The South African Federation of Trade Unions join the millions of workers in our country and the world over in marking 160th May Day. This is the day and month we set aside to go back down memory lane and remember the struggles of workers of generations before in order to gather courage to confront today’s battles head-on.
We lower our banners to remember countless workers martyrs that died with their boots on in a continuous struggle to improve the working conditions of workers everywhere in the world. It is the struggles the organised and unorganised battalions of the working class have engaged in over time that in some instances been successful in creating a labour regime which abolished child labour, lessened the working hours from 12 – 16 hours per day in the first industrial revolution to minimum of 7 hours per day in the third industrial revolution, lessened the working week, worked for improved safety and health of workers at workplaces, improved wages and improved working conditions overall including socio-economic gains in terms of housing and car allowances.
Notwithstanding the gains made over the past century, capitalism’s tendency to reduce costs of production and maximise profit has always tended towards reversing these gains and reinventing or perfecting the wheel of exploitation.
South African workers
We commit to continue campaigning against the amendments to the labour laws that seeks to undermine the hard won right of south African workers to strike and picket. We will continue to fight to ensure that the CCMA has sufficient funding so that it can employ commissioners on full time. We commit to ensure that the CCMA can service workers including the walk-ins so that workers are not left to the mercy of the bosses.
As we celebrate the international workers day we take note that the attacks on workers in our country has been escalated to unprecedented levels. In the public service as a whole the merciless government has imposed a wage freeze which if we cannot unite to stop will last for four years. Workers in many state owned enterprises are facing wage freeze, retrenchments and others like SAA and Denel workers are not being paid their wages.
SAFTU salutes the South African workers who, during apartheid, waged a two-pronged struggle against bosses at the shopfloor and fought to abolish the racist minority regime whose racist laws not only undermined the position of workers at the workplaces, but also affected their socio-political and economic in all aspects of their lives.
The result of their relentless fight was the repealing of the Industrial Conciliation Act, the legalisation of black trade unions and the general defeat of apartheid regime. However, the gains that were made quickly came under attack in the liberal democratic South Africa.
These gains are consistently under threat from the new government that inherited and adopted neoliberal programmes and now austerity programmes that are currently reversing these gains.
The state of the capitalist economy: the growth and unemployment crisis
It is not only the ANC factions who are bringing the country to its knees. South Africa’s capitalist class is failing workers and the entire society, as well as the capitalist economy itself. There are two reasons:
To some extent, South Africa’s problems are overdetermined by global capitalism. A million workers lost their jobs between 2008 and 2009 when the impact of the world financial crisis reached our shores. Those jobs have not been replaced.
In 2020, the economy lost another 1.5 million jobs. What that means is 12 million people who wish they could be gainfully employed, are not, thanks to South African capitalism’s incapacities.
For youth below the age of 24, unemployment has increased to 63%. Overall, counting people who have given up looking for work, a staggering 42% of the South African population is unemployed. In the poorest province, the Eastern Cape, 52% of the people are in dehumanising unemployment. A shameful 47% of black African women are unemployed.
SAFTU continues campaigning to genuinely place the economy on a fundamentally different trajectory. By that we mean, in summary:
1. Nationalisation of the mineral wealth of the country to be placed under the democratic control of the working class, so that we do not continue to lose these resources to multinational corporations with inadequate compensation
for the depleted materials, and so that instead we can use this vast wealth to create jobs and rebuild our industrial sector.
2. Overhaul the economy to end the domination of what is now often termed the minerals-energy-finance complex, and instead direct the country’s highly liquid capital into environmentally-conscious industrialisation and creation of decent work.
3. Nationalisation of the Reserve Bank and the oligopolistic banks, so that exchange controls and tighter regulations halt the criminal levels of Illicit Financial Flows, and allow us to have a much lower interest rate without fear of capital flight.
4. Taking back the arable land, as part of a deliberate strategy not only to reverse colonisation but to ensure that the black majority has property and food sovereignty, and hence can become active participants in the new economy, not as slave labourers or migrant workers, but as the owners and community leaders they once were.
We reject the President’s so-called recovery plan, because yet again, it does not go anywhere close to offering a real shift in our fortunes, based on the fundamentally different economic value system we so desperately need.
In the meantime, as our socialist forces recover and the working class achieves more awareness of the need for a revolutionary movement led by a worker’s party and strong, radical trade unions and social movement, SAFTU must continue unveiling capitalist crimes against our economy, politics, society and environment. Campaigning is vital, because in spite of the Covid-19 lockdown, our society is engaged in what scholars identify as unprecedented levels of protest.
NEDLAC has accepted that the government and the employers have refused to meet our demands we submitted in September 2020.
This means we must use May Day and the May month to decide on the next round of mass mobilisation that will eventually lead to the total shut down of the economy in order to force the ruling class and their shop stewards in the ANC to meet our demands.
We are celebrating May Day under worse conditions in our life time. Coronavirus found us in a crisis but has simply worsened this crisis. In the world’s most unequal society, where capitalist degeneracy is as extreme as it is here, the socio-economic crises we face are exemplified by the health crisis. To everyone across the world who lost family members and friends, and who suffered dramatic socio-economic disruptions over the past 15 months – since Covid-19 surfaced in China in late 2019 – SAFTU offers not only our solidarity and sympathy. We also offer campaigning and healthcare advocacy, often in conjunction with the C19 People’s Coalition. We consistently advocated adherence to clear scientific protocols in Covid-19 treatment
and prevention, especially because it is the working class and African, coloured and Indian working-class people taking the brunt of the severe morbidity and mortality.
We argued in early April that President Ramaphosa’s roll-out programme for the Covid-19 vaccine is failing. From our standpoint, it has been delayed due to reasons relating to the inefficiency of the global capitalist system, in which competition between a few large pharmaceutical corporations which refuse to share Intellectual Property, and the hoarding of Covid-19 vaccines by rich countries, together create market distortions that can be described as vaccine-profiteering genocide. As we argued, this is no exaggeration: millions have died of Covid-19 (probably 150 000 in South Africa alone if excess death are included, triple what we are told in official Covid-19 statistics). Millions more will die because of Big Pharma and the rich countries’ selfishness.
We blame our own government’s incompetence and lack of political will, as the main reasons we are not vaccinating our society at a faster rate. The government’s reliance on Johnson and Johnson is also problematic. We certainly support the government in joining with India, Kenya, and Eswatini in the World Trade Organisation to demand that there be no Intellectual Property restrictions on Covid-19 vaccines or treatments. But from the government side, there was practically no public lobbying, so our natural allies in the world’s civil society organisations – who can pressure their own governments to support the Intellectual Property waiver – have not been mobilised.
Finally, vaccines were acquired several weeks ago. However, after a million doses of AstraZeneca were imported from India’s Serum Institute, it was found the vaccine could not prevent mild cases of the 501Y.V2 variant, hence these supplies were dumped on other African countries. The already delayed programme was halted, with a delay and readjustment of the first phase of Covid-19 vaccination. Although securing a vaccine that is not effective against the variant most common in South Africa could not be attributed to government’s lack of due diligence, the rush to buy from the private multinational pharmaceuticals under pressure of competing consumers is a major problem.
There is a related problem, the Minister of Health commitment to austerity in the face of the pandemic is unforgivable. As Covid-19 hit South Africa, when public health officials knew it was coming, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni cut R3.9 billion from the healthcare budget and also violated a written contract to pay civil servants an inflation-adjusted wage. Then he froze posts in the health sector and cut wages further in real terms.
We are extremely concerned about the mismanagement of the healthcare system, continued Covid-19 tenderpreneurship corruption (now apparently also involving Health Minister Zweli Mkhize through the ‘Digital Vibes’ tenderpreneurship), worsening retrenchment levels, and the lack of government fiscal support to so many suffering communities. While the ruling party twiddles its thumbs over whether corrupt officials should belatedly step down, the possibilities of a new outbreak and
new variants are not getting the attention they deserve. We need to be on a war footing to defeat corporate profiteers and the neoliberal Treasury.
On April 6, SAFTU announced that the land redistribution and restitution processes continue to be inadequate, including so-called Expropriation Without Compensation. Looking carefully at its details, SAFTU rejected the bill, because it makes only a conditional provision for land to be expropriated at a nil rate when determined by the courts. In our view, land expropriation must be expedited without hindrance of the courts, so to ensure that
SAFTU holds that the distribution of land for agricultural purposes should be accompanied by the assistance from government. Seeds, tractors, and other technological equipment and funding should be provided to those farmers so that they increase the food security of this country.
Without that support, workers continue to rely for their nutrition upon agro-corporate capitalism. But the cost of nutritious food in a household, according to the latest Household Affordability Index, is estimated at R4039.56 which is way above the National Minimum Wage.
For most of workers who earn the R3 800 minimum wage, the new 15% electricity hikes compound the problem of poverty. As we announced in a 1 April statement, SAFTU encourages working class people, who suffer most from the electricity hikes, to organise resistance and fight for a transformed Eskom, and a move towards a genuine Just Transition with green energy production. Through a vision of renewable energy, working-class coordination and self-management, community-based empowerment, municipal cross-subsidisation and a transformed Eskom’s overall support at the scale of a national grid, SAFTU intend to rally all progressive organisations to resist the neoliberal onslaught and corruption, and to offer an affordable alternative that will bring South Africa’s massive untapped wind and solar power to ordinary people.
Genuine free tertiary education
#FeesMustFall protests won a promise from former President Zuma, in December 2017: “for Poor and Working class [undergraduate] students, government will now
introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training.” He defined beneficiaries as “households with a combined annual income of up to R350 000.” Of course we celebrated our children’s success in turning their protests into concrete gains.
So we were disgusted that Treasury reversed these in February by defunding NSFAS for first-year students. After student protests broke out in nearly every city, the Higher Education Minister reversed course – but he did so by defunding worker training and other university budgetary commitments!
In 2017, Zuma promised, “Government will increase subsidies to universities from 0.68% to 1% of the GDP over the next five years as recommended by the Heher Commission and in line with comparable economies in order to address the overall gross underfunding of the sector.” The short-changing starts there, with Finance Minister Mboweni obligated to spend 1% of GDP – approximately R49 billion this year – but he only budgeted R45.6 billion for 2021/22.
Government must be disciplined because its continual attacks on working-class and poor South Africans – while generously giving corporate tax cuts and exchange control liberalisation benefits to the country’s mainly-white rich people, whose greater financial resources can largely be traced to apartheid and its neoliberal aftermath – is a refutation of all the ANC’s fine rhetoric regarding a Better Life for All.
Students in 2021 have it tough, because the atomising, fragmenting system they are confronting is cleverer than the 2015-17 enemies. The imposition of e-learning, new court interdicts against key leaders, and political divisions between parties in student government, during a municipal election year, threaten to demobilise and drain the momentum of the powerful protests that are still peaking in this recent wave. We offered our support, especially when in March the Wits students protesting in Braamfontein were fired on by police, leaving one bystander dead, which SAFTU came out in solidarity against police brutality and intransigent government.
SAFTU call on workers to accept that the demand for free, decolonised high quality public education system is their demand. Workers must be at the forefront of these battles.
As we celebrate May Day we remain inspired by international workers slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all!”
Cabo Delgado’s in Mozambique
Our hearts and solidarity go out Cabo Delgado’s in Mozambique suffering residents. We need solidarity with that region instead of allowing South African government and corporate-mercenary militarism to escalate – a strategy that, just as in the U.S. in 2001, could bring the war home if Islamic militants target South African civilians in the period ahead.
The South African-based Dyck Action Group mercenaries hired by the corrupt Mozambican government were accused by Amnesty International (and 53 local
eyewitnesses) of shooting into civilian crowds including a hospital. The Sandton-headquartered Paramount Group – long a close ally of former President Zuma and responsible for corruption in Malawi that brought down the Joyce Banda’s government in 2014 – has continued its opaque arms dealings with the Mozambican military.
SAFTU sends best wishes and stretches its arms of solidarity to the Palestinians – victims of Israeli apartheid. Israel has ensured it became the first country in the vaccine queues while even denying health workers in Gaza and the West Bank access, much less the broader population, SAFTU must intensify our commitments to weakening South African-Israeli official ties.
Again, we demand not only that the ambassadorial withdrawal continue, but that all official political ties and economic relations be broken so that a full BDS helps to pressure Israel to reverse its illegal occupations and blockades of Gaza and the West Bank, to end internal discrimination against Israeli Palestinians, and to agree to the right of return for those in the diaspora whose families were dispossess in the 1948 Nakba and after.
SAFTU joined forces with many groups organised by the Free Burma Campaign South Africa and the Gandhi Development Trust, to appeal to President Ramaphosa to impose sanctions on the Myanmar junta whose coup in early February reversed the brief move towards democracy.
The specific target we believe Ramaphosa should engage is Silver Wave Energy – which for reasons that are incomprehensible, has vast shares of offshore oil and gas drilling rights in the Indian Ocean. These were granted suspiciously during the Zuma government so need to be investigated. But because Silver Wave has been targeted by the Burma solidarity movement as an ally of the military junta, it is a vital first step, and we will continue to put pressure on the government to that end.
The U.S. imperial agenda
As U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin brazenly told Congress in April, “There’s probably not a space on the globe that the United States and its allies can’t reach.” In foreign policy settings from West Africa to the Middle East, Russia and China, the U.S. government may actually become worse – aside from climate politics – in coming weeks and months.
For example, it was important for President Biden to recognise the uselessness of a war Washington has prosecuted since September 2001: Afghanistan. As Biden himself put it in April, “We went to Afghanistan in 2001 to root out al Qaeda, to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan.” But his recent commitment to withdraw a few thousand troops leaves more than 15 000 private mercenaries in place. And tens of thousands of Afghans are dead in the $2.2 trillion quagmire there, with drug trafficking and warlordism rife, and Taliban set
to play a leading role in the future as a result of hatred towards the government stoked by the arrogant two-decade long U.S. occupation.
In Russia, the Biden administration may be especially dangerous, because of the revival of Washington’s Cold War militaristic mentality, especially on the Ukraine border. Although SAFTU is at least relieved that the Obama administration’s main nuclear deal – the New START Treaty – was continued, the only other Obama-era advances for global peace have not been quickly restored: the Iran nuclear deal and normalisation of relations with Cuba.
Biden has retained irrational, internationally illegal sanctions against Cuba and Iran, and tightened them against Venezuela, Syria and many other countries. Biden increased the U.S. military budget, which already had grown 15% in real terms since 2015. In Iran, Iraq and Syria, Biden’s Pentagon continues to engage in airstrikes and drone attacks, with even more secrecy and carelessness about civilian deaths than Trump’s regime. Biden favours Saudi Arabia notwithstanding that regime’s war against the Yemeni people and the recent murder personally authorised by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman of a leading Saudi Washington Post journalist (Jamal Khashoggi). Not even sanctions, travel bans or an asset freeze was considered, revealing Washington’s human-rights hypocrisy.
Just like Trump, Biden is isolating his foreign policy by promoting the charlatan politician Juan Guaidó as “interim president” of Venezuela. And sanctions continue even though they mainly hurt the majority of the citizenry, not Nicolas Maduro’s government. Biden treats Cuba just as did Trump: sanctions, remittance blockages and even Covid-19 aid shipments. SAFTU can especially appreciate the ongoing struggles of Cubans because their medical missions are so appreciated here and scores of other countries where since 1959 the spirit of the Cuban revolution is transferred to us all by these medics.
Although SAFTU never found the same spirit of revolutionary progress in our relations with China – due to the often voracious, corrupt corporations we see in South Africa (China South Rail and its financiers at the China Development Bank, Hoi Mor, etc), we believe the U.S. and its allies’ encirclement and hostility are extremely dangerous.
SAFTU on this day commits to work with progressive movements to defeat US imperialism. We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the people of West Sahara gain their right to govern themselves.
Call to African workers
We call on the African workers to join us in ensuring that we defeat the tyrants and instal workers government that will take over our land, mineral wealth to build a new Africa that will no longer tolerate imperialist inspired wars, famine and want when Africa should be the richest continent in the world.
For these demands we will leave no stone unturned, spare no energy as we seek to liberate the working class here and all over the world.