Opening Address by Mac Chavalala, President of the South African Federation of Trade Unions to Second NEC Meeting, 21-23 August 2017

Revolutionary greetings Comrades, and a warm welcome to this the second meeting of our National Executive Committee.

We are just over three months old, having been established on the 21-23 April in 2017!
We must not for a minute forget the main reasons why we formed SAFTU. We gave birth to this baby giant to respond to the worsening crisis facing the working class in general but organized workers in particular. Workers have no voice arising out of the weaknesses of the existing unions which were representing less and less numbers. We came together to start a journey to unite workers, end fragmentation, wage new but old battles to improve their wages and to ensure we help build a new economy that places the poor at the center.

We are meeting for the second time in three months to assess ourselves. In doing so we must avoid two extremes. On one hand we must not pretend that we are thirty years old when we are merely three months! On the other we must not pretend we have created the wave that is so necessary if we are to lay the firm foundation that could inspire workers and build their confidence to wage their own battles.

The first section of the NOBs’ report paints rather a worrying picture. We don’t lack ideas on what is to be done in building a Federation of workers’ dreams but what we lack is discipline to implement our own undertakings. We insist that the whole of this day be dedicated into a discussion on the challenges identified. Failure to do so will be lead to a situation where we make no difference but become yet another Federation in the increasing fragmentation of workers’ movement.

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.” Karl Marx <>

Of course this being a women month as we seek to defeat patriarchy. Mabuyakhulu Marx living today would have been the first to acknowledge that men are not a super species. The world belongs to both women and men.

The point we are making though is that developments are unfolding every day. The terrain is getting more difficult and complex. But these developments confirm that our analysis of the deep economic and political catastrophe that we face was spot-on.

The job-loss bloodbath continues relentlessly, as reported by StatsSA in its latest quarterly report. 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.

As SAFTU said: “Bad though these statistics are, they cannot 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 15 dependents it means that over half a million more people now face dire poverty.

And things will get even worse, says a report by Unisa and Momentum, which 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, since, as they write, “It’s clear from available employment figures that many businesses are struggling to survive, with the implication that they will on average rather shed more jobs than create more jobs… It has been a year of unmitigated carnage for South Africa’s economy.”

And the jobs that still remain are becoming more precarious, as employers intensify their offensive to weaken unions, wreck collective bargaining, and outsource or casualise more jobs.

We now even see 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).

This is the immense challenge we face on jobs. The founding congress gave us clear marching orders. In the first meeting of the National Executive Committee, we developed a programme of action that would take us to a national strike in November where we hoped to march with no less than 100 000 workers and community members from working class leading to a “Peoples Conference” in December to debate and respond to the worsening economic crisis. Of course we have failed to move from the starting blocks.

At this NEC we must be honest to ourselves so that we don’t make us fools in the public space? Why are unions not prioritizing this work? Are we ready as organised working class to lead the rest of the working class?

The second biggest concern of the working class communities is the plundering and wrecking of the economy through the relentless corruption, tender manipulation, money-laundering and outright theft by a faction of the ruling class led by President Zuma and the Gupta family, but – as the mounting email evidence reveals – involving a far wider network within the mainstream business community.

This mafia has bankrupted state-owned enterprises, appointed and bribed ministers and public officials and undermined constitutional structures, including the Hawks and NPA whose constitutional duty requires them to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice, but who have become their accomplices.

SAFTU stands by its insistence that this corruption must be rooted out through the prosecution and punishment of all those implicated, from the president down, with no exceptions or amnesties.

The federation however continues to insist that the scourge of corruption is not some sort of aberration but just a particularly gross manifestation of corrupt practices which are inherent and widespread in a monopoly capitalist system.

We must re-emphasise the view of our launching congress that this current economic crisis is rooted in the Codesa negotiated settlement, which conceded democratic political rights, but ensured that the economy remained firmly in the hands of white monopoly capitalism.

“This,” said the Congress Declaration, “led to capture of the state and the government, the ANC and its allies by monopoly capital, and to the adoption of neoliberal, free-market capitalist economic policies in their interests. This started with Gear which was followed by the NDP. The Treasury and successive Finance Ministers were the main drivers of this process”.

“At the same time a section of black capitalists who were excluded from the mainstream capitalist economy, colluded with Zuma, his cronies, public officials which he appointed, and the Guptas to embark on an orgy of looting of public resources and self-enrichment though the manipulation of tenders in both the state and state-owner enterprises”.

SAFTU must continue to oppose both these capitalist factions, the looters and the ‘constitutional’ capitalists who are fighting each other for control of the state and government for their own selfish class interests and not those of the working class and poor majority which they both exploit. As we said: “We shall never support one butcher against another”.

We must oppose attempts to resolve this crisis within the parameters of a capitalist system and will not support those whose sole reason for demanding that Zuma must fall is so that we can to return to the days of Mbeki, Manuel and Gordhan, whose role was to defend and entrench the power of white monopoly capital.

A new challenge we face is the factional split within the ANC and its allies, which reflects these wider class battles, and in which we equally must not be seen to be taking sides.

This certainly cannot mean that SAFTU must stand idly on the sidelines issuing statements of condemnation but not getting involved in the battle to stop orgy of looting and plundering by the Zuma faction.  SAFTU must lead from the front in the peoples battle in order to exert her influence on society including to ask and answer the fundamental question – yes Zuma must fall but what do we replace him with?

This poses a special problem for SAFTU and the forces of the genuine left – the hijacking of our legitimate and theoretical demands and political formulations by the pro-Zuma faction for purely opportunist purposes.

They talk about radical economic transformation, when for all their years in power have done the opposite. They have never implemented policies any different from those they say they are fighting against. Indeed Finance Minister Gigaba’s recent speech at the JSE was a virtual replica of speeches made over the years by his predecessors from the other faction – a reassurance that there will be business as usual and that capital is safe in his hands.

Their demagogic but empty attacks on ‘white monopoly capital’ have discredited this correct and necessary formulation in the eyes of the people. To illustrate how meaningless their argument is, Gigaba, and the ANC as a whole, even committed government to the partial privatization of state-owned enterprises, which would mean handing public assets to the very ‘white monopoly capitalists’ they pretend to be fighting!

There are many more major issues we need to discuss over the coming days, which I do not have time to deal with in detail – the threat of compulsory ballots in prolonged strikes, the continuation of two-tier public services, the dysfunctional education system, the slow progress towards the national health insurance system and comprehensive social security, the carnage on our roads, the violent protests over service delivery and the attempt to stop workers receiving a proportion of their pension or provident fund entitlement before their reach retirement age.

As we are meeting in August however there are two specific issues that we have to prioritize. One has already been mentioned by my Comrade 1st Deputy President and I agree totally with everything she said. We must fight for zero-tolerance of the brutal violence against women which we see reported every day and educate our membership so that they can become crusaders and champions of women’s right to live in peace and equality.

And, as we meet just a few days after the fifth anniversary of the Marikana massacre of 34 workers, we must also step up the campaign for full compensation for the families of those who died and for those who survived, and for the prosecution of those responsible for the shootings, particularly those who planned and authorized the firing of live ammunition.

It also raises again the need to ensure that the police are never again used by companies like Lonmin and the government to drive striking workers back to work through the use of lethal violence.

Finally, of course, we have to assess our own progress as SAFTU unions. Much of the political discussion we have will have been just hot air, unless we organize, recruit and mobilize the workers of South Africa on to the streets to fight and win the demands we adopt at meetings like this.

The Provincial  Report backs have in general been good but let’s be frank to ourselves comrades they haven’t created the necessary wave. They have begun a process which is so necessary of building from the bottom up. We will never recruit 300 000 more members by the end of the year from an office in Johannesburg, important though that is. A fighting mass movement has to be built by the workers, on firm foundations, at the workplaces, communities, towns and provinces.

This is especially vital if we are serious about recruiting the unorganized, informal and marginalized workers, and the unemployed. These workers do not have structures, meeting places or debit-order facilities; these have to be built from the ground up.

The number of phone calls, social media messages and visits to union offices by workers desperate to get organised shows how necessary these tasks are. If however we are to meet this challenge we have first to organize ourselves, sort out our finances, pay our affiliation fees, in full and on time, and unite affiliates working in the same sectors, around the slogan Unity is Strength.

We must emerge on Wednesday with targets that are ambitious, but also realistic and practical, and formulate detailed tactical plans for meeting those targets.

I wish you all a fruitful NEC meeting and hope you will return home with renewed determination to build be revolutionary, independent and mint federation to which we are all committed!



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