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May 31, 2020

The ruling class has spoken! Workers, you are on your own!

We must state again that the second largest labour federation in the country – the home of the industrial proletariat – together with hundreds of other working class formations with which we are allied, –were not consulted about the Covid-19 lockdown decisions announced today, or in the past. Government still believes it can shave our heads in our absence.

Today’s announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa is a tragedy, because the basic problems of survival and the health and safety of the working class, are still not being taken seriously. The writing was on the wall, that government leaders are tripping over each other to pander to the whims of a capitalist class which has always undervalued the lives of the masses. All pretense that the government runs this state on behalf of society as a whole has been abandoned.

The employers have been relentlessly calling on government to step down from level 4 to level 3 immediately. Once they sensed that government intends to comply, they changed the goal posts, and Business 4 South Africa demanded that we be moved to level 2.

On May 24, the President effectively jumped us from level 4 to level 2, with minor inconsequential exceptions.

We wish the working class knew what was supposed to be the difference between level 2 and level, according to the government:

 

Level 2 Level 3
1.     Construction ·      Take away restaurants and online food delivery
2.     All other retail ·      Liquor sales
3.     All other manufacturing ·      Clothing and hardware retail
4.     All mining ·      Stationery, personal electronics and office equipment
5.     All government services ·      Ecommerce and delivery services
6.     Installation of repairs and maintenance ·      Automotive manufacturing
7.     Domestic work and cleaning services ·      Chemicals
8.     Informal waste pickers ·      Bottling
9.     Full domestic air travel and car rental services restored. ·      Cement and steel
  ·      Global business services
  ·      Limited domestic air travel – restrictions on the # of flights per day and authorisation on need required

Government misled the country into believing that its actions were according to advice from the World Health Organisation and scientists. This claim has long been discredited. It was discredited first when government allowed the wine-exporting bosses and the mining industry to operate, even under alert level 5. By the time the government reversed some of these decisions the damage to its message was done. This included the initial announcement by the President that cigarette sales will be allowed in level 4 – only for that decision to be reversed.

At the time when Covid-19 is exploding out of control, and at the time when the epidemic has moved from being a major concern in the leafy suburbs to the working-class communities spread in part by mines and factories which are now infection petri dishes, the government demonstrates once more which class interests it serves.

To his credit, the President did not try to disguise the terrible truth that levels of infections are a gathering frightening speed. Workers are being infected left, right and centre in the mines, farms, factories and retail stores. Government itself has not ensured that every health worker has an adequate supply of Personal Protective Equipment.

As a result, the frontline workers live in fear – as demonstrated by two nurses who refused to touch a coronavirus positive patient with their bare hands in the Eastern Cape. Frontline workers have been staging demonstrations to draw the attention of the government to their plight, but in most cases to no avail.

The bosses have been violating government regulations. They have not told workers of the regulations, not ensured that everyone is screened, not supplied Personal Protective Equipment and appointed specific personnel to ensure the workplace is ready and compliant with the directives.

The government message to workers seems to be, ‘sorry we can’t stop the virus from spreading, we are aware that the virus will infect and kill even more than the past, but the employers need profits now, so go and die in your thousands.’

The parents and educators who have expressed fear that they, like the health workers, are going to be sent to the slaughterhouse have also been ignored. The bosses and the politicians’ children have long contracted out of public schools and hospitals. They won’t face overcrowded classrooms with chronic lack of infrastructure where, just like in the apartheid matchbox houses, so-called RDP houses, and informal settlements, social distancing is not practical.

With no public transport, workers will again feel like sardines, cramped in the trains and taxis, come the 1st June, infecting each other on their way to make the employers richer. Thousands of them have already been retrenched as the bosses used the lockdown to ‘restructure’ and use even fewer workers to assure more short-term profits. Many workers are waiting for the promise of UIF benefits. It is absolutely chaotic out there, as thousands form long queues in the offices of the CCMA hoping to get answers. There was not even a single word of comfort for these workers from the President who have lost their income in their hundreds of thousands already. The R350 monthly grant to those without any other incomes is not being administered properly, as it appears of more than four million people who applied for this miserly, tokenistic grant, only a tenth have received it thus far.

SAFTU’s head office is consulting leadership and members with a view to filing an urgent Section 77 notice, so we can engage in a strike against the unfolding calamity. We are going to show the President, the corporations and those ignoring SAFTU that even under these appalling conditions, we demand our rights be respected. We will be going back to the streets in even greater numbers, as are demonstrators across the world using social-distancing tactics, to protest against the slaughter of our jobs. We are not satisfied being the step-sons and step-daughters of democracy – we demand that we be consulted on any matter that affects us.

In short, the capitalist class is demonstrating its greed and haste. The government is showing who calls the tune. The working class and poor will suffer from the employers’ malevolence and the state’s failure to provide social relief. We respect those in the state and civil society who are trying to serve the wretched of South Africa with emergency aid. But it is now time to move to mutual aid and revive our militancy.

We the poor and working people can only liberate ourselves, and now that President Ramaphosa has again revealed his biases, we need to prepare for a serious class war, one that has again been declared ‘on,’ again from above.