The South African Federation of Trade Unions held a special meeting of its National Executive Committee on Tuesday 22 May 2018.
The meeting warmly congratulated its General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, who received an honorary PHD degree in Business and Community Development from the Christian Leadership Academy and the Interdenominational Trinity College. The NEC acknowledged the historical and continued selfless contribution of the SAFTU General Secretary in the struggle for the emancipation of the working class.
The meeting congratulated and thanked the unions’ membership for the historic general strike and mass marches on 25 April. This will be recorded in the history of the South African trade union movement as an historic turning point with a spectacular entrance on to the political scene of the organised labour movement, with SAFTU at the forefront of it, after almost half a decade of complete paralysis of the trade union leadership and more of absence of independent working-class political programme.
When we launched SAFTU thirteen months ago, we boldly declared that things would never be the same again.
It was magnificent to see so many thousands of workers in the streets, and to receive reports of many more who stayed away from work that day. It was particularly gratifying to read about the big stay away and marches by farm workers in the Cape Winelands region.
The numbers staying away from work and marching on the streets, in a peaceful and orderly manner, was far bigger than the membership of the federation, showing that SAFTU has struck a chord with a wide layer of angry and frustrated people, including not only our own members but members of other federations, the unemployed and sections of the middle class.
It was agreed that the success of the strike was not only in its size but also the huge impact in the media and on public opinion. It exposed a rising tide of fury at an economy, which has excluded millions of the poor from any hope of living a decent life. Unemployment, poverty and inequality are all at record levels and there is no sign of any way out.
Our people are angry! The working class, in particular its youth, feels that they have been betrayed. They are correctly condemning the negotiated settlement that has in economic terms seen more benefits accrue to the former oppressors, while the working class has remained poor and exploited and continue to benefit little from our democratic dispensation.
This is also not just reflected in the 25 April strike but also in the outburst of angry support for Ashwin Willemse after his walk-out from the Super Sport studio, the overwhelming support for the return of land without compensation, the support for Zenani Mandela and Julius Malema at mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s funeral, etc. Young people are in search of new role models like Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe and Chris Hani, in protest at those who negotiated the post apartheid settlement from which the ruling class lost nothing while the working class have remained poor and exploited. In fact, everything points to the fact that White Monopoly Capital has retained the mines, land, banks and monopoly industry and the opulence this brings to them and their families
The strike also proved that workers have seen through the ‘Ramaphoria’, which followed the ANC national conference. They can see that his policies are going to make things even worse for the workers and the poor simply because the dollar billionaire who presides over the Republic of South Africa is nothing but a shop steward of domestic and international Capital.
The 25 April marked a crushing defeat of illusions and cruel hopes of the ruling capitalist class that they can exploit the generosity of the working class towards the new ANC leadership to impose, without resistance from the workers, brutal austerity, poverty minimum wages and legislative attacks on democratic constitutional rights.
The poverty minimum wage of R20 an hour, and new laws to make it even more difficult for workers to exercise their constitutional right to strike, together with his austerity budget, cuts in real terms in expenditures on education, healthcare and other essential services, which are already causing crises in Gauteng, the Free State and especially the North West, provinces add up to a frontal assault on the living standards of the majority of South Africans.
There is also a rising tide of anger in poor communities who are also flooding the streets in protest at the lack of progress in building new houses, pathetic service delivery and lack of action to stop gang warfare and drug dealings of warlords who are terrorising the residents. As SAFTU we emphasize that we are members of our communities before we are trade unionists and therefore call on workers to join in their community struggles.
To this end we wish to inform our members and the public at large that, we have not received any response to our memorandums of demands or even an acknowledgment of receipt. This demonstrates the utter arrogance and a total disregard of workers by this government.
Ramaphosa’s priority is to persuade International financial speculators that South Africa is a good place to invest and make profits, and a downtrodden working class and a weakened and docile trade union movement is part of his sales pitch.
He has declared war on the workers, and that is why the NEC agreed we must not be complacent. In this regard the NEC agreed that the 25 April was just the beginning. The NEC agreed that the numbers on strike and on the streets were just a small fraction of the millions we need to mobilize if we are to turn the tide and change the balance of power against the white monopoly capitalist employers and a capitalist state in favour of the workers and the broader working class.
Ramaphosa’s job has been made easier by the scandalous role of his friends in the leadership of sweetheart and yellow union federations who signed the agreement at Nedlac, which made it easier for ruling ANC government to push the bills through and claim they have the full support of ‘Labour’.
SAFTU is determined to fight to get entry as a party in Nedlac, so that we can expose the class collaboration, which is going on behind closed doors and behind workers’ backs, without any mandate. Most importantly we seek to bring into the national agenda the issues of the downtrodden and marginalised members of our society to be at the center stage.
The NEC agreed that SAFTU has to ensure that it does not lose the momentum, which is building up. The strike must not come to be seen as a flash in the pan but proof that we have become a catalyst for their struggle which has raised new hope for the workers and the poor and can help set the agenda for the working class and can take their struggles to even higher levels.
We cannot take our foot off the accelerator and let the working class down. The campaign must not only continue but also must be intensified and maintained into the future.
We have also written to many formations and we are working hard to reconnect with all working class and pro-poor formations already battling against unemployment, land poverty, hunger, homelessness and for houses near their places of work, infrastructure where we live, public transport, better healthcare, better education, and battling crime and women/children abuse, etc.
All these struggles currently isolated and ignored by the government will be knitted together into a single broad working class and poor people’s struggle with different dimensions to accommodate and take forward all the demands of our people.
We have welcomed the support of the EFF, UDM, AZAPO, ACP, PAC, WOSA, and a range of socialist political formations in our country. We are also receiving support from a growing number of international labour organisations.
We also hope, and expect, that many members of unions affiliated to other federations will take part in the Working Class Summit and they will be very welcome. We know that many of them are disgusted by the part played by their leaders in getting the poverty minimum wage and labour law amendments adopted by government, and the sell-out agreement in the public service wage negotiations (See below).
At the same time we shall also be ready if necessary to take legal action to the Constitutional Court to get clauses of the labour law amendments declared unconstitutional.
Furthermore, SAFTU intend to engage with processes in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to declare the ANC government’s draconian labour legislation as dead against the conventions of the ILO.
The federation is well aware however that the immediate demands – for the repeal of these unjust laws, the creation of jobs for all, a living minimum wage of R12 500 a month, as demanded by the Marikana martyrs, the return of land taken through the barrel of the gun by colonial and apartheid rulers, good housing for all and free, decolonized education at all levels – will never be achieved while we live in a capitalist economy ruled by a super-rich elite of white monopoly corporations and a parasitic black elites as interested only in exploiting the working class and making massive profits
This campaign has already made history. The task before us now is to push forward to mobilize millions of workers behind a socialist programme to bring to reality the promise in the Freedom Charter that South Africa must belong to all who live in it.
SAFTU unions in the public service have agreed that they will not sign the Public Service Salary Agreement in its current form. It represents the continuing assault on workers’ living standards, as part of the government’s neoliberal economic agenda.
The unions will be holding a press conference tomorrow, 24 May, to explain the reasons, which include:
Further to the above we shall not sign an agreement which once again takes away the members rights to Housing Allowance, in that it gives the employer the sole right to design and implement a Permission to Occupy (PTO).
Currently PTOs are being issued by various entities like parents, relatives, chiefs, tribal authorities and the like.
What the employer wants to introduce, and is being given unfettered powers to do so, is to bring in clauses, which will exclude a number of qualifying members. The same goes for this. Notwithstanding the fact that the agreement seeks to fool our members that the government will address issues like the same PTO, Family responsibility.
We are also rejecting the Review of the Comprehensive Danger Insurance. Our members need danger allowance, as we believe that the insurance cover will invariably result in the withdrawal of danger allowance. We cannot agree to taking away of any cent from our members.
We also wish to bring to the attention of the working class that it is not only in the PSCBC that the government is seeking to resolve the crisis of capitalism and the crisis the ANC factional battles have created for society on the back of workers, but also in the other state owned enterprises. Eskom has made a final offer of 0% to its workers. PRASA and other state owned enterprises are looking at ways to throw thousands of workers in the streets to resolve a crisis not created by workers.
We wish to warn members of the public that our members at Eskom will not take this lying down. Society must be aware that war has been declared against the workers who are keeping our lights on. We will take no responsibility should workers decide to pull the plug in response to this attack on their living standards.
We call on NUM to join hands with NUMSA members in the same way that the bus drivers worked together across unions and federation to pursue their interests.
The SAFTU NEC was confident that in our one year of existence, we have indeed become a voice for the workers and the broader working class against the capitalist regime and the struggle for a socialist alternative.