ANC government intends to slaughter thousands of workers’ jobs – SAFTU calls for total economic shutdown on 24th February

General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) members striking at the Clover food company

IT HAS become clear that the ANC government is intending to slaughter thousands of workers’ jobs, said the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) in their end of the year statement.

Already the government has collapsed the SAA and SA Express. Section 89 notices have been issued by SABC and Denel. Eskom has embarked on the process of voluntary severance packages.

In the midst of such a dire situation the ANC government is making sure that nothing will get better, thanks to its dogmatic, disastrous neoliberal economic strategy, dictated by the ruling class both internationally and in South Africa. The Presidency, Reserve Bank and Treasury is forcing the working class and poor majority to pay the price for the capitalists’ failure.

The current Treasury fiscal policy is based on cutting spending on public services and wages, while doing nothing to tackle the ‘strike of capital’ by big business which fails to invest in manufacturing industry, and instead earns higher returns by exporting trillions of rands in capital transfers, much of it into tax havens.

The Treasury’s own Financial Intelligence Centre admitted in late 2019 that 3-7% leaves South Africa each year as Illicit Financial Flows – with no outrage in the capitalist press at this looting, and no attempt at tightening exchange controls and prosecuting the guilty.

South Africa is the only country where the multimillionaire class earn up to 4% while playing with their dogs in their Olympic size swimming pools. This is made possible by the inappropriate monetary policies that have set a very low inflation target rate of 3-6 per cent.

Nothing better illustrates the cruelty of this policy than the government’s reneging on the 2018-20 public sector wage agreement, a flouting of a legitimate contract that was just scandalously upheld by the Labour Appeal Court on grounds of a chosen fiscal austerity.

Instead of being rewarded for their selfless dedication during the pandemic, the frontline workers who have saved countless lives and kept the country running, are being punished with a wage cut in real terms.

SAFTU utterly rejects the government’s argument that public sector workers are over-paid relative to those in the private sector. The reality is that private-sector workers are grossly under-paid, as a result of years of employers abandoning collective bargaining, adopting the brutal outsourcing strategy, and turning workers into ‘self-employed’ contractors doing precarious jobs.

The ‘private sector’ also includes the mushrooming ‘gig’ economy of taxi drivers, fisherfolk, street traders, waste pickers and others who search desperately for day-to-day sustenance, as well as the huge population of farmworkers. Nearly all are struggling to survive on poverty pay, with around two-thirds of South Africans below the R50-a-day Upper Bound Poverty Line.

All deserve a raise: A living minimum income, not to be used as an excuse for paying the public sector workers less! The Labour Appeal Court’s outrageous ruling shows why we reject the idea that unions, business and government should come together in a ‘social compact’ to negotiate agreements in ‘the national interest’.

This episode proves that employers will only ever agree to deals on pay or anything else when it suits them, or they are forced through mass pressure, including strikes.

It sends a warning to workers to reject the kind of social compact, which was agreed at NEDLAC between COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU, government and business. If this ANC government cannot even uphold a negotiated agreement on public workers’ pay, how can we trust them to stick to agreements on anything, in such a compact?

The ruling class can agree to temporary deals with union leaders to buy time, but will never agree to policies which threaten their wealth and power. They will lose no time clawing back any concessions they made in the deal.

The only way to bring about real change and bring to an end the economic catastrophe into which South Africa has been plunged is through action in the workplaces and on the streets.

This year the pandemic has posed challenges to unions. Social distancing has severely disrupted the normal way in which workers gather in meetings, conferences and rallies. The gap between privileged workers with steady employment and the huge ‘precariat’ slipping deep into poverty grows larger, daily. But that has not stopped many workers from taking action, including:

1. NUMSA and SACCA members fighting all year to save jobs at SAA.

2. GIWUSA workers on strike at Clover and Nature’s Garden.

3. NUMSA members in action in the motor manufacturing sector.

4. NUPSAW’s ongoing battle for permanent employment for community healthcare workers, with an inspirational victory in Gauteng just as the pandemic gathered steam.

5. Health and education staff’s struggle for PPE and other safety provisions.

6. 3.5 million public service workers staging a massive strike on 8th October.

We have also celebrated important victories:

1. NUMSA’s successful appeal at the Labour Appeal Court, which overturned employers’ attempt to ban a strike.

2. National Minimum Wage Commission recommendation that earnings of the lowest-paid farm and domestic workers be brought into line with that of other workers.

SAFTU still regard the current levels of the National Minimum Wage as a slavery wage. We have also suffered huge setbacks in the hands of increasingly conservative Constitutional Court Judges which underlines Lenin’s theory that the state is nothing but an instrument of class rule.

In addition to the recent Labour Appeal Court endorsement of government austerity and the tearing up of the signed contract between government and its employees, one case the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the bosses in a matter between NUMSA and Aveng, that it is okay to downward vary conditions of employment when the company is restructuring.

In the NUMSA/Lufil judgement the Constitutional Court literally endorsed the employer’s refusal of bargaining on the flimsy excuse that the workers are not covered by the scope of the union.

There have been waves of community struggles against evictions, shack demolitions, land hunger, police violence, gang warfare, domestic violence, water and electricity cuts, and corruption.

It is true that xenophobia also reared its head within the working class occasionally, especially in the freight transport sector, but standing up against artificial divisions in our class is the historic responsibility of class conscious socialist workers.

The pandemic has dramatically exposed South African capitalism’s failure to resolve, and even in fact to worsen, the multiple crises of poverty and disease, ongoing racism, gender-based violence, crime and corruption, the environmental crisis, inequality, economic stagnation and mass unemployment.

Capitalism in South Africa is forever based on the continuing impoverishment of the working class and the poor, the repression of women who do so much unpaid labour to reproduce society, and environmental looting. It will forever require the exploitation of the mass of our people by a wealthy, privileged male elite – initially white-skinned and foreign, then white and local, and now also black and local.

Coronavirus has now entrenched the previous ‘normal’ misery imposed on the majority by corporations, aided so generously by the ANC government’s neoliberal policies. As a result, there has been a build-up of anger in both communities and workplaces at the price the workers and the poor have been made to pay in the fight against Covid-19.

As the necessary restrictions begin to be lifted in 2021 and as workers return from their holiday month, there will be an explosion of both suffering and of protest.

That is why SAFTU is engaging its working class allies to join in the mobilisation for the total economic shutdown on 24th February 2021, the day when Minister Mboweni will be presenting a budget that will put the last nails in the coffin of the working class.

This will be the chance for the public sector workers to vent their fury at the pay cut the ANC government has imposed on them. The federation calls on all its members, other trade unions, working class organisations, feminists, anti-racists, environmentalists and youth – to stage the biggest protest ever and lay the foundations for a fight to the finish for socialism, and thus total liberation from the cruel tyranny of the rich elite who exploit and impoverish us.