South Africa’s Workers Fight Job Losses

South Africa’s Workers Fight Job Losses

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) launched a general strike across eight provinces Wednesday as a warning to South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), to address rampant job losses and unemployment across the public and private sectors.

“We are tired of economic growth that does not create employment opportunities, that increases inequality, ignores and undermines cultural identities, and that squanders resources needed for future generations,” COSATU said, in a press statement.

Although the country’s official unemployment rate dropped 2 percent in the last quarter of 2018, to 27.1 percent, South Africa’s real employment rate is 38 percent. South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates among similarly economically developed countries. Some 10 million people are jobless and more than 17 million are on welfare.

Later this month, workers in the Western Cape province will mobilize to pressure Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to include labor’s views on downsizing in the budget speech he will deliver in Cape Town on February 20.

After failing to convince government to declare a moratorium on downsizing workers, COSATU hopes its strike will slow the shedding of more jobs from the health care sector and South Africa’s state-owned enterprises—including energy company ESKOM, where retrenchments last year began without consultation with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).

“[S]ince 2012, government gave the private sector corporate tax breaks,” said COSATU spokesperson Sizwe Pamla in an interview with SABC News.  “Now we were saying to them, don’t you think it’s fair… to put a moratorium?”

The strike is supported by all major COSATU-affiliated unions, including the Democratic Nursing Organization of SA (Denosa), the South African Democratic Teachers` Union (SADTU), the South African Municipal Workers` Union (SAMWU), the South African Transport and Allied Workers` Union (SATAWU), the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) and the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU).

COSATU, with more than 1.5 million members, is a Solidarity Center ally in South Africa. As the strongest voice in civil society, the South African labor movement enables workers to join together for better wages, pro-worker economic policies and increased standards of living.

Gender Equality Conference Participants Set to Strategize

Gertrude Mtsweni, COSATU national gender coordinator (click image for video). Credit: Tula Connell/Solidarity Center

Gertrude Mtsweni, COSATU national gender coordinator (click here for video). Credit: Tula Connell/Solidarity Center

Nearly 100 union and community activists from 20 countries are meeting in São Paulo, Brazil, today and tomorrow at a Solidarity Center Conference to discuss strategies for achieving gender equality in their unions and at the workplace.

“Women´s Empowerment, Gender Equality and Labor Rights: Transforming the Terrain” is bringing together dynamic leaders like Gertrude Mtsweni, national gender coordinator at the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), who says she wants to share her experiences with others and learn from them about educating and mobilizing around gender equality and worker rights–not only for women in unions, but for all women.

“I want to talk about the woman who´s unorganized, the woman who is unemployed, the woman in the informal sector who is not recognized by labor laws,” she said in a Solidarity Center interview before the conference. (Watch a video of Mtsweni.)

For Julia Quinonez, a representative of women workers in Mexico´s maquiladoras and part of the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras since its inception in 1986, meeting with conference participants from 20 countries is a welcome opportunity to learn from union leaders and others in nongovernmental organzations. The variety of groups involved “shows us we´re in a new moment now, we´re in a new phase to build unions that are more inclusive.”

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