The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is displeased by the judgement of the Constitutional Court on the wage dispute between public sector unions and government. The judgement ruled that the collective agreement has no legal force, and therefore the state is not wrong by not implementing the last leg of the Public Sector Collective Bargaining Council (PSCBC) Collective Agreement 1 of 2018.
In addition, the ConCourt arrogated itself the role of an economic analyst, considering the economic arguments brought by the state, which are the main reason the state argues it cannot fulfil that last leg of the Collective Agreement.
It is not wrong for the ConCourt to assume the role of analysing economic matters brought before it, and neither is it avoidable to assume such a role. However, the most crucial factor is: which ideological lenses does the ConCourt wear in assuming the role of an economic analyst?
In this case, it is clear that the ConCourt worn the neoliberal ideological lenses when analysing the economic arguments brought before it by the public sector unions and the State.
The State, as usual, used the neoliberal arguments that it cannot afford to fund the 2020/21 increments as agreed to in the Collective Agreement. And that if it were to fund the increases, such increases will plunge the State into a “fiscal crisis” that will subsequently impede it from meeting its poverty alleviation goals.
By accepting that the State will be plunged into a “fiscal crisis” if it funds the wage increases for the public sector, it has accepted the neoliberal premise of the State’s self-imposed constraints on the fiscus. The neoliberals argue that the State has no capacity to spend further because the deficit and debt levels have grown to uncontrollable levels — causing “fiscal crisis”. Because of such a “fiscal crisis,” the State must necessarily cut its expenditure framework on social goods and services.
This argument has been used to rationalise the budget cuts that have been implemented with rigour by the neoliberal henchmen and henchwomen at Treasury. The Budget delivered by the Minister of Finance, Enoch Godongwana, on 23 February 2022, has shown with all the cuts imminent from it that the fiscal consolidation adopted by government to address the so called “fiscal crisis”, is achieving the opposite of the arguments the judgement accepted from the State: “to alleviate the plight of the poorest of the poor”.
The Budget cuts have, instead of alleviating poverty, led to the inability of the State to hire more staff, leaving the public sector institutions from schools to hospitals understaffed; 12.5 million unemployed people with R350 per month, which is nearly two-times below the Food Poverty Line of R624; hospitals, clinics, police stations and schools without adequate infrastructure and equipment, and lack of employment creation. The total sum of these budget cuts has been increased poverty, not poverty alleviation.
The ConCourt was therefore wrong, to wear an economical ideological outlook that is naturally on the side of capitalists and those neoliberals currently advising government. Instead, the ConCourt should have taken an outlook that sides with the poor people, in whose name government is deceptively purporting to be acting by refusing to fulfil the last leg of the wage agreement.
But this does not surprise us! The jury in liberal democracies are an extension of the State that serves as an instrument of the ruling class – the capitalist class. In 2021, the ConCourt ruled in favour of Aveng Trident Steel against our affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). In that dispute, NUMSA was fighting against the company embarking on a restructuring process that led to degradation of conditions of work and retrenchments. The ConCourt ruling against NUMSA meant it affirmed those retrenchments in favour of the company seeking better ways of super-exploiting workers
and maximising profits.
The public sector unions from across all federations, including independent ones, must organise to fight back this in the streets. In addition, they must ensure that they bargain for modest increase for 2022/23 as a way of recouping the losses incurred in 2020 and 2021.