All workers must join national shutdown – COSATU

Federation says the lives of the working class and the working poor have become one long emergency

COSATU statement on the upcoming socioeconomic strike on the 24 August 2022

18 August 2022

The Congress of South African Trade Unions is issuing a call to all workers and South Africans to join a National Strike next week Wednesday (24 August 2022). The intention of the strike is to demand urgent action from policymakers and decision makers to take drastic steps to avoid an economic collapse that is threatening the lives of millions of workers and the poor.

This is a legally protected strike that is meant to pile pressure on both government and the private sector to fix the economic mess that the country finds itself. 

Currently, half the country lives in poverty with many families forced to live without adequate food, and many of them cannot find jobs. Workers are dealing with wage stagnation with their wages repealed by inflation and punishing debt.

Since the onset of this current capitalist crisis, the ruling elites have implemented reckless budget cuts and imposed extreme sacrifices on the workers. There has been a blatant attempt to erode workers’ hard-won rights and reverse the gains of democracy.

At present, the lives of the working class and the working poor have become one long emergency, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse. The growing frustration in the country is mainly being fuelled by policies that favour the elite and that are coloured by an animus towards the poor.  

For this to change, decisionmakers will have to first acknowledge that poverty is not accidental, but it flows from the logic of the capitalist system. This capitalist system has been propped up by government policies for over a quarter of a century.

To fix this, there is a need to dispense with the illusory assumption that the state is above class conflict. The current socio-economic situation reflects the class character of the policies that have been implemented by the state since 1996.

The state is a powerful force with a lot of influence. It holds monopoly to tax, print money and to engage in borrowing on behalf of the country. It influences who has access to national productive resources and also determines how those resources are deployed and used. It is within this context that the role of the state should be understood and framed.  The current problems cannot be fixed by the private sector but by an assertive state working with the private sector.

The country needs a new public sector model that will refrain from commodifying public services like health, education, and that does not treat citizens as “customers” or “clients” in the practice of the delivery of public services.

We cannot continue with a system of tender and procurement contracts between the state and private businesses (both black and white) that has spawned an industry of corruption and fraud. This system has seen many senior leaders, in government, advancing their own narrow personal or some nepotistic interests.

If we had a functioning judicial and legislative system, hundreds or even thousands of leaders in the public and the private sector will be in jail for plundering the country.  More must be done to rebuild the capacity of our law enforcement regime, including reversing the loss of 25 000 SAPS members over the past five (5) years. We demand the appointment of competent persons to the NPA and the prioritisation of corruption cases. We reiterate our call for SARS to conduct lifestyle audits for politicians and senior management in the state.

We are going on strike to demand the reversal of budget cuts that have led to an unacceptable wage freeze in the public service, the disintegration of the State-Owned Companies and collapse of public services. 

We will also be calling on the private sector to abandon its investment strike that has seen many companies either hoarding or exporting cash out of the country, despite receiving generous tax cuts and other incentives to invest back into the economy. 

The government and the private sector need to work with Organised Labour to accelerate the implementation of the progressive commitments of the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan. The focus should be on unlocking resources to stimulate the economy, ramping up local procurement, fast tracking the infrastructure investment programme, providing economic and social relief, and rebuilding the capacity of the state.

Whilst we rebuild the state and stimulate the economy, it’s critical that workers’ hard won labour rights are respected by both government as an employer and the private sector.  This includes honouring signed collective agreements, such as the last leg of the 2018 public service wage agreement. 

The chaos disrupting the payment of the SRD Grants to its 10 million recipients must be fixed now.  The government must invest in the capacity of the CCMA, UIF and Compensation of Injury on Duty Fund to enable them to provide live support to workers and the economy.

We demand that government act decisively to fix the inefficiencies of the state and the scourge of corruption in both the public and the private sector. 

The Federation is calling for an investigation of the retail and pharmaceutical sectors for price gouging that is compounding the existing inequality and poverty. 

Private sector cartels have stolen billions of rands from businesses, taxpayers, and ultimately from consumers. They have distorted economic markets and have strangled the competition.  

We demand that government use the upcoming Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) to abandon the current draconian budget cuts and move away from the current Neoliberal macroeconomic policy framework. Workers want government to introduce strong interventionist measures in the economy in line with our perspective of a progressive developmental state. 

This includes the release of the research report that was conducted by the Department of Energy looking into the possibility of a fuel price cap.

The higher fuel and electricity prices have worsened an already bad situation and are retarding economic recovery. They have weakened the workers buying power and eroded their wages in the context of unemployment and wage cuts.

The Ministry of Transport needs to return to Parliament both the RAF and Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bills for finalisation. These two bills were meant to set the RAF back onto a sustainable path, and to ensure that payments reach claimants, and not fuel an unscrupulous legal industry that is treating RAF as a lucrative cash cow.

Currently, increasing the fuel levy only serves to feed a bankrupt Road Accident Fund that has been mismanaged into the ground. The RAF’s deficit of almost R400 billion is the greatest threat to the fiscus after Eskom’s debt burden.

We also demand that the Energy Department revives its solar panel programme for indigent households, as such measures can help ease the pressures of electricity demand and cushion the poor from these steep price increases. 

The government and the private sector need to honour their commitments under the Eskom Social Compact, in particular reducing its debt by half. This would enable the power utility to ramp up its maintenance programme and invest in its own renewable energy generation capacity.

Workers reiterate their demand for government to deliver a reliable, affordable, and integrated public transport system. This is crucial for enhancing local economic development and eliminating the apartheid spatial challenges.  Most citizens, especially those in rural areas, cannot access social services such as health because of lack of transportation.

We remain staunchly opposed to the privatisation of State-Owned Companies. Privatisation widens inequality and takes resources from the poor and hand them over to the rich.  A new model for our embattled SOEs is needed, this must include reorienting them to meet changes in their sectors. This also includes adequate allocation of the necessary financial and other support and appointment of competent management.

South Africans cannot continue to watch their children go hungry, and their loved ones suffer and die because they can’t get proper medical care. They cannot tolerate being betrayed by a police force and a court system designed to only railroad the poor into jails and prisons, while allowing the powerful to roam free. They cannot continue to watch the rich profit from their misery.

We expect government to stop bringing a bandage to a problem that needs a cure. Failure to act will see these huge social divides, that are largely built around race, being used by populist demagogues to divert a legitimate rage by a betrayed working class to set neighbour against neighbour. We have already seen the emergence of social movements that are fomenting xenophobia and divisions. The South African government has been warned.

Issued by Sizwe Pamla, National Spokesperson, COSATU, 18 August 2022