The South African Federation of Trade Unions has held the first-ever meeting of its Special Central Committee (SCC), the highest constitutional structure between National Congresses.
Socio-economic crisis and its impact on the poor
The SCC meeting took place against a deepening socio-economic and political catastrophe for workers and the poor majority of South Africans.
Economic growth has almost come to a standstill and further evidence emerges daily of the tidal wave of theft of billions of rands by a corrupt capitalist elites and their cronies in government and the state-owned enterprises.
Inequality – the chasm between the super-rich minority of capitalists and the overwhelmingly poor majority – is wider than ever and the widest in the whole world. As Karl Marx said 140 years ago:
“Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.”
He was not exaggerating; he could have been writing about South Africa today.
According to Oxfam, 26% of South Africa’s population are hungry everyday; and half do not have sufficient access to affordable, nutritious and safe food to meet the basic health requirements, despite the fact that South Africa is officially food secure and produces enough food to feed the entire population. But every year R61.5 billion worth of food is wasted along the production-to-consumption chain.
30.4 million people (55.5% of the population) are living in poverty and by far the biggest cause of these appalling levels of poverty is unemployment at 37.2%, the six highest in the world. The statistics paint an even deeper catastrophe. Employment fell by 69 000 to 9 748 000 in the second quarter of 2018.
This means that around half a million people have been plunged into poverty, as 69 000 family breadwinners join the 9.7m unemployed South Africans. Unemployment is disproportionately a burden carried more by Black people, women and our youth. 41.2% of our women workers are unemployment. Youth account for 63,5% of the total number of unemployed persons. Within the youth, those aged 15–24 years are more vulnerable in the labour market with an unemployment rate of over 52%, an absorption rate of about 12,2% and a labour force participation rate of 25,6%.
This provides yet more evidence that the economy is sinking further into recession and that, as always it is workers who are paying the price.
The manufacturing sector, which is so crucial to any economic recovery, suffered the biggest job losses – 13 000 workers. Manufacturing jobs have declined by 26.1% if the past 16 years. Manufacturing has declined from contributing over 20% of the GDP to below 13% today. The mining and utilities sectors each suffered a loss of 2 000 jobs in the second quarter.
These dreadful statistics show the total inadequacy of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Stimulus Plan, which failed to even begin to appreciate the depth of the economic catastrophe, which 24 years of neoliberal capitalist policies has brought about.
He promised no additional government resources, just reshuffling budgets to rob Peter to pay Paul. He appealed to his allies in big business, finance institutions, pension funds and ordinary investors to come up with R400bn for an ‘infrastructure fund’.
But it is business, and its allies in the ANC and COSATU leadership who are the cause of the problem, not the solution. Business’s ‘investment strike’ over many years has robbed the country of investment, which could have saved jobs. It is estimated that big business is hoarding a staggering R1.6 trillion.
These resources could have been invested to reindustrialise our country and address the jobs carnage. In the second quarter of 2018 alone portfolio outflows came to about R947 billion, according to data from the Institute of International Finance.
President Ramaphosa will never accept that the monopoly capitalist system is inherently corrupt and exploitative, based on the theft of the surplus value created by the workers’ labour and the pursuit of quick and big profits and a system with no concern for the workers, consumers, communities and society as a whole
The ANC has become divided and incoherent, mainly concerned how to escape charges of corruption by shifting the blame on to their comrades. The one thing that they have in common with each others is their refusal to take responsibly for ANC governments whose neoliberal policies under successive governments, handed economic power to the same white monopoly capitalists they pretend to be fighting against and which led to today’s catastrophe.
The one thing that nether government and business constituencies will accept that this crisis is structural. It arises because the neo-colonial economy is based on extraction of mineral deposits, shipping them to colonial masters, only for what was ruthlessly taken out of the ground to return as finished products.
Even for workers with jobs conditions are worsening. More and more workers have been shifted from secure jobs in the manufacturing sector into atypical forms of employment where they are increasingly engaged in survivalist activities. Public Sector workers can no longer feel secure.
Land has not been returned, women live in fear of violence and rape, and very ominously, our young people are losing hope and turning to drugs and crime, with horrific consequences for their communities. We are not on the brink of a catastrophe; we are watching one unfold before our eyes!
There will be no fundamental change under a leader who is committed to the capitalist class, who will never accept that system, which has made him so rich, is the root cause of South Africa’s slide into the catastrophe of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption.
His response to this catastrophe has to been to punish the poor even more! We have seen the increase of the VAT, so called sin taxes, the introduction of a sugar tax, the introduction of the minimum wage that has entrenched apartheid wage structure, the attacks on the rights of workers to strike, the introduction of IPPs with a clear intention of privatising Eskom and announcement of meaningless “Stimulus Package” whilst sticking to failed neoliberal policies.
Building Our Organisation!
Never has there been a greater need for a strong, militant and democratic workers’ movement. SAFTU emerged from the CC strengthened and ready for battle in defence of the working class at a time of deepening crisis. We are discussing with five more unions, with a total membership of 42 500 members, who have expressed an interest in affiliating.
Reports from affiliated unions indicated overall growth in membership and activity. There have been strides forward in both recruiting members and getting involved in the bitter and angry struggles of poor communities.
We agreed on many organizational changes to make the federation stronger and more effective, including ways to step up the campaign to recruit unorganised workers, with blitzes in industrial estates, shops and restaurants, etc.
We also resolved to co-ordinate the work of affiliated unions in the same sectors more effectively, to stop any poaching of each other’s members and to continue to co-operate with workers affiliated to other federations.
We noted with satisfaction that the production of a service charter to assist all unionist deliver the best possible service to their members has been finalised and will adopted by the NEC scheduled for November 2018.
We agreed to do more educational work, including by setting up a National Education Committee, all affiliates paying the Skills Development Levy and seeking to work with the Ditsela worker-education organization.
Nedlac and SAFTU
We agreed to take legal advice as to whether to go to court to win our struggle for admission. This is in recognition that CONSAWU, a small federation that existed earlier, applied for membership and was blocked by the labour constituency of Nedlac. Courts at the time agreed with Nedlac labour constituencies that they had a right to write the rules to regulate the entrance of other new players. If lawyers advice is that Nedlac is within its right to amend its regulations and use them to block even the federation as representative as SAFTU, we shall have to wait for the lapse of the two years they have prescribed and make a new application in early 2019. Meantime we shall continue all our campaigns outside Nedlac as per the decisions of this SCC and the Working Class Summit.
The Campaigns of SAFTU
We agreed to intensify all our ongoing campaigns and bring them together into two broad campaigns on (1) The Living Wage – on the poverty national minimum wage, the VAT and petrol price increases and labour brokers, etc. – and (2) The social wage – on land, housing, education, health, transport, crime, etc., and link them to the call for action against government austerity policies and illicit capital outflows, and for wealth taxes on the rich.
The fight for the total banning labour brokers will be our urgent priority.
The SCC endorsed the resolutions of the Working Class Summit held on 21–22 July 2018. We agree that our campaigns must be broadened to include all the organisations at the Working-Class Summit, which passed resolutions in support of all the same demands, and other forces within the broader working-class community.
The NEC will decide on dates for the already agreed three-day general strike, including proposals for a mass strike on the days of the State of the Nation and Budget speeches and then in the 2019 elections campaign.
In the aftermath of the SACOSWU Constitutional Court judgement, we have agreed to fight the attempts by SALGA, IMATU and SAMWU to defy the ruling by excluding SAFTU unions from collective bargaining and to continue to make double-deductions from our meets.
We are convening a major workshop on the meaning of the victories of NUMSA against Labour Brokering and SACOSWU on 06–07 November 2018. The workshop will launch a process to collect evidence that will help us file a complaint with the International Labour Organisation on how government is working with the sweetheart unions to frustrate the right of workers to freedom of association.
We are going to challenge in the courts the Minister of Energy’s refusal to disclose the owners of the Independent Power Producers he had signed agreements with. We shall, together with the broader working class, simultaneously launch a campaign to resist the closure of power stations in Mpumalanga. We shall resist the privatisation of Eskom with everything we have.
Public Investment Corporation (PIC)
The SCC backed the call for a campaign for the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and other DFIs to play a more meaningful and key role in the development of our economy and of our country by setting aside a percentage of the funds to be invested in government bonds that are dedicated to building infrastructure in residential areas where workers live. Currently the fund managers interpret the “maximum return mandate” too narrowly to mean money can only be lent to fund mega projects in the city centres to build more glass-fronted buildings. This then leads to the deepening of inequality in society.
The PIC must be made more democratic and accountable, with employee and member representation, to take decisions on how their money should be invested and mandate the PIC officials to implement these policies.
We demand that there should be an immediate moratorium on any further use of GEPF funds by the PIC to bail out corrupted, loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs) until their boards have been sacked and replaced by democratic and accountable representatives of the community, workers and the country.
Currently there is a big concern about the scale of the alleged looting of the PIC by private individuals linked to the CEO, Dr Dan Matjila. We welcome the decision to hold a commission of inquiry to investigate these allegations, which must be truly independent and non-partisan. If it reveals that Matjila is guilty of anything then he must face the consequences.
We demand that he and the Board be placed on leave, that the suspensions of the executives be lifted and those who took golden handshakes be asked to testify to the inquiry. In addition the inquiry must ensure that whistle blowers will not be victimised if they come forward.
Meanwhile SAFTU is working with lawyers to get to the bottom of these allegations.
The SCC noted the crisis within state-owned enterprises, which play a critical role in the development of our country, not only in the provision of the infrastructure but also in the provision of critical services. Currently a lot of these SOEs are facing financial crisis as a result of mismanagement and corruption. SAFTU calls for the appointment of workers onto these boards, which will increase transparency and accountability.
SAFTU however remains totally opposed to privatization as any kind of solution. Structures which provide essential services to the public and the economy must not fall into the hands of capitalists who only want to use them to maximize profits. They must remain in state hands but run democratically by boards elected by and accountable to workers, communities and government.
We agreed to work with the Manufacturing Circle (MC), which represents employers in manufacturing industry to explore possibilities of what labour and business can do to address the crisis of deindustrialisation.
We have debated the question of the formation of a Workers’ Party, guided by the position adopted by SAFTU’s founding congress, that “we are committed to fight the exploitation of workers and must be ready to engage in the transformation of our societies to counter capitalist exploitation, inequalities and poverty. We are inspired by Marxism-Leninism and Marxist pan-Africanism, based on a commitment to socialism, internationalism, all of which are complementary.”
We took note of the decision by SAFTU’s NEC and a report by our Political and Ideological Commission (PIC) that in the current capitalist crises, the only way forward is through building a Workers Party, in line with the founding Congress’s resolution, and that only the working class can sustain the struggle and overthrow the ruling class and its barbaric capitalist system.
We also took note that a very similar resolution of the Working-Class Summit, which “unanimously agreed on the need to build working class power in all workplaces, communities and society in general. A clear majority agreed on a need to build an independent, democratic and revolutionary working-class political party, which will be strong enough to conquer social, economic and political power, abolish the capitalist system and replace it with socialism.”
We agreed in principle that creation of the working class party is of critical importance. We also agreed to continue the discussion within our ranks and also with the Working Class formations as a whole. In this regard, we are convening a major workshop to look at such issues as the timing of the creation of such a party, the modalities of the party, its programme, its relationship with existing socialist oriented parties and international experiences in forming such parties, including how these have related to the issue of power and use of elections as a tactic and a weapon.
We reaffirmed that SAFTU remains independent but not apolitical. We reject the idea that SAFTU should itself either create, or turn itself into a political party.
We also agreed that a working-class party cannot be built in the boardroom but in campaigns in the streets, and that it must be democratically built by workers from the bottom up, with the fullest possible discussion of its polices and structure.
The workshop referred to above will pull together left-wing parties from South Africa, Europe and South America, and sympathetic intelligentsia who align themselves to the working class and socialism, to help us with the theoretical and programmatic modalities of a Workers Party.
We are disappointed that SAFTU’s application to affiliate to the international Trade Union Confederation has not yet been confirmed, despite a visit by an ITUC team, which reports that the federation meets all the requirements for affiliation. We are concerned that this delay may be because of pressure from COSATU, who allegedly agreed to support the ITUC’s General Secretary’s bid for a third term, in return for blocking SAFTU’s application.
We shall now participate as a member to the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy to share our experiences with others who are resisting privatisation of energy and who are demanding social ownership of energy resources.
We have agreed to intensify our solidarity with the people of Palestine and Western Sahara against their subjugation by the imperialists of Israel and Morocco. We commit ourselves to solidarity action with the workers of the world, including our neighbours in Swaziland and Zimbabwe, who are fighting against oppressive regimes and ruthless employers.
Capitalists never sleep, but work 24 hours a day to plan how best to defend and increase their wealth and power and defeat militant workers and trade unions.
We must therefore be just as vigilant by building our campaign to recruit thousands more workers into SAFTU unions, unite with all other working-class organizations and march forward together to defend and increase the power of the poor majority, fight back against exploitation and poverty and prepare for a revolutionary struggle for a socialist South Africa.
We shall continue to prioritize the recruitment of the 76% of workers outside the trade union movement. We shall also continue to pursue unity with more trade unions, including exploring unity with existing federations, but we shall insist that unity be based on a set of principles such as that unions must be independent from the employers and political parties, they must be democratic and they must commit to campaign against the status quo.