The South African Federation of Trade Unions held a meeting of its National Executive Committee from 20-22 November 2018 in Johannesburg. It was attended by the national office bearers and representatives of its affiliated unions.
Political and economic crisis
The NEC met against the backdrop of a relentless jobless bloodbath, which is getting worse by the day. By the expanded figure unemployment has risen to 37.3%, one of the highest in the world, exceeded only by war-torn countries like Palestine, Syria and Yemen, or tiny post-colonial states like Djibouti, Senegal and Lesotho. No comparable country has anything like South Africa’s number of jobless, and the numbers are going to get worse.
The challenge the NEC discussed is how best to advance the fight back against the crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality and the pro-business agenda of the ANC government and big business.
We have been proved correct in predicting that President Ramaphosa’s appointment would not bring a ‘new dawn’ but more of the same misery of high unemployment, grinding poverty, ongoing corruption, widening inequality and more of the failed neoliberal free-market polices of his predecessors.
SAFTU will continue to fight against corruption and the looting of public resources. The early stages of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into ‘state-capture’ is already confirming our view that corruption and looting was never confined to Jacob Zuma, the Gupta family and a small number of politicians and SOE executives, but was a wider network in both the public and private sectors and a structural feature of an inherently corrupt capitalist system.
The Zondo Commission has place the ANC on trial! In particular it is becoming clearer that the ANC leadership as a whole is guilty of at best turning a blind eye to corruption in its ranks and at worst being active participants in the embezzlement of public resources. It also exposes how divided and paralysed the ANC has become.
The splits with the ANC have also further weakened COSATU, which veers erratically between support for the ANC and government’s neoliberal strategy, while opportunistically criticising a few policies, which its members oppose, such as the privatization of electricity generation to IPPs and etolls.
SAFTU has made a huge impact in its short life. The highlight were the mass mobilisation against the poverty National Minimum Wage, and Labour Law amendments, and the Constitutional Court victories by NUMSA on labour brokers and by SACOWSU on minority unions’ rights to organisational rights.
We have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that no other force has the power to bring the economy to a standstill and pull hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets as we did on 25 April 2018.
We cannot however be complacent. There is currently no wave of mass mobilisation and we are not sufficiently taking the excitement generated by 25 April to new heights.
We urgently therefore need to mobile our campaign of mass mobilisation, together with the Working Class Summit formations, in pursuit of our socioeconomic demands, which will take us to every town, village, farm and workplace across the length and breadth of our country, centred around a three-day national strike.
The NEC reaffirmed the priority of recruiting the 76% of workers who are outside the unions, casual workers and those working for labour brokers. We welcome the successes achieved by the Casual Workers Advice Office for some of these workers, but however good their advice is, it is no substitute for recruiting and organising those casual workers into unions. It was agreed on a plan of action to implement this. We shall:
- Release all six SAFTU national office bearers and those of all affiliated unions to drive the implementation of the campaign on the ground and to be the face of the campaign.
- Create a pool of 50 volunteers in every local to drive the campaign week in and week out. The federation must allocate adequate resources to fund this campaign adequately.
- Take a full advantage of the fact that SAFTU has become a popular brand amongst workers, and effectively use the Constitutional Court victories to recruit and protect the gains of workers in every workplace.
- Distribute two pamphlets on workers in the private and public sectors, to demonstrate to private-sector workers the extent of their brutal exploitation through the job-loss bloodbath, attacks on decent work through outsourcing, the use of labour brokering, workers being condemned to more precarious forms of work, and the record breaking profits when wages and conditions of employment are worsening. The pamphlet on the public sector demonstrates the extent to which workers and the poor are paying the price of neoliberal policies and austerity programmes, with their jobs.
SAFTU will consider recruiting and organising the new cannabis sector of workers which is about to take off as a result of change in the milestone Constitutional Court judgement, which will force a rethinking of all legislation and may see government allowing mass production of marijuana for medical purpose. Already the local and multinational corporation are working for this eventuality.
SAFTU must not be left behind and must position itself to organise this sector whilst protecting workers’ rights to use marijuana in line with the Constitutional Court ruling and the legislation. SAFTU will work with the Cannabis Development Council of South Africa and the Traditional Healers Associations to ensure that workers in the new industry are protected.
We shall immediately call a meeting of national organisers to ensure effective implementation of the recruitment campaign guided by the past resolutions and this decision of the NEC.
Service to members
The meeting recognised that a new organising and service strategy must be developed, to answer a fundamental question: what is our strategy for organising and servicing members under conditions of a neoliberal capitalist order in the 21 century and the ‘fourth industrial revolution’?
SAFTU unions must build a culture of service, and reorient staff, in particular those responsible for service to members, train shop stewards, leaders and officials at all levels.
To this end the NEC adopted a SAFTU Service Charter, which aims to ensure adherence to SAFTU’s principles, values and ethos by all the affiliates. In particular the unions will be guided by on how to revive the trust workers should have to unions by:
- Consistency in our actions to represent the interest of workers.
- Reliability so that we become more relevant.
- Responsibility to act in both the best interests of members and the broader working class and society;
- Intimacy with workers’ issues;
- Uprooting and burying the culture of laziness and paralysis. SAFTU must represent a culture of service to members and the working class.
- Every Member an Organiser!
This Service Charter must be prominently displayed at every union local and workplace office.
The organising and service strategy must also take into consideration new bargaining strategies, new collective bargaining structures and struggles for minimum wages within every sector of the economy and as well as a living National Minimum Wage.
There is an influx of young workers entering the labour market. These new members are more militant and feel absolutely betrayed by the older generation and by the slow pace of change. Yet they do not have the same traditions of sacrifice, sense of history, tolerance and democratic organisational cultures. The older generation must also understand that they too were intolerant of slow pace of change in their youth age and must not resist revisiting all ways of struggles and of doing things. These two cultures must be fused together to achieve the goals SAFTU has set – to be an independent and yet not apolitical, democratic and campaigning federation.
A National Education Committee will be established early in 2019 to ensure that all affiliates have their own education structures and desks to drive their internal education and training programmes.
This should be linked to commitment by the Central Committee (CC) to revive the traditions of worker education, which as well as being linked to recruitment, capacity and organisation building, should lead to more political education so that our members can have an informed debate on current political issues.
It was agreed to develop a communication strategy to ensure that SAFTU reaches out to all workers using all 21st century communication weapons. The strategy will be based on eight pillars of communications to put a workers’ perspective into the public domain and to contest the public space.
This mass communication strategy will cost millions of rands SAFTU doesn’t have. In order to limit the costs we meet and engage first the non-profit organisations such as the Workers World Media Productions who can help with training of at least two communication officers per affiliate and to check what they could offer.
The NOBs were mandated to continue engaging the Sgwili Media Group to explore how a working arrangement and the terms of such and to explore how this strategy could be implemented incrementally and in a manner we can afford. Fundraising will be launched with immediate effect with may include fraternal organisations, cell phone companies and service providers to the trade unions.
EFF and SRWP
The NEC noted that the Economic Freedom Fighters have created a labour desk to help take up issues their members are raising. The NEC took note of both positive and negative experiences:
- Some SAFTU affiliates work with EFF structures to pursue workers’ struggles on the ground. Through this cooperation a number of important gains have been made, such as insourcing of workers, confronting management bullying and racism, etc.
- Some of the EFF interventions however have been opportunistic and informed by electoral politics. In some cases the EFF has led workers into unprotected strikes resulting in mass dismissals of workers. EFF has no locus standi on labour issues, so that after agitating workers it cannot use institutional power to protect workers from the brutal capital fight back.
- EFF is also growing hostile to NUMSA as a result of its creation of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP). The EFF sees NUMSA as a political opponent as if NUMSA has ceased to be a bona fide trade union but a political formation that EFF must compete with and liquidate.
SAFTU will engage with the leadership of EFF to raise these concerns directly with them. We have dispatched a letter to the EFF in this regard.
The NEC reiterated that SAFTU is an independent, democratic and campaigning federation. Its members, including those of NUMSA, are drawn from all existing political parties. All these members, irrespective of their individual political loyalties, have a right to be members of SAFTU affiliated unions.
The federation will resist being stampeded into becoming a labour desk for, or forming an alliance with. any political party, but will work with any party genuinely taking up workers’ demands, be that the EFF or any other party.
SAFTU will go ahead with its planned workshop with working-class formations in order to provide leadership on such issues as the timing of the creation of a working-class party, its modalities and programme, its relationship with existing socialist-oriented parties and international experiences in forming such parties.
In this regard SAFTU is planning a major political symposium to which it will invite all socialist oriented parties here and abroad to discuss the possibility of the formation of a working class party. The process of forming such a party will be a bottom-up process that seeks to embrace all working class formations to discuss what should be the posture and programme of such a party to contestation of political power in communities, in the economy and in parliament.
SAFTU has a duty to address its own weaknesses so that it can stop hostile forces from exploiting these weaknesses for any narrow political agendas to divide workers and use them as clients or political tools.
Another key discussion, which was carried forward on Friday at the Working-Class summit meeting, is how to build on the foundations we laid on 21-22 July and continue to extend our scope into community struggles.
SAFTU’s name must be synonymous with militant struggles against the capitalist status quo! The twin campaigns on a Living Wage and the Social Wage as decided by the CC should be cemented in the minds of workers as the face of SAFTU.
The NEC discussed how best to take forward the campaigns we committed ourselves to at previous NECs, the special CC and the Working-Class Summit, should be cemented in the minds of workers as the face of SAFTU and we shall work out how we are going to implement the two broad, twin campaigns on:
- The Living Wage – for a living wage for all workers and against the poverty national minimum wage, VAT and petrol price increases, banning labour brokers, and labour law amendments which effectively ban strikes and pickets
- The Social Wage – on land, housing, education, health, transport, crime and corruption, and link them to the call for action against government austerity policies and illicit capital outflows, and for wealth taxes on the rich.
We need now to capitalize on NUMSA’s historic victory to force employers to comply with the legal obligation to insource the jobs of workers outsourced to labour brokers after three months. We have already achieved some successes, at Spar for example, but must repeat our warning that where workers are not well organized in unions, employers will continue to flout the law and workers will still be exploited by these human traffickers.
The NEC agreed to accept the affiliation of the Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA). It is a start-up union organizing educators and already been registered with the Department of Labour and has a membership of +15 000 members.
A meeting is to be held with the National Union of Care Workers of South Africa, with (NUCWOSA) with +6000 members with a view to agreeing to their affiliation.
We disaffiliated two unions that were unable to provide proof that they have the membership they claim to have: SACSU and SASWU. We clarified that NTM remains the affiliate of SAFTU but have been given an opportunity to solve its internal problems.