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Why SAFTU will not be at the Jobs Summit: Open letter to NEDLAC

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has received an invitation from Madoda Vilakazi, the Executive Director of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), to attend the Presidential Jobs Summit as a stakeholder of NEDLAC and view the proceedings on 4 and 5 October 2018, at the Gallagher Estate Convention Centre, Midrand.

SAFTU welcomes the long-overdue recognition of its status as a ‘stakeholder of NEDLAC’, from which it has been been excluded by other stakeholders in NEDLAC’s labour constituency, despite being the second largest and fastest growing trade union federation in South Africa, with over 700,000 workers.

The federation has however resolved not to accept the invitation ‘to view the proceedings’ for reasons which are set out in the following letter:

Dear Madoda Vilakazi

NEDLAC Executive Director

Thank you for your letter dated 27 September 2018 inviting SAFTU to attend the Jobs Summit, which you say will “provide an opportunity for engagement on reform and change within the labour market, as well as to unblock the blockages to job creation”.

SAFTU has however decided to decline your invitation, as we do not believe that the Summit will contribute anything to the reduction of unemployment, alleviation of poverty or narrowing of inequality.

We are also concerned that our participation might be simply a way to swell numbers, and give the appearance of inclusivity when agreements being presented to the Summit have already been fixed by the three constituencies of government, business and labour.

SAFTU is particularly determined not to run the risk of being seen as a party to resolutions like those of past summits, where empty rhetoric was used to cloak the protection of vested interests, and prevent a genuine attempt to create jobs or redistribute wealth.

Our view is that the government and business constituencies in NEDLAC do not begin to appreciate the scale of the economic catastrophe into which the country has been plunged.

This crisis has been revealed by the fact that for the second quarter in succession, the country’s GDP – the value of goods we produce – declined, and by the National Planning Commission’s decision to slash its forecast for unemployment by 2030 by more than half, from 6% to 14%!

South Africa has the world’s sixth highest level of unemployment, at 37.4%. Fourteen million South Africans are living in extreme poverty, surviving on less than a R18 a day and we are the world’s most unequal society.

Economist Mike Schussler has exposed the incredible fact that “South Africa is one of the few countries in the world where there are more adults not at work than adults at work”!

SAFTU is prepared to join in any genuine attempt to find solutions to the plight of the majority of South Africans who are by far the biggest victims of this crisis, but believes that government and business have no solutions. They are the cause of this crisis rather than its solution.

After 24 years they have imposed policies which have failed to transform the economic structure we inherited from colonialism and apartheid, under which the natural resources of South Africa were plundered by multi-national monopoly corporations to be imported back as finished products, rather than to be manufactured here in an growing manufacturing industry which could have created thousands of new jobs and drawn millions more people into economic activity.

They are trapped in an economic strategy which started with GEAR and and continued with the National Development Plan that are based on neoliberal, pro-market policies which only prioritise the amassing of as much profits as quickly as possible for a super-rich elite.

The government’s contribution to the Jobs Summit has already been let slip by the President’s ‘stimulus plan’, which promises no extra money from the fiscus, just shuffling budgets within and between already under-resourced public services. At the same time the government is planning to get rid of 30 000 jobs in the public service.

The employers likewise are retrenching more workers daily, as shown by the StatsSA quarterly report that employment fell by 69 000 to 9 748 000 in the second quarter of 2018. 13 000 of those lost jobs were in the crucial manufacturing sector.

This is why SAFTU does not believe that either of these NEDLAC constituencies can possibly come up with any solutions to the jobs crisis and at best will adopt nothing but empty phrases and thumb-sucked unreachable targets, which will be quickly forgotten.

The federation always insists that its policies must be determined by mandates from workers, which must be respected and acted upon, and not be ignored or undermined for political expediency. We feel we could not justify our involvement in the Summit to our members and receive a mandate from them.

Worst of SAFTU fears that government and employers will try to persuade those labour federations who do attend the Summit to sign a vague and hollow declaration in support of ‘business as usual’, so that they can pretend that it is supported by all sections of South African society, coming together in a social compact ‘in the national interest’, when in reality it is to protect only the ruling class.

SAFTU calls on the members of those other union federations to demand that their leaders refuse to put their names to any such declaration, which will reflect only the employers’ interests..

The fundamental problem with the Summit is that government and business, and unfortunately some labour representatives, fail to understand that the underlying cause of the economic crisis is the economy’s domination by the still overwhelmingly white-owned monopoly capitalist class.

That ruling class, and successive ANC governments, have based economic policies on the dictates of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and their enforcers, the Credit Ratings Agencies. They have imposed neoliberal, pro-market austerity policies which only prioritise the amassing of as much profits as quickly as possible for a super-rich elite.

Creating jobs, paying living wages, improving the lives of communities, preserving the environment and ensuring the long-term future of the country are their lowest priorities.

Yet this class will be demanding that the Summit adopts a resolution based on the same failed policies which have caused the economic catastrophe of unemployment, poverty and inequality, and which will do nothing improve the lives of the majority of South Africans.

For all these reasons, SAFTU will not be present in the Summit, but its members will make their presence felt in a picket at the entrance to the Gallagher Estate and invites all workers and local community members to join us there from 09h00 on Thursday 4 October 2018.

Kind regards

Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU General Secretary