The poor of our country are suffering! A human calamity is unfolding!
The difference is that this is not making headlines because the poor who are suffering are working-class and black. According to police up to 13 000 so called ‘service delivery’ protests take place a year. The only time most of these get mentioned by the mainstream media is when the protestors block the roads.
All of these demonstrations are isolated and fragmented and have been largely ignored by the ruling elites and the ruling class.
The rich and their shop stewards in parliament are indifferent to the suffering of the poor majority. The poor has been left to their own devices. The poor is on its own!
It is not just the working class who are seeing a free-fall in their living standards. The overwhelming number of South Africans is going through difficult times. Our economy is growing at a very slow pace and it is forecast that it will continue to grow below the population growth rate.
The increase of VAT and a host of so called ‘sin taxes’, combined with the recent increase in interest rates and the record-breaking fuel prices means that everything else is going up, from bonded houses to anything bought through hire purchase.
We are witnessing soaring unemployment, which is the sixth worst in the world. But even worse, our youth unemployment makes us number one in whole world. We have the highest level of inequality in the world. More than half of the citizens of our country are trapped in degrading poverty and squalor.
In addition to this, our public education system is in a mess, with 91% of our schools dysfunctional, according to the diagnosis report of the NDP. Our public hospitals have become death traps! The Life Esidimeni massacre is by no means an exception but a norm. Most of our local governments are in a sorry state with towns and citizens so congested with not even basic infrastructure and services. Our townships and rural areas are seeing a rise of informal dwellers with the housing backlog rising all the time.
All of this adds up to the worst kind of social crisis. The future of our youth from the working class communities in particular is bleak. Crime has got out of hand, with an average of 57 violent deaths a day. We are one of the most dangerous countries to live in, particular for women and children. Not even our senior citizens are safe in their own homes.
We are witnessing a rising tide of a drug epidemic that is threatening most workingclass and poor families. We are seeing a frightening rise in suicide rates, in particular amongst our youth and young males. Gang wars have become a common sight even in deep rural areas.
SAFTU members are saying “Enough is Enough”! All workers, irrespective of which union or federation they belong, are saying “Enough is Enough”. Other workers not in unions are angry that they remain exploited by the hated labour brokers and outsourcing. Workers are trapped in increasingly precarious jobs that pay them peanuts and subject them to worse working conditions.
Poor communities too are saying enough is enough!
The unemployed above the age of 18 have no social security to cushion them from the worst kinds of poverty. There is no social wage to help make life easy. There is no functioning, accessible and safe public transport system and our public schools and hospitals are in a sorry state.
Next year we will mark a quarter of a century, of our democracy. We know that others would like to hail it as a real milestone and having made big achievements. All the signs point to a worsening crisis! Freedom has become a freedom for a select few!
The plight of working-class people is more desperate than ever. As we saw in the latest employment statistics, showing another 16 000 jobs disappearing, the job-loss bloodbath continues and will get even worse with all the retrenchments planned in the mines, factories, Eskom, the SABC and possibly SAA.
Eskom load shedding will lead to even deeper levels of economic crisis, as more and more firms will close and investment move elsewhere. More budget cuts in education, healthcare and other vital services will lead to derelict schools, dysfunctional hospitals and clinics and chaotic and dangerous public transport in 2019.
A rising tide of anger at this crisis was seen in SAFTU’s huge demonstrations on 25 April 2018 which brought tens of thousands of working-class people on the streets, to protest against a poverty minimum wage and laws which could destroy workers’ constitutional right to strike and picket.
The Working-Class Summit, which involved 147 workers’, and community organizations in July 2018 laid the foundations for a united mass movement of all the poor and unemployed majority of South Africans to respond to this worsening crisis.
It drew together workers – employed and unemployed, full-time and part-time, permanent and casual and those working for labour brokers – community activists, informal traders, migrant workers, women’s groups, environmental groups and progressive NGOs.
SAFTU convened its second highest decision making body, the Central Committee in October and the NEC met in November to process the decisions of the Central Committee. The leadership of the 147 working class formations also met at the end of November to consider a way forward.
Based on all these consultations our Political and Ideological Commission on 12 December 2018, as mandated by the NEC, adopted the following programme:
1. We will convene Special Provincial Shop Steward Councils to which all working class activists will be invited throughout February 2019
2. Together with the leadership of the 147 working class formations that met in July 2018, we will convene the provincial chapters of the Working Class Summit formations across the length and breadth of the country in January and February. These will include People’s Assemblies in every town and rural areas to unite organised workers with the unemployed, the workers in the informal economy, environmental activists, and homeless campaigners with the rest of the marginalised.
3. We will hold massive demonstrations in Cape Town on Budget Day in February and hold mass meetings throughout the country to mobilise for a People’s Budget and reject a budget that will only deepen the misery for the poor majority.
4. We will hold a two days general strike on 26–27 March 2019, which will be a total shut-down and an occupation of cities and towns by the unemployed and the employed, the homeless, the landless, the property-less, etc. It will not be a SAFTU strike or an organized workers’ strike but a strike by the poor majority of South Africans. We shall occupy the streets from the poor townships and march to the city centres and sleep there overnight. We will remain in the cities until the government meets our demands.
5. SAFTU will convene its Central Committee in April to evaluate this programme and announce the day when we will occupy the land and other forms of more radical action to demand an end to this misery. We hope that the Working Class movement will convene around the same time to evaluate this programme and implement a new wave of mass mobilisation.
6. We will hold mass May Day rallies to unite all workers, be they employed or unemployed. But the May Day celebration of workers will not be limited to only the 1st of May but it will be throughout the year.
We call on all trade unions, all working class formations and other ordinary South Africans who identify with this programme to join the campaign. This campaign is not sectarian and seeks to end the fragmentation of unions, progressive civil society and the rest of the working class formations including the religious formations, the middle strata and small business including the taxi operators and Uber drivers to join.
Workers are always the biggest victims of a crisis like the one we are in. Those still with a job are struggling to keep it and facing ever more attempts by ruthless bosses’ to cut wages and undermine workers’ rights. What could better expose the immorality of employers than the arrest of 17 workers at a KZN mortuary for exercising their constitutional right not to have to work in an unhealthy environment?
The employers in the plastics strike have confirmed SAFTU’s predictions that President Ramaphosa’s R20 an hour poverty national minimum wage would become an acceptable maximum wage. Employers are reneging on a bargaining council agreement to pay the lowest-paid workers R40 an hour and demanding that is be dropped to R20 an hour!
Such attacks are the outcome of both the 37.3% unemployment rate, which enables bosses to intimidate workers to take lower wages, the fact that only 24% of workers are members of trade unions and the fragmentation and weakness of the labour movement.
That is why one of SAFTU’s two big campaigns is recruitment, targeting the unorganised – farm workers, security guards, hotel and catering staff, etc. The campaign will be launched in KwaZulu Natal or Gauteng in February 2019.
All the office bearers of the federation and its affiliates will lead teams of 50 trained volunteers who will hit the shopping malls, city centres and industrial estates, with millions of pamphlets, recruitment forms and loud-hailers to reach out to the most vulnerable and marginalized workers, who have the greatest need for a union to protect them. Workers not in SAFTU unions are unorganised!
Workers want to be served and they had interpreted that to mean: protection of their jobs, protecting them from management bullies and improving their conditions of employment. The SAFTU Service Charter that speaks to these commitments will be displayed in all our affiliated unions’ offices.
Our main aim is to show these workers that SAFTU is a totally new kind of union, unlike the others, whose leaders have based themselves only on the better-paid and more secure workers and negotiated sweetheart deals with employers and government, like their signing of the scandalous poverty minimum wage law.
SAFTU is concerned about rising levels of political intolerance, especially within the ANC and generally in the country. We are concerned that this has led to a spate of killings, beatings and reckless war talk.
SAFTU insists that the time has arrived for an alternative party to represent the interests of the workers and the poor and it has never been more urgent.
The federation’s position remain as mandated by its founding Congress – to be an independent and yet not apolitical, democratic and campaigning federation. In line with this mandate we have set up the Political and Ideological Commission which has been looking at how to take this forward.
Being independent mean that SAFTU cannot turn itself into a party, nor can there be a formal alliance with, or affiliation to, any party.
But our commitment to not being apolitical also means that SAFTU can, and indeed must, adopt a view on any political party, particularly one standing on the same ideological foundations of Marxist-Leninism. We cannot stand aside and not give any political leadership to our members.
To this end SAFTU is planning a five-day political symposium to which it will invite all working class formations it is working with, the socialist oriented parties here and abroad, including the new Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP), to discuss the formation of a working class party, what should be its posture and programme and how it contest political power in communities, in the economy and in parliament, amongst others.
In line with our commitment to democracy we shall need to be sure that any party with which we align ourselves is democratically built from the bottom-up and is consistently fighting in the interests of the working class.
SAFTU has been invited to the SRWP’s National Pre-launch Conference. The SAFTU NOBs will attend. The federation will study the outcomes of this conference and the whole issue will be further discussed in depth by the affiliates and federation structures from whom we shall seek a mandate.
Back to School
SAFTU supports the aim of the Back to School campaign which is to help the poorest, least equipped and understaffed schools to improve the quality of education they provide, by such things as donations and individuals or organizations agreeing to Adopt a School. The best way to do this will be discussed urgently by the federation.
SAFTU wishes all its members and workers as good a holiday break as possible, while recognizing that for millions of the unemployed and workers living on starvation wages this will be difficult.
We call on workers and all our communities to support each other during this period, already declared the black festive season by the leaders of the Working Class formations. In particular we call on all to pledge solidarity with the victims of fire disasters in places such as Alexandra and Cape Town. We are calling on all workers to support their families and neighbours during this difficult period.
We are determined that 2019 will see the start of the fight-back against exploitation, poverty and despair. We appeal to the media, even if you disagree with some of our views, to ensure that they are seen and heard and not drowned out by the well-paid spin doctors of big business and government.