President and General Secretary of THOR
National Office Bearers
Members of the National Executive Committee
Activists and militants of the fighting THOR who are delegates to this congress
Comrades and friends
I am deeply honoured by your invitation to share the next two days with the delegates to this august congress. It is also my singular honour that I have been allowed to share few thoughts about your union and the challenges facing the working class.
Firstly let me congratulate you for holding this congress. Holding regular congresses and other meetings in line with the constitution is a corner stone of the principles we have adopted. Only when we hold mass meetings to hold each other accountable to our principles and policy decisions can we claim to be truly worker controlled and democratic.
This congress as the highest decision making body of your union will also be used as yet another opportunity to look at the situation we face in our workplaces, in our communities and society as whole. We must do so from the working class prism.
We need a strong and Transport, Action, Retail And General Workers Union or To Have Oppression Removed. For us to build a strong union there are a certain issues that are a pre condition. Unity is the only real weapon.
Your task as an emerging union representing some of the most vulnerable sections of the working class is to always remember the magnitude of the task at hand.
SAFTU have started a journey to reverse the trend where unions are no longer a representative voice of workers. We seek to ensure that we can unite with the 76% of workers not in unions. We want to reverse the current situation in which 62% of all wages are imposed by the employers without any negotiations with workers and their unions. As a result of this we know now that workers wages have been suppressed. By 2014, 50% of workers were earning below a R3400 a month, the share of wages in the national income has been falling since 1991 where it was 57% and now way below 50%. This is what is driving inequalities in our country. This is what has led to holding an unwanted trophy as the most unequal society in the world.
THOR is organising in the Transport sector where only 24% of workers belong to unions. Only 11% of workers belong to unions in the retail sector.
Trade (includes wholesale, retail) 3 046 000 342 730 11%
Finance (banks, insurance & related) 2 195 000 348 745 16%
Private households (domestic workers) 1 288 000 4 850 0.5%
Security services workers 400,000 60,000 15%
Transport (includes taxi) 899 000 214 407 24%
These sectors are the home of not only low pay and long working hours but they also are renown for being the most brutal. This is the home casualisation, human trafficking labour brokers. Regrettably this is the home of countless unions, the face of fragmentisation of the union movement that even when combined existing unions cannot stop the super exploitation of workers.
Let us emphasize again, this THOR congress must appreciate that you have chosen to form part of others who have decided to carry this daunting task on their shoulders.
In the context where unions have lost trust of the majority of workers, we must go back to the drawing board. The SAFTU founding congress enjoined us to rebuild the trust in the trade unions by:
a) Consistency in our actions to represent the interest of workers.
b) Reliability so that we become more relevant.
c) Responsibility to act both in the best interests of members and the broader working class and society;
d) Intimacy with workers issues
We said our ethos must be based on three central values: dignity for all, equality for all and opportunity for all!
Comrades the precondition to worker control, internal democracy and practicing of these values is education. Revolutionaries within the trade union have a special role to play in this regard. They must train workers and act consciously to improve their confidence. Workers must learn to question and hold their leaders accountable if there is a chance that they can develop a political confidence to question the capitalist status quo. They must confront abuse of power and fight corruption inside the trade unions before they can learn to do the same in the society. They must fight for the principle of egalitarianism inside the unions before they can confront inequalities in society.
Trade union is a school and an oven to continuously produce leaders for society. Marx and Engels regarded class struggle as the means through which the working class advances from a class “in itself” to a class “for itself,” as a necessary precondition for their own self-emancipation. As Marx wrote in The Poverty of Philosophy, “Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers.… The mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and continues itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests.”
Dear delegates, yesterday as you may have seen, NUMSA with the full support of SAFTU was in the Constitutional Court, defending a historic victory NUMAS scored in the Labour Appeals Court. The Appeals Court had agreed with our view that it is unjust and unfair that workers who essentially performing the same task must be remunerated differently. Lined against us in opposition of this principle of equal pay for work of equal value is a cortege of labour brokering companies.
If we win, we would have liberated millions of workers currently exploited as temporal, casual, labour brokered, outsourced workers. This week we also forced management of PRASA to agree that the workers they dismissed must return to work.
Also this week, the budget was delivered by a very compromised Minister of Finance who played a leading role in the project to hand over the state to a private companies of parasitic bourgeoisies who had captured key elements of state as a vehicle for primitive accumulation.
This budget together with the State of the Nation Address delivered by the new President was a reminder to the workers that they are on their own. Following these two speeches, the class that exploits the working class is ecstatic. They can’t believe that what they were told will be a radical economic transformation has become the defence of the status quos. They have no worries whatsoever in that they are know more than before that their mines, monopoly industries, the oceans, even the land will remain firmly in their hands. Those who accumulated property under colonial and apartheid will continue to be the owners of that property. Those whose land was disposed and who have no property will continue like before being the property less and landless class.
This makes me to remember Harry Gwala teaching. He once said always checks which class is giving you a round of applause. The difference in South Africa is this, the media and therefore the propaganda tool is still in the hands of the exploiting class. They are hyping the nation and telling us its time to be very happy and be very hopeful about the future now that a multibillionaire is charge of the affairs of the nation.
They know that there are no major policy changes to even threaten the status quo. In fact they are colluding with the ruling class to make sure that the workers forget about their own challenges.
To them now that Jacob Zuma is no longer the president, things must return to “normal”. The normality they are referring to is that 14 million South Africans go to bad every night without anything in their stomachs. Normality means 55% of the population lives in poverty or on less than R1000 a month. Normality means 36,6% of the population and 55,2% of the youth being unemployed. Normality means we must say little and do nothing about the fact that we hold an infamous title of being the most unequal society in the world. Oxfam latest report revealed that two thirds of the wealth in 2017is held by the top 1% and about 90% is held by top 10%.
Their excitement is about the fact that they will keep their private school where blacks are now welcomed on condition that they must have money in some instances to pay over R100 000 annually or else they must take their kids to the public education system which according their own NDP, 91% of schools are dysfunctional without even the most basic infrastructure. Same with healthcare, they are not threatened they know they will keep their private clinics which they don’t mind sharing them with blacks. But there too, discrimination is no longer based on pigmentation but on the size of your wallet.
They want us to be caught up with this excitement despite this crisis continuously deepening 24 years into our so-called freedom and democracy. The ANC not Zuma and or Ramaphosa has worsened the material conditions of the working class to a pauper status.
This is the second most important struggle, which cannot be separated from the struggle to rebuild trade unions and civil society formations.
In my personal view the debate about forming a Worker Party to unite the left political formations and progressive civil society formations cannot be postponed, lest we remain in this worsening situation for may more decades to come.
In the meantime, this congress must hopefully make the following calls.
1. We need to unite with all progressive unions inside and outside SAFTU including civil society formations to call for the withdrawal of the VAT increase. A series of general strikes to force a reversal of this assault on the living standards of the poor must be coordinated as a working class response.
2. A general strike to reverse the Nedlac sell out agreement that imposes a R20 an hour national minimum wage but worse R18 for farm workers, R15 for domestics and R11 for the Extended Public Works Programme. The Labour Law amendments as you know also launches an attack on our hard won right to strike.
3. A series of demonstrations to demand a Peoples Budget which will prioritise decent jobs, re-industrialisation, nationalisation of mineral resources to release resources needed to provide free education and healthcare, wealth and solidarity tax and reversal of the past two decades of slashing of the corporate taxes, measures to stop the illicit cash out flows and trade transfers, measures to end government wastages including by cutting the size of the executive by two thirds, etc.
4. We must convene soon our own people’s parliament to unite against the onslaught of the poor.
If we don’t take up heightened mass mobilisation against the neoliberalism, we should not blame workers who will again replace one butcher of the working class with another butcher of the working class in the 2019 general elections and beyond.
Build THOR, Build SAFTU, Build progressive civil society formations as a precondition but integral part of reviving real hope that our people can unite against this status quo. Lets move from workplace to workplace, street-to-street, village to suburb and warn our people that the beneficiaries of the status quo are working hard to keep us divided and in a political lull so that they can keep their yachts, their countless holiday homes and wealth intact
On behalf of the SAFTU NOBs and its National Executive Committee, I wish you a successful national congress.