As 2017 draws to a close, the South African Federation of Trade Unions has good reason to celebrate the first eight months of its existence.
The birth of SAFTU was a most significant victory for workers, a giant step to unite the workers of the country at a time when they were losing hope in existing unions and federations, reflected by the fact that only 24% of workers are unionised. The more vulnerable workers who need the unions the most form the overwhelming majority of the 76% of workers who are outside unions.
Bringing together 24 unions that represented 700 000 workers, and with 3 more subsequently joining to make 27 unions, was no small step. We are aware that the goal of uniting workers and recruiting the 76% of workers outside the unions is far from being achieved, but an important step has been taken. We set an ambitious target to recruit 300 000 workers by end of December 2017. We are verifying affiliated unions membership. we are confident we have achieved this goal.
We shall continue to persuade all independent unions and federations such as NACTU and FEDUSA that the unity of workers is sacrosanct and certainly more important than all other considerations. We shall also continue to reach out to workers and unions inside COSATU and try to convince them that unions that share the same bed with the bosses cannot truly represent the interests of workers.
Our new independent, militant and revolutionary federation has made an indelible mark on the country’s labour and political landscape and achieved several important victories that are worth celebrating. It has become a beacon of hope for the working class and the poor majority of South Africans who face the disaster of disappearing jobs, the rise of precarious jobs through outsourcing and use of labour brokering, deepening poverty and ever-widening inequality.
The new federation stormed on to South Africa’s labour and political stage only eight days after its launching congress, when thousands of workers flooded the streets of Durban on May Day. The march and all the speeches reached an audience of millions as it was covered in its entirety on radio, TV and the print media, thanks to the COSATU event in Bloemfontein being abandoned after factional battles.
In just eight months we have scored countless victories worth celebrating
We hope that these successes will encourage other dismissed workers to regain their jobs and shall not rest until these workers have been reinstated:
Assign Services, a labour broking company which was supplying contract staff to Krost Shelving and Racking believed that after the period of three months lapsed, contract workers would be the responsibility of both Krost and Assign as ‘dual employers’ and that the temporary contract remained intact.
NUMSA contended that the placed workers should be deemed as full-time employees of Krost, as they had been contracted to work there in excess of three months and that in terms of the law, Krost was the sole employer.
The court thus reinforced the principle that that the purpose of temporary employment is short-term. If it extends beyond three months then a worker automatically becomes a permanent employee of the employer. The case also confirmed that once permanent, contract workers must be treated the same as permanent employees with the same rights and benefits.
This was a victory for contract and temporary workers everywhere! It confirms that labour brokers may not exploit workers on contract for indefinite periods of time.
As with the battles for reinstatement however, this judgement will only free workers who are being exploited by labour brokers if the unions use it effectively to force employers to implement it.
SAFTU has already condemned a reported call by the Confederation of Associations in the Private Employment Sector (CAPES), representing labour brokers, to encourage its members to disregard this key LAC judgment. If true it is defying not only the will of the court, but also of Parliament, which in 2014 amended Section 198A of the LRA in order to clarify that employers must fulfil obligations to all workers, including those engaged through a labour broker.
Important though the victory is, the federation will continue to fight for the complete banning of labour broking and the end of the three-month period in which workers can legally be exploited.
The biggest challenge we faced is that the COSATU unions in the public sector are using the management to deny workers their right to freedom of association through all manner of shenanigans. Workers have been discouraged to join SAFTU unions in particular and all other independent unions, through double deductions and blatant refusals to recognise that workers have resigned from sweetheart unions, by refusing to stop these sweetheart unions’ subscription deductions. We have resolved to report the government to the ILO for practises that contravenes the ILO Convention 87 to which it is a signature. We will also be approaching courts to remedy this situation.
The fight against corruption
Even before SAFTU came to existence, its affiliates such as NUMSA and NTM were engaged in titanic battles to stop corruption in both the private and public sectors. In fact the dismissal of these unions from COSATU was because of their instance that corruption was a threat to our hard-won democracy.
In 2017 SAFTU, together with civil society organisations and opposition parties in parliament, has also won battles in its fight against the on going epidemic of corruption and the looting of public resources. While the war is far from being over, we can welcome the following successes for the anti-corruption campaign:
Challenges in 2018
These victories are small when set against the challenges we face as we enter 2018. As we have stated so repeatedly, our 37% unemployment rate is six times the world average; we have become the most unequal society in the world; and poverty afflicting 55% of the population is getting even worse by the day as more workers are thrown to the streets to join 9.4 million who are unemployed. Notwithstanding the victories above, corruption remains endemic.
SAFTU does not have any confidence that the changes in the leadership of the ANC will guarantee that any of these steps forward will continue or even not be reversed. We would be the first to celebrate if they were to succeed but we don’t believe that the organisation can be saved. The 50-50 split in the leadership means endless bickering and not the decisive action required to lead our country out of the quagmire the ANC itself has placed the country in.
Cyril Ramaphosa is a deeply compromised capitalist billionaire, with hands stained with the blood of the 34 victims of Marikana who were shot in cold blood by the state to shield Monopoly capital in general and Lonmin in particular. Some of his NOB colleagues are deeply implicated in the very scandals that the inquiry the ANC conference voted for is supposed to investigate.
All those now facing the prospect of prosecution and jail will fight to the bitter end to dodge the bullets, as we see from the endless appeals by the President against every judgement that goes against him. His cronies will be no less ruthless in trying to save their skins, and a divided ANC NEC will be torn apart by the factions battling for control of the money-bags.
On economic policy there is no chance of real change. The radical-sounding resolutions passed by the ANC at Nasrec are just like those passed at Polokwane in 2007 and Mangaung in 2012 and are sure to remain as dead in the water as those were.
The ANC’s main priority will be to try to stabilise both the ANC and the capitalist economy. In order to appease the credit ratings agencies and international investors he will have to appear to be taking action against the blatant forms of corruption, while at the same time ensuring that the inherently corrupt and exploitative monopoly capitalist system survives intact.
The ANC will continue with exactly the same neoliberal economic policies and implement the austerity measures that the ratings agencies are demanding. It will mean more savage cuts in spending of education, and further postponement of the national health insurance scheme and comprehensive social security.
Job losses will continue and poverty and inequality will continue to get worse.
Already President Jacob Zuma has told the rating agency that the forthcoming budget speech will be about cutting the expenditure by R25 billion and raising taxes by R15 billion. We have not the slightest doubt in our minds that the working class will be at the receiving end of these austerity measurers. We are calling on the workers in the Western Cape to unite with progressive civil society to picket and hold demonstrations during the opening of parliament and during the budget speech. They must make it clear that the poor must not be made to pay for the mismanagement of the economy and politics of our country.
The only difference will be an attempt to try to get the unions to agree to Ramaphosa’s pet project of a ‘social compact’ or the so called ‘New Deal’, to make it look as if there is national consensus around these policies. COSATU, FEDUSA and even NACTU, by agreeing to the poverty national minimum wage of R20, R18, R15 and R11 an hour, have already shown a willingness to be hoodwinked into such class collaboration.
The ‘New Deal’ will in our view be a perfect chicken and pig partnership to make a breakfast. The chicken, which will be the bosses, will offer to lay the eggs and the pig, which will be workers, will be asked to donate the bacon, which is only possible once it has been slaughtered.
SAFTU will have nothing to do with any such betrayals of the working class. We will engage if invited to these discussions but our demands for real change will disrupt the class collaboration.
The only way to bring about any real change is to take the fight on to the streets, and that is exactly what SAFTU has resolved to do, with a program of mass action for social change. We are preparing for a national strike and major demonstrations throughout 2018.
We shall fight alongside poor communities, where protests against the lack of service delivery are sure to resume in 2018 and become more militant and in some cases violent. We shall act in solidarity with the students who are sure to move into action again, despite Zuma’s sudden, opportunist conversion to the idea of free tertiary education for poor students, which he has defined.
They will not be fooled into thinking that this is a serious offer, given the depth of the economic crisis. Even if more money can be found for tertiary education, it will be at the cost of even bigger cuts in spending on other areas of education, healthcare, transport, social grants and infrastructure projects.
The battle to save jobs will intensify, as more jobs disappear in the mines and manufacturing industry in particular. More permanent jobs will become temporary, full-time jobs become part-time and more work will be outsourced.
More employers will continue to try to capitalise on workers’ desperation to find work by cutting wages, worsening working conditions and abandoning collective bargaining. This in turn will reduce even further the demand for goods and services, as workers cannot afford to buy even basic essentials, which will lead to even more lost jobs in retail and service sectors.
We are entering a classical capitalist crisis of under-consumption in which the working class cannot buy the good and service they provide.
That is why it is more vital than ever that we have a strong, militant SAFTU to lead the counter-attack and fight for a socialist South Africa and a socialist world in which the key monopoly industries are owned and democratically planned and run in the interests of the people as a whole, as envisaged in the Freedom Charter.
SAFTU calls on all workers, the students, the youth, women and all progressive organs of people’s power to unite now and fight these battles as one class of the marginalised majority. To all of these forces we say: rest well now and replenish your energy reserves for 2018 when we shall see a true mobilisation against the status quo that has condemned the majority to squalor and hopelessness.