The South African Federation of Trade Unions held its second National Executive Committee meeting on 21-23 August 2017 at the Vincent Mabuyakhulu Conference Centre, Newtown, Johannesburg.
Build SAFTU and her affiliated unions
The NEC conducted a comprehensive discussion on the state of the trade union movement in our country. We affirmed our view that the workers movement has been fundamentally weakened and fragmented; as a result workers remain with no independent voice or representation. This underlines the need to form SAFTU four months ago to fill this void.
The NEC is happy of the work underway to launch SAFTU structures across the length and breadth of the country; we are on track to launch the provincial structures by the first week of December this year and in addition we adopted a comprehensive programme to respond to the immediate organisational challenges facing SAFTU and her affiliates. This programme will see us building capacity of all the unions with a focus on unions that are organising the most marginalised workers in the country such as security, cleaning, transport, hotel, retail and catering, farming, etc.
The recruitment campaign will be intensified to ensure we reach our ambitious target to recruit 300 000 workers by December 2017. We are happy that more unions are expressing an interest to join the federation and in particular the NEC warmly welcomed the decision of SASAWU to abandon the sinking ship and join the family of independent, democratic and campaigning unions. We will be approaching more unions including a federation like NACTU to join the efforts of uniting workers as part of our efforts to give voice to the voiceless 76% of workers who are not members of unions, moreover as they were part of this project from its onset
It was agreed that we must take up a campaign to enforce the historic victory at the Labour Appeal Court scored by NUMSA and others that strengthens the law that obliges employers to make permanent workers who have been employed as temporary for more than three months, as we intensify our call for the complete ban of labour brokers.
We will organise teams of recruiters in every town to walk in the streets of Johannesburg and every other town, industrial areas, shopping malls etc. with SAFTU regalia enforcing that judgment in every shop, searching for organised and unorganised workplaces and also construction sites, farms, call-centres, private learning establishments, etc.
The bosses have appealed to the Constitutional Court against the LAC judgment, as the status quo remains in force, but a strong legal interpretation of what now constitutes the status quo under the Labour Relations Act is available to us, and we must act on it.
The meeting emphasized that NEC resolutions based on invaluable inputs from all affiliates will mean absolutely nothing if they are not backed by strong political and organisational support in between the meetings of the NEC. Rhetoric does not build organisation but a commitment to practically change and (delete to) address workers’ challenges does.
Political and economic crisis
The NEC analysed the political and socio-economic situation which is worsening and noted that hardly a day passes without new shocking revelations that confirm that a new low has been reached in South Africa’s democracy.
Millions of workers and their families and working class communities live on nothing but poverty wages or insufficient social grants, and in many cases would not survive if not for the generosity of family and friends to keep them alive.
Our people have yet to see the future promised by the Freedom Charter of a South Africa which “belongs to all who live in it, black and white” and where “the national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, shall be restored to the people”.
The job-loss bloodbath continues
Although the official rate of unemployment remains at the already shocking level of 27.7%, the more realistic expanded figure is up again, to 36.6%, one of the highest levels in the world, and there was a net quarterly decrease of 48 000 employees between December 2016 and March 2017.
These numbers however do not reflect the human misery that follows the loss of an income for those 48 000 wage earners”. Given estimates that every wage-earner supports as many as dependents, it means that over half a million more people now face dire poverty.
And a report by Unisa and Momentum estimates that the number of those unemployment could increase by a further million by 2018 and the figure could easily soar past the one million mark.
And jobs that remain are becoming more precarious, as employers intensify their offensive to weaken unions, wreck collective bargaining, and outsource or casualise more jobs. The Confederation of Associations in the Private Employment Sector, representing labour brokers, scandalously encouraging its members to ignore a key judgment of the Labour Appeal Court (LAC) in the case which NUMSA won in the Labour Appeal Court which ruled that precarious workers must be able to access the protections enacted for their benefit in the amended Labour Relations Act (LRA).
We have agreed to produce documents on policies, including what the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ could mean for workers. The capitalist system, in its search for new ways to make profits is preparing to make driverless cars, drones that could go to a shop and return goods to the customer’s home address, supermarkets without tellers, garages without attendants, robots etc.
Millions of jobs will be lost across the globe. We will find ourselves managing Section 189 permanently until there is hardly anything left to defend. South Africa with its dysfunctional education system will be worse affected.
Inequality is the widest in the world
Even as the NEC meeting was sitting, StatsSA reported that poverty has risen in the country since 2015. The latest “Poverty Trends in South Africa” report shows that the poverty headcount has increased to 55,5%, up from a series 53,2% in 2011.
The National Minimum Wage discussion has laid bare the levels of starvation wages that currently exist, which the proposed National Minimum Wage legitimizes with is plan for poverty pay at R20 an hour and R3500 a month which SAFTU have rejected with the contempt it deserve.
Also, almost hidden away by the National Minimum Wage report is a discussion on imposing ballots before calling strike action, and on sustaining it. This will mean that there is a further erosion of workers rights, and especially the right of unions to decide on their own matters in; an independent, open and democratic manner of their own choosing, in line with their own traditions and practices.
National Health Insurance
Promises of a National Health Insurance system has still to fully materialise. And the national-to-provincial health budget was chopped by 13% (after inflation) last year.
Diabetes, cancer and mental illness, are increasing rapidly and, according to official statistics that in 2015 33 063 people died of Tuberculosis – a historic disease of the poor, the largest cause of death in South Africa. However the real figures are actually much higher because in many cases the cause of death is not reported. But the health system is unprepared either to prevent or provide treatment.
Initially President Jacob Zuma was heralded for putting an end to the AIDS denialism of former President Thabo Mbeki, but progress on AIDS has slowed down, and we now risk losing ground. The SA National AIDS Council estimates that 283 young women are infected with HIV every day and the epidemic continues to cause up to 300 deaths a day, most as a result of Tuberculosis.
South Africa has the most corrupt and worst managed education system in Africa. Of every 100 children who enter the education system at grade 0 only 50 complete matric and of these only 14 qualify for tertiary education.
Though the matric pass rate stood at 72% in 2016, this reflects only the performance of learners who managed to stay in school for 12 years and obscures how many dropped out along the way. Of the grade 2 class enrollment, only 668,612 students made it to the 2016 matric final exams, a massive drop-out rate of 44.8%. Free education at all levels is still a dream for most young South Africans.
Youth unemployment has led to an epidemic of despair and indignity/de-humanizing, which has led to a growing substance abuse epidemic, crime, and violence between young men and violence by men against girls and women. Shockingly, the suicide rate for children aged 10-14 years old has more than doubled over the last fifteen years. In 2009 there were 18 deaths by suicide per day in 2009. Young men are 5 times more likely to commit suicide than women.
About 10-million hectares of land have been redistributed since 1994 but between 70% to 90% of the projects (including land restitution projects) have failed, most of the land remains in white hands and the overwhelming majority of black South Africans own virtually no property.
On human settlements and basic services, since the 2014 elections only 331,108 housing units have been built, while the medium-term target was 745,000 units. Poor communities are in revolt in more and more angry and frequently violent protests.
SAFTU’s response to this worsening crisis
The meeting was informed NUMSA has signed an agreement with the engineering employers, but was alarmed at the earlier attempt by some employers’ organizations to demand cuts in wages for new workers, to as low as R20 an hour, the very figure agreed at Nedlac as a national minimum wage.
They attempted to slash entry-level salaries by 50%, which would have affected mostly young workers entering the sector, by offering them only R20 per hour, when others are earning twice as much.
The employers’ demand for workers to accept a downward variation of the basic conditions of workers, would create a two-tier labour market system of equal work for unequal pay, and even if they have backed down for the moment it is a grave warning of the strategy employers are likely to adopt in the future. It is a life-or-death struggle for all workers.
10111 Strike Action
We will meet with the leadership of SAPU to evaluate the ongoing 10111 strike including to consider more practical steps to be taken in support of the legitimate demands of these workers.
The political landscape
We have noted, though are not surprised ,that the recent ANC Policy Conference and SACP Congress failed dismally to give any hope towards taking forward the struggles of workers and the working class at large.
It was agreed that we should set up a task team to discuss international issues, including Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Brazilian Workers Party. It must analyze the emergence of right-wing, racist and fascist parties, the decline of traditional social-democratic parties, whose policies have become largely identical to those of the right wing, with the important exception of Jeremy Corbyn, whose success in the UK has proved that radical left policies are popular.