Workers of the World unite! SAFTU New Year message

The South African Federation of Trade Unions sends a message of solidarity to all the workers of the world, to the poor and hungry, the employed and the persecuted masses. There has never been a time when its has been more important to unite all the oppressed majority of the world’s population, facing huge challenges from an aggressive and greedy capitalist class.

World in crisis

We live in a world in which just 42% people own as much wealth as the 3.7 billion poorest half of the world’s population. Billionaires have been created at a rate of one every two days at a time when the bottom 50% of the population have seen no increase in wealth. 82% of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy 1%.

Around 9 million people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases every year, more than double the lives taken by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in 2012. Poor nutrition is responsible for 45% of all deaths in children under 5. About 3 million children die each year because their bodies don’t have enough of the basic nutrients they need to function and grow.

Yet the world produces enough food for everyone to live a healthy, productive life. There is 17% more food available per person than 30 years ago. If all the world’s food were evenly distributed, there would be enough for everyone to get 2,700 calories per day – more than the minimum 2,100 requirement for proper health. So the challenge is not a lack of food; it’s making food consistently available to everyone who needs it.

Meanwhile the voice of workers and the poor grows weaker, as a succession of rich, right-wing, racist, environmental-denialist, war-mongering, anti-democratic demagogues have taken power in many countries and pursued policies which are making life even harder for the poor majority.   

The latest outrage is Hungary’s new “slave law” which will effectively compel employees to work 400 hours a year of overtime, for fear of losing their job if they refuse.

South Africa

South Africa will face all these challenges, and more, in 2019. Unless the working class can turn the tide, the new year will be even worse than the old, as the employers and their allies in government and the media will continue their offensive, and all the problems listed below get even worse.


2019 marks 25 years since the end of apartheid in 1994, a quarter of a century in which we ought to have been making big strides towards the realisation of Freedom Charter’s demand that  “The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth!”

The reality is that the economic inequalities we inherited from apartheid not only remain but have widened. Wealth is even more unequally shared than in 1994 and is now higher then anywhere else in the world..

The top 1% of South Africans own more than 70% of the country’s wealth.

Deloitte accountants have revealed that the average pay of executives in the country’s top 100 companies is now R17.97 million a year, which amounts to R69 000 a day! If that is the average, there must be many who receive even more!

Executives’ salaries have risen from 50 times to 500 times bigger than workers’ wages and the share of wages in the GDP has plummeted, from 57% in 1991 to below 50%, while the wealth of multibillionaires is growing faster than economic growth.

Yet the country’s wealth is generated by the surplus value created by workers, who create enough wealth to pay their own wages within the first two hours of a working day, while the rest goes to pay their bosses’ exorbitant salaries and bonuses and these bosses will use every means possible to force workers to accept poverty wages and further widen inequality.
Unemployment and poverty

Unemployment at 37.3% is among the sixth highest in the world and is getting worse. The number of jobs decreased by 16,000 quarter-on-quarter, from 9,749,000 in June 2018 to 9,733,000 in September 2018. In 2019 it will rise even higher, as all the planned retrenchments in the mines, the SABC, Standard Bank, Eskom and possibly SAA and Edcon come into effect.

Even worse is the level of youth unemployment at 52.8% – the highest in the world.

Such catastrophe levels of joblessness are the main reason for the outrageous extent of poverty. 55% of the population live in abject poverty and six million children live below the food poverty line.

The social wage

It is the same  with the social wage where there has been a similar lack of any implementation of the Freedom Charter.

Despite progress in ending the openly racist discrimination during the apartheid years, the two-tier level of service delivery remains and still has a clear racial dimension.

Patterns of land ownership have hardly changed since apartheid. The land has definitely not been “shared among those who work it”. Despite ANC and Parliamentary resolutions in favour of expropriation without compensation, the government has not yet explained how it intends to implement this policy, while making angry condemnations of “land grabs”.

Education remains even more starkly divided between top-notch private schools for a wealthy, mainly white minority, while most public schools for the majority are under-staffed, ill-equipped and often structurally derelict.

Public hospitals and clinics suffer the same fate, despite the welcome filling of 5 300 vacancies. Most struggle with over-worked staff, lack of drugs and long queues for treatment, while the rich can pay for quality private service.

The same divides can be seen with crime. The rich can pay for private security companies and entrance barriers, while poor communities are held hostage to criminal gangs and drug dealers who destroy the lives of young addicts who then terrorise communities in street battle against rival gangs.

Corruption and neoliberalism

All these problems for the majority of South Africans have been made far worse by the epidemic of corruption, theft and fraud by public officials, SOE executives, political leaders and their cronies in the private sector. This has lost the country an estimated R27 billion a year. Yet we are still waiting for the prosecution and punishment of these robbers of the poor.  

Corruption is not however confined to the public sector, but is a by-product of the inherently corrupt capitalist system. Every year big business, mostly transnational corporations, illicitly deposit hundreds of billions of dollars out of the reach of SARS and other regulators. 80% of this illicit financial flight is estimated to be composed of the proceeds of tax evasion and laundered corporate transactions.

The thread which connects all these failures is the ANC government’s adoption of neoliberal economic policies dictated by international financial institutions and enforced by their credit rating agencies.

These policies began with the misnamed Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy, which led to such low growth that South Africa has been condemned to ‘junk’ status. It destroyed rather than created jobs and redistributed wealth from the poor to the rich.

President Ramaphosa’s ‘new dawn’ promises nothing more than the same ‘business as usual’. His Jobs Summit and Investment Conference were publicity stunts to create the illusion that there is some kind of consensus between government, business and labour in favour of the very policies which caused the economic crisis in the first place.

His position is also undermined by the divisions in the ANC which has left it almost paralyzed and led to a climate of political intolerance, not only within the ANC but generally in the country, which has led to killings, beatings and reckless war talk.

As we face the national provincial elections in 2019, there is a vital need for fundamental change. Neither the ANC nor the opposition parties have any real alternative programmes to rescue the people from the economic catastrophe we face in the new year.

SAFTU restates its call that the time has arrived for an alternative party to represent the interests of the workers and the poor. Our position remains as mandated by its founding Congress – to be an independent and yet not apolitical, democratic and campaigning federation.

Being independents mean that SAFTU cannot turn itself into a party, nor can there be a formal alliance with, or affiliation to, any party. But our commitment to not being apolitical also means that SAFTU can, and indeed must, adopt a view on any political party, particularly one standing on the same ideological foundations of Marxist-Leninism.

To this end SAFTU is planning a five-day political symposium to which it will invite all working-class formations, socialist oriented parties here and abroad, including the new Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP), to discuss the formation of a working class party, what should be its posture and programme and how it contest political power in communities, in the economy and in parliament, amongst others.

The labour movement

SAFTU was born at a time when the South African labour movement was at its most weak and fragmented, and as a result trade union membership had fallen to only 24% of the labour force.

This was made worse by the rising levels of unemployment, converting full-time jobs into part-time, permanent jobs into casual ones, outsourcing jobs, using labour brokers and redefining employees as ‘independent contractors’.

A rising number of workers were either unemployed or working in highly precarious forms of work like car guards, waste-pickers or looking for any kind of piece work to get from day to day.

This is why, from its launch in April 2017, SAFTU was determined to break out of the traditional view of unions as being there only to serve securely employed workers and build a home for all members of this army of marginalised and super-exploited workers.

The main trade union federations – COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU – based almost entirely on members in relatively well-paid jobs – had been collaborating with government and business to reach agreements which left workers at the mercy of ruthless employers who saw the balance of power shifting in their favour.

This culminated in the scandalous agreement on a poverty national minimum wage at the starvation level of R20 an hour and laws to place even more bureaucratic and legal obstructions for unions to have to overcome in order to exercise their constitutional right to strike and picket. Employers have been quick to exploit the new opportunities opening up. Bargaining councils are being undermined and by-passed.

In retaliation workers have fought back. As the new year begins, three bitter disputes remain unresolved, at Blue Ribbon bakeries, Dis-Chem pharmacies and in the Plastics Sector, where employers are trying to renege on a bargaining council agreement to pay the lowest grades of workers R40 an hour and reduce this to R20 an hour – the very figure which government, business and sweetheart unions decided was an acceptable minimum wage!

The very first task for January 2019 is to mobilize solidarity support for these workers and win the very reasonable demands that are making.

SAFTU leads the fight-back

SAFTU has already, in its first 20 months, shown its potential to offer workers a completely new type of organisation, notably with its mass marches on 25 April, when we burst on to the scene, amazing everyone with our ability to mobilise workers who have been wanting a fight with the ruling class but who had been betrayed by union leaderships captured by the ruling class.

25 April was a clear demonstration that people are angry, that democracy since 1994 has simply excluded them. They had become the face of record unemployment, poverty and inequality.

SAFTU unions have already achieved some remarkable victories, including:

  • NUMSA’s victory in the Constitutional Court to limit temporary work, with labour brokers, to the first three months.
  • SACOSWU’s victory at the Constitutional Court to stop POPCRU from excluding start-up unions from playing any role in the workplace and bargaining.
  • PRASA workers’ victory in the Labour Appeal Court and Constitutional Court that led to the reinstatement of 700 workers in PRASA who were dismissed in 2013.
  • FAWU victory at the Labour Appeals Court that led to the reinstatement of 139 farm workers dismissed in 2013 by LA Vissagie & Seuns in Nelspruit.
  • APSA, SALIPSWU and NUMSA victories, with progressive student formations that insourced thousands of cleaning and security staff at universities leading to huge salary increases.
  • NUPSAW’s massive gains in a struggle to get community healthcare workers’ jobs insourced.
  • The Midrand workers who were reincorporated into the Johannesburg Municipality after 23 years after their were dismissed in 1993 by the Midrand for protesting against acts of nepotism and corruption

But these are just a start. In 2019 we are determined to win more victories and to start fighting back against the bosses’ onslaught.

Community struggles

Another great advance for SAFTU in 2018 was its hosting of the Working-Class Summit in July, which brought together 147 workers’ and community organizations, drawing together workers – employed and unemployed, full-time and part-time, permanent and casual and those working for labour brokers – community activists, informal traders, migrant workers, women’s groups, environmental groups and progressive NGOs.

There has already been joint action between unions and communities in Cape Town residents’ #totalshutdown campaign, which has already led to a limited improvement in the police presence in these crime-ridden areas.

We shall again join hands with these 147 organisations and have already recognised the critical need to coordinate our struggles into a single response of the working class. We are no longer going to be fighting in silos.

Tasks for 2019

Our message to our members and our class for 2019 is to mobilise mass support for a campaign that will surpass 25 April 2018 many times over.  It will begin with Special Provincial Shop Steward Councils to which all working class activists will be invited throughout February 2019

Together with the leadership of the 147 working class formations that met in July 2018, we will convene the provincial chapters of the Working Class Summit formations across the length and breadth of the country in January and February.

SAFTU’s 2019 mobilisation will include:

  • People’s Assemblies in every town and rural areas to unite organised workers with the unemployed, the workers in the informal economy, environmental activists, and homeless campaigners with the rest of the marginalised.
  • Massive demonstrations in Cape Town on Budget Day in February and mass meetings throughout the country to mobilise for a People’s Budget and to reject a budget that will only deepen the misery for the poor majority.
  • A two-day general strike on 26–27 March 2019, which will be a total shut-down and an occupation of cities and towns by the unemployed and the employed, the homeless, the landless, the property-less, etc. It will not be a SAFTU strike or an organized workers’ strike but a strike by the poor majority of South Africans. We shall occupy the streets from the poor townships and march to the city centres and sleep there overnight. We will remain in the cities until the government meets our demands.

SAFTU will convene its Central Committee in April to evaluate this programme and announce the day when we will occupy the land and other forms of more radical action to demand an end to the people’s misery.
We shall hold mass May Day rallies to unite all workers, employed or unemployed. But the May Day celebration of workers will not be limited to only the 1st of May but it will continue throughout the year.

We are calling on all trade unions, all working class formations and other ordinary South Africans to join the campaign, which seeks to unite unions, progressive civil society and the rest of the working class formations, including religious formations, the middle strata and small businesses, taxi operators and drivers.

Recruitment campaign

Linked to this campaign of mass action is a recruitment blitz, targeting the unorganised – farm workers, security guards, hotel and catering staff, etc. It will be launched in February 2019.

All the office bearers of the federation and its affiliates will lead teams of 50 trained volunteers who will hit the shopping malls, city centres and industrial estates, with millions of pamphlets, recruitment forms and loud-hailers to reach out to the most vulnerable and marginalized workers, who have the greatest need for a union to protect them.

Workers want to be served, by which they mean: protection of their jobs, resisting management bullies and improving conditions of employment. The SAFTU Service Charter that speaks to these commitments will be displayed in all our affiliated unions’ offices.

SAFTU wishes all its members a happy new year and urges them to redouble their efforts to launch the counter-attack against a ruling class of employers who are planning their own assault on the rights and living standards.

Forward to socialism in 2019!

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