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SAFTU NATIONAL SHUTDOWN TO DEFEND THE SOCIOECONOMIC INTERESTS OF THE WORKING CLASS

At the 2nd National SAFTUCongress in late May 2022, we adopted a declaration that amongst others declared that “we are moving beyond divisiveness in favour of principled unity and recommit to building a fighting trade union movement guided by Marxism”.

Furthermore, the 2nd National Congress declared that “We declare that we must seek to work together, in solidarity, with other trade union federations, unions, and other workeroriented organisations to protect workers against consistent and unrelenting attacks from capitalists and their system. We need unity in action – on the ground – not just simply declared”.

Following this unambiguous directive, the SAFTU National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held last month unanimously decided on a national strike to defend and advance the socio-economic interests of workers and the working class at large. A second National Working Class Summit was convened on the 05 August, to discuss the proposal and the tentative date earmarked by the SAFTU NEC: 24 August.

Over two hundred working class formations and pro-worker non-governmental organisations and social movements unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed the call made by SAFTU. Countless left-leaning political parties have also endorsed the call for a national shutdown including the EFF, the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, the Azanian People’s Organisation, the Workers and Socialist Party, etc.

The decision to hold a general strike/stayaway/national shutdown comes as a result of the worsening socio-economic conditions for the working class and the marginalised poor communities. The cost of living is rising. Corruption and the neoliberal policies of the ANC have compromised the provision of public services. Unemployment has soared. And the government is accelerating the offensive on public corporations in the form of commercialisation, outsourcing and privatisation

The cost of a standard basic food basket has increased by 46,5% since December 2019, and as a result, the average household grocery bill today is R4 748.

Electricity tariffs

Electricity tariffs increased by a combined 507% between 2007 and 2022. The high electricity tariffs over the period have been driven up by government’s bid to offer conducive conditions for profitability, and to attract private investments in electricity
generation as envisioned in their White Paper on Energy in 1998.

These astronomical increases in electricity tariffs have caused strife across all municipalities, for example causing the people of Tembisa to go on strike late last month, as national Treasury imposed a new, more neoliberal electricity pricing scheme.
In Msunduzi Municipality, it costs R787,50 per month for a household to consume 350 kWh of electricity. In the Ekurhuleni Metro, where 1 kilowatt per hour of electricity costs R2,95
per kWh, consuming 350kWh of electricity costs R1 032 per month. Electricity disconnections under Eskom’s 2020 policy of “load reduction” target communities with large low-income populations for collective punishment, in a policy known by communities as “energy racism.”

Petrol and transport costs

Petrol prices have now reached unprecedented levels with a litre of 93 unleaded petrol costing R26,31 in July, and marginally reduced to R24,99 cents. This represents a 66% increase since March 2020.

Petrol price increases have consequently caused commuter transport costs to increase by an average of 26,3% since December 2019. The National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) reported that the total monthly cost of taxis as a mode of transport to work increased by R168 from R468 in 2013 to R636 in 2020. For buses, the transport increased by R158.

Because this is the average, prices are even higher in some areas, and moderate in other areas.

The National Taxi Alliance (NTA) said the prices of their transport will increase by 20 to 35%. In an article published on News24, a commuter reports that a taxi between Greenville and Johannesburg has increased from R18 to R25. Some long-distance taxi associations have increased their prices by R20 and others by R50.

Today, 80% of workers use taxis to and from work, given that the ANC government’s corrupt management of PRASA and metrorail services – and failure to provide security across the tracks – have collapsed much of the once-inexpensive commuter rail system.
Yet the taxi industry, unlike busses and the elite Gautrain, are not receiving a subsidy from the government. This has to change, for the sake of poor and working people who depend upon kombi taxis, and because subsiding this form of transport could offset the petrol price increases.

The Household Affordability Index for June 2022 reported that an estimated cost of return trip using a taxi to work costs R1 344 and consumes 34.5% of the wages of those workers earning the minimum wage of R23.19 per hour (R3 895 of those working 21 days/8 hours, and R4 080 of those working 22 days/8 hours).

Interest rates and financial liabilities

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) increased the interest rates by 75 basis points in July 2022, which is a 2% rise since last November. It is predicted that the South African Reserve Bank will raise rates by a further 75 basis points before the end of 2022.

This will make many basic goods purchased on credit, including housing, cars and durable goods – unaffordable, leading to consumer default. The Consumer Default Index produced by the Experian Africa, shows that the consumer default on all categories of financial liabilities have amounted to R54,31 billion between January and March 2022.

Beyond the danger of consumer default, the increase in interest rates makes the credit expensive, and thus crowds out the disposable cash workers wish to have for other household and personal spending commitments.

First National Bank (FNB) revealed earlier this year that 80% of the income of middleincome earners — doctors, lawyers, and professional public servants amongst others —

is depleted within 5 days. In 2021, it was reported that about 70 -75% of such income is spent on servicing credit.

The Reserve Bank should respond to imported inflation not by the ineffectual neoliberal strategy of raising interest rates. Instead, the Reserve Bank needs to urgently tighten exchange controls and lower interest rates so the economy is not squeezed at a time unemployment is at a record high of nearly 50%.

Indeed at the very time the cost of living is rising, many workers’ wages are being freozen or increased below the consumer price index, which in July hit 7.4%. In other words, the buying power of workers’ wages has been declining whilst the cost of living has been rising sharply.

That is why we need to fight for a living wage, since the current national minimum wage of R23,19, per hour, which is R3 895,92 for workers working 21 days per month, is R800 less than cost of the household food grocery.

In addition to the declining value of the buying power of wages as a result of these wage cuts and below inflation wage increases, the catastrophic level of unemployment makes it even more difficult for households to cope. The burden of looking after the unemployed in working class families, falls squarely on those members of the family who are working.

To offload the baggage on the employed members of the family and cushion the effects of unemployment on the 12,4 million people who are unemployed, is to introduce a Basic
Income Grant (BIG) of R1 500.

The strike is also geared to protest against privatisation of the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in particular the unbundling of Eskom and fresh moves to unbundle and privatise Transnet, the drive to defund and collapse the Post Office, PRASA, Denel, PetroSAA and the privatisation of SAA.

Government must invest in the SOEs, and halt the current practice: defunding them, thus letting them fail to operate properly, and then auctioning them at a very low price to private capital. If we allow these entities to be privatised, basic goods and services such as traveling, electricity and fuel would even be higher as the country would be subjected to monopoly corporations which are price makers, and which often increase prices to maximise their profits. An efficient state whose mandate is to address the historical injustices and inequalities is far better than a private monopoly more likely to be multinational corporations.

In addition, general government expenditure must be increased so that public service workers can get proper increases, and public institutions can hire more teachers, nurses, doctors, police and correctional officers, social workers and other public servants.

Further, reversal of budget cuts and increasing the budgets of key mainline services will ensure we beat the infrastructure backlog in schools and hospitals, and ensure that necessary equipment is available for public servants to perform their tasks, including to build libraries, computer and natural science laboratories in schools, and that there is free internet for both teachers and learners.

Flowing from the social crisis of unemployment and poverty, arise crime and violence. The latest crime statistics graphically highlights the crisis of violence and crime. The police reported last week Friday that between April and June 2022, 71 people were being killed and 104 people were being raped every day in this country, and we know that because of police handling of rape cases, the latter figure is tragically a vast understatement of the crisis of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Dejected by economic marginalisation, some of the unemployed are blaming immigrant workers for the lack of employment, and even for crime. But hard facts have proven that migrant workers are not stealing our jobs, and are not the majority perpetrators of crime.
Demographics of inmates in prison demystify this myth that essentialise crime on immigrants.

The social crisis of capitalism cannot be solved by one section of the working class blaming another, but by working class people uniting on a common programme to resist and fight back corruption, neoliberal budget cuts and capitalism itself.

Our national shutdown is organised to show the working class the way of fighting back, and politically unite them in action. The Working Class Summit process, which is debating the need for the creation of a mass party of the working class, is also striving
towards unity of the working class, not just in action, but in organisation.

We are calling for a general strike, a stayaway and a national shutdown of all workers – ordinary and middle class, and for those in areas where we will be organising marches, to join us. The unemployed and all other people concerned about the future of ordinary people in this country, should join us.
Here are the places of assembly, and destinations of our marches in different provinces:
1. Limpopo: The march is taking place in Polokwane. Comrades will assemble at SABC Park in Polokwane 08:00am, and start marching to the Office of the Premier from 10:00am.
2. Mpumalanga: The march is taking place in Witbank. Comrades will assemble at Broadway in Witbank, 09:00am, and start marching to Eskom Park from 10:00am.
3. Gauteng: The march is taking place in Pretoria. Comrades will assemble at Burgers Park in Pretoria 06:00am, and start marching to the Union Building from 10:00am.
4. Free State: The March is taking place in Bloemfontein. Comrades will assemble from 07:00am at Batho Location Hall in Mangaung, and start marching to the Office of the Premier (OR Tambo Building) at 10:00am.
5. Eastern Cape: The March is taking place in Bisho. Comrades will assemble from 08:00am at Fort Hare Grounds, and start marching to Bisho Legislature at 10:00am.
6. Western Cape: The march is taking place in Cape Town. Comrades will assemble at Keizersgracht in Cape Town, 08:00am, and start marching to the City of Cape Town, Dept Mineral Resources and Energy, Provincial Government and Parliament from 10:00am.
7. In KwaZulu-Natal we are calling on workers to observe the call for a stayaway, general strike and national shut down. Regrettably, SAFTU has not planned any activity in KwaZulu Natal.

SAFTU calls on all members to join hands with other workers irrespective of a different logo and must unite in actions in all these provinces, where our locations coincide with their locations. We call on the black women and the youth who are the face of the crisis we face, the small black business including the taxi associations and truck owners and drivers to join.