Johannesburg - The 2013 collective bargaining process is going to be very difficult because workers are no longer simply satisfied with a CPI-linked increase, but want a living wage, Numsa said on Wednesday.

“Workers are inspired that a real revolution is possible which will speak to the lives of people,” said National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) first vice president Andrew Chirwa.

He was speaking at the opening of Numsa's conference in Johannesburg, to prepare for next year's bargaining processes.

“The 'increase' has failed to the change the lives of workers,” he said.

Chirwa said that in South Africa, and globally, there was a revolution and strikes by workers against low pay, short time, exploitation and casualisation.

In South Africa, workers had made it clear that CPI-linked percentage-based increases were meaningless and had already made gains (in a recent mining sector settlement) by translating a demand for R12,500 a month into an increase of around 22 percent.

Simply explaining that their high percentage increase demands were unrealistic in terms of Consumer Price Indices was no longer relevant to them.

Any union which approached collective bargaining like this in the future would find itself considered irrelevant, he said.

Workers knew all the economic indicators, but at the same time spent disproportionate amounts of their low income on transport, and were struggling.

“The CPI does not take into account those realities,” he said.

Even workers in the relatively well-off sectors such as the automotive sector reported that they were battling.

The recent violence in mining strikes in North West and in farming strikes in the Western Cape, was a reflection of the exploitation people had had to deal with beyond 1994, the year South Africa's first democratic government was elected.

“Workers have had no choice but to confront capital directly, beyond collective bargaining,” he said.

Capitalism had become a form of internal colonialism.

“No matter how hard it is hidden, our economics is white and foreign.”

He accepted that he would be called a racist by saying this, “but that is the reality”.

“If you are to know the colour of poverty, it is black. If you are to know the colour of wealth, it is white. In the unrest that is taking place, that is the same colour,” he said to applause.

Living conditions in South Africa were expensive and the black working class would continue to revolt, because apartheid-era wage structures had not been transformed since 1994.

“Members are simply saying to us: 'We are faced with harsh economic realities. We just want to liberate ourselves from the harsh economic realities',” he said.

Going into next year's collective bargaining, workers needed leadership.

Chirwa asked delegates at the conference to question whether they had been “trapped” in the collective bargaining system arrangement since 1994.

They should ask whether they had changed the “apartheid, capitalist, colonial wage increase” and still relied on properly gathered mandates.

Whoever was elected at the African National Congress leadership conference in Mangaung in December had to change the situation for workers, or would not be legitimate.

“If there is one thing we have learned from Marikana - our job is not to tell workers 'that is not possible',” he said.

Thirty-four striking mineworkers at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana were shot dead and 78 were wounded on August 16 when police opened fire while trying to disperse a group of strikers gathered on a hill near the mine. - Sapa