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The struggle for a living wage

Most of you know the old slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all!” Now there is another one to bury deep in your heart .”Unite and fight for a living wage!”

This new slogan comes from COSATU’s Living Wage Campaign for 1987. Over seven hundred thousand workers in COSATU have joined hands with women’s, youth and community organizations in the struggle for a living wage.

“Together, under the leadership of organized workers in COSATU, millions of people will stand and fight for a living wage and a decent life” says the COSATU newspaper.” Every wage struggle, every struggle against increased costs, every fight for shorter hours and paid maternity leave…..all are part of our struggle for a living wage.”


Comrade Frank Meintjies of COSATU told us more about the Living Wage Campaign. He said, “Every day and every year more and more workers are joining trade unions. These workers know that if they are alone, then they will not win their struggle for higher wages. It is only through unity that the fight for a living wage can be won.

“Workers called 1987 the year of the Living Wage Campaign because bosses profits are going up but the workers’ wages are going down. It is the workers who are making their bosses richer and richer, while the bosses make the workers poorer and poorer. So all the the trade unions in COSATU came together and made a list of demands that will be part of the living wage campaign.”


  • A living wage for all.

  • A 40 hour week without loss of pay. No more overtime.

  • Paid public holidays on May 1 (May Day), June 16 and March 21 (Sharpeville Day).

  • Job Security for all. No more retrenchments and dismissals.

  • No more tax deductions from workers wages.

  • Six months paid maternity leave for mothers.

  • An end to migrant labour and hostels. Proper housing for all,near places of work.

  • The right to decent education and training.


There is another new slogan from the Living Wage Campaign: “A woman’s place is in the….Cosatu Living Wage Campaign!”

A pamphlet from Cosatu says why the Living Wage Campaign is so important for women:” Women workers, just like men workers, need a living wage to provide decent housing, education, food, clothing, transport and leisure for themselves and their families. Women workers have special reasons to join the fight to win these demands.”

The pamphlet gives many reasons why women have a special place in the campaign. Some of the reasons are:

  • Women are in low paid jobs. And even when they do the same work as men, they get lower wages.

  • A 40 hour week will mean more jobs for more women. And it will help women because they are the ones doing a double shift – one shift at work and another shift at home, doing house work and caring for children.

  • Women need job security because they are often retrenched first. Also, more women are without jobs than men.

  • Six months maternity leave will help all women. Women are often fired when they leave work to have their babies. Pregnancy is a right not a crime.

  • Thousands of women don’t have decent housing. It is difficult for single women, widows and divorcees to get housing. Thousands of women also live in terrible hostels far away from their families.

  • Women need proper education and training so they do not always end up doing “women’s work” with the lowest pay.


“Each union in COSATU will have a living wage committee,” says Comrade Frank Meintjies. “These committees will help organise and educate workers about the campaign. These committees will send people to the COSATU living wage committee. This committee will be called the NCC -(National Co-ordinating Committee).

“The living wage committees are important because they will build unity between the unions. Unions will help each other in their struggles for a living wage. The Food and Allied Workers Union showed how this unity can work. FAWU members refused to handle goods for the OK Bazaars when workers were on strike there.”


Comrade Frank Meintjies finished by saying, “The Living Wage Campaign will help to build COSATU into a very strong organization. It will show the courage and the power of the workers. It will unite workers like never before in the struggle for a better life. It is the struggle for a new beginning.”



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