Speaking from the back of a truck at Tuesday’s demonstration, South African labor leader Zwelinzima Vavi wagged a finger at the rising wages of South Africa’s corporate execs in general, government ministers and even President Jacob Zuma.
"If my memory serves me right he is earning more than 2.2-million rand ($312,056)," he said to shouts of disapproval. The public service workers, earning about $1,000 monthly, are seeking a 1,000 rand ($138) housing allowance and better health benefits.
"We are saying to the government; 'if you have a conscience, give us better pay… We also have families. The president has a family, a big family just like we do. He has many children to feed, just like we do'. We want geld (we want money)," said Vavi, leader of the labor federation Cosatu.
Cosatu and the Public Servants’ Association represent more than half of the 1.3-million government employees. Also preparing to strike are metalworkers, teachers and health care professionals.
Workers are not prepared to "suffer the same pain they had suffered in the past three years,” said Irvin Jim, general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers, which has called for an indefinite strike starting this week. "Today is only a warning. This is not a strike; we are just firing a warning shot."