On Wednesday 25 April, SAFTU, its affiliates and our allies in civil society, will be on the streets of South Africa in a general strike in protest against the biggest attacks on working-class people, the trade unions and the poor majority of South Africans since the end of apartheid.
Support is growing daily and we are confident that we shall bring South Africa to a standstill and fill the towns and villages with angry workers, employed and unemployed, member of all unions or none, who are demanding action to end the country’s crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Six days later we shall be reassembling our forces in Bloemfontein and elsewhere for the traditional May Day celebration, the day when workers around the world honour the memory of our fallen heroes and heroines and recommit to the struggle for the unshackling of the workers from the chains of the employers and their co-conspirators in government.
We are mobilising the workers in particular against a ferocious declaration of war by the ruling class of white monopoly capitalists, who are trying to get Parliament to pass new laws which will entrench poverty and threaten workers’ constitutional right to withdraw their labour.
The poverty national minimum wage of R20 an hour
South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, in which 10% of the population earn more than 50% of the household incomes while 20% earn less than 1.5%. Deloitte accountants have calculated that the average pay of executives in the country’s top 100 companies is now R17.97 million a year, which amounts to R69 000 a day and R8 625 an hour!
Yet these grossly overpaid tycoons, together with their new champion in Union Buildings, multi-billionaire President Cyril Ramaphosa, want workers and their families to survive on just R20 an hour, something they would never dream of accepting for themselves.
We utterly reject the argument that this bill should be supported because R20 an hour is “better than nothing”. The scandalous fact that so many employers currently pay employees even less than this poverty wage in no way justifies the government agreeing to a statutory minimum which will still leave workers trapped in poverty, entrench the apartheid wage structure, and widen income inequalities even further.
And not all workers now earning less than R20 an hour will get an increase. The minimum wage for farmworkers will only be R18 an hour, R15 an hour for domestic workers and as low as R11 an hour for those on Extended Public Works Programmes.
And some employers have already said that they will keep their monthly wage bill the same as before by employing workers for fewer hours.
The workers most affected are those who are already the most vulnerable, the unemployed, those in atypical forms of casual employment, part-timers and temporary workers who could be blackmailed by employers, who – following the lead of their political party, the DA, and scandalously COSATU leaders – want to be able to apply for an exemption from the NMW, so that they can ‘persuade’ desperate unemployed workers to ‘agree’ to accept below-minimum wages so as to get at least some money for food.
This will in turn threaten the jobs of existing employees, who will live with the constant fear that their jobs could be lost, or their wages cut, by employers who reminds them that “there is always someone out there who will take your job for less than I pay you”!
Another huge problem is enforcement. A shocking report by Statistics SA revealed that 577 000 children in South Africa, some as young as seven, are being used for child labour. If the Department of Labour cannot stop such blatantly illegal and immoral exploitation of children, what chance is there that this understaffed and under-resourced department can force all employers to pay the minimum wage to all their employees?
The National Minimum Wage Bill has now been sent back to the Department of Labour to redraft the Bill to take account of the submissions made to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Labour. One of these submissions was made by SAFTU on 17 April, and we demand that the Department responds positively to it and will not just tinker with the details of the Bill but make fundamental changes so that the minimum wage becomes a living wage.
Amendments to labour laws
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Labour has also been considering amendments to labour laws. These laws already force workers and unions to jump through many procedural hoops to attain a certificate to allow a protected strike.
The amendments will now force unions to navigate even more obstacles before they can go on strike, including strict rules on balloting of members, picket regulations which will prevent strikers engaging with other workers and extending conciliation procedures, even after negotiations have deadlocked.
They threaten to paralyse unions, frustrate angry workers who will be more, and not less, likely to embark on spontaneous and unprotected strikes.
There is even a clause which will allow employers and/or government to impose arbitration if they consider strikes to have been going on too long or causing an acute national or local crisis affecting the normal, social and economic functioning of the community or society.
This arbitration is defined as ‘advisory’ but it would enable employers to sit tight, make no attempt to negotiate, wait for the strike to last ‘too long’ or adverse affect their business and then go to court to get the strike declared ‘unlawful’. In reality this amounts to ‘compulsory’ arbitration which will undermine workers’ constitutional right to withdraw their labour, and turn them into slave labourers!
SAFTU and other allied groups have appealed to MPs to reject this emasculation of the working class. They should instead be looking at ways to improve and strengthen the position of super-exploited vulnerable workers, in the face of the increasingly dictatorial power of the employers.
Economic catastrophe facing workers and the poor
SAFTU sees these new laws as part of a wider attack on workers’ jobs and living standards, more casualisation of labour and moves to privatise public assets. The latest attacks include the increase in VAT, the Fuel Levy and Road Accident Levy, which will push up the price of nearly everything we buy.
Jobs are disappearing daily, particularly in the important manufacturing and mining sectors. In the fourth quarter of 2017 9.2 million people were unemployed, amounting to 36.3% by the more realistic expanded definition which includes people who have stopped looking for work.
Even by the ‘official’ definition of unemployment, which includes only those who are not employed but actively looking for jobs, there are 5.9 million jobless people, a percentage of 27.7% which in among the sixth highest in the world.
The South African economy is in free-fall, with no sign of recovery, and, as always it is the working class and the poor who suffer most as a result. The crisis has created an swelling army of unemployed, temporarily employed, part-time, casual and marginalised workers who live in deep poverty.
We must not only look at the low wages paid to workers but to the social wage – the pathetically inadequate expenditure on education, healthcare, transport, and all other public services, causing abysmally low levels of service. We were shocked by the recent report that spending per learner in basic education has been falling in real terms over the past ten years. Recent budget cuts will mean even worse levels of service.
In addition the scourge of corruption and looting has robbed the people of billions of rands which could nave been used to tackle the crisis in education, healthcare and transport and to create jobs.
All these problems add up to colossal human tragedy, from which there is at the moment no escape, given the continuation by the ANC government of neoliberal, free-market policies which are the underlying reason for this catastrophe. These are designed to defend and promote the interests of a small elite of super-rich, mostly white, monopoly capitalist exploiters.
While we have to welcome the small victories we have won in the fight against corruption, symbolized by Jacob Zuma’s appearance in the dock, we are not confident that the new ANC government will bring any real change in policy, in particular the burgeoning corruption and fraud in the private business sector.
Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to stick with the policies of successive Finance Ministers and the Treasury of bending to the dictates of the capitalist class and their enforcers, the credit ratings agencies. He will continue with policies like GEAR and the National Development Plan which follow the line of the World bank and IMF, not the people of South Africa or ANC voters.
On 21 April SAFTU became a year old. It has been a year of great advances. We have celebrated the reinstatement of the Midrand municipal workers after a 23-year battle against their dismissal for whistle blowing about corruption.
MTN scored a huge victory when the Labour Appeal Court reinstated 700 PRASA workers with full pay backdated to 4 February 2013.They were dismissed for not having disclosed the names of the people who had been torching PRASA trains.
NUMSA won a historic victory when the Constitutional Court upheld the ruling of the Labour Appeals Court that it is unjust and unfair that workers who are essentially performing the same task can be remunerated differently.
But we have much more for to do, especially as we not only have to contend with intransigent employers but with equally hostile sweetheart union federations in Nedlac, who have fought to keep SAFTU out of this important policy-making body.
After making all sorts of bogus procedural excuses about SAFTU not submitting documents, it emerged that in January 2017 the Nedlac executive council approved amendments to its protocols, suggested by the labour constituency, on the criteria for admitting prospective new members. This new rule required that federations must have been in existence for at least two years and produce audited financial statements for that period, before they can be admitted.
This decision was taken just before SAFTU’s founding Congress, when it was already public knowledge that a new federation was to be launched. This shows that the sweetheart unions took a conscious political decision to find reasons in advance to block any application from what was shortly to become SAFTU, which could not possibly produce audited statements for two years.
SAFTU is determined to keep up the fight to be admitted to Nedlac and to use it as a platform to give voice to the workers’ anger at the shocking levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, and in particular the abysmal failure of the leaders of the older federations at Nedlac to stand up for their interests.
For the reason we are making a strong appeal to the members of unions affiliated to COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU to join us on 25 April and 1 May and tell their leaders what they think of their leaders’ class collaboration in Nedlac which led to them agreeing to all these new laws which attack workers’ rights.
It is more vital than ever that we have a strong, militant SAFTU to lead the counter-attack and fight for a socialist South Africa and a socialist world in which the key monopoly industries are owned and democratically planned and run in the interests of the people as a whole, as envisaged in the Freedom Charter.
The details of the marches on 25 April are (all at 10h00):
Assembling at Newtown Precinct Park. Marching to the Department of Labour, the Provincial Department of Health ad the Premier’s Office
Assembling at Keizersgracht. Marching to the City of Cape Town offices and Parliament.
Assembling at Vusi Dlamini Square. Marching to Centenary Hall
Assembling at Batho Hall. Marching to Department of Labour at 1h00
Assembling at SABC Park. Marching to the Departments of Labour and Social Development
Assembling at Botha’s Place. Marching to Durban City Hall, Departments of Labour, Economic Development and the Premier’s and Mayor’s offices