The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says it is happy with the way its national strike took place yesterday. Thousands of workers took part in marches countrywide to protest against corruption, retrenchments, and gender-based violence.
For the first time, Cosatu was joined in the strike by its rival trade union federations, South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) and National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu).
Cosatu had decided that there would be no marches during the one-day national strike because of the coronavirus pandemic. But it was not to be as thousands of workers poured into the streets in various parts of the country.
Workers turn up in numbers in Johannesburg:
“We tried but historically Cosatu has always been an organisation known for marches, and the workers, in terms of their understanding of strike action, was that they needed to participate. We did note that there was no social distancing and some of the people were not wearing masks which is something that we continue to discuss and we can always relay the message that says COVID-19 is a deadly virus. We continue to urge our own members to take care of each other and their own families,” says Cosatu Spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla.
Unity in raising workers’ issues
The strike saw Cosatu join forces with its breakaway trade union federation, Saftu, which is led by Zwelinzima Vavi who was expelled from Cosatu four years ago along with the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) which was Cosatu’s biggest affiliate at the time.
Vavi addresses the protestors:
“Coming out of the last congress, congress made it clear that we need to build bridges, we need to increase cooperation. You would have noted that the NUM and Numsa marched together to the Union Buildings on the Eskom issue, the last bus strike Numsa and Satawu worked very well together, on the SAA question you had unions working together, for us it’s a gradual process of building trust and building bridges,” says Pamla.
It was also the first time that Cosatu was joined on the streets by its traditional rivals Fedusa and Nactu.
“It represents a step forward and like we say, we have a class warfare that is being waged on us and if we are to wage and successfully win it, we need that level of unity that we saw.”
Cosatu has vowed to hold more demonstrations in the future to protest primarily against the continued refusal by the government to increase the salaries of civil servants.
Concerns have been raised about the economic impact of the strike: