Divided workforce marks May Day

Differences among unions became evident last week when Cosatu distanced itself from anti-minimum wage protests organised by rival union Saftu. / AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN
Differences among unions became evident last week when Cosatu distanced itself from anti-minimum wage protests organised by rival union Saftu. / AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN

May Day rallies planned across the country today will serve as a reminder of how politics have divided South African workers along party lines.

The divide is expected to be apparent in the issues that take centre stage during the International Workers' Day celebrations.

Differences became evident last week when Cosatu distanced itself from a protest against the National Minimum Wage Bill organised by its rival South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), led by its former general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.

Saftu rejected the proposed R3500 minimum wage and demanded a living wage of R12500. Cosatu has accepted the proposal, calling it a "step forward for the country".

Yesterday, Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini told Sowetan that Saftu was battling to find its feet on the ground. This is despite the fact that Cosatu is said to have seen a drop in its own membership since the formation of Saftu.

"Let them avoid making Cosatu their project. We are a federation like them. We are all workers. Our enemy is capital," Dlamini said.

Cosatu will hold its main Workers' Day rally, which is expected to be addressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and Dlamini, in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro in Eastern Cape.

Dlamini said May Day was a time to reflect on the experiences of the past year.

"We look forward to how we are going to campaign against challenges workers are facing every day," he said.

Saftu will hold its main rally at the University of Free State.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, (Numsa), which is part of Saftu, has vowed to use the rally to continue the fight against the national minimum wage.

"This year, [May Day] will be celebrated in the context of this huge attack by the ANC government at workers in the sense that we are facing a serious crisis where they decided to impose the slavery national minimum wage and to attack workers' constitutional right to strike by imposing limitations," said Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said Cosatu's presence had been weakened over the years due to its involvement in politics and not channelling its energies into workers' issues.

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