“The working men have no country.” “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. Workers of all countries, unite!” (The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Frederick Engels).
The South African Federation of Trade Unions strongly condemns the recent brutal attacks on informal traders on the streets of South Africa by both police and vigilante groups. There can be no excuse for the violence, thuggery, theft, destruction of property and illegal arrests inflicted on some of the most oppressed and vulnerable members of our society.
SAFTU rejects with contempt the excuses offered to justify these assaults – that all those attacked were “illegal immigrants”, that they were selling goods that were counterfeit or past their sell-by date. No evidence has been produced, or even sought, to justify any of these spurious charges.
The reality is that this was a calculated attempt to victimise the most vulnerable section of the working class – the marginalised and unorganised – and set worker against worker. Some of those arrested have proved their South African citizenship and police officers have been arrested for selling goods they seized from traders.
The attacks were an attempt to capitalise on the genuine grievances of working class people – that more than half South Africans are living in poverty, that nearly 40% are unemployed and that we live in the most unequal country in the world – and try to shift the blame for all this onto the shoulders of other working-class people who are victims of exactly the same problems, in order to loot their goods.
SAFTU calls on all workers and members of poor communities not to take out their understandable frustrations on people from other countries who are not the cause of our crisis of mass unemployment, poverty, inequality, corruption and crime, but the Capitalist class.
The federation has always supported the fight led by unions against the growth of trade in counterfeit products, goods which are being sold past their expiry date and tax evasion amongst others. We demand however that this be tackled by proper, impartial investigations by the relevant authorities, the employment of more government inspectors and the more rigorous enforcement of laws to protect consumers’ health and prevent tax dodging.
The inspections must however be conducted purely on the basis of law enforcement and with no bias based on the nationality of the owners of the businesses being inspected.
Working-class as part of the consumers, employees and law-abiding traders are all victims of these crimes and must be united in a strong but peaceful campaign to prosecute those who are guilty, focusing on the wealthy business people who manufacture the counterfeit goods and dodge far greater amounts of tax. There must also be action to arrest those who use violence against immigrant workers and traders.
We must always fight against attempts by the ruling capitalist monopolies to divide and rule the workers movement by fomenting racism and xenophobia, which pits worker against worker and poor versus poor, which only benefits the ruling class which exploits us all.
We are all fellow victims of a capitalist system which condemns millions to poverty while making the rich even richer by exploiting workers, consumers and small business people, regardless of their nationality, race or gender. Xenophobic clashes make it even easier to continue this exploitation by keeping workers and the poor fighting against each other.
Many migrant worker organisations attended the Working-Class Summit in 2018, representing both workers and informal traders. The Summit resolved to stand firm on the long-standing principle of the labour movement to forge unity between the working class and the poor of all countries. This was in line with SAFTU’s founding congress’s firm commitment to international and pan-African solidarity
We should never forget that migrant labour was the basis of the super-exploitation of black workers by the apartheid regime which stole their land, forced them to live under inhuman conditions in hostels and paid slave wages.
SAFTU denounces the continuation of apartheid-era policies in the way the Department of Home Affairs treats foreign nationals who are vulnerable and destitute. This practice has all the hallmarks of the institutionalised racism of the apartheid regime which hunted down people and demanded they produce documents – the dompas system – which was enforced through military repression, road blocks and raids against black African people..
Many immigrants come from countries who aided our national liberation struggle, others are fleeing horrific violence and they come to South Africa in search of safety and a better life. They must not be treated as criminals or enemies of the workers but allies in the struggle for a socialist Africa free of the national boundaries imposed by imperialist rulers.
SAFTU commits itself to prioritising working with civil society to ensure that we organise migrant workers – be they domestic workers, waiters, farmworkers, mineworkers, waste-pickers, or spaza shop-owners – in our struggle for equal rights and living wages for all those living in South Africa.
Migrants are a vital part of the South African working class and any talk of labour justice without migrant justice means complicity in the marginalisation and oppression of this increasing number of our class.
The ANC leaders pay lip service to the idea of pan-Africanism, but have done absolutely nothing to bring it about. Their austerity programmes and neoliberal policies have created desperate levels of poverty, which have created the basis for the rise of xenophobic attacks on fellow workers.
The struggle for an egalitarian society is a struggle for a socialist society, and to overturn capitalism and all its oppressive manifestations. We must intensify the struggle against xenophobic attacks and discrimination against our fellow workers from other parts of the world.
Workers of the world unite!