Welcome to this, the second meeting of our National Executive Committee, which I hope will continue the fine work we did in May.
There is so much that we must discuss, but because this meeting takes place during National Women’s Month I hope, and indeed insist, that we devote some of our time to discuss the huge problems women are facing.
But we must not stop discussing these issue after 31st August. Given the gravity of the problem which all women, and particularly working-class women face daily, even within the trade union movement, this must be on the agenda of all our structures every month of the year.
This year Women’s Month could not have got off to a worse start, with a flood of disgusting examples of the biggest problem we are fighting – violence and murder inflicted on women, almost always by men who are often partners.
Even as I was preparing this speech the news came through of the shocking attack on one of our own NUMSA members, who was raped while working at Strand Metrorail New Yard. The NEC must send her a message of sympathy and support. I fully agree with NUMSA that “These barbaric criminal acts must stop! We call for an end to violence, particularly against women in our communities!”
The best-known case of violence against women has been the assault on women at a night club by the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, a public representative who ought to be setting the highest example to those he is supposed to represent, who but has done the exact opposite.
He made it even worse by the pathetic excuse he offered – that the woman ‘accused him of being gay’ – which reveals a vile combination of misogyny (the hatred of, contempt for or prejudice against women or girls) and homophobia (negative attitudes towards people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay or transgender).
If even ANC government ministers think like this, it shows the size of the challenge we face to change the attitude of men who believe they have the right to assault women who argue with them.
At a time when so many of those who violently attack women escape punishment because of incompetence or indifference by police and prosecutors there must no exception made in this case. He has, a week later, apologized and resigned as a minister, but he must be prosecuted and punished, to set a precedent for a policy of zero tolerance to these crimes and the harshest possible sentences for those found guilty.
Women also suffer most from our social and economic crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, all of which hit women hardest. We suffer from triple exploitation – as women, as workers and as black Africans. We are still generally confined to the lowest-paid and less secure jobs and constantly overlooked when it comes to promotions. Too many employers are not complying with the provisions of the Employment Equity Act.
This year’s Employment Equity Commission report confirms the “female representation at top management level has remained largely unchanged at just over 20% for the last three reporting periods.
According to a report by the World Economic Forum in 2016 in terms of wage inequality South Africa ranked 83rd out of 142 countries and women earned 38% less than men.
It is not only at work that women are continuously sidelined and discriminated against. It happens in community and political structures – and in the trade unions.
All this is made even worse because so many women also have to bear the main burden of feeding their families, maintaining the house and caring for their children. How many of our male comrades make radical speeches about women’s rights, but still expect their partner to clean the house, take the children to and from school and have a meal cooked and on the table when they get home?
Worst of all we face the horrendous threat of both physical and sexual violence, at work, on the journey to and from work and in the home itself. Women are also failed by our dysfunctional judicial system. The police and courts are reluctant to treat violence against women, especially by their partners, as seriously as other violent crimes. Rape victims often battle to prove that they did not consent to the act. As a result women who are the most vulnerable members of society remain victims of a culture of impunity for rapists and murderers.
To counter this SAFTU must play a leading role in, a massive national campaign of educating and mobilizing our members to set an example by stopping violence against women and reporting others who they witness behaving violently to women.
Workers must be at the forefront of the campaign for gender equity in the workplace, the community, political parties and civil society.
But while we spotlight women’s oppression this month, at the same time we need to understand the class basis of this oppression. The underlying cause is a capitalist economic system which cannot provide the basic necessities life for the vast majority of the population, women and men, while those at the top of the ladder get richer every day.
The socio-economic catastrophe, which we shall be discussing here later, is the real reason for the persistence of patriarchy, chauvinism, racism, discrimination and violence on women.
Let me finish by paying tribute to Emma Mashinini, one of the greatest fighters for the rights of women workers. Her tireless work in building the union movement, in sectors with a high proportion of women workers like clothing and textiles and retail, was a fine example of the way to take forward the struggle which is as relevant and important today as it was on 9 August 1956 when around 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings to petition against the country’s pass laws.
There are of course many other issue which we must debate, including the appalling crisis of crime and corruption, which is undermining the foundations of our hard-won democracy, and the employers’ offensive against collective bargaining and workers’ rights, which is forcing more workers into casual, insecure and low-paid work.
We cannot ignore the splits in the ANC and its allies and the weakness and fragmentation of the trade unions. And above all we must assess our own achievements and weaknesses, and monitor our progress towards reaching our recruitment target of a million members by the end of 2017.
Let us commit to the struggle for genuine radical economic transformation, so that both women and men can live in a socialist society, inspired by the Freedom Charter, in which we share the country’s wealth and live together in peace and harmony. Have a successful meeting comrades! Viva SAFTU Viva!