Marching can't be the answer

Cosatu and its affiliates on Wednesday marched to the Gauteng legislature in protest against lack of jobs and retrenchments both in the public and private sectors.
Cosatu and its affiliates on Wednesday marched to the Gauteng legislature in protest against lack of jobs and retrenchments both in the public and private sectors.
Image: Thulani Mbele

Thousands of workers affiliated to trade union federation Cosatu took to the streets across the country yesterday to protest against job losses. It was not the first demonstration on the issue and certainly would not be the last.

High unemployment is a major crisis in this country and the current state of the economy means that thousands more people risk being laid off in the coming months.

But do mass protests against unemployment help in anyway towards resolving the problem?

Cynics would argue that yesterday's action by the country's largest trade union federation had little to do with fighting unemployment. That would say it is an attempt by Cosatu to flex its muscle and, in turn, demonstrate its power to its alliance partner, the governing ANC, ahead of the upcoming elections.

Many in the federation believe that they are no longer taken seriously by the ANC and that their views are ignored simply because the labour movement is seen as a dying phenomenon. Hence by taking to the streets, they are sending a strong message to Luthuli House that Cosatu still commands the support among millions of workers the party would need as voters come May 8.

Even if that were the case, the reality is that thousands of ordinary workers did participate in the demonstrations yesterday - a sign that unemployment is a major concern.

But perhaps, 25 years into democracy and following years of strike actions and protests, it is time the labour movement in general, and Cosatu in particular, starts searching for new approaches. No matter what our individual ideological perspectives may be, the reality is that we live in a capitalist society and that those with the means to create jobs are not trade unions and government, but private sector companies.

Instead of mass strikes and marches, organised labour should be agitating for a meaningful dialogue with both the state and the private sector on what can be done to stimulate economic growth and encourage both local and foreign investors to engage in economic projects that would lead to more jobs being created.

Only cooperation and the willingness to compromise on policy issues can rescue us from the unemployment crisis we are facing.

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