SACP threatens mass action over Eskom price hikes

The South African Communist Party (SACP) on Friday threatened to “take to the streets” in protest against South African power utility Eskom’s proposed electricity hikes.

“We will announce in due course a rolling mass-action programme to stop this neo-liberal attack on the quality of life of South Africans,” the SACP said in a statement.

The party’s statement follows threats by trade unions earlier this week to embark on a strike should the government not declare a moratorium on electricity tariff hikes.

Eskom asked the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) to revise the electricity price hike for 2008/09 from 14,2% to a 53% increase, or a 60% nominal increase (i.e. including inflation).

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) have already applied for section 77 notices, which would allow them to embark on protected protest action

“The recent proposal by Eskom to the energy regulator to increase user fees by close to 60% has not only angered the SACP but exposed a serious underlying crisis at Eskom,” the SACP said, adding that it fully supported the call by Cosatu for a moratorium on these planned increases.

“Over the past months we have been given one explanation after the other about the electricity crisis [and] affirmations of plans to expand and stabilise our electricity supply, only to pass the buck to the poor and the working class of our country,” the party said.

Both Cosatu and Fedusa have stressed the impact the proposed electricity tariff hikes would have on the poor.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said that the section 77 notices would give the unions a legal basis for protest action, which may include a strike.

The unions met with the government at the National Economic Development and Labour Council on Wednesday afternoon to discuss what they call “shocking” increases.

Cosatu has asked for the establishment of a task team to deal with the electricity crisis.

Eskom’s 14,2% increase comes into effect next week Tuesday, and the utility is reportedly demanding that consumers be forced to make back-payments if the revised tariffs are not granted immediately.

Sunday newspapers suggested that this could result in cash-strapped consumers having to cough up close to 70% extra for electricity later this year.

The unions said workers were already battling with high fuel and food prices and could not be burdened with unfair increases. — I-Net Bridge

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Sherilee Bridge
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