South African workers are expressing grievances and are out on strike at many sites, and preparing for others. These include the mining, transport, and agricultural sectors. But unless we learn to fight together as a united force of the working class, we shall be defeated by the capitalist class one after another.
For far too long, we allowed workers to fight isolated battles, such as the strikes in the plastic, engineering sectors, or at Clover. Public service workers not only witnessed the Treasury’s unethical refusal to implement the last leg of their three-year wage agreement. In addition, Treasury then effectively imposed a four-year wage freeze on civil servants, even while a 3% raise is under consideration for political leaders.
Every day there are a half-dozen major protests for service-related grievances in our country. Organised workers often do not bring their trade unions into these protests, even if they are active themselves. This weakness must be addressed, the way it was during the late 1980s when worker-leaders were also civic leaders. From now, going forward, an injury to a worker must be considered as an injury to a community member, and vice versa.
SAFTU and allied working-class formations call for all poor and working residents of South Africa to join hands and form a single movement, and to renew our struggle for total emancipation starting on May Day, 2022.
We are under formidable attack from the capitalists and the state. While unemployment, inequality and poverty have soared, the price of everything is rising, especially goods that affect workers like basic food, fuel and electricity, many of which are now no long affordable. Privatisation of renewable electricity – through the Independent Power Producers – is part of the strategy to hollow out Eskom and later sell it on a silver platter to cronies. And today, 80% of workers use private kombi transport as the government allowed PRASA to collapse, so the fuel price hike hits us even harder. Every state owned enterprise has been grounded and thousands more of workers and families lost income.
Millions of workers have lost their jobs and our wages and social grants are not increasing to match inflation plus the rising “black tax” of kinship needs. Unemployment is still above 50% among women, 77% amongst the youth between the ages of 15 – 24 years and just a little over 50% among black people. The crises of unemployment, poverty, inequality, maldevelopment, rise of incurable viruses and the climate catastrophe are the direct offspring of capitalism.
Our living standards are declining while the bosses’ profits and company stock market valuations continue to soar. The Reserve Bank has raised interest rates by 0.75% over the past five months, which hits every borrower in the gut. The working class and poor are drowning in debt. Everywhere in the world, ruling elites are seeking to resolve the global capitalist crisis and pandemic on the back of workers.
They are attacking every gain we have secured through many decades of sacrifices, blood and even the death of workers. Though cheered on by capitalists who promise government a higher credit rating, Treasury’s massive cuts in public expenditure and public investment will not result in economic growth, but the opposite, decline. Yet government’s current public debt to GDP ratio of 70% is less than the 80% projected a year ago, and in any case puts South Africa only at #60th highest in the world. Historically the debt/GDP was greater than this during the entire 1914-32 period, yet it was during the 1930s that national government dramatically increased public enterprises (like Iscor steel, the post office and the predecessors of Eskom and Transnet) and hired thousands of workers.
We suffer extreme austerity already, as seen in systemic paralysis across the public sector. Examples include the reduction in headcount of public servants, worsening infrastructure in schools, poorly maintained fleets, lack of equipment and resources, and the lack of stormwater drainage maintenance and adequate home construction that led to such terrible failures of climate adaptation and resilience in Durban in mid-April, with hundreds of deaths resulting.
The dissatisfaction our society so often expresses with quality of services provided in public institutions has its source in the austerity cuts carried out by the ANC government. Workers in the public sector, especially those in institutions that offer services directly such as schools, prisons, police stations and hospitals, are operating under extreme conditions of distress and depression because of the workload that arise out of understaffing, and lack of resources. Government has refused to fill 200 000 vacancies. Every teacher, health worker, police official, correctional service officer, municipal worker etc. knows what it means to be given an impossible job, one that in a decent work environment would be shared with many others. 70% of the population depends on government services and cannot afford private schools, hospitals and private security.
The government is following in the footsteps of the most brutal corporate bosses. It has effectively created a segment of precarious jobs within the public sector. Government is using the Expanded Public Works Programme to perform the work of permanent municipal workers. Government is dragging its foot to insource the community healthcare workers (aside from Gauteng Province) and the early childhood development workers. Security and cleaners in the public hospitals have been handed over to the middlemen to exploit them and sometimes disappear with their wages. In the private sector there is a growing army of workers declared ‘noncore’. Precarious jobs mean more workers fall in the category of the working poor.
Economically-marginalised masses of working people and the youth pauperised by unemployment resort to criminal activities to make end meets. There is a drugs pandemic and abuse of substances amongst our young people. We are said to be the second most depressed nation in the world after Russia. Others engage in domestic violence as a result of worsening conditions in the context of capitalist-patriarchy.
Others, unfortunately, look towards the short-legged explanations of campaigns like Operation Dudula, and blame the scourge of unemployment, poverty and crime on immigrants. SAFTU reiterates that our problems are not created by African and Asian immigrants, but are created by capitalism — a system that is predicated on enriching the few at the expense of the majority – and by a state run by the ruling party’s most heartless neoliberal cadres. We call on unemployed workers to redirect their anger from immigrants, who clearly are used as scapegoats by the ideological apparatus of capitalism, towards the capitalist system and the land dispossessors, including but not limited to this useless government.
Our anger must be directed at combating austerity measures and abolishing capitalism.
SAFTU demands that government:
1. reverse budget cuts, and increase spending for society, environment, and infrastructure;
2. ensure public sector wages are budgeted sufficiently for, the headcount of workers to be increased significantly across all departments, given the sustained failure to fill vacancies;
3. invest in infrastructure for public institutions;
4. introduce a monthly Basic Income Grant of R1 500;
5. introduce a job guarantee scheme for the unemployed;
6. provide a genuine fiscal stimulus – SAFTU still believes R1 trillion is appropriate – which can be funded by clamping down hard on tax dodging, illicit cash outflows, mispricing, and corruption;
7. rebuild the economy and reindustrialise, so as to address unemployment, poverty, and inequality;
8. renationalise Iscor, Sasol and Eskom and nationalise the Reserve Bank and the mining industry under democratic labour and community control;
9. return the land and redistribute it effectively to ensure that you not only address property hunger of the black majority but use it for food sovereignty, security, and selfreliance;
10.stop evictions in the farms and protect the rights of farm and backyard dwellers, while ensuring that the housing backlogs are addressed with decent houses that are closer to economic opportunities.