‘Convene our own people’s parliament to unite against poverty’ – SAFTU leader Vavi addresses transport union

THOR banner on a demonstration in Durban
THOR banner on a demonstration in Durban

ZWELINZIMA VAVI, SAFTU general secretary, addressed the THOR Congress at the Plaza hotel, Durban 24-25 Feb 2018. He said: ‘THOR (Transport Action Retail & General Workers Union) 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.

‘This is the home of 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 emphasise again. . . 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 NUMSA scored in the Labour Appeals Court. The Appeals Court had agreed with our view that it is unjust and unfair that workers who are 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 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 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 rule 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 propertyless and landless class.

‘This makes me remember Harry Gwala’s teaching. He once said always check 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 it’s time to be very happy and be very hopeful about the future now that a multibillionaire is in 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 bed 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’s latest report revealed that two thirds of the wealth in 2017 is 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, in which according to 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 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 many 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 launch an attack on our hard won right to strike.

‘3. A series of demonstrations to demand a People’s 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 outflows 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. Let’s 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.’