SAFTU End of Year message

The South African Federation of Trade Unions sends festive greetings and a message of solidarity to its members and to the working class of South Africa and the world.

In particular our hearts go out to workers have lost their jobs this year and previous years. We are acutely aware that they will now join the long queue of 10.3 million South African who are unemployed and the 63% living in degrading dehumanising poverty. We send special message to workers who have been victims of the senseless violence and an acceptable high levels of road accidents. We wish those who are in hospitals and or recovering at home a speedy recovery.

We pledge our support to the workers and poor communities across the planet, who are taking to the streets in their millions to demand the end of a capitalist world order which a shrinking minority of multi-billionaires is getting even richer while the poor majority face a daily battle to survive.

The world’s richest 1% own 45% of the world’s wealth. The wealthiest individuals, those owning over $100,000 in assets, amount to less than 10% of the global population but own 84% of global wealth.

Yet 821.6 million people on earth are chronically undernourished. 256 million of these live in Africa; that’s 20% of the continent’s population going to sleep hungry. World Bank research shows that 10% of the world’s population live in extreme poverty but that in Africa that figure stands at 41%.

And things are not going to get better in 2020. The International Monetary Fund’s most recent World Economic Forecast, in October revealed that “global growth is forecast to end up at 3.0% for 2019, its lowest level since 2008–09 and 0.3% down from the April 2019 World Economic Out-look. With uncertainty about prospects for several countries, a projected slowdown in China and the United States, and prominent downside risks, a much more subdued pace of global activity could well materialise.”

Without fundamental changes in the way the world’s economy is structured, the new decade will see further misery for the working class and present them with even greater challenges.

South African economy

This is certainly true of South Africa, which remains the world’s most unequal society, with close to the highest levels of unemployment, and about 63% the population living in dire poverty. It is on the brink of being downgraded by all the Credit Ratings Agencies to negative, which could lead to a collapse of investment and total economic collapse.

According to the World Inequality Database, the top 1% of South African earners take home almost 20% of all income in the country, while the top 10% take home 65%. The remaining 90% of South African earners get only 35% of total income. The report adds that these unequal incomes… “remain stubbornly racialised, gendered and spatialised”.

And it is getting worse: “The real wages of the bottom 10% of earners have plummeted, shrinking by a quarter between 2011 and 2015. The country’s median incomes also shrank by 15%. By contrast, the earnings of the top 2% grew by 15% over that period, while those in the top 1% saw their earnings balloon by 48%.”

Unemployment has now reached 10.3 million South Africans, a staggering level of 38,8%. Most worrying is that 58% of workers between 15 and 24 are out of work, the highest in the world.

Retrenchments have rocketed throughout 2019. They include:

•      Dunkin Donuts & Baskin Robbins – 120 jobs;

•      Standard Bank – maximum 1,200 jobs;

•      Absa – 827 jobs;

•      Tongaat Hulett – 5,000 jobs;

•      Hulamin Extrusions – 200 jobs;

•      Sibanye-Stillwater – 3,450 jobs;

•      Multichoice – 2,000 jobs;

•      Alexkor – 238 jobs;

•      Continental Tyre – 170 jobs

Many more jobs are under threat, including at SAA, MultiChoice, Tiso Blackstar, Pick ‘n Pay, Shoprite, Arcelor Mittal, and, most worrying of all, at Eskom, as a result of unbundling a precursor to its privatisation.

Even those workers who are hanging onto their jobs are suffering from lower wages and less job security as more employers use casualisation, outsourcing, home-work, labour brokers, zero-hour contracts and the Expanded Public Works Programme which pays young workers a below-poverty wage R11 an hour.

Millions of vulnerable workers exist on the margins of the economy. 76% of them remain unorganised, many in sectors in greatest need of a strong trade union – those employed by labour brokers, informal, part-time and casual workers who have no permanent employer or workplace, and farm workers, who are also subject to harassment, evictions and confiscations.

Public services

It is not only at their workplace that workers have suffered in 2019. Public services across the board have seen further deterioration and some are on close to collapse.

Public schools remain largely dysfunctional. 78% of grade 4 children can’t read for meaning in any language and 61% of grade 5s can’t do basic maths.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, in her first six months of her third term in office, has failed to comply with the 2016 Norms and Standards deadline for school infrastructure and even to eradicate 9000 pit toilets at schools, which was promised by the successive ANC governments.

The annual matric pass rate should not hide the grim fact that the number of matrics who drop out before sitting their exams has been increasing. In 2015, there were 23,389 matrics who dropped out before sitting their exams – a dropout rate of 3.5%. By 2018 this number had increased to 131,067 – a dropout rate of over 20%.

When even graduates often struggle to find jobs, what hope is there for these thousands of school-leavers with not even a metric certificate?

Meanwhile the parents of the rich minority can buy first-class private education for their children.

The public healthcare system stagnates in deep crisis as a result of budget cuts and outsourcing work as important as medical care, without any proper checks on the quality of the care being offered. Hospitals and clinics around the country are hopelessly understaffed and under-equipped, as their budgets shrink, government has been using natural attrition to cut numbers including of frontline services and work is outsourced to private companies.

Yet we are still to see the ANC’s promised National Health Insurance (NHI). Government has discredited a developmental role of the state to the point that the biggest concern about the NHI Bill is now whether the centralised funding will not open yet another front for the elites to feed.

Meanwhile private healthcare, used by only 17% of the population in medical aid schemes, provides forms of advanced care that we all need, but are denied to the remaining 83%!

Public transport also staggers from one crisis another. PRASA has been put under administration as a result of corruption and incompetence. For large parts of 2019, Cape Town commuters had no trains running at all. And all those who travel to work, or to look for work, transport has become totally unreliable, and increasingly dangerous as accidents, crime and arson increase.

Crime and drugs

Poor communities have seen further escalation of crime and corruption. We are a country at war with itself. 57 people die violent deaths every day! The conviction rate of as low as 15% which epitomizes totally dysfunctional justice system is a what drives the culture of impunity including of cases of rape and abuse of women and children.

Even the government sending on the army into Cape Town townships has not reduced the horrific levels of murder related to the illegal drug trade, which has also ruined the lives of thousands of young addicts who are dragooned into criminal gangs.

Women and children have continued to suffer appalling levels of rape and murder, with woefully low levels of prosecution of those responsible. The police and courts must stop treating this as a secondary issue. Perpetrators must be arrested, charged and prosecuted and there must be no impunity for those found guilty.

Ecological calamity

2019 has also seen a rise in the impact of global warming, with severe drought in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Northwest. We have seen record high temperature of up to 54 degrees in one Northern Cape village, while there have been whirlwinds drastic flooding in KwaZulu Natal and other parts of the country.

Measures to cut carbon emissions have been hampered by the Eskom crisis, which has once again resorted to load shedding, unable to guarantee power, stillness to implement measures to achieve a ‘just transition’ to environmentally friendly energy generation which will not lead to retrenchments or price rises for consumers.


At the root of all these huge problems are the ANC government’s disastrous pro-business neoliberal economic policies and the continuation of corruption and the looting of public resources in the private sector, SOEs and the public services.

SAFTU rejected Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s attempt to find a solution to the country’s economic crisis in his paper – “Economic transformation, inclusive growth, and competitiveness: Towards an economic strategy for South Africa”. We quoted the famous words attributed to Albert Einstein – that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Mboweni’s paper is the best possible example of the type of insanity.

His attempt to breathe life into a policy corpse does not even make the same sort of promises as GEAR and the NDP. The best he can offer is the hope that “the economy-wide impact of the proposed interventions over time based on when they can realistically be implemented… can raise potential growth by 2–3 percentage points and create over one million job opportunities”.

Even if his policies were to create one million jobs over 10 years (100 000 jobs a year), this will still let help the 90% of the 10.3 million now unemployed and the over 400 000 new young new young work-seekers expected to be entering the labour market in every one of those ten years.

Corruption and ANC paralysis

Nor is there any sign of Ramaphosa’s promised war on corruption taking off. Despite the mountain of evidence piling up at the Zondo commission of Inquiry, only a handful of relatively minor figures have so far been brought to court, while the Gupta brothers live the good life Dubai.

All these problems are magnified by the paralysis and factionalism within the ANC leadership. Ramaphosa has been powerless to defeat the pro-Zuma faction, which is becoming more brazen in its attempt to escape the consequences of their crimes.

The massive impact of all the theft from the people is being exposed daily in the catastrophic bankruptcy and collapse of SOEs. Scandalously, corruption is also being brought to light in the unions, several of whose leaders have been charged with theft of their members’ money, yet again only a few have so far been brought to book.

Workers’ rights

The year has also been plagued by serious attacks on workers’ democratic rights. Employers are already waging war on collective bargaining and SAFTU has been proved right to have warned when amendments to labour laws were passed in 2018, that the aim of government and business was to destroy the power of the unions by undermining workers’ constitutional right to strike such as introducing a legal obligation on workers to have a secret ballot before they could exercise their right to strike, as well as introducing rigid balloting and picketing which in practice are impossible to comply with.

Many employers are demanding exemption from having to pay even the poverty national minimum wage of R11-R20 an hour; Mboweni hints that these pittances are too high! And make a ridiculous claim that they “could potentially have an adverse effect on small businesses who cannot afford the increase.”

Nedlac has continued to block SAFTU’s membership, using a succession of spurious bureaucratic excuses, and the reasons are becoming clearer – to stop SAFTU exposing the class collaboration between government, business and sweetheart unions, in support of anti-working class and anti-poor policies like the poverty national minimum wage and anti-union legislation.

Building working class power

Unavoidably this statement has so far focussed on all the bad news of 2019. There is however much very good news as well – the story the fight-back which has been waged by the unions and communities, in which SAFTU affiliates and members have played their part.

Workers have struck at Sibanye Stillwater mines, Blue Ribbon, Dis-Chem, the Plastic sector, Lanxess Chrome Mine, SAA, Unilever, Spar, Transnet ports, Oak Valley farms, the private security sector, and municipal workers in all major cities and many smaller towns. Others like bank workers, have been denied the right strike through legal action by the bosses.

Communities too have poured on to the streets to protest at lack of services, corruption and crime – in Alexandra, Hamanskraal, Roodepoort, Vereeniging, Kroonstad, Blackheath, Tshwane, Bekkersdal, Orange Grove, Nomzamo, Lingelethu East, Bergville, Caledon, Eersteriver, Rus-ter-Vaal, Riverlea, Khayelitsha, Dunoon, Bishop Lavis, Hanover Park and Soweto, to name just a few.

The task we face in 2020 and beyond is to rebuild the trade union movement, which has been weakened and fragmented, mainly the fruit of seeds of disunity planted by those serving the political interests of the workers’ class enemies and to mobilise all these struggles into a coordinated mass movement for change.

Firstly we have to implement the comprehensive programmes agreed by the inaugural Central Committee (CC)  in November 2019 – to serve the interests of our members in every workplace, strengthen workplace organisation to defend members jobs, improve their wages and conditions of employment and stop management bullying including through racism, sexual harassment and other unfair and discriminatory practices while improving coordination of solidarity amongst workers.

Secondly, we must struggle to form a single movement of the working class, in line with the founding congress’s call for creation of a unity between struggles in the workplace and of the working class in the communities. To the end we shall sustain our work in communities – with the youth, student and women’s formations, the landless masses, the marginalised rural poor, informal sector workers including waste pickers and small traders, the groupings battling environment destruction, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination.  

The CC resolved to convene an assembly of working class organisations and progressive civil society formations to develop a fighting programme. Also, a conference of the left must be organised to develop a minimum programme to forge a unity platform for the Workers Party.

Only the broadest possible unity of the left forces, united behind a common programme, can tilt the national balance of forces for fundamental transformation of society.

Also, as agreed by the CC, there will be a series of general strikes in the coming year, not just narrow trade union strikes but broader working class mass strikes. Our demands will centre on

•      A campaign for a living wage for all workers, and the reversal of the attacks on the constitutional guarantee right to strike, defence of collective bargaining and fair labour standards and a more effective coordination of the living wage campaign, in particular amongst the most vulnerable workers, who are facing the brunt of the arrogance of the bosses who take advantage of low levels of union organisation. We shall intensify the demand for the total ban of the labour brokering system and en end to outsourcing and casualisation of workers.

•      A social wage campaign to take up poverty, energy security and reversal of attempts to privatise Eskom, food sovereignty and security, the introduction of the NHI, address the crisis in the public education system including the campaigns to ensure there is a culture of learning and teaching in the working class schools, an end to evictions in the farms and urban areas, a demand for better houses near the places of work, the demand for public transport system and the banning of etolls, campaigns to demand urgent action to reverse ecological crisis engulfing our country and the world. We shall continue to fight all kinds of discrimination including to fight against xenophobia, sexism, racism and discrimination against sexual orientation of anyone within and outside our borders.

International solidarity

All the problems facing South African workers are shared by the working class around the world. The monopoly capitalist imperialists are on the offensive everywhere. Extreme right-wing nationalist and populist demagogues are heading governments in the USA, UK, Brazil, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Bolivia, India, Philippines and many more.

There have been brazen attempts to impose regime changes through right-wing military and civilian coup d’états. They failed in Venezuela but succeeded in Bolivia, where Evo Morales was forced by the military and extreme right-wing forces backed by US imperialism, to resign. But the masses of workers and indigenous people are fighting back and rising to demand his reinstatement.

Elsewhere mass uprisings in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Algeria, Spain, Greece and France represent a turning point in the struggle to defeat right-wing populist and other reactionary elements of the world counter-revolution.

These uprisings, the women’s movements and climate change strikes are symptomatic of the developing pre-revolutionary world situation. SAFTU must connect and position itself to lead the working class to take its place in this world revolution.

In this regard SAFTU pledges that 2020 shall different from the previous years where the working class formations limited their response to the unfolding catastrophe with militant statements of condemnation that are not accompanied by action.

2020 shall be the year of intense mobilisation and unity of the working class and the left forces in our country! SAFTU has already approached all the 147 organisations who formed part of the working class summit last year to rededicate themselves to this mass mobilisation of the working class. We have also approached the COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU.

We shall also be talking to all the left political parties and formations to join this growing movement of resistance. We are happy that organisations like the SRWP and EFF have already indicated their unconditional support to efforts to mobilise the working class to resist the capitalist onslaught.

It is only through the non-sectarian approach to the struggle that will ensure that we can collectively change our fortunes as working class.

The federation wishes all its members a restful and happy holiday so that they can be ready for all the challenges they are sure to face in the new decade. We call on our members to use this festive season to canvass the broadest support for the need to launch a much more coordinated fight back by the working class and the marginalised poor majority.

Forward to socialism in 2020!

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