The Congress of South African Trade Unions salutes and congratulates the thousands of workers, who took time this past Tuesday to participate in this year’s nationwide COSATU May Day celebrations. The federation again proved its capacity to mobilise across the country and in all corners of the republic. We again pay homage to the victims of the Bethlehem bus crash, where 53 COSATU members perished on their way to QwaQwa, when their bus drove into a dam near Bethlehem, Free State on 1 May 2003. We will never forget those workers and May Day is a sad reminder of that tragedy.
The turnout on May Day demonstrated the amount of work that has gone into ensuring that COSATU remains united organisation that is characterised by discipline. We commend the workers for showing marvellous discipline and for embracing the concept of worker unity. We are committed to continue to build a COSATU, whose influence on society remains based on its organised power, its capacity to mobilise, its socio – economic programme and policies and its participation in political and social alliances.
We remain true to our constitution and founding principles of one Country – One Federation, One Union – One Industry, Paid Up Membership, Worker Control , worker Solidarity, non -racialism and Unity.
We are unapologetic in our belief that factory-based struggles cannot be divorced from politics. Even from a pure working class and economic position, we believe it is completely wrong to only limit workers to factory-based issues. Politics determines who holds state power; who makes the laws; who controls the police, the courts, the army and prisons. All these issues affect workers everyday and cannot be ignored. Without addressing these questions the factory gains made by workers will be in danger of being wiped out.
We have learned from our common, painful experiences that we can win battles on wage increases at the work-place level, only to have those eroded by increases in transport costs, municipal fee rates, increase in electricity tariffs, food, children’s educational fees, tax, erosion of pension funds through rising costs of living, etc. It is for these reasons that from the onset, COSATU decided to participate in the political sphere. We are unshaken members of the Alliance because all our struggles are political in nature.
National Minimum Wage
The debate around the Minimum Wage over the last couple of years has been heated, antagonistic and sometimes downright acrimonious.COSATU has been at the forefront of the debate and has been relentless in its campaign for the adoption of a legislated national minimum wage. We have fielded attacks and pushback from Big Business, Government Political Parties and trade unions in the process. They have all attacked the idea of a minimum wage for different reasons but we remain untiring in our quest to ensure that we ultimately have a legislated National Minimum Wage.
We have consistently argued that while the figure of R3 500 was a clear rejection of the figure of R2000 that was first proposed by both government and big business, it still fell short of the federation’s initial proposed figure of R4 500.
We continue to acknowledge that the figure of R3 500 does not address the minimum living standards of an average South African household. We are not indifferent to some people’s legitimate frustrations and unhappiness with the proposed R3500 figure given the high cost of living for workers. But what we find most scandalous though is the fact that currently around half of all workers are earning below this figure.
We continue to argue that anything above the figure of R3500, no matter how inadequate, will have a material impact on improving the wages of half of South African workers, or 6 million of our brutally exploited workers. This figure will give us a significant starting base and something to work with as we continue to negotiate and fight our way towards a living wage.
A cursory examination of the lofty formulations of some of the critics reveals that they take a reductionist and populist view in rejecting the Minimum Wage, while they contribute very little by way of solutions. The problem with political tribalism is that it breeds the fallacy of composition, where we end up dismissing an entire idea or concept on the grounds of one or two components we don’t like. The federation is of the view that very little will be achieved in an environment where people are unable to offer cogent facts to support their positions.
Some of the most vocal critics of the minimum wage are people who have done nothing themselves, and whose only contributions are their complaints and moral exhibitionism. It’s all a very well being publicly and fashionably militant about the national minimum wage but it does not solve the economic facts that have to be factored in when talking about the minimum wage. Ours is part of a globalised capitalist system and we need to acknowledge that workers are already being replaced by mechanisation and automation. As and when we take decisions ,we have a responsibility to think about the unemployed and the possible blowback effects of our decisions. We need to tell workers the truth and not be tempted to claim easy victories.
A NMW is not a silver bullet by itself but needs to be combined with developmental labour market and economic policies, which tackle the cheap labour basis of our economy. A meaningful National Minimum Wage must be an important element of a new wage policy, which begins to recognise the dignity of every worker in our society, and overcomes the legacy of apartheid wage structures. The struggle for a Living Wage will be a long and difficult one, which includes the struggle for affordable basic services, transport and food, and decent wages and working conditions and will only be achieved through the collective power of workers.
COSATU is calling on the CEO’s of Bus Companies to return back to the negotiating table with a new offer to break the current impasse. The indifference and intransigence of the Bus companies amounts to economic sabotage. Government needs to convene the CEO’s and tell them to accede to the workers demands or the subsidies they enjoy will be withdrawn for the period they are not transporting anyone. The rise of the prices of basic necessities dictates that salaries of workers are also increased to ensure that they are able to provide for their families.
We call on all communities especially commuters to support the strike in order to ensure that it ends as soon as possible. We shall be convening a meeting of union presidents and General Secretaries to explore a solidarity strike.
Public Service Wage Negotiations
COSATU calls on government to return back to the negotiating table and present a new offer that is worth the consideration by the workers. A public service strike will be calamitous for the poor people, who rely on government services for their daily survival. We commend all public sector unions under both COSATU and Independent Labour Caucus (ILC) for maintaining their unity at the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC). We urge all workers to participate in the planned pickets as a way of mobilising for a possible strike. We continue to urge the public service unions to maintain their unity and push back against the employer and make sure that they get workers what is due to them.
Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)
Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794