Cosatu strikes out at high office

Economic policy change the core motivation for labour mass action, says general secretary

Top Cosatu leaders have requested an urgent meeting with President Jacob Zuma and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in a bid to find a political solution to the crippling public-service strike by more than one million workers, Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday.

Labour unions announced they would embark on an indefinite strike this week after workers rejected the government’s revised offer of a 7% salary increase and R700 housing allowance. Unions are demanding an 8,6% salary increase and a housing allowance of R1 000.

“We are working very hard to find a political solution to resolve the impasse,” Dlamini said. “We are meeting political leaders and Cabinet ministers. We are engaging every high office in the country to find a political solution.”

Dlamini blamed Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi for his premature public announcement last week about government’s decision to raise the wage offer from 6,5% to 7% without first engaging union leaders.

“Mismanagement on their side has landed us where we are today,” he said.

The public-service strike is seen as a strategy by Cosatu to put the ANC under pressure to review its economic policies ahead of the party’s national general council next month.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said this week the federation did not support the current ANC leadership under Zuma at Polokwane just so that it could maintain the neo-liberal policies of former president Thabo Mbeki’s regime.

Speaking at Numsa’s political school, Vavi said: “Two years after Polokwane, we have nothing to celebrate. We lost more than 1,1-million jobs. As a result, 5,5-million South Africans have been pushed into poverty.”

There is no genuine black economic empowerment, Vavi said.

“Job losses continue and might do so in the next few years ... We have been told an industrial policy is coming, but nothing comes.”

The fact that a quarter of the population relied on grants suggested the country was “in a deep crisis”, Vavi told Numsa delegates. “Of course the strike is political. It is workers making political statements.”

Dlamini said that until the government tackled its economic policies, the living condition of workers would remain the same. “If you have public servants who are not happy, how do you expect to deal with issues of service delivery effectively?

The cost of living is too high for workers. Economic policy is a problem. It has to be reviewed. We know the strike is not going to change the situation, but it can serve as a reminder [to the government],” he said.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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