Members of the Congress of South African Trade Unions hold placards during a demonstration in Durban on February 13, 2019. Picture: AFP/RAJESH JANTILAL
Members of the Congress of South African Trade Unions hold placards during a demonstration in Durban on February 13, 2019. Picture: AFP/RAJESH JANTILAL

Thousands of Cosatu-affiliated workers demonstrated in eight cities across the country on Wednesday, disrupting schooling and bringing traffic to a standstill. 

The workers downed tools, protesting for job security and a moratorium on retrenchments. They also took aim at government’s plans to unbundle Eskom, saying workers would oppose the decision, which was taken without consultation with organised labour.

The organisation’s leaders, who were joined by the SA Communist Party (SACP), slammed the move to divide the power utility into three, saying it amounted to privatising Eskom and warning that it would lead to mass job losses. “Eskom is not for sale,” read some of the placards workers carried.

In its memorandum, the trade union federation called for an immediate stop to what it described as the “privatisation of Eskom through renewable energy and closure of coal mines”. The federation has been opposing the independent power producers (IPP) programme for the production of renewable energy since its inception.

“We further demand that government must align the policy on the energy mix with SA’s needs to address unemployment, poverty and income inequality. Government must renegotiate all renewable IPP contracts with a view of withdrawing from all existing IPP contracts,” Cosatu said in its memorandum.

It also highlighted moves that should be considered when the finance minister presents his budget next week. “We need interventions that place the creation of decent jobs at the centre of the economic policy instead of relegating them to ‘trickle down’ effect.

“The budget should create conducive conditions for the growth of SME [small and medium enterprises] sector, which targets local markets, absorbs local labour and circulates its income into the local economy.”

South Africa’s largest trade union Cosatu took to the streets of Johannesburg on Wednesday as part of their one-day nationwide strike. Thousands of members sang as they marched against job losses and the plan to restructure Eskom.

In Johannesburg, the sea of red that enveloped major streets in the city centre was led by provincial leaders and SACP general secretary Solly Mapaila. Speaking outside the offices of the Minerals Council SA, where a number of representatives from the private sector were invited to receive the list of demands, Mapaila called on employers to treat workers favourably. 

He said “big mine bosses, because of their greed”  have never come back to the unions to say that since they were making more money, they wanted to guarantee workers’ jobs. “[Yet] they continue with the retrenchments of workers — this we condemn in the strongest way possible.”

The impact of Wednesday’s action was likely to be felt most in public service institutions as Cosatu members are predominantly from the sector. The federation will also protest outside parliament when the budget statement is presented next Thursday.