The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) held its ordinary National Executive Committee between 25 – 27 August 2020, online. The meeting was attended by Presidents and General Secretaries of our affiliated unions and provincial leadership of the federation.
The main focus of the discussion was, naturally, the coronavirus pandemic facing our country and the whole world.
We are reaching the ceiling of sustainability for an anthropocentric industrial-capitalist civilization, and we must make radical changes to survive.
The world is going through catastrophic climate change, the Sixth Species Extinction, ocean acidification and plastification, and other ecocidal processes, and we face a continual threat of nuclear holocaust especially given that the fingers of Trump and Netanyahu are on the button. The world has been subject to new pandemics including AIDS, Ebola, Zika, dengue fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Avian flu and new influenza strains, and by the looming threat of rising antimicrobial resistance such as affects many TB patients.
There will be even worse pandemics in the years ahead, and a Covid-19 vaccine that may or may not become available in the next year will not prevent further deadly virus outbreaks. This is the age of emerging diseases, mainly because capitalist globalisation has produced these new plagues by infringing on space’s nature, such as through monocultural agriculture, or deforestation as in the case of the Wuhan wet market and periodic Ebola outbreaks in central Africa. This is what Karl Marx called the ‘Metabolic Rift’ that grows continually worse when capitalism forces humans to invade unknown ecologies.
For many years, scientists have warned of the danger of a global pandemic.
Unless the dangers of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist society are addressed, the world will move into new, inevitable disasters that can wipe out humanity.
As these disasters strike, the capitalist system which is so entrenched in the world today is structurally unable to respond to each of these crises.
The National Executive Committee decided to take up a serious all-around battle against the many facets of this unfolding crisis. If we do not, these threats could well wipe out the world we know, and create one of total chaos and strife.
We know we must fight back, because in recent weeks we have seen a total onslaught on our workers and standards of living. It is estimated that we may have lost up to 3 million jobs since March 2020. This alone will push millions of more working-class communities to unprecedented hunger and starvation.
Our government and the capitalist system it is attempting to manage have completely and dismally failed the workers of the country. The promises of a stimulus package to cushion the working class from this calamity have evaporated into thin air. Instead, the government has launched a massive attack on the working class and the poorest of the poor, through austerity programmes that saw massive expenditure cuts on many critical areas of delivery. This had a devastating impact on the lives the people as exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The total budget cuts from the baseline bill are a massive R261 billion. These will include:
- A cut of R14.6 billion in the budget of the human settlement at the time when we have a backlog of at least three million houses, and with informal settlements mushrooming around every city as a result of land occupations by our desperate masses.
- A cut of R2.8 billion in the municipal infrastructure grant at a time when most local governments are in desperate need of maintaining the current infrastructure, not to mention building more that is desperately needed
- A cut of R13.2 billion mainly on allocations to the PRASA rail lines and other public transport networks, leading to the suspension of new bus systems in Buffalo City, Mbombela and Msunduzi municipalities. Already there are fewer and fewer trains for workers in Cape Town and Gauteng.
- A cut of R5.2 billion in the education infrastructure at the time when the government keeps on making promises that it will wipe out latrine toilets, and when still 85% of our schools have no libraries and laboratories. Talk of Smart Cities powered by a 4th Industrial Revolution is now laughable, as our soon-to-be workers languish under an education system that ranks near the bottom of the world in science, technology, engineering and maths.
- A cut of R3.9 billion from the health budget at the time when our public hospitals and clinics have chronic infrastructure backlogs.
- A cut of R160 billion from civil servant salaries, thus violating the three-year wage agreement that began in 2019.
SAFTU condemns in the strongest terms possible the cutting of R261 billion over the medium-term, including the existing pathetic agreement it rammed down the throats of the public servants through a deal with the COSATU unions.
The failure to subsidise kombi taxi transport to and from our workplaces – which before Covid-19 accounted for 15 million passengers each day – is another feature of Covid-19 management where we demand change. With the Treasury refusing the industry R4 billion (only offering R1 billion) to incentivise a 50% or at worst 70% rider capacity, social distancing is impossible within each vehicle. Now that they are running at 100% capacity, with 16 people jammed into a typical taxi, there are many more millions who are condemned to becoming infected.
The programme of austerity, liberalisation and privatisation will continue to see new waves of job losses, above and beyond COVID-19’s employment massacre. Most school leavers, even those that have passed their matric, will swell SA’s mass unemployment levels.
Even before Covid-19 began, Stats SA’s conservative measure of unemployment – which counts every survivalist activity as gainful employment – registered unemployment at almost 40%, when discouraged workers are counted. This is by far the highest of the major countries with an industrial base anywhere in the world. And as unemployment rises, poverty worsens, and inequality becomes intolerable.
Faced with the unprecedented scale of this crisis, we have decided to go back to the streets convinced that not one component of the working class can reverse this attack on the working class, by working on its own.
- We are submitting a new Section 77 notice to force government and the bosses in the private sector to the negotiations table, to address our demands that centre around restructuring the whole capitalist economic architecture. We insist on a new economy, based on meeting the needs of the working class. We believe that already we have protection to embark on protected mass actions, on the basis that the government failed to meet any of the demands submitted by our affiliated unions in December 2016. Furthermore, NUMSA’s demands to halt the breaking up of Eskom have not been met.
- We have endorsed a detailed programme of action that will unite public sector and private sector workers, to demand adequate Personal Protective Equipment, to make resources available to address chronic staff shortages and infrastructure backlogs in the public hospitals, to end the two-tier healthcare system and to introduce the single-payer healthcare system through a National Health Insurance, to make healthcare free at the point of entry.
- An end to the victimisation of independent trade unions associated with SAFTU who are being closed down and limited by the combined bureaucratic manoeuvres of employers, the Registrar of Unions and reactionary employers to deny workers their right to representation by unions of their choice. This is a salvage attack on the right to Freedom of Association enshrined in our SA Constitution and the ILO Convention No.87.
- We will link up with the current wave of protests across the length and breadth of the country. These protests have sought to highlight the blanket and indiscriminate collective punishment of working-class communities, through electricity cut-offs by Eskom, municipal evictions conducted in violation of lockdown regulations, attacks on the homeless, Gender-Based Violence, police brutality and the criminalisation of lockdown violations when many aspects of social distancing are impossible in our dense residential areas, among other grievances.
- We will target companies that are retrenching workers, and we demand a national moratorium on job losses. We are going to streets to demand the reinstatement of all the 3 million workers that have lost their jobs. Also, we will occupy the streets to demand urgent action to get the 10.8 million unemployed workers employed. We will also target companies that have not paid workers full salaries and benefits during the lockdown, and those that have no provisions for social distancing, hygiene and safety at the workplace.
- All these demonstration, pickets, occupations and mass marches will culminate on a three-day national general strike of the working class later in the year. This mass occupation of cities and highways will seek to unite the organised working class, the unemployed, the social and community movements, the student’s movement, the youth, the working-class women formations, the environmentalists, the LGBTIQA+ community, etc. The General Secretaries of our affiliated unions have been mandated to decide on the timing of the general strike.
- The SAFTU NEC decided to join the strike and marches called by COSATU for 7 October 2020. We shall approach the leadership of COSATU with the view to get an agreement on the demands and common platform for the campaign. We call on FEDUSA and NACTU and all other independent unions to also join these demonstrations. Further, we are calling on the rest of the working class formations to join the strike and marches. We hope to meet the leadership of COSATU to get the details of the marches they are advancing. We have our own demands which we will consolidate and submit to NEDLAC in the next few days. We hope it will be possible to agree on a single platform to pursue working-class demands. We anticipate these will be of their nature ‘transitional demands’ towards a socialist South Africa. Lastly, we hope the marches and demonstrations will not serve the narrow interests of alliance factional manoeuvres. In particular, while we demand the end to the wave of corruption associated with Covid-19 state procurements and private-sector price-gauging, we also seek unity that is based on confronting the system that generates greed, instead of nurturing human solidarity as a whole.
- We shall also take up strongly the support for the Zimbabwe workers and the Palestine people who are facing worsening human rights violations. We shall explore ways to block the boarders of Zimbabwe and to demonstrate in the embassy of the United States to protest the deteriorating socioeconomic crisis in both countries.
The days of sectarian approaches to the struggle must be put to the past. Only principled unity based on tolerance, unity and most importantly, the programme of demands grounded on the brutal realities of the poor, working class struggles and revolutionary transitional measures necessary to overcome the social crisis of the masses, will help workers shake and transform the status quo.
In the SAFTU NEC it was recognised that now is the time to make a decisive shift both in our external and internal relations. We must place the needs of the working class before all other interests. We have lost hundreds of thousands of innocent people to the virus all over the world. Millions more are living in conditions that would have been completely unacceptable even under apartheid. We are witnessing expressions of social breakdown, in terms of GBV, state violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and other symptoms of alienation which if allowed to worsen, could cause irreparable damage to our environment and our communities for generations to come.
We appreciate that there will be those who view our approach for unity with suspicion and scepticism. The proof of sincerity of purpose of all of us will be found in our ability to meet, exchange views without rancour, and agree on a common platform to mobilise on. This is the challenge that faces the organised working class, and all those who look to it for the will and determination to defend the most vulnerable in our broken society. This is the major challenge we face. A failure to grasp this opportunity will not be forgiven by future generations.