Johannesburg — The strike by thousands of metalworkers across the country is a political fight for a living wage, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Tuesday.
"We are told that we are being irresponsible for embarking on a strike. We are told this is not about workers, but about Numsa's decisions taken at its last congress," Vavi told thousands of workers gathered outside the offices of the metals bargaining council in central Johannesburg.
Vavi and National Union of Metalworkers of SA president Andrew Chirwa earlier handed a memorandum of demands to officials from the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council, and Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa) in downtown Johannesburg.
"A demand for a living wage is political, because it is politics that allowed such conditions 20 years into a democracy."
He said workers were not to blame for the economy's poor health.
The strike by about 220,000 Numsa workers for a double digit wage increase follows a five-month strike by platinum miners, which ended last week. Concerns have been expressed that another strike could push the country into recession.
Seifsa CEO Kaizer Nyatsumba said earlier this month the industry could ill afford a strike.
"We are concerned that our economy has not performed well in recent years, with the metals and engineering industry being among the sectors most threatened by cheap imports."
Vavi said on Tuesday: "Those who should be blamed are the ones who manage the economy, and manage it towards only one direction, which is down.
"We will not pay for the mistake of the capitalist system."
Workers had been urging those in power to implement the Freedom Charter, he said.
"The Freedom Charter says the wealth of the country shall be shared by all... we are here to demand our share from the country's economy."
Vavi said the country had no good story to tell, as the African National Congress had claimed.
President Jacob Zuma failed to tell South Africans in his state-of-the-nation address how many jobs were lost in the past five months, he said.
"The president said more than 9000 jobs were created... do you see those jobs? The president failed to tell the country how many jobs were lost.
"We are sitting with a 36 percent unemployment rate."
He said public money went to upgrading Zuma's private homestead in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, and that over R300 million was spent in refurbishing ministers' accommodation.
The day's program was delayed due to a poor sound system. Strikers had to wait from 11am for a better sound system. Chirwa apologised for the delay.