COSATU May Day Statement 2023

The Congress of South African Trade Unions is calling on all workers across all sectors of the economy and in all corners of the country to come out in their numbers to celebrate this year’s International Workers Day “May Day” on the 1st of May 2023. Our federation is celebrating this year’s May Day under the theme; Build Working Class Unity for Economic Liberation towards Socialism”.

The Federation shall be convening marches and rallies across eight provinces in commemoration of the struggles, sacrifices, and victories of the workers. Our National May Day rally will be in Bethlehem Showgrounds in the Free State Province. The main rally will be addressed by the President of COSATU Cde Zingiswa Losi, the President of the ANC Cde Cyril Ramaphosa, and the General Secretary of the SACP Cde Solly Mapaila.

This important worker’s day originates over 137 years ago in 1886, when workers stood up and demanded eight hours of work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. Like those pioneers who took a stand against slave working conditions, this May Day presents us with an opportunity to reflect and commit ourselves again to the ongoing fight against slave wages, retrenchments, and poor working conditions.

This will also be an opportunity for workers to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Saulspoort Bus Disaster which left 51 workers dead after their bus plunged into a dam in 2003. These workers remain dear to our hearts and will never be forgotten.

This is the first May Day of the 14th National Congress which was clear on the need to build unity among workers, in general. We are dedicated to fostering a spirit of solidarity and cooperation amongst all unions, inside and outside of COSATU.  We are pleased with the work being done by our Affiliates to build unity on the ground across unions and across Federations.

Workers cannot afford to be divided when they are under siege.  The message during this year’s May Day is that we must cherish, defend, and constantly invest in our unity.  It is our key weapon as we wage working-class struggles.

We need to unite against rising extreme poverty, unprecedented levels of unemployment, deteriorating public services and elite corruption.

We need to work together to deal with the rising cost of living and levels of indebtedness among workers.  We are calling on all unions to cooperate and work together during this year’s round of wage negotiations to fight for decent wages for the workers.

Workers deserve decent wages that will keep up with inflation so that they can afford to put food on the table and feed and clothe their families. Our priority should be a pushback against the electricity and petrol price increases.

We need to unite to fight against the government’s formulaic persistence with neo-liberal macroeconomic fiscal and monetary policies that have left many living lives of brute survival.

The immediate objectiveof macro-economic stability as a mechanism to underpin the main objective, development, has become inverted; containing expenditure, taxes and the budget deficit increasingly took primary over utilizing the budget to redress the country’s social deficit.

Workers need to work together to push for the necessary financial and management interventions to rebuild embattled State-Owned Enterprises, many of which are in free fall.  These SOEs are retrenching workers at an alarming rate. 

The rapid deterioration of many municipalities with 90% now in severe financial distress; and 27 municipalities in the Northern and Eastern Cape, North-West, and Free State and more recently also in Limpopo and Gauteng routinely failing to pay their staff is a huge challenge for workers.  This collapse of local government is forcing many rural businesses to close and retrench workers. 

Workers need to unite to fight fiscal austerity and the attempts by the government to outsource the bill for corruption and mismanagement to ordinary workers. Public servants, like other workers, are drowning in debt and over the past few years have seen their wages being eroded by inflation. 

Both the employed and the unemployed need to fight together to force the government to offer meaningful relief to the poor and unemployed and end load-shedding.

Workers need to remain battle ready for the massive attempt to privatise all SOEs.The argument that markets and private investment are inherently more efficient than public-sector delivery does not reflect South African realities. South Africa has a very high unemployment rate and if the government were to privatise strategic SOEs, it will be, literally, abandoning the poor and the unemployed to the vagaries of the market.

COSATU will continue to lead workers in defence of jobs and a capacitated developmental state. We will continue to push for the expansion of the Presidential Employment Stimulus to create work opportunities for young people and the retention and expansion of the SRD Grant as a foundation for a Basic Income Grant. 

We need to have a discussion on overhauling our skills development regime to ensure workers can not only find jobs in the economy of today but also tomorrow as the 4th industrial revolution gathers momentum.  We will continue to push to strengthen our labour laws to protect workers from naked exploitation and have scored positive victories recently with the President’s signing the Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases and the Employment Equity Amendment Acts into law. 

The Federation will intensify its efforts to ensure that the Treasury meets its commitment to legislative amendments allowing workers early access to their pension funds by the 1st of March 2024.  We will continue to push Parliament to adopt the NHI and Expropriation Bills by November 2023 as part of ensuring that we uplift the lives of the working class.

As we map the way forward, we should remember the words of Former NUM General Secretary Cde Cyril Ramaphosa when delivering a keynote speech to the 1st COSATU Congress, when he said of COSATU; “We all agree that the struggle of workers on the shop floor cannot be separated from the wider struggle for liberation. The Important question we have to ask ourselves Is how is COSATU going to contribute to the struggles for liberation. As unions, we have sought to develop a consciousness among workers, not only of racial oppression but also of their exploitation as a working class. As unions, we have Influenced the wider political struggle. Our struggles on the shop floor have widened the space for struggles in the community. Through interaction with community organisations, we have developed the principle of worker-controlled democratic organisation. But our main political task as workers is to develop organisation among workers as well as a strong worker leadership. We have, as unions, to act decisively to ensure workers, lead the struggle. Our most urgent task is to develop unity among workers. We wish COSATU to give firm political direction to workers. If workers are to lead the struggle for liberation we have to win the confidence of other sectors of society. But if we are to get into alliances with other progressive organisations, it must be on terms that are favourable to us as workers … Our role in the political struggle will depend on our organisational strength …… COSATU is going to determine the direction of the working class in this country”.

We reiterate our call on the workers to come out in their numbers on the 01st of May to commemorate this important workers’ day.

Issued by COSATU

Sizwe Pamla (COSATU National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794