The 2024 Workers Day is convened under the theme: “Commemorating May Day on the 30th anniversary of democracy amid worsening unemployment, inequality, and poverty.”

In 1994, the first democratic elections ushered a liberal democratic dispensation. For many workers who committed their lives to abolishing the apartheid regime, 1994 was to transform their lives politically and socio-economically.

Politically, the lives of the black working class have immensely transformed since 1994. Every adult from the age of 16 is enjoying the right to vote in local and national elections. Discriminatory laws in access to public education, health, and courts have been repealed. Laws and policies have been enacted to create equality of opportunities and equality before the law.

Despite the political and legal progress and the in-roads made in the social provision of services such as connectivity to the electricity grid, free housing and connectivity to a running water network, the socioeconomic conditions have not improved to a satisfactory level. In fact, gains made in the first decade are being reversed, including gains made during apartheid such as state ownership.

Economic crisis, unemployment and poverty

The inability to deliver a “better life for all” lies in the structure and character of our economy. It lies in the two decades of rapid deindustrialisation of South Africa between 1990 and 2010, as concentrated capital responded to greater pressure from the working-class.

Newly freed from apartheid yet facing economic liberalisation and pressured by cheaper products internationally, capitalists shut down half the country’s manufacturing capacity in especially labour-intensive clothing, textiles, footwear, appliances, and electronics.

Deindustrialisation and the decline in manufacturing are best illustrated by the declining share of jobs and the manufacturing that is lying fallow. The share of employment declined by 309,000 from 1.4 million in 2005 to 1.09 million in 2021. Today, 22,5 percent of the manufacturing capacity is underutilised on average. Reflecting the decline in manufacturing, the manufacturing value added as a value of the GDP has declined from over 24% in 1980 to 12,04% in 2022.

Due to financialisation and the promise of high returns in financial assets, owners of capital have been divesting from the productive sectors of the economy (manufacturing). The levels of investments in manufacturing are, more than a decade later, still below the levels of investments at the time of the 2008-09 global financial crisis. This commitment to the productive sector is even lower than other investments across the economy.

The low investment rate goes hand-in-hand with the character of South Africa’s economy a neocolonial economy. This is the neocolonial character of our economy, in which our raw materials including minerals are manufactured into value-added goods somewhere, not here. This undermines the possibilities, opportunities, and plans for industrialisation.

This economic under-development has worsened unemployment, poverty, inequality, and crime crises.

Fiscal austerity impact on public services

The fiscal austerity measures have worsened the unpalatable conditions that capitalism has created. In these multiple crises of unemployment, poverty and inequality, the social wage covered by the state becomes the reliable measure to save society.

However, South Africa’s social wage is pathetic. The latest available data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which studies social spending in the world’s largest economies has South Africa’s share of GDP devoted to public social spending at 8%, less than half that of Brazil, and a quarter that of Finland and France. Among the main countries, only China, Mexico, Indonesia and India have lower commitments to the social wage.

Partly as a result of underspending, there has been a collapse of the public health system as well as a worsening crisis in the private health sector. Austerity was obviously on the agenda in late February 2020 when even in the face of a massive pandemic bearing down on South Africa, the Treasury cut health spending by R3.9 billion.

A few years earlier, the Treasury cut national-to-provincial health spending by 13% in real terms (one outcome was the Gauteng Health Department’s decision to outsource is Life Esidimeni mental-health patients to much cheaper NGOs – which starved more than 150 to death as a result).

SAFTU and its allies are demanding the immediate strengthening of the public health system so that it meets the accreditation criteria of the NHI. To do so, we insist on public – not further public-private or private – capacity building. The priority focus should be on primary levels of care from households, to clinics, to district hospitals within the district health system. As Covid-19 revealed, the state of the clinics and district hospitals are dire, and thousands of deaths could no doubt have been prevented with proper equipment and personnel deployed to the hardest-hit areas. (SAFTU praised Cuban doctors who stepped in, saving many lives as a result of their long-term commitment to grassroots care and treatment.

Community health workers (CHWs) and nurses should be employed in sufficient numbers to provide primary care of a good standard without being overstressed. They should be insourced (as Gauteng CHWs won after a long battle), and recognised, accredited and employed formally by the health system for fair conditions of service and remuneration. The CHW and nurses have a critical and fundamental role in the functioning of the NHI and therefore their participation in the decision-making on NHI implementation is crucial.

Our system of education is in crisis. There is insufficient funding, poor infrastructure, inappropriate content, unimpressive outcomes, etc. The death of a schoolchild who fell into a pit latrine epitomises this neglect. Compared to 139 other countries ranked by the World Economic Forum in 2015, our science and mathematics education at secondary level was ranked worst. The overall rank was second worst. Whereas in 2007, just over one million students entered Grade 1, only half wrote their matric in 2018, and only 17% of those entrants (172 000) received a bachelor pass. That leaves the society woefully prepared for the 4th Industrial Revolution, ranking 126th out of 141 countries in the 2019 World Economic Forum rating for digital skills, 119th for vocational educational quality, 109th in pupil/teacher ratios, and 104th for fixed-broadband internet subscriptions.

Private schools tend to be better resourced and managed. Even public schools do not receive the same number of resources from the state across provinces, areas and schools. The main Treasury official responsible for financing education has admitted that the school system “entrenches inequality between rich and poor.”

What to do?

To meet the needs of our people now and in the future, we need emergency legislation to bring the main banks, the mines and monopoly industries into public ownership under democratic workers’ and community control and management.

It remains vital to remove obstacles associated with private property rights – such as those preventing logical planning in urban areas due to the power of the real estate industry or halting the redistribution of vitally needed healthcare resources within an apartheid-style health insurance and healthcare system. Our society and its economy is distorted by the profit motive, and this has prevented meeting the formidable public health, economic, social and environmental needs of our people.

Communities and workers must be given immediate representation on whatever management structures and boards of mining institutions result from nationalisation. In the interim, we insist that corporations include democratically elected representatives of workers and communities on their board and in management, to acquire the skills necessary to take control of mines and agribusiness in a future society in which the means of production will be commonly and publicly owned and also with short- and medium-term reforms.

The government’s blind obedience to the Washington Consensus of extreme austerity, endless privatisation, liberalisation, deregulation, low inflation targeting, export-led growth at all costs, environmental destruction, and corporate subsidization – such as the R200 billion for bank loan guarantees that couldn’t deliver – needs an urgent rethink and reversal. It is simply not working.
Faced with this crisis, how should the working-class vote?

In the context of these crises, the upcoming elections call forth our attitude to it. SAFTU is independent but not apolitical. Therefore, we cannot keep quiet when the elections are approaching, 3o years into democracy. More especially, when the policy choice of our current government has contributed to the greater part of the crises. SAFTU says:

• Don’t vote for parties not concerned about the root cause of the crisis which is the history of colonialism, apartheid, and the capitalist system. Don’t vote for parties who will entrench neoliberalism that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.

• Don’t vote for the parties which scapegoat the crisis of capitalism and neoliberalism on other workers, from other provinces or ethnicities, or even outside the borders of the country. Reject tribalism and regionalism.

• Don’t vote for parties which blame the crisis of unemployment, poverty, inequalities, and corruption on the very victims of capitalism and neoliberalism. Don’t vote for parties which threaten to weaken the protection of workers in the constitution and labour laws.

• Don’t vote for parties which have done nothing to deal with corruption in both public and private sector. Look carefully at the leadership lifestyles and predict how their politicians will handle state resources when in power.

• Don’t vote for parties which discriminate against women, people with disabilities or people with a different sexual orientation. Reject misogyny.

• We are born equal – vote for equality. Vote for parties advocating socialism, which means building a society based on equality of all classes, races, genders, sexual orientations, cultures and religions.

International Solidarity with working-class people

Our struggles domestically must linked with the struggles of the working class internationally. Just as we benefitted from international solidarity in our battle to abolish apartheid, we pledge our solidarity with the peoples of the world who are suffering at the hands of their national ruling class and/or imperialist policies.

We stand in solidarity with the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who are suffering from the imperialist-instigated conflict that has lasted for decades now. The battle for natural resources such as cobalt has created a perennial conflict that has led to millions of people displaced and dead.

Equally, we reaffirm our support to the Palestinian people who are facing an existential threat from Israeli racism and colonialism. The racist Israeli regime has amplified its genocidal campaigns starting on 08 October 2023, leading to the injury of more than 70 000 and the death of more 34 000.
We further pledge our solidarity with the people of Capo Delgado who are suffering from insurgent attacks created by the battle for deposits of liquified natural gas; the people of Sudan whose conflict is centuries old, having been created by ancient colonial invasions; and the people of Burma whose conflict traces back to the British colonialism and fuelled by Cold War battle for spheres of influence.

A statement issued on behalf of SAFTU by the General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.

For more details, contact the National Spokesperson at:
Trevor Shaku
066 168 2157

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