Cosatu refuses to toe ANC line
Barely a month after the ANC's elective conference, Cosatu - the ruling party's biggest partner in its tripartite alliance - has signalled that the Mangaung honeymoon is over.
The trade union federation plans to take to the streets later this week in a bid to halt state-owned Eskom's proposed price increases after a deadlock with the government over the issue.
Cosatu has also threatened that it will "occupy the highways" from next month to sink the Treasury and SA National Roads Agency's plans to start e-tolling Gauteng freeways.
The Cosatu threats are being made as Sasolburg continues to reel in the aftermath of protests against the local government, and as farmers in Western Cape are rebuilding their lives after weeks of violent strikes.
Dumisani Dakile, the trade union federation's Gauteng secretary, yesterday warned that its members would bring the "government and capital" to a standstill when it takes up the cause of "the poor" in the country's economic heartland.
This would be the second time Cosatu has opposed the government in less than two months.
On December 6, major freeways across Gauteng came to a near standstill when it mounted a "drive-slow" campaign on roads earmarked for e-tolling.
Cosatu has slammed the National Energy Regulator for not holding its public hearings in poor areas.
The regulator is mulling a request by Eskom that it be allowed to increase average electricity prices by 16% a year for the next five years, doubling the cost to consumers.
Cosatu is to make representations to Nersa later this week.
"Our members and all progressive forces will be demonstrating in big numbers against the proposed increase," said Dakile.
There has been widespread public anger over reports that average salaries at Eskom are in excess of R600 000 a year and are to rise by nearly a third.
It has been reported that Eskom is budgeting R37-billion for the salaries of its 45600 employees.
The National Union of Metalworkers, the SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers' Union, and the Food and Allied Workers' Union yesterday said that they would picket the venue in Midrand at which the Nersa hearings will be held on Thursday.
"Our bottom line is that Nersa should not grant Eskom the yearly 16% average increase that the utility is asking for. Our position is that Eskom must be given an inflation-related adjustment for three years and not five years, as proposed in the application," the three unions, all Cosatu affiliates, said.
They warned of job losses and business closures if the price increases were approved.
Large industrial users of electricity have cautioned that the price increases would "de-industrialise" the country.
The unions plan protests not only against Gauteng's proposed e-tolling but against e-tolling nationwide.
"These are not only Cosatu matters; these are societal issues," said Dakile.
He and Cosatu provincial chairman Phutas Tseki equated e-tolls to apartheid, saying they divided people into those who can afford to make use of the highways and those who cannot.
The union federation has called for three days of protest - the first on February 11.
The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance was last week granted leave to appeal a December ruling by the high court.
Outa said on Friday that "there is no doubting that society has overwhelmingly rejected [e-tolling ] as too expensive, inefficient, unworkable and a most irrational waste of their money".
There is no formal link between Outa and Cosatu.
Labour tensions were cited by ratings agencies when they downgraded South Africa's sovereign debt. Both the Reserve Bank and the IMF last week cut their forecasts for the this country's economic growth.