The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) converged for its 2nd Central Committee (CC) under the theme, Building Workers Unity for Working Class Power in Every Workplace and Community. The meeting was held at Birchwood Hotel from the 29th of November to the 1st of December 2021.
The CC was convened against the background of worsening economic, political and social crisis which has now reached dangerous proportions.
As we were converging, news came through that the petrol price broke the unprecedented R20/litre barrier. The country has officially moved into a fourth wave of Covid-19, with dramatic increases in the numbers of infected people. Moreover, although the Omicron variant is apparently milder than Delta, we worry that the implications for people living with HIV, whose immune systems are compromised, could be serious, so we appeal to those in our health system managing the pandemic, to be acutely aware of the need to expand vaccination services and access, and we encourage all South Africans to get full vaccine treatment as this has kept our people out of hospitals and death beds.
For thirteen years now, the country has been experiencing loadshedding. It reached unprecedented levels in 2021, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
The economy suffers ever-worsening crises of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Covid-19 compounded the problems of a capitalist economy that not only stagnated after the 2008 global financial crash, but that has been in a worsening set of recessions since President Cyril Ramaphosa took office in 2018.
Despite the recovery from the 2020 economic crash now underway, jobless growth persists, as we have 2.1 million fewer jobs today than the first quarter of 2020. The number of unemployed people (including those who have given up looking for jobs) has risen to 12.4 million. This is an untenable contribution to the so-called powder keg of social dissent government has allowed to explode from time to time, such as in July in the two most populous provinces.
In addition, wages have suffered serious declines, in comparison to profits starting in 1992. Profits have regularly been recorded by the International Monetary Fund as among the five leading countries in the world. But throughout and moreso today, employers in both the private and public sectors are attacking our members’ wages. There are proposed wage cuts at Clover, against which the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), one of our affiliates, is on strike fighting. The government has also frozen salary increases since 2020, leaving net pay declines when adjusted for 5%+ inflation that especially hits lower-income earners at rates far higher than it does the wealth, as food, electricity and transport costs soar higher than other goods.
It is in this context that the working class decided to pass a vote of “no confidence!” in all the existing political parties and the system on 1 November in the 2021 Local Government Election (LGE).
Despite losing confidence of the black urban working class – which in no uncertain terms told the ANC that they must prepare for opposition benches in major metros from now on – the ANC still refuses to listen. Instead, the government let Eskom continue its brutal, racist ‘load reduction’ disconnections in Black townships, and Treasury immediately followed up the election by launching the most devastating attacks on the black working class, through an unprecedented austerity programme.
The Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) has proposed austerity cuts for 2022/2023 and 2023/2024. There is a steep decline in government expenditure in both nominal and real terms for nearly all departments. The departments most adversely affected by budget cuts in the next two years include but are not limited to:
- Basic education: from R281.8 billion in 2021 to R279 billion in 2023,
- Health: from R259 billion in 2021 to R243 billion in 2023,
- SAPS: from R109.2 billion in 2021 to R106.2 billion in 2023,
- Social development: from R399.6 billion in 2021 to R320.4 billion in 2023.
Inflation is likely to erode the rand’s value by 10% or more in this period, so these cuts are especially devastating at a time of pandemic, of a 4th Industrial Revolution and digital divide which leaves our youth masses unprepared for an even more hostile economy, and when the society is clamouring for a Universal Basic Income Grant that Treasury is already declaring unaffordable.
These government spending cuts have led to chronic understaffing in public institutions, lack of infrastructure, lack of basic services (water, sanitation, electricity, rubbish collection, stormwater drainage, libraries, postal services, etc), lack of equipment and shortfalls in other resources that impede public institutions from working. This hits the working class hardest, because we are the main, if not the only beneficiaries of the public services and goods, given that the wealthier fractions of society have increasingly opted out of public education, healthcare, transport and policing.
In the light of this background, the Central Committee took decisions on all these matters.
The Central Committee is determined that SAFTU and all our affiliates and members will do everything in our power to resist the attacks on the living standards of the working class.
The National Office Bearers and the National Executive committee have been asked to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that we build the broadest unity possible with other progressive, working-class formations. For we believe without that unity we shall fall short of forcing government to abandon its neocolonial, neoliberal, austerity programmes.
The mobilisation starts this weekend, with the convening of a broader meeting of the Working Class Summit Steering Committee to prepare for a much bigger Summit early in 2022. We shall reinforce this unity by ensuring that the taxi industry and truck drivers work together with grassroots-based formations to stop the unfolding carnage. Labour unites with rural people, community activists, the rising youth movement and students, women’s organisations, environmentalists, LGBQTI activists and all others concerned with advancing the working-class agenda for a decent society.
We shall do everything we can to convince the leadership of other trade union federations that they will lose nothing when forging unity with all other trade unions within and outside the current federations. We shall also work hard to convince the religious formations to join the poor in a common struggle against poverty.
Our programme shall target the following key priorities.
- Eskom and other SOEs: We shall mobilise to ensure that Eskom remains in the hands of the people of the country, as the only institution that can properly drive a Just Transition away from a carbon-based economy into renewables. We insist that this should not be done at the expense of the current jobs. A genuine Just Transition must not be reduced rhetoric aiming to pull the wool over the eyes of communities and workers, when in actual reality the power stations are being decommissioned now, or are being adjusted from coal to even-dirtier methane supply, without any alternative renewables and other Just Transition work that serve working-class communities.
- Coronavirus epidemic and vaccines: We shall embark on a massive internal and external programme to convince workers that it is a proven scientific fact that vaccines works. The leadership of the federation must all be vaccinated so that they lead by example in this drive. However, the Central Committee took a clear position not to support mandatory vaccine at workplaces and other sites in South Africa. Employers are using the policy guidelines issues by the Department of Labour and Employment to divide workers. The Central Committee asked the National Office Bearers to raise funds or find lawyers who can help to get the Constitutional Court to make a declaratory order, about whether mandatory vaccines are not a violation of the rights provided by the constitution. The Central Committee believes that mandatory workplace vaccination infringes section 12(2) which reads as follows:
Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right:
(a) to make decisions concerning reproduction;
(b) to security in and control over their body;
(c) not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without their informed consent.
- Comprehensive Social Security System
The Central Committee adopted a detailed paper which will be further finetuned by the NEC in February. In the meantime, we call on the department of Social Development to reinstate the draft policy statement that it withdrew as a result of the pressure from rightwing within the government and business neoliberals. In the meantime, SAFTU will continue to demand:
- A universal Basic Income Grant of R1500 a month
- A speedy introduction of the National Health Insurance
- Insourcing of Community Healthcare Workers (as occurred in Gauteng last year) and Early Childhood Development Educators, the filling of vacant posts in our hospitals and clinics, and investment in healthcare infrastructure to prepare for the fourth wave and future pandemic outbreaks, and employment of adequate numbers of health specialists and nurses.
- Future of work: For the first time in our short history we engaged with the phenomenon of the fourth industrial revolution whose introduction is being hastened by the Covid-19 pandamic, which compels more work from home and more sophisticated surveillaqnce. SAFTU insist that the people of South Africa, the African constinent and the Southern Hemisphere are urgently introduced to the residual backlogs we suffer from missing out on the first, second and thirdindustrial revolutions. Millions of our people do not have even the basics such as roads, water, sanitation, electricity, internet and digital communication services, healthcare and education.
The Central Committee will, however, develope a comprehensive response to the 4IR which will guide our interaction with employers, both private and public, as well as with public policy in this regard.
It therefore falls on the organised sections of the working class, especially in the most militant trade unions of SAFTU, to announce that:
- We shall organise mass marches to demand a genuine Just Transition and an end to current job losses;
- We shall organise mass demonstrations when the President delivers his state of the nation address next February, to demand his government abandons the current neoliberal economic programmes that are reproducing even deeper levels of unemployment, poverty and inequalities;
- We shall organise mass marches and demonstrations across the country on budget day next February, to demand an end to cuts in social services such as education, healthcare, housing and municipal services, policing, local government, and even the wages of workers;
- We, in consultation with other formations, set a date, preferably in March 2021 to protest the carnage of unemployment especially affecting women and youth, and to demand the current economic programme be overhauled so that it is based on meeting the most important demand, which is meaningful jobs at a living wage;
- Throughout next year, SAFTU will help organise mass demonstrations, strikes, and sit-ins, in partnership with all the allies of the working class.
We declare 2022 a year of mass action to respond to the deepening crisis of the working class.