The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) held its last National Executive Committee for 2020, on the 23 – 25 November 2020.
The NEC met on the eve of the annual commemoration of the 16 days of activism against women and children abuse.
Brief analysis of the political and socio-economic crisis
The SAFTU NEC met at the time South Africa’s economic malaise places the nation at a point of no return. The levels of poverty, unemployment (in particular amongst our youth and women), inequality, corruption, crime, internecine violence, patriarchy, racism, xenophobia and other maladies have reached extreme proportions. We project untold levels of social strife if nothing is done.
The return of an apparent Covid-19 second wave in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces, and the lack of state support for those already affected, will not be met with the same tolerance poor and working people allowed government and employers during the first wave.
For at the same time, in part thanks to the way Covid-19 amplifies race, class and gender inequality, we are battered by the pandemic of violence, with women and children bearing the brunt of an extremely stressed society, where nearly 60 people are killed violently in our streets each day. Most of these killings happen between Friday and Monday morning around shebeens. This underscores another crisis – liquor abuse – which directly follows from extremely high levels of stress and hopelessness, associated with the economic crisis facing the overwhelming majority.
We risk losing another generation of youth to drugs and the vicious cycle of crime. Women, including the aged, live in fear in their homes and streets.
Government is collapsing, overrun by cronyism, corruption and gross neglect. The Zondo Commission reveals rot reaching to the highest levels of our political elite: the Cabinet, the ruling party and the mayor of our largest city. So corrupt are some state officials and politicians that not even the lifesaving Personal Protection Equipment desperately needed by our heroic health workers and citizens during the pandemic was safe from their greedy claws. South Africa’s political leadership have become multimillionaires at the expense of the people. They had a ranking of 23rd best state in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in the mid-1990s but that fell to 70th least corrupt in 2020.
Meanwhile the private sector – specifically, the Sandton-Stellenbosch-Cape Town-Umhlanga corporate mafia – ranks as the world’s second most corrupt bourgeoisie, according to the 2020 PwC Economic Crime Survey. Their reward is yet further exchange control liberalisation by a Treasury and SA Reserve Bank that witness corrupt Illicit Financial Flows flooding out, at the rate of $10-25 billion annually – in their own Financial Intelligence Centre estimates – and simply offer a nudge-nudge wink-wink!
As if this is not enough, our country is being battered by a wave of ecological crises that continues to create absolute havoc, such as the ongoing (six-year long) drought of the Eastern Cape to which now are added a brown locust plague moving into the Sarah Baartman and Chris Hani districts. As we witnessed in Durban and the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal on Easter Monday 2019, heavy storms – a record 168 mm ‘rain bomb’ in one day that killed 71 working-class people – left the poor more vulnerable, as their badly-built houses regularly collapse on them. And since the ‘Day Zero’ threat to Cape Town in 2017-18, even larger parts of the country have been engulfed in long spells of drought that further threaten livelihoods, food security and sovereignty. Parts of Nelson Mandela Bay Metro joined so many other regions of the Eastern Cape and Karoo which have in 2020 suffered Day Zero, with no water in the municipal taps. Extreme storms and lightning are hitting Gauteng, moving to KwaZulu-Natal and the entire east coast, causing more havoc, alongside droughts in other parts of the coastal provinces.
Moreover, our state is apparently increasingly paralysed to assist those in need. For example, almost every state-owned enterprise is facing a death spiral or financial collapse. Eskom, SAA, Denel and PRASA (and its bus subsidiary Autopax) are all on their knees, with more workers’ jobs and services to the poor on the line. The agenda of privatisation is no longer concealed. The troika of Ramaphosa, Mboweni and Gordhan are now openly stating that the only solution to the collapsing state-owned enterprises is partial privatisation which we all know will end as the total selling of the family jewels to their friends, at the expense of the poor for whom these state assets are vital.
Every day that passes, these crises get worse and the suffering of our people intensifies.
The country is on autopilot. The ANC is obsessed with internal factional battles. All factions are equally guilty of mass looting but keep on accusing one another of being worse looters than the other.
We have never seen prosecutions of the Ramaphosa (thuma mina) faction, whether for the implicit payoff to big business supporters who raised R1 billion for the CR17 campaign or his prior Illicit Financial Flow activities through Lonmin, MTN and Shanduka.
There has been a spate of arrests in the recent times, up to the top of the corrupt ruling party. The ANC Secretary General was granted bail after appearing in the Bloemfontein court on the 13 November, charged for looting in the R255 million asbestos-removal tender that was meant to protect working-class people from the dreaded material, but ended up instead building a layer of venal Free State tenderpreneurs.
There is a ‘Radical Economic Transformation’ faction, including a group of high-profile ‘MK veterans’. We are tempted to ask a question, did they serve the liberation struggle while based in other countries in our region, and if so, what narrow-nationalistic ideology did they learn in those camps, that made them so unforgivably xenophobic when marching in Durban early this month? This network appears to be a warmed-over talk-left march-right motley crew of Zupta-era looters, of whom poor and working-class people should be very wary.
The ANC is so divided that it cannot enforce the much-applauded moral stance it took in its national conference and National General Council. The claim was that all leaders facing serious corruption charges in courts would step aside. No one has stepped aside. Even those from the ruling party formally charged of pillaging the grannies’ pensions in what has become known as the VBS bank heist are now back in power. Not even a former MEC charged of raping his own seven year old twins is not forced to step aside on some flimsy excuse..
More state paralysis comes from self-imposed austerity. The medium-term budget have sent South Africa from recession into economic depression. This will be the result of the ruling party’s attempt to reach a primary surplus in state spending by 2025.
To meet the demands of the creditors, the credit rating agencies and the so-called investors, to whom we have to bow down, Mboweni is planning three years of extreme budget cuts: Year 1 – R60 billion; year 2 – R90 billion and year 3 – R150 billion. That is more than R300 billion over three years. The biggest share is coming from cuts to government workers’ wages – even though we expect the civil service to defeat Mboweni in the courts regarding his illegal violation of the last wage contract.
It is a disastrous plan that makes a mockery of any ideas about “economic recovery” and a government stimulus.
The result will be more unemployment, which the government in its delusion thinks can be off-set by 800 000 short term jobs at R11.42/hour Extended Public Works Programme wages. Government is also introducing a second tier labour market system within the public service as it seeks to employ 300 000 so called teacher assistants and is resisting NUPSAW’s call to insource/integrate and permanently and directly employ the Community Healthcare Workers and the Early Childhood Developers Workers.
Some economists are now predicting an official unemployment rate of 35% meaning a real unemployment rate of well over 45% when we count those who have left the labour market given how hopeless it is to search for work.
Public sector workers are the main target for these cuts. The Treasury has already, unlawfully, pulled out of the current wage agreement and has given workers a 0% wage increase this year. The MTBPS plans for a further three years of 0% increases, which after inflation mean real cuts in wages and conditions of employment. Our frontline workers, our nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, police and others are given “shit for thanks” – a four-year wage freeze! This we will not accept, in part because workers in the private sector are already being hit with the same draconian class-war tactic from capitalists.
Government’s Economic Recovery Plan
After much fanfare the President issued an Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan last month. The plan reflected the dominant view in government, a world view joined with corporate power through traditional ‘Minerals Energy and Finance Complex’ priorities for extraction of our wealth no matter the social, labour and environmental costs, worsened by financialisation. The desperate need to pull poor and working-class people out of the morass is being ignored. The need to prepare our children with a good education, the need to support the youth’s demands for climate-conscious policy, the need to end femicide and gender-based violence, and the need for publicly-funded jobs to turn our economy, environment and society around – these needs are largely ignored.
Given this context, the class battle lines have been drawn. The compounding new struggle is about confronting the worsening crises facing the working class. In response to this the NEC adopted a programme of action – with physical distancing at our mass protest events – as follows:
1. Support our public sector workers – especially our NUPSAW members – during a three-day occupation of the National Treasury. The occupation has started on the 25 and will continue until on the 27 November 2020. The NEC calls on all public service workers and indeed every worker to join the occupation to demand that the government implement a legally binding collective agreement signed with the unions in 2018. Government must withdraw its decision to impose a wage freeze until 2024. Government must insource all the Community Health Care Workers and the Early Childhood Development workers. Government must fill all vacancies that have led to chronic staff shortages in our hospitals, schools, police stations and correctional service centers.
2. Support CellC workers’ march on 26 November and call on all workers and their allies to boycott CellC and occupy its stores from the 28 November until management withdraws the decision to butcher over half of the company workforce.
3. Support the Clover workers’ strike for a living wage. Call on all workers to support the call to boycott Clover products. Call on workers to join the demonstrations in all the malls as part of the awareness campaign on members of the public to support the call for boycott Clover products and CellC.
4. Hold demonstrations at Barloworld, ArcelorMittal, SABC and all companies that are retrenching workers including those that have not paid the TERS and UIF, as well as those that are sending workers on holidays without a cent, following deductions of so-called leave pay in lieu of the payments to workers during the hard lockdown.
5. Call on workers to join and support the NUPSAW labour court case challenging the government decision not to implement a signed agreement in 2018. This case will be heard on the 02 December 2020 in Braamfontein.
6. Call on all our members, the working-class formations activists including the left-leaning political parties to use the festive season to mobilise the poor communities to prepare for even bigger battles during the year 2021 and going forward.
7. Call for the convening of the Provincial Shop Steward Councils, the working-class peoples’ assemblies in every locality, district and province, workers’ workplaces and industrial-area general meetings, as part of our mobilisations to respond to the capitalist onslaught.
8. We will hold a general strike and total economic shutdown on the day the Minister of Finance will be presenting the next budget, on 24 February 2021.
9. Call for the intensification of working class struggles in all fronts.
9.1 Call on workers and working-class communities to lead the struggles against gender-based violence and to use these coming 16 days of activism against violence perpetrated against women and children, as a platform to educate and confront patriarchy and all its vestiges.
9.2 Workers must join community struggles for service delivery, to ensure that our residential areas receive better services. Workers are members of their communities before they become employed. These should include putting pressure on Eskom to stop discriminating against black working class residential areas, against water cuts and general gross neglect.
9.3 To join the struggle calling on the government to rapidly end our dependency on a carbon-intensive economy through a meaningful, real Just Transition that will guarantee ownership of the renewable energy by the workers and communities, and ensure no worker is disadvantaged by decarbonisation, in energy, transport, agriculture, urbanisation, production, consumption, waste disposal and more. In other parts of the world, this ‘Green New Deal’ is negotiated with coalitions of organised labour, communities, the all-important climate-woke youth, environmentalists, women and scientists – a process long overdue and far beyond the capacity of the coopted Nedlac (whose view of electricity includes willy-nilly ‘load reduction,’ i.e., mass disconnections of poor people’s access), even though Eskom, its rancid suppliers like Hitachi and Chancellor House and its funders like the World Bank, China Development Bank, BRICS New Development Bank, African Development Bank and private banks have loaded it up with R480 billions of illegitimate debt.
The NEC is aware that all these campaigns depend on its efforts to build SAFTU and her unions, and to make alliances we as workers often have during past crises: fighting apartheid, gaining access to AIDS medicines, helping communities halt services’ privatisation, uniting with #FeesMustFall activists who also helped insource low-paid university workers, and ridding society of the Mbeki and Zuma regimes.
After making a detailed assessment of the state of the unions, we have now developed an early warning system that the NEC will use to ensure that interventions and support to strengthen our organs of working-class power are timely and effective.
The NEC adopted an education programme to train union officials, our membership, shop stewards and worker leadership at all levels. Without an empowerment programme, the service to workers will continue to decline, resulting in the loss of trust to the unions.
SAFTU will hold its quadrennial congress in May 2021 where this programme will be further consolidated.
SAFTU has had several engagements with NEDLAC. Engagement has started around the Section 77 notice submitted in September 2020.
SAFTU has also complied with all the conditions set by NEDLAC. This includes submission of audited membership of every of the affiliated union and audited financial statement of every union.
In return, SAFTU demands that all the COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU unions do the same, so that the proportional allocation of delegations to NEDLAC structures is based on transparency and fairness.
SAFTU also takes this opportunity of a leadership summit to once more pass condolences to the families that have lost their loved ones to Covid-19 and road accidents. We wish all strength to the victims of Gender-Based Violence and call for the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.
We are fully aware that the coming season of festivities is a period of celebrations and family gatherings. We are mindful this will be black Christmas for the millions who lost their jobs and were moved into the category of non-economically active with no hope of escaping this in the future. We are also mindful of the 10.3 million who were already unemployed even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
We call on every worker not for a minute forget the other families facing this crisis during this period. This is the moment for every worker to be true to the international working class slogan – an injury to one is the injury to all. Ubuntu calls on all of us to share and be in solidarity with the less fortunate members of our families and the working class.
We call on every South African to accept that we are still in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, and to take every step to protect themselves and their families.
And with a new wave apparently beginning to break across South Africa, that in turn means we expect the state to finally take proactive measures long overdue to supply water, sanitation, electricity and healthcare support where it does not exist, in large swathes of our country’s townships, informal settlements and rural areas. We expect a genuine effort to “build back better” in consultation with workers, to achieve stated objectives of economic localisation and industrialisation in a manner that is labour-intensive, low-carbon, gender-sensitive and democratic. These short-term ambitions are not unreasonable – unless the government continues to wallow in austerity, neoliberalism, carbon-addiction, patriarchy, corruption, cronyism, and state-capture by the world’s most odious capitalists. It is these who stand in our way, and SAFTU’s NEC recommits to pushing them aside in the interests of humanity and planetary preservation.
The statement issued on behalf of SAFTU