The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) held its ordinary National Executive Committee between 25 – 27 August 2020, online. The meeting was attended by Presidents and General Secretaries of our affiliated unions and provincial leadership of the federation.
The main focus of the discussion was, naturally, the coronavirus pandemic facing our country and the whole world.
We are reaching the ceiling of sustainability for an anthropocentric industrial-capitalist civilization, and we must make radical changes to survive.
The world is going through catastrophic climate change, the Sixth Species Extinction, ocean acidification and plastification, and other ecocidal processes, and we face a continual threat of nuclear holocaust especially given that the fingers of Trump and Netanyahu are on the button. The world has been subject to new pandemics including AIDS, Ebola, Zika, dengue fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Avian flu and new influenza strains, and by the looming threat of rising antimicrobial resistance such as affects many TB patients.
There will be even worse pandemics in the years ahead, and a Covid-19 vaccine that may or may not become available in the next year will not prevent further deadly virus outbreaks. This is the age of emerging diseases, mainly because capitalist globalisation has produced these new plagues by infringing on space’s nature, such as through monocultural agriculture, or deforestation as in the case of the Wuhan wet market and periodic Ebola outbreaks in central Africa. This is what Karl Marx called the ‘Metabolic Rift’ that grows continually worse when capitalism forces humans to invade unknown ecologies.
For many years, scientists have warned of the danger of a global pandemic.
Unless the dangers of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist society are addressed, the world will move into new, inevitable disasters that can wipe out humanity.
As these disasters strike, the capitalist system which is so entrenched in the world today is structurally unable to respond to each of these crises.
The National Executive Committee decided to take up a serious all-around battle against the many facets of this unfolding crisis. If we do not, these threats could well wipe out the world we know, and create one of total chaos and strife.
We know we must fight back, because in recent weeks we have seen a total onslaught on our workers and standards of living. It is estimated that we may have lost up to 3 million jobs since March 2020. This alone will push millions of more working-class communities to unprecedented hunger and starvation.
Our government and the capitalist system it is attempting to manage have completely and dismally failed the workers of the country. The promises of a stimulus package to cushion the working class from this calamity have evaporated into thin air. Instead, the government has launched a massive attack on the working class and the poorest of the poor, through austerity programmes that saw massive expenditure cuts on many critical areas of delivery. This had a devastating impact on the lives the people as exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The total budget cuts from the baseline bill are a massive R261 billion. These will include:
SAFTU condemns in the strongest terms possible the cutting of R261 billion over the medium-term, including the existing pathetic agreement it rammed down the throats of the public servants through a deal with the COSATU unions.
The failure to subsidise kombi taxi transport to and from our workplaces – which before Covid-19 accounted for 15 million passengers each day – is another feature of Covid-19 management where we demand change. With the Treasury refusing the industry R4 billion (only offering R1 billion) to incentivise a 50% or at worst 70% rider capacity, social distancing is impossible within each vehicle. Now that they are running at 100% capacity, with 16 people jammed into a typical taxi, there are many more millions who are condemned to becoming infected.
The programme of austerity, liberalisation and privatisation will continue to see new waves of job losses, above and beyond COVID-19’s employment massacre. Most school leavers, even those that have passed their matric, will swell SA’s mass unemployment levels.
Even before Covid-19 began, Stats SA’s conservative measure of unemployment – which counts every survivalist activity as gainful employment – registered unemployment at almost 40%, when discouraged workers are counted. This is by far the highest of the major countries with an industrial base anywhere in the world. And as unemployment rises, poverty worsens, and inequality becomes intolerable.
Faced with the unprecedented scale of this crisis, we have decided to go back to the streets convinced that not one component of the working class can reverse this attack on the working class, by working on its own.
The days of sectarian approaches to the struggle must be put to the past. Only principled unity based on tolerance, unity and most importantly, the programme of demands grounded on the brutal realities of the poor, working class struggles and revolutionary transitional measures necessary to overcome the social crisis of the masses, will help workers shake and transform the status quo.
In the SAFTU NEC it was recognised that now is the time to make a decisive shift both in our external and internal relations. We must place the needs of the working class before all other interests. We have lost hundreds of thousands of innocent people to the virus all over the world. Millions more are living in conditions that would have been completely unacceptable even under apartheid. We are witnessing expressions of social breakdown, in terms of GBV, state violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and other symptoms of alienation which if allowed to worsen, could cause irreparable damage to our environment and our communities for generations to come.
We appreciate that there will be those who view our approach for unity with suspicion and scepticism. The proof of sincerity of purpose of all of us will be found in our ability to meet, exchange views without rancour, and agree on a common platform to mobilise on. This is the challenge that faces the organised working class, and all those who look to it for the will and determination to defend the most vulnerable in our broken society. This is the major challenge we face. A failure to grasp this opportunity will not be forgiven by future generations.