Closing address to the inaugural meeting of the SAFTU Central Committee

The South African Federation of Trade Unions held its first-ever meeting of its Central Committee, the highest constitutional structure between national Congresses.

The meeting took place against a deepening socio-economic and political catastrophe for workers and the poor majority of South Africans. Economic growth has almost come to a standstill and further evidence emerges daily of  the unprecedented level of theft of billions of rands by a corrupt capitalist elite and cronies in government and state-owned enterprises, as in VBS.

Inequality – the chasm between the super-rich minority of capitalists and the overwhelmingly poor majority is wider than ever and the widest in the whole world. It reminds me of what Karl Marx said 140 years ago:

“Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.”

He was not exaggerating; he could have been writing about South Africa today.


Never has there been a greater need for a strong, militant and democratic workers’ movement. SAFTU emerged strengthened and ready for battle in defence of the working class at a time of deepening crisis. We are discussing with five more unions, with a total membership of 42 500 members, who have expressed an interest in affiliating to this federation.

Reports from affiliated unions indicated overall growth in membership and activity. There have been strides forward in both recruiting members and being involved in the bitter struggles of poor communities.

We agreed on many organizational changes to make the federation stronger and more effective, including ways to step up the campaign to recruit unorganised workers, with blitzes in industrial estates, shops and restaurants, etc.

It was also resolved and to co-ordinate the work of affiliated unions in the same sectors more effectively, and to continue to co-operate with workers affiliated to other federations.

We agreed to do more educational work, including by setting up a National Education Committee, all affiliates paying the Skills Development Levy and seeking  to work with the Ditsela worker-education organization.


On Nedlac it was agreed to take legal advice as to whether to go to court to win our struggle for admission, but if they advise against this we shall make a new application in early 2019. Meantime we shall continue all our campaigns outside Nedlac.


We agreed to intensify all our ongoing campaigns and bring them together into two broad campaigns on (1) the living wage – on the poverty national minimum wage, the VAT and petrol price increases and labour brokers, etc – and (2) the social wage – land, housing, education, health, transport, crime, etc, and link them to the call for action against government austerity policies, and illicit capital outflows, and for wealth taxes on the rich.

The fight for the total banning labour brokers must be an urgent priority.

These campaigns must be broadened to include all the organisations at the Working-Class Summit, which passed resolutions in support of all the same issues, and other forces within the broader working-class community.

The NEC will decide dates for the three-day general strike, including proposals for a mass strike on the days of the State of the Nation and Budget speeches and then in the 2019 elections campaign.

In the aftermath of the SACOSWU Concourt judgement, we have agreed to fight the attempts by SALGA, IMATU and SAMWU to defy the ruling by excluding SAFTU unions from collective bargaining and to continue to make double-deductions from our members.

The struggles goes on – in the workplace, the courts, the streets -f or a fundamental transformation of society – to shift wealth and power from the billionaire capitalist monopolies and the corrupt looters to the working class and its allies, so that we can democratically plan and develop the resources of South Africa by and in the interests of the working class and the poor.

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