By Laura Maggs
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) organised a mass national stay away on Wednesday, 6 August. The aim was to mobilise its two million members, as well as civil society formations, and protest the rising food, electricity and fuel prices. The protest also focused on the electricity crisis and its threat to workers in South Africa. Marches and peaceful demonstrations were held across the country and members of the public were urged to participate in support.
In its official press release, COSATU proclaimed that “workers should not be asked to pay for the government’s failure to invest in electricity in the late 1990s” and went on to express their desire to “work actively and constructively to help manage the power-shortage and to find a lasting solution”.
While the strike is thought by many to have been largely successful, several economists have labelled it a severe “blemish” on the country’s economy.
Although a large portion of national business industry is said to have shut down for the day, some chose to opt out. A major challenge arose when it was confirmed that several union workers at the Assmang smelter in Cato Ridge, Durban, were offered about R500 more a shift to ignore the stay away.
However, while the after-effects of the strike are now being felt, COSATU was pleased with the end result. “It was absolutely brilliant,” said COSATU spokesperson Patrick Craven. “We were very pleased with the turnout and there was a huge response beyond the rank of COSATU’s own members. It certainly struck a chord.”