Hundred thousand Swaziland workers mass action


A HUNDRED THOUSAND Swazi workers have begun a campaign of mass action, led by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), and its affiliates. On Tuesday 18 September, protesters flooded the streets of four towns, and in the march in Manzini alone at least ten were confirmed as having been injured by rubber bullet shots or blows from police batons.

Workers, mainly in the public service, are on strike in protest against the government’s refusal to award them a 6.5 per cent cost of living adjustment. The strike paralysed business and led to schools being closed around eSwatini, as Swaziland is now called. The unions defied an order by acting Prime Minister Vincent Mhlanga to abort the industrial action in order to give a chance to resume stalled negotiations, and TUCOSWA has already announced that the strike and marches will continue.

South Africa’s trade unions in SAFTU (South African Federation of Trade Unions) applaud the courage shown by the workers in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, in which unions are not legally recognised and any opposition from workers or communities is brutally suppressed. The strikes erupted just as King Mswati’s regime was in the middle of holding sham ‘tinkhundla elections’, to give a thin veneer of respectability to his dictatorship while keeping the people oppressed. The second round of these rigged elections were scheduled for yesterday.

Mswati is trying to force the people to participate in these charades. That is why he set his police on unarmed peaceful workers who are exposing these bogus ballots for what they are – a bid to pretend that he is democratically accountable, while retaining his absolute power. In line with its founding principles of international workers’ solidarity, SAFTU pledges its full support for the Swazi workers’ struggle and urges South African unions to be ready to act in solidarity and respond to any appeal from their comrades in eSwatini for solidarity at the borders.

• South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has expressed its willingness to participate in both the Job Summit and Investment Conference called by President Ramaphosa for later this year, but only under certain conditions. SAFTU has been in existence since April 2017. If it missed the discussions that took place before its formation on the aims and nature of the Jobs Summit then this is clearly understandable, but no blame can be apportioned for the absence of our engagement, they say.

‘SAFTU did apply to be part of the NEDLAC Labour Constituency as soon as it established itself. However, we believe we have been consciously excluded by the other Labour Representatives, and more worryingly, this was further endorsed by the full NEDLAC EXCO. This has meant in effect that unions representing over 700,000 workers are denied an opportunity to participate in NEDLAC’s deliberations.

‘We all know, because we were all there when NEDLAC was first formed, that this negative exclusiveness runs counter to the founding statements of NEDLAC, and indeed its principle to bring together a full complement of all interested parties to the table, regardless of political orientation or perceived or real tensions that might exist both between parties, or within them.

‘How could NEDLAC be assembled otherwise? If one element of a particular constituency is denied access, and especially one that has fulfilled all of the conditions for entry that enabled others to be included, then NEDLAC is openly betraying its own mandate, and consequently its own credibility and authority.

‘SAFTU does however appreciate attempts to address this huge injustice by the President inviting SAFTU to participate in the Jobs Summit and the Investment Conference. ‘We are however facing a dilemma. If our participation is simply seen in terms of swelling numbers, and giving the “appearance” of inclusivity when agreements being presented to the Summit have already been fixed, we will simply not be able to justify our involvement to our members. This would effectively leave the Summit without a large part of the industrial working class.

‘SAFTU is in the process of rebuilding levels of accountability, transparency and worker-control that we believe have been diluted in other parts of the labour movement, leading to all manner of malpractices and in some cases, blatant corruption. We are determined to assert that mandates from workers must be respected and acted upon, and not be ignored or undermined for political expediency.

‘We are however willing to participate in both the Summit and the Conference but only under certain conditions: ‘Firstly, we request sufficient time to address both meetings on the implications and injustice of excluding a federation whose members are mainly in the very manufacturing sectors that are bleeding jobs, which the Summits hope to address.

‘Secondly, after carefully considering the points made to us by the Presidency, and through our own analysis, we have more than a sense that the key demands workers have been making about how the economy can be fixed, to create jobs, tackle poverty and eradicate inequalities have not been sufficiently presented, articulated or developed.

‘We believe this to be absolutely essential to reassure our people, and especially the ever growing number of the poor and excluded, if we are to galvanise their support, along with organised labour, that the Summit and Conference will favour policies that are practical and realisable, but that also unashamedly and decisively shift the human and material resources of our country in favour of workers and poor communities. ‘Anything less will run the risk of simply being seen as a repetition of the past, where empty rhetoric cloaked the protection of vested interests, and prevented a genuine attempt to redistribute wealth.

‘In SAFTU’s view, if the vast majority of our people are not given hope that the fundamentals are to be addressed, then the consequences are very serious indeed. The crisis we face is not centred in the board rooms of industry or financial institutions, but in the cold fact that millions of our people are facing a crisis of survival.’