWh, consuming 350kWh of electricity costs R1 032 per month.
‘Electricity disconnections under Eskom’s 2020 policy of “load reduction” targets communities with large low-income populations for collective punishment, in a policy known by communities as “energy racism.”
Petrol and transport costs
‘Petrol prices have now reached unprecedented levels with a litre of 93 unleaded petrol costing R26,31 in July, and marginally reduced to R24,99. This represents a 66% increase since March 2020.
‘Petrol price increases have consequently caused commuter transport costs to increase by an average of 26.3% since December 2019. The National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) reported that the total monthly cost of taxis as a mode of transport to work increased by R168 from R468 in 2013 to R636 in 2020. For buses, the transport increased by R158.’
SAFTU noted: ‘Today, 80% of workers use taxis to and from work, given that the ANC government’s corrupt management of PRASA and metrorail services – and failure to provide security across the tracks – have collapsed much of the once-inexpensive commuter rail system.
‘Yet the taxi industry, unlike buses and the elite Gautrain, are not receiving a subsidy from the government. This has to change, for the sake of poor and working people who depend upon kombi taxis, and because subsidising this form of transport could offset the petrol price increases.’
SAFTU stressed: ‘The buying power of workers’ wages has been declining whilst the cost of living has been rising sharply.
‘That is why we need to fight for a living wage, since the current national minimum wage of R23,19, per hour, which is R3 895,92 for workers working 21 days per month, is R800 less than the cost of the household food groceries.
‘In addition to the declining value of the buying power of wages as a result of these wage cuts and below inflation wage increases, the catastrophic level of unemployment makes it even more difficult for households to cope.’
SAFTU added: ‘The strike is also geared to protest against privatisation of the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in particular the unbundling of Eskom and fresh moves to unbundle and privatise Transnet, the drive to defund and collapse the Post Office, PRASA, Denel, PetroSAA and the privatisation of SAA.
Government must invest in the SOEs, and halt the current practice: defunding them, thus letting them fail to operate properly, and then auctioning them at a very low price to private capital.
‘In addition, general government expenditure must be increased so that public service workers can get proper increases, and public institutions can hire more teachers, nurses, doctors, police and correctional officers, social workers and other public servants.’
Defending migrant workers SAFTU said: ‘The social crisis of capitalism cannot be solved by one section of the working class blaming another, but by working class people uniting on a common programme to resist and fight back corruption, neoliberal budget cuts and capitalism itself.
‘Our national shutdown is organised to show the working class the way of fighting back, and politically unite them in action.’