SAFTU END YEAR STATEMENT
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) sends festive and revolutionary greetings and our warmest wishes to our members, the working class and all our allies.
The festive season is used in our country for families to link up with each other, for those working in other cities to return after months of being away, to exchange gifts and to solve problems that have taken place through the year, to take care of family rituals, and to practice our Ubuntu philosophy.
Yet SAFTU is fully aware that the festive season is also a nightmare for workers who have lost their jobs, for the youth who have never worked and workers forced to take pension on pittance that can’t support their families. It is a terribly sad time for family members who lost their loved ones throughout the year or who fell victim of the unacceptably high levels of road accidents and criminality in our country.
This has been another period impossible to celebrate, for half of the South African citizens who are mired in extreme unemployment, poverty and inequality. While others are able to exchange gifts and love, at least half of the citizens of this country cannot explain to their children why they received no new Christmas clothes or new school uniforms for the start of the year.
SAFTU dedicates this message to families whose plight should keep all conscious workers awake at night. It is for them that we should use this resting period to replenish our energies so that we can resume fighting until we defeat economic oppression and all the social and environmental depravities that accompany capitalism. We include what our own government is doing to make matters worse, through neoliberal policies – especially Treasury’s austerity – that reproduce the quadruple crisis of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption.
SAFTU will continue to do everything possible to build unity within our ranks, between SAFTU and other trade union federations, and between the trade union movement and other progressive formations of the working class, in particular the youth and women formations.
SAFTU insists that without that unity, the genuine struggle to liberate black people and the working class will be impossible. SAFTU calls on all components of the working class to abandon all previous prejudices and do everything to enhance principled unity for the sake of workers and the marginalised poor majority.
SAFTU and our allies will continue to campaign to unite workers and the poor into a single working-class army. In 2022, these campaigns included:
SAFTU salutes the fighting morale of workers, and the special role played by members of our federation in leading most of these battles and catalysing worker unity on both the shop floor and socio-economic fronts.
But times are hard, and dissipating class conscious and internal divisive struggles within organised labour make it difficult to mobilise support for strikes that are not related to the immediate needs of workers. We aim to more forcefully put broader problems such as climate change, environmental degradation, oppression of women, and social policy on the agenda, because just as we oppose exploitation of the worker by capital, we resist the dominant economic system’s systematic abuse of our environment and of the reproduction of labour power, and we insist that to oppose racism, sexism, ecological abuses and class oppression, will be to oppose capitalism in all its monstrous forms. The advanced detachments of SAFTU, allying with counterparts in community organisations, social and environmental movements, feminists, youth and other radical forces in society, have persistently come out to fight and raise the banner of struggle and solidarity, even in times where the turn out to protests has been low.
In this way, bit by bit, we will strengthen the levels of class consciousness and improve understanding of the broader character of class struggle in spite of the difficult historical period that the working class movement is now passing through.
In this broad-based mode of class warfare, it is important to comprehend the period we are passing through as a class and a labour movement. The demobilisation of sections of the working class over the past 28 years has amongst others contributed to low consciousness and deepening fragmentation, and has weakened the once-formidable forces of the working class movement. The consequence of all this is our inability to respond effectively to the entire onslaught of austerity, corruption, lack of service delivery, worker exploitation and all the other maladies that require us to organise for the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with socialism.
But we will not fold our arms and wait for the consciousness to ripen, or ask others to rent us a crowd. Even in fewer numbers, we pick up the shield to defend the working class against attacks from the bosses, and to advance a socially-just system based on socialised planning. In the process of this struggle and tireless campaigning, the consciousness of working-class masses shall pick up, especially because our struggle involves a profound education process that inexorably opens the eyes of the masses to the multifaceted forms of oppression.
It is from this premise that our Central Committees as well as the 2nd National Congress held in May 2022, continually reaffirmed the inaugural SAFTU Congress declaration that this will be forever a campaigning federation, so without fail, we have persistently carried out one campaign after another throughout this year.
Thus, we launched 2022 by throwing our support into the Clover dairy workers’ strike. Despite its unfavourable outcome, Clover was a pace setter for organised labour to battle against the employers’ most aggressive attack on working conditions and decent jobs. The courageous workers of Clover engaged in a protracted battle under desperate conditions to save jobs, and by implication, to keep alive the economies of small towns of Free State and North West, and other jobs in the supply chain of the dairy industry in those towns.
While some initiatives did not immediately bear fruit, nevertheless we take to heart that the desperation faced by our workers at least appears to now result in more unionisation. Our ranks as trade unionists were down to 3.5 million 2013 or four years before SAFTU was formed, but now a decade later there are 4 million organised workers. In 2013 there were 203 registered unions, but now 220. The existence to too many unions is not a strength but a weakness.
Moreover, there is an uptick in worker anger, according to Labour Minister Tulas Nxesi, who was quoted by News24 last week admitting that “the arrival of newer, more militant unions prompted established unions to negotiate more aggressively to take the advantage away from the newcomers.” One reflection of that is the debate over whether the traditional unions of the ANC Alliance within COSATU should now finally break with the ruling party in the run-up to the 2024 election. Only one major public service union within COSATU (the SA Democratic Teachers Union) has endorsed the way-below-inflation civil service pay raise. In 2018 more COSATU and FEDUSA public sector unions were willing to sign a below the inflation wage increases, but not in 2022! This development which saw a closer coordination across all South African trade union federations must be celebrated by the progressive forces here and abroad.
Attacks on the living conditions of workers will not fade away, as they are borne from the central contradictions of capitalism. These contradictions are creating deepening social crises that include not only excruciating levels of unemployment, poverty, and inequality, but this year also rising consumer price inflation which the world’s central banks wrongly countered by raising interest rates and imposing even harsher austerity.
The degradation of daily life is obvious, in part because so many hours a day now are spent without electricity. Crime levels have gone up to a point where 82 people die on daily basis, and more than 120 are raped. When travelling home for the holidays, many were robbed at gun point, losing their goods and even vehicles bought with their hard-earned wages. Even more shocking, and illustrative of the absurd levels of crime, is a video circulating on social media of a carjacking that took place at a toll gate.
Many have died on the roads due to criminally-negligent trucking companies, such as the gas tanker that exploded in Boksburg on Christmas Eve or the Pongola coal truck that killed 21 in September. These accidents occur so frequently that they cannot be blamed primarily on the competency of the drivers, but on capitalism’s speed-up pressure on workers, and on the government’s failure to build and maintain proper, efficient and reliable freight rail and public transport systems. The destruction of both Transnet and Prasa by the hyenas of the ruling ANC, has thwarted worker demands for an efficient, faster commuting and long-distance rail transit network. Workers who are migrants from rural areas need this to commute to see their loved ones in far-flung remote areas.
In other words, the conditions for our campaigns and struggles continue to exist. The working class, and organised labour in particular, ought to take a lead alongside other working-class organisations to fight against the attacks on our livelihoods, our environment, our desire for gender equality and our Ubuntu.
In 2023, SAFTU, will, in taking forward its historic mandate, continue to lead struggles and campaigns to defend livelihoods and living conditions of our workers and the working class in general. We will do so with the historic memories of working-class fighting power, and with our internationalist spirit through which we will always proclaim, An Injury to One is an Injury to All!