Jobs and Poverty: Peaceful marches rule the day on May 18 – What next?

Despite fears that Cosatu’s nationwide jobs and poverty marches would turn violent, reports from across the country showed otherwise. Read the stories from our writers.

At Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee held from May 22 to 24, the meeting noted “with concern” that “big business and the government” continue to ignore workers’ demands.

The meeting resolved to continue with the campaign and to work with other trade union federations, the unemployed, youth and students movements, faith-based organisations, civil society formations and non-governmental organisations.

Port Elizabeth M. Phaphu

As marchers emerged from every corner that enters Port Elizabeth’s busy Govan Mbeki Avenue, Cosatu affiliates’ different colour t-shirts made one feel that the jobs and poverty problem had been smashed and buried.

Cosatu’s demandsTogether with other like-minded organisations it will step up its campaign to demand:

decent, well-paid and secure jobs on a mass scale with an end to outsourcing and casualisation and the undermining of labour rights
government services and social grants to ensure that no South African lives in poverty
increased commitment to local procurement by retailers, producers and the state
measures to stabilise capital flows into and out of the country to ensure stable growth of the economy
a review of Asgisa [government’s new growth strategy] so that ensures a genuine transformation of society
an expansion of staff especially in health, education, social welfare, correctional services and policing
available and affordable public services like health, water, education, electricity and sanitation.

Some were warming themselves just in front of the Nelson Mandela Metro offices, singing the well-known JZ freedom song UMSHINI WAM’.

Numsa president, Mtutuzeli Tom, handed over the memorandum to capital’s representative, Wendy Webster. Tom thanked workers for participating saying it was not easy to lose one day’s wage.

He further told the crowd about the absence of the ANC at the march as it [ANC] had a tendency of distancing itself especially when there’s a big fight like this with the capitalists.

“There are no alternatives. Be prepared to fight. We have to defend our democracy and our country,” he said. Because capital was represented by a woman, Wayile jokingly said, “not all times when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

Women’s league comrades, you must be able to see the difference between water and paraffin by being able to sift those women that represent capital from working class women.”

Sabelo from the Young Communist League told the crowd that Cosatu and SACP must “stop taking us to the streets now”. To totally smash jobs and the poverty problem, they must have a clear direction and contest the national elections independently in the next national elections.

Nelspruit Justice Masutha

Though workers were dressed in colourful paraphernalia, red was the dominant colour of the day. Workers from different Cosatu affiliates supported by youth organisations from all across Mpumalanga converged at Nelspruit in numbers to heed the call. Nelspruit stood still. When there were not enough buses to transport marchers to Nelspruit, the young militants demanded more.

In another economic hub, Emalahleni [Witbank] there was very little economic activity, if any, as workers stayed away from work.

Workers heeded Cosatu’s call!

Cape Town Clement Herandien

Despite the banning of the Cape Town march because of the security guard strike that turned violent and the withdrawal of train services from the Cape Flats where the bulk of the working class lives, members from other areas like Atlantis and Boland flocked to the city centre to attend an indoor venue.

Some were detained at rail police stations for travelling without a valid train ticket and it took the rest of the day for union leaders to get them released. Those that did manage to reach the venue found that the police had banned this meeting as well! Workers were forced to go home.

If the meeting had gone ahead, it would have seen the biggest turnout ever from these two locals. In George and Oudtshoorn, between 2000 and 3000 people attended each march with one in ten people sporting Numsa headbands.

Durban Doris Nqetho

Members of Sadtu, Sactwu attended in numbers, schools and factories were closed. In our locals, workers from service stations and panelbeaters showed no interest. “Who is going to pay our accounts?” they asked.

In Durban’s West Street, big shops were closed for more than four hours. Business was bad. Scabs were peeping through the windows.

We were joined by Satawu carrying sticks. People on the street were so scared. Before handing over the memorandum to a business representative, the Cosatu chairperson encouraged government to intervene in the Satawu negotiations. The working conditions of teachers, farmworkers and retail workers are also bad, he told the marchers.

Johannesburg Despite many shop stewards being grilled by their members “Why should we go to this march? It is a Cosatu march not a Numsa march!”, Numsa members joined hands with other Cosatu affiliates on the long march through central Johannesburg.

Workers swarmed atop hippos and hung from trees to see and hear the speakers better. The violence of Satawu marches was absent as marchers went about their business peacefully. The long speeches, coupled with a very long walk, tested marchers’ commitment and fitness as they marched from one captain of industry to another. On that day, there was no rest for the marchers – they kept going for almost 8 hours!