Three and a half million workers from South Africa’s four largest union federations staged a one-day nationwide strike on Wednesday.
Anger is mounting over job losses, wage cuts and endemic corruption in the African National Congress (ANC) government led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the billionaire and former labor leader. Ramaphosa, elected president in 2017 on a promise to end corruption, has overseen an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the working class to the upper layers of society.
The strike affected sectors such as education, transport, metallurgical and steel companies and the automobile industry. There were processions, pickets and rallies in all nine provinces of South Africa. On Tuesday evening, workers occupied the Limpopo Legislative Assembly in Polokwane—Limpopo province is the second poorest province in the country.
Many businesses in downtown Johannesburg closed on Wednesday as workers left COSATU House, singing and chanting through the city.
The mass strike is part of a wider wave of workers’ struggles in recent months that have seen repeated actions by health care workers, municipal workers, bus drivers, teachers and workers in processing plants. meat, steel mills and warehouses.
On Monday, railway workers went on an indefinite strike at Gautrain, the 80km rapid transit rail network linking Johannesburg International Airport to Pretoria. Miners at three companies are to strike for pay rises to cope with rising food, rent and fuel prices and metalworkers are demanding an 8% pay rise. Workers in the textile, energy and transport sectors are also expected to go on strike.
Wednesday’s general strike was called by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) with 1.8 million members, the Federation of South African Trade Unions (Fedusa) with 560,000 members, the Federation of South African unions (Saftu) with 800,000 members, and the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) with 400,000 members, against the ANC government’s repression of workers amid the raging coronavirus pandemic.
The ANC, since coming to power in 1994, has represented a corrupt layer of the black bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeois elite at the expense of the masses of workers and poor. The strike bears witness to the explosive social and economic relations that characterize post-apartheid South Africa, the most industrialized country on the continent.
The pandemic has exacerbated South Africa’s already severe economic downturn, particularly affecting mining – as demand and prices for the country’s minerals have plummeted – and manufacturing. More than two million workers lost their jobs between April, when the lockdown that shut down all but essential services and industries, and June. Some 30% were already unemployed before the pandemic, with 50% of young people aged 15 to 24 out of work. According to Statistics South Africathe expanded unemployment rate is now 42%, which includes those who have given up looking for work.
GDP fell 16.4%, equivalent to an annualized rate of 51%, the biggest drop since the Great Depression. GDP per capita has been declining for years as growth has not kept pace with population growth while inequality has soared. South Africa has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. The richest 20% of the population receive more than 68% of income. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), per capita income in Gauteng, the main economic province which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, is almost double that of predominantly rural provinces such as Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
The lockdown has forced five to six million people (15% of adults), mostly manual workers, to leave townships and return to their home villages, putting pressure on their families. Many households ran out of money for food, doubling the rate in 2017. The government’s special grant, set up to help those without other forms of social security, had only paid start June than 600,000 of the 15 million eligible people.
The government’s budget deficit for 2020-21 has been revised upwards from 6.8% of GDP to 15.7%, with more than a fifth of the budget going to debt servicing.
South Africa, a country of 59 million people, has recorded 686,891 cases of COVID-19 and 17,408 deaths, making it the worst affected country on the African continent. Most of the casualties came after the ANC government staged a return to work in a bid to stem falling corporate profits, rolling back one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, enforced with police brutality extreme. Per capita, South Africa has more police killings than the United States.
The government has presided over the deliberate looting of taxpayers’ money in a series of corruption scandals, including at the electricity utility Eskom and its suppliers which led to serious blackouts, and among employers who fraudulently claimed Covid-19 relief funds without paying them. to their workers.
The latest politician to be caught in a bribery racket is ANC General Secretary Ace Magashule, who is under investigation over millions of rands spent during his time as Prime Minister of the Free State on the failed Estina dairy farm project that left farmers destitute.
The government’s refusal to honor its promise to raise civil servants’ salaries in April, as promised in a three-year pay deal reached in 2018, is also at issue, saying it is now unaffordable.
COSATU, the largest trade union federation and the ANC’s government partner alongside the South African Communist Party, has been able to keep its members under control. But along with the other three union federations, he was forced to call for a national walkout following the continuing crisis sparked by the government’s response to the pandemic, rising poverty, police brutality, worsening power cuts and outcry over government corruption. His hope is that the limited action, combined with a torrent of leftist-sounding rhetoric, will let off steam.
The concern of the federation is its own position vis-à-vis the ANC government. Speaking outside COSATU House in Johannesburg on Wednesday, COSATU Gauteng President Amos Monyela said he would withdraw his electoral support for the ANC if he did not hold talks with the union. He said: “We are marching against the people we have elected to power. We are saying that we will indeed withhold our vote if we do not engage in immediate discussions. »
Irvin Jim, the General Secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) also objected to his sidelining, saying: “Employers have not wasted the crisis imposed by Covid-19 and the lockdown, which they used to attack workers’ wages. by unilaterally imposing wage reductions of 20 to 25% without consulting the union.
These scoundrels have done nothing to defend their members. They functioned for decades as a prop for successive ANC governments, corrupt and utterly despised, as they isolated and sold out strikes they were unable to prevent.