COSATU General Secretary Solly Phetoe: Message of Support to SACP’s 2023-2024 Red October Campaign on the Rising Cost of Living Launch

Programme Director,

Leadership of the SACP, ANC and COSATU,


We are pleased to join you today in this important launch of the South African Communist Party’s Red October Campaign against the rising cost of living.  Rest assured that the Congress of South African Trade Unions supports this critical campaign in defence of the working class.

It is no exaggeration to say that the working class is under siege.  We have seen the international oil price rise because of the war in Ukraine and profiteering by the oil producing states at the expense of the working class and the developing world. 

This is what has pushed our petrol price to an all time high of R25 a litre and from October it is likely to go up by another R2.  This has pushed up the cost of transport, electricity, food and other essential goods. 

We have seen the cost of electricity increase by 18% this year and 12% next year, yet Eskom continues to struggle to provide reliable electricity.

Workers’ wages are not keeping pace with inflation.  As inflation rises, the Reserve Bank has increased the repo rate by 475 basis points over the past 18 months, making it even more difficult for workers to take care of their families and survive.

COSATU has managed to ensure at the National Minimum Wage Commission that the National Minimum Wage benefiting 6 million workers has continuously been increased by above inflation adjustments. 

We are worried that many employers continue to ignore it.  We must be on the ground as unions to expose and hold such employers to account.  The Department of Employment and Labour needs to deploy labour inspectors to work with COSATU in tackling such employers.

The rising costs of living is a reminder why it is so important that we as COSATU and our Alliance partners defend and strengthen collective bargaining.  It is workers’ most important tool to defend their rights and improve their wages and working conditions. 

We have seen our unions time and again scoring important victories and winning positive wage increases for workers in our collective bargaining councils.

This is why we are so disappointed when our own comrades from the Alliance deployed to government undermine collective bargaining in the public service and local government.  It is wrong and it must end.

There is little government can do to end the war in Ukraine or control the international oil price, but it can and must reduce the 28% of the fuel price that goes to taxes.  Treasury did this in 2022.  It is a fast and effective way to provide relief to workers and the economy and reduce inflation. 

A major part of the fuel taxes is used to bail out the Road Accident Fund which is in permanent chaos with liabilities exceeding R400 billion.  It is time that the RAF is put under administration and the RAF and RABS Bills are brought to Parliament to ensure that it is put on a sustainable path and less dependent upon fuel levy hikes.

Government needs to intervene to stabilise and rebuild Transnet.  It is key to the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors and millions of jobs.  An efficient Transnet will unlock economic growth and help protect food from inflation.

Similar interventions are needed at Metro Rail which is key to transporting 10 million commuters in our cities to work, schools and universities.  More support is needed for public transport, including taxis, to make it affordable for workers to get to work.

COSATU is pleased that government has agreed to our proposals for it to take over two thirds of Eskom’s debt to enable it to shift its resources to reducing and ending loadshedding. 

Eskom, Transnet, Metro Rail and other key State-Owned Enterprises need more support from government to tackle corruption and wasteful expenditure as well as cable theft, vandalism, arson and other acts of criminality.

We as workers and members of communities must play our part and expose those among who are part of the corruption and criminality crippling our SOEs and the state.

COSATU is engaging the ANC and government on measures to protect the unemployed and workers from the rising cost of living.  Key interventions that we are negotiating for in the Alliance, Nedlac and Parliament include:

·       Raise the SRD Grant to recover value lost to inflation and raise it to the food poverty line.

·       Fast track the 2 pot pension reform amendment bills allowing struggling workers early access to a part of their pension funds from 1 March 2024.

·       Fill key public service front line service vacancies.

·       Reinforce and not cut critical public services.

·       Scrap VAT and the retail mark up for 10 key food items to ensure working class families can enough nutritious food.

·       Expand the Presidential Employment Stimulus to help more young people earn a living, enter the labour market and gain experience and skills needed to find permanent employment.

If government is to afford and sustain these progressive programmes to help the poor it needs to fix Eskom, Transnet, other embattles SOEs and local government and restore key public services.  Imposing reckless austerity budget cuts, freezing posts and infrastructure programmes will suffocate an already fragile economy.

If these interventions are undertaken, the economy can grow and unemployment fall.  Creating jobs is key to ensuring that working class families can survive.

Parliament needs to finalise the Expropriation Bill which will help government fast track land reform.  Working class families need access to land to build decent homes, plant their own food and create businesses to empower their families.

The Competition Commission must be firm when dealing with monopolies who collude and manipulate prices in pursuit of profits at the expense of the poor.

We welcome President, comrade Cyril Ramaphosa’s signing the Postbank Bill into law on Friday.  This lays the foundation for a state bank that will serve the poor. 

But a law on its own is not enough.  The Postbank requires competent management, a new board, recapitalisation and for the state to support it as its bank of choice.

We as workers must play our part to in growing the economy and supporting local jobs.  We must buy locally produced food, clothes, shoes, furniture and cars.  Laziness to check the labels when we go to the shops is not an excuse. 

Local goods are among the best in the world.  We need to show solidarity to the workers who produce these goods and buy them.  We need to ensure as unions that our workplaces only buy locally made goods.

It is time that government and the manufacturing industry move towards electric trains, busses, car, motorcycles and bicycles.  This will protect the nation from the ever rising cost of oil.  It will reduce pollution and improve our air.  It means Eskom must be helped to provide reliable and affordable electricity.

Allow me to conclude by reminding you that we are preparing for the most contested elections in 7 months.  Whilst the ANC has made mistakes, it has also achieved many victories for workers, from our progressive labour laws to the 60% of the budget that is spent on social grants, free education and housing and the broader social wage. 

With all of its faults, the ANC is the only party in the elections that has shown itself to champion working class interests and to be a reliable ally to COSATU and workers. 

It is COSATU and workers who built the ANC and ensured the 1994 democratic breakthrough and all the gains we have won since and that we must still win.

We cannot afford to hand over power to the enemies of the working class.  Let us go out to communities and campaign for an outright majority for the Alliance across the nation in the 2024 elections. 

Workers are depending upon us.  We dare not fail them.

Thank you.  Matla!